Sick sense of football gods humour; fitting the most confident players in

With all the hubbub surrounding our win against Burnley, followed by the hope killed by another Chelski scabbing of three points at the hands of a goalkeeper, I haven’t even thought about the defeat of the Spuds to an Aston Villa team managed by Mr Gilet and all-round footballing genius Tim Sherwood. Super Timmy’s charges have – with that victory – bought us to within two wins and a draw of St Totteringham’s Day. It would be nice to celebrate it with a few games to go this year. 

I am of course trying to be positive in light of the fact that Chelski will almost certainly be winning the league now. That’s two weekend’s in a row in which they’ve been gifted points and you just have to accept that sometimes the footballing gods smile down on teams. I can understand it. After all, this is a team that has worked so hard to get in to the position they are in over the years, being self sufficient, having good and honest players, as well as a very likeable manager who everyone appreciates. Oh, no, wait a second, they are none of those things, they are in fact the antithesis of a team who should be granted fortune. Ever. They should have had all of their fortune quota used up when they skanked their way all the way to the Champions League trophy. Thank you very much footballing gods. Thanks a bunch. 

Anyway, it’s probably best if I pretend that the whole ‘Chelski winning the league’ thing isn’t happening, just focusing on our form. Our form in which I hope is being prepared as a prologue to an amazing 2015/16 season. That’s what happened in 2002/3 after the league title had gone. It felt like we had to start again from scratch and rebuild confidence and momentum and it was those games towards the end of that season that begun our fantastic 49 unbeaten game run. I am hoping that this rich vein of form we’re in at the moment is our precursor to glorious things next season. 

It feels that way at the moment, anyway, especially when you look at the squad. Arsène feels it too, you can tell from some of his words. After he was interviewed post-Burnley, he spoke about having to leaving players like Arteta at home and Debuchy not even being given a try yet, so as we draw to the end of this season he must be looking at his squad and thinking that we’re almost there. A few tightening of a couple of loose screws and we’ll be purring like a V8. 

Everything is working well at the moment, even the stuff that people have questioned the manager on historically, like Rambo in the attacking positions. I mentioned it yesterday, but nobody is batting an eyelid at the fact that he is in a position in which Arsène has been chastised for playing him in. I am guilty of said criticism too, so I certainly can’t hold myself exempt from any tutting and shaking of heads, but what it does show is that it doesn’t really matter if some players are played in a position which is not regarded their optimum. There just needs to be enough confidence in the team to play their swaggerific best. Longer term it may not be ideal, but you do get the feeling that Arsène is playing players who are in the purplest of purple patches, in the shape of Cazorla, Özil and Ramsey. None of them deserve any time on the bench and as a result, Arsène is finding a way to accommodate which to be fair, as long as their confidence is as sky high as it is at the moment, I don’t think anyone has a problem with, so I do think he’ll continue with this same XI next weekend. It’s too early to be getting excited about that just yet, so I’ll hold fire on pre-FA Cup semi tickets until later in the week.

So that’ll be it for now. Have at a good Monday. 

Play the game and not the occasion

Today’s game is certainly an interesting one. One the one hand you have an Arsenal team in a rich vein of form, coupled with a Burnley team in 19th position and having scored just 14 goals all season.

But on the other hand you had an Arsenal team that have made a nasty little habit of thinking a match is a foregone conclusion (see Monaco at home for most recent of examples), as well as a Burnley team that have picked up points against both Manchester clubs, the Spuds and Southampton. So much like in any Premier League game, it’s difficult to predict what the outcome of the Turf Moor encounter will be.

First and foremost, Arsène needs to work out who the bloody hell he’s going to start with as his first XI. We all probably have a pretty good idea and, if we’re all honest we’ve all seen enough of the team and the manager to know he’ll opt for a consistent side if he can, but with the squad at the moment it really is a tough one choosing his entire team.

I listened to the excellent Arsecast yesterday and one of the comments that stuck out for me was when discussions turned towards who would be picked. Rather than the usual ‘any man still alive’ train of thought that we all joke about, what with our perpetual injury crisis usually extending from one season to another, talk was focused on the possibility of Arsène selecting his side based on the opposition we’re playing.

The discussion was aimed more at games like Chelski and United away, but outings like this evening should also represent an opportunity to try to play to the oppositions weaknesses. For example, as I said yesterday in the blog, a Spud has told me that Burnley will try to press us hard and catch us cold for the first 15 minutes. If that is true, then perhaps having plenty of pace in the attack will pin them back and create gaps for players like Özil and Cazorla to exploit. A deep lying Burnley defence coupled with a high press Burnley attack, will give the creative players in midfield more licence to influence the game. So perhaps a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck would be the best option? I’d suggest Theo, but right now he’s too far down the pecking order to suggest he’ll get a start. 

Defensively we’ll have a similar set up as last weekend I would have thought, with the only question mark being whether Laurent Koscienly is definitely 100% fit and able. The good news is that Gabriel looks like a tidy bit of business and so there’s no need to risk our Frenchman at the back. 

Midfield will see Le Coq assume the usual position, but if Wenger does opt for pace in the front three, then one of Özil, Santi or Rambo misses out. 

Of course, that’s what I’d do, but I suspect Le Boss will have different thoughts, almost certainly ensuring that Özil, Santi and Ramsey all get on to the starting teamsheet. What do I know, eh?

Well I do know that the game will probably most likely not be won by three clear goals. Dyche may have the most technically limited team in the league, but what they lack in application, they make up in perseverance and perspiration. Danny Ings will be trying to continue his ‘in the shop window’ end of season efforts, so could be a threat, whilst George Boyd is the long-haired hippie that will try to trouble us from midfield. 

What we have to do is not to underestimate our opponents. We can be patient and rely in the (hopeful) gulf in class, but we have to play the team and not the occasion, which what I mean by that is try not to let an impassioned home support be given too much to scream about. Keep them quiet, play our game and get the three points. Then, assuming we can do that, hope QPr do us a favour and keep an impossible dream alive.

Come on you reds!

Arsène’s happy, we’re happy, Mesut’s great (Bobby says so)

What a glorious day I have awoken to in my London suburb. The sun is shining, The Arsenal are riding the crest of a form-inspiring run, Arsène has the pick of the sweet shop with his selection choices ahead of our trip to Burnley.

Even Koscienly might be back for the game. Laurent Koscienly who limped off against Liverpool. In the last game. This is not a drill people, we actually have players limping off and potentially returning within a week! I don’t really know what to say. Is Shad somewhere near London Colney smoking a big fat stogie and smiling to himself like Hannibel from the A-Team? Or is it just coincidence? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because the real winners are you and I, because we get to see a full strength squad and not worry about the empty spaces on that big black luxury bus the team go to games in. 

Arsène was in front of the press yesterday and revealed all about who’s available, Wilshere, Debuchy, Arteta and even the original Lost Boy himself Abou Diaby. Forget about empty spaces on the bus, if Arsène took the whole squad to Lancashire, it would probably resemble a train bound for Dehli with players on top and hanging out the side!

All this is to say that we’re in a pretty good club at the moment. Arsène is a happy man and he spoke about the confidence exuding from the team right now. Under his stewardship we’ve always been a team that when its tails are up play the best, most attractive football, but it’s always been when we’re down that we seem to spiral like a plane hit by an anti-air gun. But let us not worry about that just yet. Let us simply breathe in the air of confidence running through the team. 

Right now it’s hard to argue a first XI player who isn’t in form, with Hector Bellerin the subject of Arsène’s affection this week, talking up his difficult start against Dortmund and how he now looks every bit the first team regular. It’s lovely to see how far he’s come, it’s also great to be in a position where Debuchy will have to wait his turn to play. We have depth and we have confidence. Long may it continue.

Tomorrow we face Burnley and I’m sure I’ll speculate on who will start, but as a brief overview before my pre-match musings, I did find it interesting that Arsène specifically mentioned matching Burnley for their physicality. The Premier League is a tough league and all of the teams have a degree of physicality about themselves, so it’s intriguing to note Arsène highlighting that element of the game. Admittedly I haven’t watched too many of their games this season, but they have never been positioned as an overly physical side.

So I had a chat with a Spud. Believe it or not, there are a very small minority of them who can converse in our mother tongue, so I asked the Spud what type of game Burnley played last weekend. His response to me was that we should expect a team that will press every single ball, will try to catch us out by leveraging the vocal home support in the opening exchanges, but from a technical side are very limited in their approach. 

Hold on a second. I thought Arsène Wenger didn’t look at the opposition? I thought he focused on his team, not doing tactics and not caring about anything other than his own team’s preparation? I’m a little later to the party on where I’m getting at here – that it is a misconception that Arsène doesn’t do tactics – as Tim Stillment wrote something along those lines (far more eloquently than I could) last week, but more and more we’re being treated to examples of Arsène taking note in who his side faces. And as Tim pointed out in his article (sorry, I would link but it’s a bit of an arse pain on the iPhone to set up a link, I think it was on Goonersphere though), Arsène does do tactics, we just don’t hear about it as much as attention cravers like Rodgers. By association too, he also does analysing the opposition, perhaps only allowing the press (and us as a result of) a small insight into his thinking.

Anyway, we shall wait and see what he has in mind for Burnley, with more tomorrow filtering through. In the meantime, Bobby Pires has essentially put the whole ‘Özil is sh*t’ rubbish to bed, by declaring that he’s one of the best players he’s seen. Bob has had first hand training with the player and is also Bobby Pires, so I think we can all consider that rumour that Özil isn’t brilliant now quashed. Case closed.

And on that rather lovely note, I’ll take my leave. I’ve just arrived at Wembley Park tube station and I want to take a few minutes to look, smile and say, “see you next week”.

See you tomorrow.

Gutter press boredom and Aaron’s interesting self-assessment

What’s all this talk about Jack Wilshere then, eh? 

As I trudged my way home from work yesterday evening, stopping only momentarily to offer a cursory nod of thanks to the free newspaper dispenserer, I noticed that the back pages were partially awash with talk about Wilshere possibly facing an exit from Arsenal with Juventus, Man City and Liverpool all interested.

Hey? Where did this all come from? Speculation that Wilshere hasn’t been playing, you say? ‘Balderdash!’ I say! The papers had some column inches to fill and Wilshere is an easy option, I say. After all, anybody worth their salt knows that Wilshere has been injured more times that Ed Milliband has been compared to Wallace from the famous plasticine animation fame. 

Where did that phrase come from by the way? ‘Worth their salt’. Did I just make it up? I’m pretty sure I didn’t. But salt is pretty worthless, in comparison to things like platinum, or smokes in a jail. Or thumbs. 

Anyway, so, where was I? Ah yes, Jack. Jacky, Jacky, Jack. Linked with a move away in the summer? No chance. For one thing he’s been injured for most of the season. That kind of scuppers anyone’s chances of playing football you know. So how Wilshere could be unhappy is beyond me. For clarity, I am not suggesting he is unhappy, just that there seems to be a perception in the media that he is unhappy. But I guess, as I said above, it fits the click-bait and free paper-grabbing world to perpetuate stories like that. 

Even in the Standard article I read yesterday, it uses plenty of suggestive language, but when you draw down into the nub of the content the story appears to be: 

Jack Wilshere could leave Arsenal. But Arsenal haven’t suggest he will. Nor has Jack or his representatives. So it’s unlikely he’ll move just yet. But lots of clubs are interested in him. So he could move. Maybe. 

I’m sure we’re interested in Messi. And if he one day said he’d like to play in England, he could play for us, after all we are an English team playing football in England. It’s practically written in the stars he will be at the club be this time next summer. Maybe. Probably. Could be.

Anyway, all this is to say that there isn’t really a lot to talk about ahead of the trip to Burnley, so everyone’s just killing time until Arsène gives us the low-down on who’s fit to face the Lancastrians on Saturday evening. There’s some bumf from Rambo about how he’s being more relaxed in his approach now, which is a bit interesting because it’s something a lot of the Arsenal fans I speak to picked up on at the beginning of the season, so it’s intriguing to see him say it himself. It’s easy to forget how so much of football is about instinct. In real time, things happen so quickly and I think with access to more data than ever before and more angles than ever before, the modern day football fan does get caught up in statistics with less regard for the more natural parts of the game.

It’s interesting that Ramsey also admits it might take him longer to get back to his best in comparison with others and, when you think about the niche he carved himself out last season – as the all-action box-to-box lung-busting midfielder with an eye for goal – it’s easier to appreciate why he seems to struggle initially when coming back from any injury.

What I’m hoping from Aaron between now and the rest of the season is more of what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. With everyone playing so well at the moment, his improvement and return to form has been overlooked somewhat because of the emergence of Coquelin and return to form of Özil and Giroud, but Ramsey is making it very difficult to find himself benched at all and you can easily see why Wilshere hasn’t even had a sniff just yet. 

Anyway, that’s me done for another day, because I gots a day or work ahead that I need to wake up for.

You be good now, ya’here?

Being realistic, but at least we’ve got our hope back

I know what you’re thinking. Stop it. Don’t do it to yourself. Stay realistic. You and I both know it won’t happen. It can’t happen.

Can it? 

No, definitely not, regardless of how Moneychester City keep seeming to be willing to let us get the tiniest glimmer by losing or drawing games they should be winning. The hope was always large, but the probability was always small, especially when two billionaire-backed football teams were duking it out for the league. Nope, miracles don’t happen to us Arsenal fans, they simply don’t.

But results like yesterday’s Monday Night Football victory for Palace against the sky blue oil whores, do make you dream a little bit more of something magical, don’t they? Unfortunately for us, Chelski appear to have build such an unassailable lead through their first half of a season dominance, that they look like they are going to do what we couldn’t last season and limp over the line. 

Seven points is the difference and they still have a game in hand. That game is against the worst team in the league – Leicester – so we already know that they’ve won it. That brings them to ten and as I’ve been saying to a few people over the last week and a bit, we’ve probably left our winning run charge about a month too late in the season, because wins against Southampton and the Spuds would see us just a point behind the chavs with their one game in hand and a match at The Emirates to come.

Hey, let’s look at the positives though, because whilst the league is 99.9% beyond us, a successful season is most certainly in our grasp and after yet another confidence-boosting win at the weekend and moving up to second in the league, we’re in a position where we could finish as runners up after looking like we’d get nowhere near the top four after about 15 games. To me that represents progress and right now we’re progressing in the right direction. 

We’ll see a perfect example of that when Jose and his chavs rock up at The Emirates in three weeks time, because you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be playing for a draw or scabby counter attacking goal against us. If they do, we can be happy that Jose views us as a serious enough threat, which bodes well for us when looking in to next season. I bet about a month ago you had the same thoughts as me when it came to looking at the game at The Emirates against that lot: “please don’t let them win the league on our ground”. At least thoughts appear to be turning to “if we can beat them on our ground, it narrows the gap and then…what if…”. That’s a much better feeling, eh?

Arsène is starting to sound like Arsène Wenger: The Early Years again too. I seem to recall that at the start of his Arsenal career, we’d get soundbites that were juicier the the most succulent of Spanish oranges, the kind of comments that would get you smiling and believing in the manager and his unnerving belief in his team. Post the Liverpool game he offered his usual assessment, but punctuated it with the utterance “There is something special happening here”. I haven’t heard that kind of talk from Le Boss for years. Sure, he’s always talked up his team, his belief, his trust in his players, yada-yada-yada, but those little soundbites from him are a tiny little insight into where his confidence is at.

I reckon he’s looking at next season and thinking he’s found the squad and the blueprint for success. It started with the Invincibles the season before if you can cast your minds that far back. We’d all but lost out on the league but there were still three or four games, in which we had to play and despite the season petering out, I seem to recall that we played very well in those games. Perhaps that was Arsène looking ahead to the next season. What if he’s got that feeling about this group of players this time?

Exciting prospect, isn’t it? It’s the sort of thing that makes you smile. I’ve questioned whether the fire is still alight in the old dog, yet he has recaptured a bit of life within him with this winning streak, so perhaps there’s more to come before he finally moves on from Arsenal? 

If you’re like me, then it’s never been about sacking Arsène or allowing a dictator to remain in charge, it’s always been about what will it take for Arsenal to be fighting for the league again. If we are fighting, then Arsène can crack on as long as he wants, but if we’re not then there’ll obviously be questions asked on his capability.

Right now he’s answering them. I hope he continues to do that.

Catch you tomorrow.

Emphatic Arsenal led by Özil

Well how do you even start after a game like yesterday? 

I mean wow, if ever you wanted an emphatic way to say ‘chill Gooners, we got this’, the present Arsenal team delivered yesterday. And them some. 

I’ve got to tell you, I was mighty impressed. I was mighty impressed because I thought yesterday’s game would be a scary day in which Arsenal didn’t quite manage to put daylight between us and some of our opponents. After all, we’ve shown in many games over the years that we’ve been able to implode when the going gets tough over the years, so why wouldn’t we have the same shakiness to do it against a Liverpool team who were desperate to pick up three points to try to resurrect their flagging Champions League qualification campaign? 

So it was with much apprehension that I sat to my table in the fancy pub near the home of Churchill (I’d given up my ticket because this weekend is one spent with The Management’s family) to watch what could have been a very eggy faced Arsenal performance against a desperate Liverpool side.

I need to have more faith in the team I support. The first ten minutes helped. All over them, we were, and after ten minutes and a gilt-edged Rambo chance I turned to The Management to proclaim (I’m told with an expletive in tow) that we should have taken our chances. I did indeed fear we’d be punished on the counter and lets be honest, had Markovic been able to square pass the ball properly to Sterling, we might be recounting a different script this Easter Sunday. As it was we got away with it and it was long before the dominance shone through.

Can I just point out, in case you didn’t already know or assume, that I frigging love goals in quick succession? The pro-Liverpool (although I have half a mind to accept my iPhone auto prompt, calling it ‘Loverpool’, as if it knew of of media bias) media were reeling as the third goal went in, but I still remember vividly the three goals Fowler scored in quick succession against us in the 90s, so in no way to I feel like vengence was anything else other than served. So the fact we got three in eight minutes is not lost – nor under appreciated – by this here Arsenal blogger. I may not have been in the stadium, but I felt it as if I was slap bang in the middle of blog five I can tell you.

What a game though. And what a performance from some players. MESUT Özil, for example, took two fingers and planted them firmly inside Neil Ashton’s nasal cavities. He was super throughout. He dictated the play, orchestrated the proceedings, as well as scoring a goal that said “guess what bro? I’m putting the ball right there. And guess what? There ain’t a thing you can do about it”. He was awesome. In a big game. In which the media will have been present and hopefully saying: “turns out he ain’t that bad, eh?”

Has anyone let Neil know. We probably should. Y’know, professional dignity, or something. 

Mind you, professional dignity wouldn’t have played a part when Bellerin danced through the back line to curl one in, did it, so why should it could with ill-informed journos?

What a performance from them all. Even Ospina made a couple of sound saves. There was no player that didn’t play there part yesterday and the net effect is that we find ourselves nine points of Liverpool, second in the league, as well as riding high on a series of victories in which the only down side is that regrets are emerging that we didn’t kick of properly in the first half of the season. Wins against the Spuds and Hull alone would have given us the four points which separate us from chelski and although they still would have had two in hand, at least we’d be breathing down their neck.

But hey-hp, let’s not be too picky, because at least we’re in pole position for Champions League Football. Who’d have thunk we’d be where we are in October last year, after suffering yet anoth points and injury setback and looking so far away from the Champions League, that a top six finish would have been about right?

Let’s also have some props for Giroud. The man is going to hit 25 goals at this rate and with his confidence as high as it is, who’s to say he won’t wrestle the golden boot from Jesus himself, aka Harry Kane. Another goal to put a glorious cherry on the cake was exactly what we needed and Olivier is looking every part the world class striker we’ve craved for the last couple of seasons. It’s funny how these things just happen to land on your doorstep every once in a while. That seems to be happening a lot to us lately. Just ask Francis Coquelin.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re fed up of my gushing for one day, so I’ll leave you in peace. Up the Arsenal!

Make my Easter Arsenal, re-write the media narrative

Happy Easter Saturday in which let’s all be completely honest with each other, unless we get a win this lunchtime, won’t make this festive season a fun one.

Liverpool come to town and it’s a Liverpool team in which Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana will no doubt have miraculously recovered from the injuries that conveniently left them out for the duration of the England matches played over the last ten days, but not any Liverpool matches at all. I’m pretty sure if Arsène Wenger tried a similar stunt he’d be metaphorically hauled over the coals by the media, but I guess one of the advantages of ‘Being Liverpool’ is that the media either fall over themselves to edge an unspoken bias about that club, or they completely sweep things under the carpet.

Still, it is what it is and whilst Liverpool will have the collective threat of Sturridge and Sterling to concern us with, at least they are weakened defensively with the absence of Skyrtel. Whether Gerrard would have played is questionable, but in Lucas they have a combative player who is a dirty little scummer, so I’m sure Brendan is happy that he has more than enough to give us an uncomfortable afternoon. And no matter what anyone thinks, it will be uncomfortable for both sides I think, because United at home a fortnight ago aside, Liverpool were in great form and you’d probably say it was almost as good as ours. They’ve been picking up clean sheets and winning on the road and their home form has stabilised too. This is a massive game for them because three points keeps them well in the hunt, so much like we were desperate for a good performance against Monaco away, I think Liverpool might just try to take the same approach against us come 12.45.

For us it’s a chance to continue our momentum, but also put some very real daylight between us and the scousers, so we have to be massively up for it. Our returning players coming back from internationals all appear to be ok and when you look at the form of some, it’s hard not to fancy us from getting something in the game, although I’ll not go as far as pronouncing our victory just yet. Far from it, actually, as I still have the same old big game nerves I usually do.

The manager has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, so needs to make some serious decisions about who his best XI are, as I’ll be darned if I know. I can have a stab at it, but it’s just as likely to be bailed on as it is a totally different side altogether.

I think Ospina starts in goal, with a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal. Three of that four in defence haven’t played any internationals and so would be fresher for today’s challenge. Having said that, Gabriel offers more pace than Per and there are two pacey attacking players in Sturridge and Sterling, so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the Brazilian from the start.

Midfield simply has to have Coquelin at its base. Arteta may have returned to action in a friendly against Brentford, but Le Coq has been superb and his ability to break up the play will come in handy when creative players like Coutinho are on the ball. Ahead of him you’d expect to see the form player of the season, Santi Cazorla, whilst Özil’s displays also warrant inclusion I think. 

I’d be surprised if Alexis and Giroud don’t start, but who will get that third spot? Theo may have been unimpressive against Italy, but in games like today, with opponents that are a little bit weaker defensively, I just wonder if this might suit him. Welbeck picked up a knock and The Ox is still injured I believe, so Theo may just find himself given an opening to the first team. If he is, he needs to take it with both hands, which means goals, threat going forward and work rate. 

Whoever is left out, at least we had a mighty strong bench to choose from, with some very good players that won’t even make the squad.

We can’t afford to be timid today. Liverpool may well try to catch us cold by getting at us quickly with a high pressing game, so we have to be able to react, either with our own high press, or containment for the start of the match. The last time we played Liverpool for a Saturday kick off we were smashed to bits and the narrative that seems to have been built is that we don’t prepare properly for early kick off games. We need to re-write that media rhetoric. We need to win on our own soil and move on towards the goal of a top three finish.

Come on The Arsenal!