Taking all advantages, but will Theo get any?

Yesterday pulled up some interesting outcomes from the two matches played that we give a monkeys about, didn’t it? Firstly you had the United win which, if we all want to be nice and mathematical about it you would probably say was the second best outcome for us behind a draw. United have a tough run in, but it would be better if one of the other teams around us would pick up points and leave the others a bit further adrift, so a Liverpool defeat leaves them six points behind us I think.

With eight games to go that’s a decent advantage for us to have. Sure, it could be halved if we lose to them in our next game over the Easter period, but conversely a win for us will put an even bigger gap between the two teams, so we have to look at that next game at home as an extremely significant one in our season and bid for Champions League football in 2015/16.

Then there’s the Gerrard and Skyrtel ‘incidents’. Gerrard will play no part in the game at The Emirates because of his red card for stamping, where as Skyrtel could also face the same punishment, assuming the FA aren’t like the British media and completely in love with some sort of supposed ‘romance’ associated with the team from the Mersey. If he does pick up a ban, it will weaken Liverpool further for the game against us and whilst some fans prefer to see us beat teams at full strength to prove our ability, I am one of those people who loves every little advantage that life can chuck in my direction. If we have to face a depleted Liverpool side through suspension – hopefully even mentally fragile after a home defeat – then that’s a-ok with me.

The other game that some of the fantasists might have argued would have an impact was the Chelski away trip to Hull. They were rocking at 2-2 and even Remy’s goal had fortune about it, but it would be frivolous of us as Arsenal fans to think that Chelski won’t be champions. There are too few games left for us to catch them and yesterday’s game needed to be a draw at least for us to even come close to getting within a couple of points of them unfortunately. But hey, I’ve made peace with the fact that the worst football team, with the most evil manager, evil captain, evil players and evil fans, will win the Premier League. Life is unfair sometimes and sometimes the bad guys wins. I’ve accepted it. 

Anyway, life is more enjoyable when you just focus on Arsenal and right now our form is dictating that life is very enjoyable as we pack our form with good home performances and nervy but ultimately acceptable away victories. I’m still feeling good after the Newcastle win and i’d imagine that will stay with the players too as they head off for yet more international interruptions at the worst possible point in the season. Well, for most of them it would be positive, because for a certain Theo Walcott he’ll be joining up with his teammates wondering when his next club level start will be. Heck, he’s probably also wondering when his next sub appearance will come along, because he looks like he’s started down the dark alley that Arsène pointed Podolski down before he was shipped out in January. 

Poldi was one of the highest earners at the club. He was reliant on an exceptional left leg that could drill the ball home like I’ve not seen before at The Emirates. But he only had that in his locker. He didn’t offer much more and the result was that when Arsène found himself an upgrade in terms over overall contribution – Alexis or Welbeck – he edged him towards the exit until the German knew it was his only route through occasional substitute appearances and then eventually not even getting on the pitch. The final nail in the coffin was to not even be included in some Matchday squads.

Does this sound familiar at all? It looks to me as though Theo is being led down that same path. His overall contribution – end product and pace – is being countered by the form of others in the squad (Welbeck and Alexis for pace, Giroud for end product) and the net effect is no game time for Mr Walcott. He wasn’t even given a sniff at Newcastle, a game I’d have thought would have been perfect for him. No doubt he’s asking questions of the manager, but whether he’s getting the answers he wants is another matter entirely, so I think the only way he’s getting a sustained period in the team is through injury to one of the forwards. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because we’re playing well enough now to know that we need all of our form players fit and playing well between now and the end of May.

We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out, but I suspect many of us already know the answer.

Taking all advantages, but will Theo get any?

Yesterday pulled up some interesting outcomes from the two matches played that we give a monkeys about, didn’t it? Firstly you had the United win which, if we all want to be nice and mathematical about it you would probably say was the second best outcome for us behind a draw. United have a tough run in, but it would be better if one of the other teams around us would pick up points and leave the others a bit further adrift, so a Liverpool defeat leaves them six points behind us I think.

With eight games to go that’s a decent advantage for us to have. Sure, it could be halved if we lose to them in our next game over the Easter period, but conversely a win for us will put an even bigger gap between the two teams, so we have to look at that next game at home as an extremely significant one in our season and bid for Champions League football in 2015/16.

Then there’s the Gerrard and Skyrtel ‘incidents’. Gerrard will play no part in the game at The Emirates because of his red card for stamping, where as Skyrtel could also face the same punishment, assuming the FA aren’t like the British media and completely in love with some sort of supposed ‘romance’ associated with the team from the Mersey. If he does pick up a ban, it will weaken Liverpool further for the game against us and whilst some fans prefer to see us beat teams at full strength to prove our ability, I am one of those people who loves every little advantage that life can chuck in my direction. If we have to face a depleted Liverpool side through suspension – hopefully even mentally fragile after a home defeat – then that’s a-ok with me.

The other game that some of the fantasists might have argued would have an impact was the Chelski away trip to Hull. They were rocking at 2-2 and even Remy’s goal had fortune about it, but it would be frivolous of us as Arsenal fans to think that Chelski won’t be champions. There are too few games left for us to catch them and yesterday’s game needed to be a draw at least for us to even come close to getting within a couple of points of them unfortunately. But hey, I’ve made peace with the fact that the worst football team, with the most evil manager, evil captain, evil players and evil fans, will win the Premier League. Life is unfair sometimes and sometimes the bad guys wins. I’ve accepted it. 

Anyway, life is more enjoyable when you just focus on Arsenal and right now our form is dictating that life is very enjoyable as we pack our form with good home performances and nervy but ultimately acceptable away victories. I’m still feeling good after the Newcastle win and i’d imagine that will stay with the players too as they head off for yet more international interruptions at the worst possible point in the season. Well, for most of them it would be positive, because for a certain Theo Walcott he’ll be joining up with his teammates wondering when his next club level start will be. Heck, he’s probably also wondering when his next sub appearance will come along, because he looks like he’s started down the dark alley that Arsène pointed Podolski down before he was shipped out in January. 

Poldi was one of the highest earners at the club. He was reliant on an exceptional left leg that could drill the ball home like I’ve not seen before at The Emirates. But he only had that in his locker. He didn’t offer much more and the result was that when Arsène found himself an upgrade in terms over overall contribution – Alexis or Welbeck – he edged him towards the exit until the German knew it was his only route through occasional substitute appearances and then eventually not even getting on the pitch. The final nail in the coffin was to not even be included in some Matchday squads.

Does this sound familiar at all? It looks to me as though Theo is being led down that same path. His overall contribution – end product and pace – is being countered by the form of others in the squad (Welbeck and Alexis for pace, Giroud for end product) and the net effect is no game time for Mr Walcott. He wasn’t even given a sniff at Newcastle, a game I’d have thought would have been perfect for him. No doubt he’s asking questions of the manager, but whether he’s getting the answers he wants is another matter entirely, so I think the only way he’s getting a sustained period in the team is through injury to one of the forwards. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because we’re playing well enough now to know that we need all of our form players fit and playing well between now and the end of May.

We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out, but I suspect many of us already know the answer.

Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

Title as likely as an eclipse?

Arsenal winning the Premier League this season is about as possible as a solar eclipse…

It’s Friday, we’re all hopefully feeling fine and good, plus we’ve got plenty of information that has been furnished on us from the club yesterday in the form of the pre-match presser from Le Boss.

Arsène must have as much of an inner smile as an outwardly projecting one at the moment. Sure, he won’t be happy that we’re out of Europe, but I used up all my anger in the first leg a few weeks back so I’m just looking at the fact we’ve won 13 out of the last 15 games and we’ve even had the ridiculous notion of winning the league thrust at us by the media.

Hey, it’s their job to make the dull more interesting and let’s be honest, with Chelski leading from the early parts of the season and all but guaranteed to win it, it will have been one of the most boring title races since the Premier League began, so I can understand why the hacks are trying a bit of the old ‘what if’ on Arsène. But he’s an old wiley dog and didn’t bite yesterday, preferring to maintain his current course with comments about the ‘security’ the scummers from West London have. Sensible enough. If there were 20 games remaining maybe we’d fancy it, but with only 9/10 left for the teams at the top, a monumental slip up like that is hardly likely.

So Arsène is rightly focused on the next game, which is Newcastle away and although we’ve had a good record up there, it’s pleasing to see that he’s still wary of their threat. I’ve been up to Newcastle every season for the last four and although we’ve had two wins and two draws, each one has seen us biting our nails a little bit to close to the cuticles for my liking. Yes they’ve got little to play for, yes it appears they only have a temporary manager and yes, it helps that Cisse won’t be around as their main goal threat. But I still forsee an afternoon of uncomfortableness for us.

We’re at the business end of the season now though and what with United and Liverpool duking it out on Sunday, the game tomorrow represents an opportunity to put more daylight between more of those teams just below us, so I hope we take it.

The good news is that it seems Arsène doesn’t have a host of bodies to patch together after Monaco. Everyone seems fit bar a few ‘knocks and bruises’ and even the return of Rosicky to the team means we’re plenty stocked with options. More on who I think Arsène will play from the start tomorrow, but I do wonder if he’ll rotate again after admitting that he’ll need to assess the levels of fatigue today. 

A quick one on the whole ‘away goals’ rule thing that Arsène has said he has long campaigned against. Le Boss has spoken of the rule as an outdated one from the sixties, that it was designed to stop teams from defending at home and football has changed, so the rules should reflect that. Whilst it’s hard to argue that football isn’t a different beast than it was 50 years ago, I can’t really get behind his argument I’m afraid. For one thing, we still seem teams in the league play defensively against us, so why wouldn’t that revert to type in cup competitions? Also, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that scoring away from home is harder than at home when you have you’re home fans behind you, so why shouldn’t a team be rewarded for their exploits on their travels? Finally, this kind of thinking only seems to get airtime when a big team goes out, as I suspect Arsène might have kept relatively schtum should we have been the beneficiaries on the night. So I don’t really think his argument washes with me on this one. We all know the rules and you have to adapt your football to ensure you win the competition within their parameters. Sorry Arsène.

What I’m not sorry about is the FA Cup semi final, for which I picked up my tickets yesterday and am thoroughly delighted to have been given front row again, so hopefully you’ll see me waving away on tele in a few weeks time! And on that cheery note, I shall bid you ‘adieu’.

Delayed West Ham thoughts: new reportoire

Bit of a delayed post from me today. I booked meself off for a day of rest, relaxation and recuperation with the missus, after running a half marathon yesterday. These ageing limbs certainly can’t do what they did ten years ago, I can tell you.

The after effects of said marathon can also be felt in my own Arsenal musings. Firstly, I ran around Wembley at the halfway stage and boy, it is massive. You do get a sense of perspective when you’re pitch side and I can kinda see why some players could potentially be inhibited by the sheer size of it and the noise when it’s full. I suppose we should be thankful that the players have now experienced it and will not be overawed by it when they play there in a few weeks. 

But the fact I wasn’t able to blog yesterday because I was running, then knackered from the running, means I haven’t really had much chance to compose some thoughts on the West Ham game. I suppose the most important thing is the three points, but aside from the factual, I thought the performance was another ‘different’ one to add to our reportoire. Since just before Christmas we seemed to have developed this fabulous habit of winning games in different styles. There’s the ‘defend the gates’ performance like City away, there’s the ‘swashbuckling’ performance like Villa at home, then there’s the ‘patience is a virtue’ performance like Saturday. West Ham knew that we were in form, but they knew their own limitations and so came to the Emirates to be as compact as possible, which has already worked for some teams this season.

If you think about it, it was working too, because had Giroud not leathered the ball home in stoppage time then it probably could have caused the team to try a little bit to hard to force the issue in front of goal. That first goal allowed for a big sigh of relief and aside from a ten minute window in the second half, the game felt relatively comfortable, looking back on it with that glorious thing called hindsight. 

About four or five weeks ago I looked at our fixtures and asserted that we were in a period of the season that could see us put together a good run that builds momentum. You can’t really argue that the manager and the players have done anything else other than exactly what has been asked of them. Both league and domestic cup form have got us to a point where people are starting to talk about the ridiculous notion of a league title assault. It’s fanciful in the extreme but totally welcome for us and although I don’t think we will pick up that league trophy, if we won all of our remaining games I think we’d get close. I still don’t think we’d win the league even with a max points haul, but if we’re within three points or so come the end of the season, you’d have to argue that it’s been a successful one given the start. Of course, the FA Cup needs to be won too! 

The return to form of Rambo was nice to see too, wasn’t it? He was his old effervescent self and capped a good performance with a fine team goal. Unlike Theo, Ramsey will give his manager one heck of a selection headache tomorrow night, because picking three from Coquelin, Cazorla, Özil and even Rosicky, isn’t exactly easy. But better that than wandering around London Colney looking to find any stray midfielders that have working limbs, so I’m sure Arsène is happy with his dilemma.

We’ll probably get some team news today ahead of the Monaco game, but mentally I’ve already written it off, so as far as I’m concerned we should probably rotate a bit and see if we can make the end of the season a successful one from our home travails more than anything else. Monaco are not a great team but they caught us on a very bad day and in the Champions League you don’t get the chance to redeem yourself – hardly ever – in the second leg if you’ve fudged the first.

I just hope we can keep the momentum of the team going by winning the game and going in to the Newcastle performance with confidence.

Back tomorrow.

how big a factor will fatigue be? 

It’s West Ham today and I have to say, I am intrigued as to who Arsène picks in the first XI come 3pm. 

It’s an interesting dilemma that he faces; on the one hand he’ll have confidence-high players who will be on top of the world after breaking the hoo-doo that enveloped the team when visiting Manchester in seasons past, but he’ll also be Mindful of that ill-fated ‘red zone’ that often preys on the most brittle of hamstrings and calfs. 

My hope is that he opts to keep the team fresh above anything else. West Ham have been away to Dubai for a couple of weeks and will have completely recharged their aching limbs, so I’m expecting them to come at us all guns – or hammers – blazing from quite early in the game.

The advantage we have is the number of injuries and unavailable players they seem to have amassed. No Reid or Tompkins at the back and with Jenkinson unavailable due to the terms of his loan, Allardyce will have some major reshuffling to do with his back five. Hopefully that plays into our hands, but as annoying as he is, Fat Sam can certainly set his team up tactically well enough to make life frustrating for us.

That’s why the forward line will be so important today, but also the supportng cast that sit behind them, I’m specifically thinking about the full backs. I don’t expect we’ll see a swashbuckling 3-5-2 or 4-2-4 from West Ham, so having players with that little bit more going forward must take priority over anything else I think, which is why I hope we see Gibbs and Bellerin start. Both are better going forward than Nacho and Calum and have extra pace too, so I’d give them a run out, despite the fact it would be harsh on Monreal.

It’s also because of the way that West Ham will play, that I think we’ll also not see Theo, because his primary assets of pace and playing off the shoulder of the last man will be left rather redundant against a team who will sit deep and look to take advantage of set plays. 

So for me it’s got to be a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. There’s pace enough the either side of Giroud and Welbeck is a slightly better technical player than Walcott I think. 

Sitting behind them id love to fit in Rosicky somewhere, but how can you drop Mesut or Santi in the form they are in? You can’t and I don’t think Wenger will. A unless Tomas changes his entire game overnight and wakes up a ball winning defensive-minded player, it’ll be Coquelin behind the Spaniard and German, with Per and Kos sitting behind him.

I think we win this game if we approach it in the right way and aren’t lethargic with our play. West Ham aren’t in the best of form and we know all too well what problems occur when a squad is decimated with injuries. But the only niggling factor that could impact the game will be who is not quite 100% in terms of fitness, because West Ham will be and we have to be ready for it.

We need to maintain momentum to keep up the feelgood factor at the moment. The weather is getting warmer, we have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and are in a good position in the league, but we need to keep it up.

Come on Arsenal, let’s knock back another three points.

all is well

Liverpool and Chelski out, City all but gone against Barca and Arsenal remain the only hope for British success in the Champions League.

How did that happen?

I’m not complaining though. Certainly not as much as Chelski players were, apparently, last night. I’ve seen plenty of friends comment on the antics of the West Londoners, but I’m not surprised, a horrible club.

So pardon me for activating schadenfreude mode and having a little Barry Chuckle at a team who have spent the best part of a decade financially doping themselves to the top. Then relying on more slices of luck when they actually won the thing than any team I’ve ever seen in my life.

But matters need to move away from Google searching for player interviews with the words “we can win the quadruple” and towards the wonderful world of The Arsenal. It’s a world of super awesomeness and at this very moment in time is one in which we have an FA Cup semi final to go, plus a run-in for the Premier League where we could see us get third if we can maintain our momentum, starting with West Ham this weekend.

I’m certainly not counting my chickens because there is a lot of winning that needs to be done, but if the best pose or scenario does happen and we finish third and win the FA Cup, all of a sudden this season of inconsistency represents genuine progress. On paper at least. I mean yeah, we haven’t even got close to challenging for the league, but last season was one in which we finished fourth and won the FA Cup, so third and the FA Cup (again, those chickens remain firmly in their coop) would be an improvement that we can all celebrate, especially given the decimation of the squad in the earlier parts of the season.

The positive signs are there though. Arsène has options. The bench has never looked so strong and even back-to-back hammies (Gabriel and The Ox) won’t see our team drastically weakened for the next couple of weeks. I’ve always bemoaned Arsène’s lack of desire to rotate effectively and yes, perhaps he still only does it because we are constantly picking up knocks, but by Jove we’ve now got one heck of a squad for him to call in reinforcements on. 

Every game there’s an argument to be made on the first eleven and coupled with our form at the moment, it means that every player knows they have a chance of playing and knows that they must perform when they are given it. Look at Cazorla. He’s in the form of his life. Özil has got back into the team after injury and looks a different player. I’m not a stats man – reading this rubbish I brain dump on this blog every day will have proven that to you already – but I know what I see and on Monday night Özil battled to win the ball through making tackles three times I counted. I wondered if he’d ever had to make a tackle before he joined The Arsenal. But he’s adapting his game to the English league and showing that he’s more than capable of being a success.

Giroud was the ‘big man on campus’ last season, but this time around he can be dropped for a crucial FA Cup away game to Manchester United. Do you think that thought would have even spent a millisecond in Arsène’s mind if that would have happened a year ago? Not a chance. But now he knows he has to perform, or he’ll find himself a cosy seat next to Theo, who I haven’t even mentioned yet because he’s barely featured all season. 

As usual I have no real underlying message to today’s blog. It’s just my thoughts and feelings as far as Arsenal are concerned right now. The feelings are good. I won’t deny the fragility of those feelings should we trip and stumble at this crucial time of the season, but right now you have to admire the team and the manager, both of whom are doing everything that is asked of them. Winning football matches.

And all is well.