West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

Right, plenty to get through today, so let’s crack on.

Firstly, the clubs announcement that they’ve received 25,000 tickets for the FA Cup final, which let’s face it, is nothing short of a travesty with 45,000 season ticket holders. I am fortunate enough that I have enough away points not to be affected by a ballot, but this farce is a perpetual joke that the FA consistently deliver to all fans of teams that get to the final of the competition. I’m not a fan of the semi’s being at Wembley, but when you have so few tickets available for supporters, I see it as at least a plus point for most to be able to get to go to Wembley. Will the FA change? Don’t hold your breath. 40,000 tickets going to corporates and fans not affiliated with the club (officially). And people wonder why there appears to be less atmosphere at some of these games…

Anyway, much like the mentality the players must adopt in the wake of an important game under the floodlights of the Emirates, as a collective body of people we must now forget the glitz and glamour of an FA Cup showdown with Hull and force our steely gazes towards the arriving East Londoners. It’s Sam ‘Clobbermesiter’ Allardyce who rolls himself into town today with a gameplan that will be so transparent that, if you were a fly, you’d spent your life trying to get through it only to be stopped by its tedium and invisible force-fieldiness.

My brother is a West Ham fan. Half my family hail from that area and I can assure you, if you didn’t already know, the natives are restless and impatient in that part of the world. They don’t like the brand of football he plays, we don’t like the football he plays, heck, even some of the West Ham players probably don’t like the football he plays. But unfortunately it’s a results business and that is what he’s good at.

Tactically, he’ll set up his side to be difficult to break down, catch us with set pieces and rely on our fatigue and fitness levels after a gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend to see if he can deliver a sucker punch in the latter stages. He practically said so in his press conference yesterday. So if that is his plan, we need to make sure that we’ve delivered enough jabs to the face and torso shots to render any random late left hook as a mere footnote. If it goes to points, we want that technical knock out to be comfortably in our favour.

Apologies for the over indulgence of boxing metaphors, but when you’re up against a manager like ‘Big Sam’, what else can you expect other than a physical battle that will more than likely leave us bruised and bloodied come Wednesday morning. They will play Andy Carroll up front, knock the ball long to him and hope that they can get enough support from the two Noble’s to furnish them with either: a) a scabby goal they can cling on to as we desperately find a way to respond for the majority of the match, or b) a scabby goal later in the game when there’s no time to respond. It’s like being asked which pointy end do you want hammered into your crotch.

The first 25 minutes will be all important tonight. If we start quickly and do to West Ham what Liverpool did to us, we can render the result irrelevant. I know you’re probably thinking ‘yeah right, when was the last time we did that’ and certainly our form doesn’t suggest that we will, but good form has to begin somewhere, so why not tonight?

Under normal circumstances this is a game I’d fancy us to get plenty of joy from. The performance on Boxing Day may have started off slightly sluggishly, but the introduction of Podolski and freshening it up a bit in the second half, swung it in our favour. The problem we have tonight is that ‘freshening up’ isn’t really an option we can draw upon with the depleted squad we have. Chamberlain looked like he needed a leg transplant by the end of the game and Rambo, having just got back from injury, ran himself into the ground until the 113th minute, so quite where we inject some pace from is a bit of a mystery to me.

I suspect Kallstrom might be given his first start in midfield and I’m certainly crossing everything in the hope that Rosicky is back fit. Thankfully we have Gibbs and Giroud who only made extended cameo appearances along with Kallstrom on Saturday, so I’m expecting to see that trio looking a bit more spritely, along with a return of Koscienly to give Per the option of a more mobile partner in the heart of the defence. If all of those players make it for tonight’s game, then hopefully it will have a positive impact and Sam’s ‘wait til they get knackered lads’ tactics will be negated somewhat.

This is one of those ‘take a scabby 1-0′ games if you ask my opinion. We are devoid of pace, we have ailing players and we’re up against a team that’s just had 10 days off. We need to get in, get out, keep the Champions League fourth place race alive and look to another big game on Sunday against Hull. Because if I’m honest with you, I can’t see Everton slipping up against Palace at home tomorrow night, can you?

The problem we have, as so many have already pointed out just about everywhere that I read, is that we’re too predictable with the way we set up. Allardyce is one of those men that studies the opponents rigorously and where their weaknesses are, so coupled with the extra rest his team have been afforded, he’ll really fancy an upset tonight. Dealing with Carroll will be the biggest challenge, but up against big men this season I’ve been impressed at how we’ve managed to deal with the pressure. I think to Spuds and Villa away and how both teams set up to get balls into the box to the front man, which were routinely hammered away by the Per/Kos axis. That’s why Koscienly’s re-introduction into the team could prove to be pivotal. There’s reasons to be cheerful, given that he was snapped by the club in training yesterday, but thankfully Arsene has admitted he will remain cautious on playing him unless he’s 100%. We need Per and Kos to be fit for the rest of the season. If we want to replicate ‘gritty Arsenal 2013′, built on a solid foundation and an ability not to concede goals, it is those two where it starts so I hope he makes his way back in to the team lineup from the start.

This West Ham team will pose us some troubles tonight I fear. But the hope, however, is that our need is greater than a team that should now be more than comfortably clear of a relegation dogfight, so I’m hoping on a West Ham team that is already planning their Maldives getaway in June.

How about this for some positivity? What price could you put on the team being reborn after the confidence boost of knowing you’re in a cup final? What if the knowledge that reinforcements are being shipped in like it’s our turn next to roll the dice in a footballing real-life version of ‘Risk‘, as Özil and Gnabry appear on the horizon ready for their part to play? Arsene himself seemed a little bit chipper about returning players yesterday, so let us hope that our nightmare form which has seen us not win a game (in normal time!) since what feels like 2008, is starting to dissipate and be replaced by an end of season charge to the top four.

Catch you tomorrow.

No time for happy reflection, there’s still one more big job to do

We learned our FA Cup final fate yesterday with Hull’s dismissal of a plucky Sheffield United in the second of the semi-finals at Wembley in the Sunday sunshine yesterday. So now both sets of fans can happily proclaim that we’re definitely going to Wembley for real this time.

Post game emotions on Saturday evening seemed quite muted as I walked along Wembley Way. Indeed, from some of the sombre faces that I came across before I departed on the Met Line home had an air of glumness to the result, such was the hope that there would be demons banished against Championship Wigan. Personally, in 12 months time if this match is to be played again in similar circumstances, I suspect we’ll be talking about Premier League Wigan and so the gloss would not have been as sanded down as it appeared to have been because we only beat a Championship team. But there you go.

After more than 24 hours worth of reflection I’m just happy we’re there and the fact that the final has now been moved back until after the league has finished by the FA is a good thing too. It will ensure that all eyes can be fixed on what I think has become an extremely difficult task to remain in the top four this season.

It’s difficult because Everton are playing well and the Spuds aren’t quite out of it yet. Everton’s somewhat fortunate goal against Sunderland on Saturday may have felt like the rub of the green is there’s, but they had other chances to put Sunderland away and with Crystal Palace heading to Goodison this midweek, I don’t fancy that Tony Pulis will do us any favours. That means that the margins are now almost nil for us in my opinion. Our league form has been nothing short of woeful and the main element of hope we can take from the weekends result is that the players will rock up to London Colney today with a spring in their step because they have a final to look forward to in the merry month of May. Certainly the performance won’t have helped alleviate our nerves ahead of a very important game tomorrow.

Make no mistake about it, tomorrow will be desperately hard, and if you don’t believe that already yourself then I’d ask you to consider a few things. Firstly, West Ham are playing with no pressure, having pretty much secured their survival with a couple of good wins and were unlucky to fall victim to refereeing incompetence against Liverpool last weekend. That’s a Liverpool team that unfortunately is going to go on and win this year’s Premier League I’m afraid.

Secondly, we will probably be in a bit of a mess in terms of ‘tired legs’ tomorrow. We’ve looked leggy and lethargic after a week off recently, so how we’ll perform when the players have just gone through 120 minutes of intensity (regardless of the opponent and their technical ability, the players still had to go through a mentally draining game with penalties at the end) is anyone’s guess. Last season we absolutely blitzed a Wigan team that had won the FA Cup during the weekend previously and that game had them fighting for their lives. But you could see then after about an hour how absolutely shattered they were. That’s what I fear for us.

Arsene has not rotated enough this season and injuries have forced his hand at the moment, so we know that there will be a large chunk of the players that played against Wigan, also being asked to step in against West Ham.

It’s not just tomorrow that we need to look at though, is it? At the weekend upcoming we face a dress reversal of the cup final when the players travel up to the Yorkshire and Humberside region to face Hull in what will be another game that we cannot lose. I believe we have to win all of our remaining five games to get that fourth spot. The way things are falling for Everton I can only see them dropping points in perhaps one game of their remaining five, which means we have to win all of ours and that includes a trip to Hull in which I can see them wanting to put a marker down for the FA Cup, as well as an away game on the final day of the season in which I’m almost certain Norwich’s Premier League status will rely on.

There’s also talk of a few more knocks picked up from Saturday’s game, which wouldn’t surprise me, as would a special request from the club to bring in any former player still living as extra bodies to cover some of the spaces we have available in our squad with our injury list. Arsene will no doubt give us the low down on who’s available at some stage today, so kiss any lucky rabbits feet you have, avoid three drain manhole covers and search the fresh Spring fields for all the four leaf clovers there are available. More on the game tomorrow and possible starting line ups as well.

For now, enjoy the sunny day, the thoughts of the final and the hope of ending an intolerable trophy drought that we’ve been beaten with for the last nine years.

Puppy sacrifices with no repercussions

I learned quite some time ago that life isn’t fair, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that in football, there’s ever anything that is fair in this world.

I was all ready with my ‘har-har, chortle-chortle, Chelski lost to a team that plays with an RnB singer from the nineties’ jibe, when I find out on BBC News at Ten that they’d scored a last minute winner to get through to the semi final.

I mean, really? Do you think that the footballing gods could just give Chelski some sort of karmic comeuppance, just once, just at some stage? Probably not. John Terry, dressed in an all white Ku-Klux-Klan ensemble, surrounded by puppies to which he bullets each one, then finishes off by eating them on national television, probably wouldn’t see any kind of karma come back to haunt them.

Jose Mourinho can make all the jibes about rival managers he likes, but you just know that the second Arsene have it a go, we’d lose 12-0 to a Tony Pulis inspired Crystal Palace side. Actually, Arsene might as well start making derogatory quotes about the opposition, because when he doesn’t it still doesn’t keep us immune from batterings.

You might want to take a step back from today’s blog, because I’ve filled it with some sour grapes and they’re really starting to turn…

What we really need to see ‘turn’ is our form and, as the Everton debacle begins to fade slightly (but unfortunately cannot be forgotten), I find myself trying frantically to return to some semblance of positivity. After all, come Saturday night at around 8pm UK time the world could look like a slightly brighter place. Of course, it could also look like an unfair wasteland of ripped Arsenal shirts and broken cannons, but as Billy said on GunnersTown in his piece yesterday, hope is a much more powerful and thoroughly enjoyable feeling than that of bitterness and anger.

So my plan for the rest of this week is to recapture that feeling that all is certainly not lost in this season. An FA Cup semi final victory followed by victory over West Ham in the league will provide some much needed belief to all concerned with Arsenal. The hope, however, is that the team can handle the pressure against lesser opposition.

If I can offer any glimmer of positivity to you in the days leading up to the semi, it’s that our season success has been built on the back of beating teams further down the table to us. Wigan are certainly further down the table, as are all of the sides we now face in the Premier League, so whilst our fate does not reside in our own hands for the race for fourth (eurgh), the team have shown they have the minerals to dispatch teams this season.

Aaron and Wojciech have been the chosen mouthpieces for talking up the Arsenal response this week, which I can understand because Rambo’s return appeared to show no major ring-rustiness and despite being partially culpable for the third goal on Sunday, there’s not really a lot wrong that Szczesny did against the toffees and so both players emerged from the second Merseyside debacle of the season relatively unscathed.

It will be good to see Ramsey line up in midfield – probably alongside Arteta – at the weekend and whilst the Spaniard has looked a little bit war-torn and weathered of late, having someone with the energy of the Welshman will do him the power of good I’m sure.

We’ve still got a few days before Arsene or anyone at the club emerge to talk all things cup competition, so perhaps it’s a good thing that they’re getting down and concentrating on trying to rediscover some form. What we really need them to be doing is having another group meeting and some home truths laid down a lá Tottenham away last season. There needs to be a team reboot because it hasn’t been working for some time now. A fresh approach can come from a bit of team bonding and motivational speaking, but if ever there was a time to try and re-jig the first eleven to inject some pace, it’d be right now.

More on possible team line ups in the coming days.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts tomorrow.>

Twinges, switcharoo’s and Everton

See Arsenal? See what happens when you leave me to my own devices on a Saturday? I head into the City to engage in a bit of beer-swillingey Monopoly-inspired goodness. I hold you fully accountable for what transpires on this Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, at least Arsene has managed to plug a boredom gap by giving me something to write about whilst I wait for this horrific monstrosity of public transportation (London Double-Decker – I have a deep-seated detestation of all buses going back to my university days reliance on the horrible things) to take me to my destination. Rail replacements…pffffhhhhh.

Anyway, you don’t care about that, so I’ll move my mutterings squarely into the Arsenal topic corner. Arsene took on the press yesterday and was able to talk up the positivity that Rambo’s return (sounds like a film that Sly would make when he realises he’s probably too old to get any other gig) would have on the team. It is a timely boost to the squad, but much like Gnabry and as I mentioned yesterday, Arsene confirmed that he didn’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders for at least another two to three weeks. That’s fine by me. I can handle the ‘he’ll improve on the pitch’ stuff, it’s the seemingly never-ending dreaded ‘three-weeks’ when players are out, that I find difficult to stomach.

I’d expect him to play some part in the latter stages of the game tomorrow, but let’s hope the victory is secured with 20 minutes to go when we can ease him back in, rather than us desperately chasing something against an in-form Everton.

What he will eventually bring to the team is a much needed shot of adrenalin to the team. His all-action energetic style brings feels to me like it brings us a bit more urgency and in addition to his goals, it’s not surprising to see that he’s a fighter in defence as well. We may have to wait a couple of weeks before we see the lung-busting Aaron, but he’ll get there and we’ll profit from it as a team as a result.

The return of Monreal is quite fortuitous too, as it appears Gibbs has a slight ankle twinge (love that word!), so I think Arsene will be happy to give it the old ‘switcharoo’ (that one too!) in at left back. Anyway, more on team squad line up tomorrow, with maybe even some thoughts on Everton too.

I always find the headline grabbers in the press quite amusing at these press conference thingamabobs. After he had his usual presser yesterday, I saw headlines about Arsene talking about ‘six pointers’, little horses and the like, but it was only when I actually watched the press conference that I realised that he didn’t actually say those things at all. He was asked a question by a hack which included the word ‘six pointer’, to which he could either respond ‘yes’ (WENGER SAYS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GAME A SIX POINTER), or ‘no’ (WENGER DISMISSES EVERTON GAME IMPORTANCE). I know I’m big enough and ugly enough to realise that it’s all part of life’s eclectic and rich tapestry, but it still doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Arsene was also asked about whether the morale of the team had been dented by recent displays, to which he admitted we were a little ‘flat’ against Swansea, but that a corner had turned with the City result. I’m sure that did restore a little belief, but the only worry I have is that our belief seems permanently balanced on a knife-edge. We’ve take. Quite a few batterings this season compared to our so-called rivals, so I’m always wary when you hear comments like ‘we’ve turned a corner’. It’s fine to turn a corner, just don’t turn four corners on the same side in quick succession lads, because you’ll end up standing exactly where you were and be doomed to repeat your mistakes. For me, the only time I’ll truly believe that we have ‘turned the corner’ is when a very large milestone has been achieved. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but for me it’s all about getting that monkey off our back; delivering silverware.

We have a very real chance to turn a very big corner. I hope Arsene and his team takes it. We all do.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Holloway Road goats and a managed expectation on Rambo

Bleugh. An early start followed by interrupted sleep makes for one grumpy Suburban Gooner I tell you. Plus, I was interrupted on the intriguing dream I was having about collecting my FA Cup semi final and final (yes, presumptuous I know but apparently someone had guaranteed our safe passage) from Islington Town Hall, which had been conveniently moved so that it was now next to The Rocket pub and was having daily ‘history of Arsenal Football Club’ tours sponsored by Credit Suisse. How mental is it that big brands are even involved in your subconscious these days?

Anyway, I never found out why there were an un-proportionately large volume of goats on Holloway Road before I was rudely awoken by my early alarm clock, so I’m in a bit of a huff this morning. Still, I guess my cup semi final tickets did arrive on schedule, so there’s one reason to be cheerful.

Another reason to be cheerful is the re-emergence of Aaron Ramsey from his hamstring inflicted hibernation. Arsene delivered the good news yesterday that he will be in the match day squad on Sunday and, whilst I doubt he’ll get anything more than 20 to 30 minutes tops, it’s a welcome sight at a stage in the season when losing players to injury seems to have become more fashionable than receiving them back from injury.

I’m not going to put any undue pressure on him through over-hyped expectations though and I think you should advise all you know and love to do the same. After all, three months out in a nine month season is a long time, so I don’t think we’ll see the swashbuckling, goalscoring, box-to-box lung-busting Ramsey for a couple of weeks yet.

There’s also a tendency to hail returning players as the saviour of any season when it gets to the business end, yet rarely to players return and deliver what the mind distorts into some kind of super-human player that does everything and changes the course of a game alone. I remember the excitement a few years back when Vermaelen returned after so long out, yet after a dozen or so games it was clear that he wasn’t the brick wall we all had built him up to be during his lengthy absence.

I think Aaron will have a very positive effect on our play, so please don’t let my cautiousness belie the fact I’m very happy to see him return, but I just want to keep my own expectations in check. Sorry to trot out a tired cliché, but there are 11 Arsenal players that win football matches, not just one. For Ramsey to be successful the other players will need to each have their own impact.

Nacho also returns from injury and it’s a bit of a shame that he picked up his injury when he did, because it would have given him some more game time whilst Gibbs was injured, which is inevitably now going to be reduced given that Gibbs is back in the first team fold. I still think Monreal will get a few games between now and the end of the season, but providing Gibbs stays fit I can see those games being fewer than he would like. Hey, that’s what happens when you’re at a big club competing for places, which I’m sure he knows and appreciates.

Diaby is back in training, but until he strings together four games without injury, I suggest we just pretend that is merely a cameo before the inevitable happens. I watched a small bit of Lyon vs Juventus last night and saw Pogba with a very similar style to Abou. Only not injured. It made me think about ‘what could have been with Diaby. He’s such a gifted player and it’s a real shame that what happened to him happened, but I guess that is life, so everyone should just get on with it.

The rest of the news we leave to Arsene to debate and discuss with the journos today. With us lining up against Everton on Sunday, I expect we’ll hear some mischievous comments about the possibility of Lukaku at Arsenal next season, but at this stage it’s all agent talk and probably not even worth the sentence I’ve afforded it.

That’s yer lot for this Friday. If they do find out why so many goats are present in North London, can you let me know?

Thanks

A glorious day for the glass to be half empty

What a glorious day it is scheduled to be today. We’re approaching half-time on the working week and the sun has finally got his hat on. Hip-hip-hip-hooray.

As for me, I’m feeling as chipper as one can on a tube line hurtling towards the City with a days worth of pen-pushing ahead of me, but I’m starting to get the worried feeling about the game this weekend. It’s an irrational feeling based on nothing but the experience of being metaphorically judo-chopped in the goolies by Arsenal over the years, but also one of a man that sometimes finds it hard to look at the glass being half full.

I don’t know why I can be a pessimist sometimes. After all, it’s hardly a fun existence, is it? I mean, if you think about boss really irritating people that dish out jovial ‘banter’, they are also usually the ones that can shrug off defeats quite easily. I find there’s quite a lot of Spuds that I know seem to do that. But then you have those self-torturing souls; people like me who have the twisted mentality that if you play down everything, you’ll not end up being disappointed. But the problem with that school of thought is that you are in a permanent state of disappointment. So perhaps I should just try being one of those overly positive ‘nah, we’ll win this weekend’ fellows that, when it doesn’t happen, is able to shrug it off. At least I won’t have a week leading up to a game getting too worked up.

Words. All of this is just words unless I can actually change my psyche. I’ll let you know how I get on.

A brief interlude:
I am now fully entrenched in the ‘please don’t let Liverpool win the league’ camp. This line of thinking has been drawn into sharp focus with the assertion from Jamie Carragher that Liverpool will win the league. After reading his comments and pondering the sheer scale of pro-Liverpool ex-players that are now on TV on our screens, it’s not even the fans I want to see unhappy – it’s them lot ‘n all.

Anyway, what’s happening in the world of Arsenal, eh?

Well, we’ve signed a new player, called Abou Diaby! I know, I know, I’m sure I could have come up with something infinitely more humorous and quick-witted, but it’s early so I’m going to plead with you to not hold it against me.

What we do know is that when Ramsey comes back it’s going to take him a few games to get back to math fitness, so for Diaby I expect we’ll see very little of him for the rest of the season. Perhaps a couple of ten minute spells and maybe a good 20 under his belt, but with a year left on his contract in the summer, he and Arsene would be best served taking this as an extended pre-season training camp for his body in preparation for a new season in August. His talk of the French World Cup team is laughable, and if he were to go it would be a wet kipper slapped across the thousands of Arsenal fans for whom he’s become a perpetual sore point when talking about injuries. Of course every player wants to go to the World Cup, but if he has a few games under his belt and is in with a chance of selection, I would hope he and the French National Team manager sit down and have a serious discussion. If he goes to Brazil, in the humidity and heat, in one of the most intense football competitions in the world, and breaks down again, he’ll find himself on the footballing scrap heap next year. So he needs to have a serious think about it, should the opportunity become very real and present itself, which in all honesty I don’t think it will.

Thommy V has spoken about how he wants Arsene to stay, but that’s hardly ‘STOP THE PRESS’ stuff, is it? He’s the club captain and is talking about the spirit of the squad in his interview that came out yesterday, so it wouldn’t exactly be in keeping with the tone of the piece if he uttered ‘but yeah, y’know, if Arsene does skid-addle then it might give me a chance to win my place back so I’m all for it actually’.

So that’s pretty much it from me today. We’ll get some pics of the players in training at some stage today, plus Arsene’s ‘who’s fit?’ piece tomorrow in which he says ‘nobody returns, as you were’ before facing the press on Friday. Exciting stuff.

Catch you tomorrow.

The chicken and egg debate: fan/player motivation

How much of an impact can we make as fans on a football match?

That’s a question that I’ve long pondered in the pub surrounded with fellow Gooners, long wondered whether we are that influential, at times convincing myself of our importance and at others dismissing our part to play.

But the reality is that we are vitally important; you only have to look at Tricky Micky’s comments on the official site to see the impact the fans inside the stadium have to drive on the team. He spoke of how the players are able to react to the fantastic fan response and of how on Saturday, despite being a goal behind, as a collective we continued to try to motivate the players. This had the knock-on effect of giving the players that little bit of extra juice and helped guide them over the line against a team that I think (and hope – I know too many southern Scousers and Chelski fans to think of anything else right now) will win the league.

Why is it that we, as a collective, aren’t able to reproduce that kind of a vocal atmosphere for every one of the 25-odd games that we play at home every season? I genuinely don’t know. In terms of the players, they are eleven men on a field and so if four or five have an off day, then you can say that they are only human. Likewise, if I go to a game and I have a stinking hangover, I’m sure most of the folks around me will shoot me a knowing glance of ‘we’ve all been there, son’ and accept if I’m not shouting too loudly. But you can’t say that all 60,000 people have had a night on the sauce when the atmosphere has been subdued before, so why is it quieter?

I guess there are a few mitigating circumstances. It is inevitable that the crowd are going to be up for a game against top-of-the-table rivals, because of the natural importance of the match and the confidence boost that a win provides. Or if there appears to be some injustice served up to us like the Rosicky penalty shout and Flamini disallowed goal in the first half. That’s where the benefit of not having a replay on the big screens comes in, because those two incidents helped to build the siege mentality of the crowd and players against City and the match officials, so naturally the decibel level was cranked up a notch.

Perhaps it is on the players to start the engine, so the fans can keep it ticking over, which is why some games like the Swansea game seemed so muted? The players didn’t bother getting out of second gear in the first half, which didn’t exactly give the fans much to cheer about, but in the second half the place was rocking after the quick-fire goals. But should we, as fans, done more to pick up the team that evening? It’s the inevitable chicken and egg scenario that I can’t work out which one should be first. Players perform, crowd reacts, or vice-versa. It’s easy for us to talk about a reaction after the Chelski debacle, but perhaps the atmosphere against Swansea mirrored the reaction of the players, which was a nervy and confidence-hit team. And if that is the case, perhaps we can understand the post-drubbing draws we’ve seen after every humbling.

I don’t really have any answers today I’m afraid. I only know that there is a symbiotic relationship between the fans and the players and for both to be sparked into good performances, there needs to be a catalyst. I’m hoping that the eventual (he says whilst holding his breath) return of Özil and Ramsey will help to provide a bit more of a boost to a squad that was starting to look a little bedraggled. That could prove to be the spark that pushes us over the line in the league and drives us towards hopeful FA Cup glory.

There has never been a more important time for the players to give us something to cheer about and there has never been a time that they have needed us to push them towards glory.

A final bit of housekeeping for you. Yesterday Ben, Steve and I were joined by the lovely FK from the Bergkamp Wonderland Podcast, to give us his thoughts on the week that was. You can find that in the menu bar under ‘Podcasts’, funnily enough, or download from iTunes if that takes your fancy. Just search ‘Suburban Gooners’ and you’re laughing all the way to…err…the circus??

Anyway, come on you reds and all that jazz.
&;

Hmm…not sure how I feel about that

I’m not sure how I feel about yesterday’s result. I mean, I was happy to see us avoid defeat, as well as put in a good display with a depleted squad, but it’s hard for me to feel like we didn’t have another opportunity to get involved back in the title race. A frivolous fancy I know, but after Chelski made a bit of a balls-up against Crystal Palace, a win against Moneychester City could have seen us inexplicably back within reach of a title tilt.

As it is, I think we can pretty much rule out any kind of Shakespearian comeback for the league, but deep down I think most of us felt that any way. More importantly, we wanted to see something from this injury hit and beleaguered squad of Arsenal players, which I think we got.

I saw a team that were resolute defensively and gave Moneychester City very little in the way of attacking chances throughout the game. Sure, there was a few scary moments like when Toure rounded Szczseny in the second half, or the actual goal itself which unsurprisingly came from a loose bit of possession from Arsenal (Podolski), but by-and-large I thought we kept the Mancunians at bay for the majority of the match, whilst they still had to have Hart alert on a few occasions, most notably from a well struck effort that ricocheted off the ‘keepers boot.

You could tell that we were a tentative side in the first half, wary of conceding a là Stamford Bridge, playing within ourselves and not wanting to be too exposed. It felt like we were not really threatening in that first 45, but it also felt as if we were keeping City at arms length – the goal aside.

The second half we inevitably looked more adventurous and when the neat Flamini finish came I have to say I felt – completely biased of course – as if it was deserved. We looked a lot more confident in that second half and if any team were going to win it, it would have been us.

Again, I go back to the first comment I made at the top of the blog, which is that I’m not sure whether I’m happy with the result or not. I suppose many of us would have taken it before kick off (certainly the majority of Gooners I spoke to pre-match in the Tolly would agree), but in the warm light if day (thanks sunshine for reading your head!) I think I’m more disappointed than anything else. I don’t know why; we played a City team missing only Aguero from their squad, yet we have a list of players out so long that if you tattooed their names along your arm you’d probably need to be some kind of shaven super-monkey just to get all the letters on you.

The point may prove pivotal in securing fourth, but it would not seem as disappointing had we done our job against Swansea, so my overriding thought over these past seven days is not one with any kind of silver lining I’m afraid. We’ve slipped up midweek which was probably the most disappointing thing, recovered with a decent enough display yesterday, but ultimately are still looking precariously over our shoulder.

A few other points that stick out from yesterday. Mike Dean really is a reprehensible character. It’s often stated that the best referees are the ones that are not seen or heard, but I can’t say that any game with him in charge (regardless of whether it’s Arsenal or not) falls into that category. He’s the type of person that revels in the spotlight and I am sure that – like Graham Poll before him, when he is forced to retire, he will find a way to slither himself back into the public spotlight. He’s like the old-school headmaster type that has a massive inferiority complex and so takes out his own insecurities on the players he has 90 minutes to control each week. I haven’t seen the Rosicky penalty incident yet but many tell me it is one of those ‘seen them given’, but in classic Dean style he not only refused to budge (I’m not so sure he’d have been as stubborn had it been against us at the Etihad), but made quite a gesture of pointing to a goal kick. He is a character the game will not miss when he is gone.

And subs. I know this is a bit of a mute point, because we’ve always known this about Arsene, but sometimes I do wish he’d roll the dice a bit earlier than he does. He waited until just over ten minutes to go before making some changes when I thought we could have done with freshening it up a little earlier. Some of the players did look like they were dipping physically on about the 65-70 minute mark, yet Arsene left it a little bit too late for the incoming subs to make an impact. With City pushing forward a little bit more I’d have liked to have seen the Ox on earlier and perhaps even Gnabry. Having said that, we’ve all chastised the team this season for ‘going for it’ when they should have realised that settling for a point may have been good enough, so perhaps we can’t have our cake and eat it with attacking subs designed to win the game.

We now have a week off to recharge the batteries in prep for Everton away which, depending on results tomorrow, could be another anus-clenching afternoon as we make it as difficult as possible for ourselves to secure Champions League football next season.

But we wouldn’t have it any other way, right?

I think we’ll be up for this tonight and so will the players

Yesterday I was walking back with Steve having our usual post work chinwag, when something he said struck a chord with me, in relation to how he’d been feeling about Arsenal all week.

Words like ‘tired’ were shuffled around the conversation between us both as we tried to make some sort of footballing premonitions for today’s game, but not used to describe our ailing squads, instead used for the feeling we had when defending – or trying to defend – The Arsenal against rival fans. Perhaps it isn’t only the players that are fatigued with this season? Perhaps we are feeling the emotional strain as much as the players feel their hamstring ones?

This lethargy had me thinking back to Tuesday night and the subdued atmosphere for the game. Even before Swansea’s early lead, the whole place seemed to be in a bit of a funk, which only erupted into life after we scored our quick-fire goals.

If the atmosphere could be called into question then, what will we see tonight, when the players take on league title favourites Moneychester City? Will we see the same lethargy from the fans (I include myself on this criticism as part of the collective) as we saw from the players when there is a big game and a chance to somewhat redeem ourselves as a club in the eyes of the watching media?

I think the Emirates will be rather noisy today, not just because of the added beer time that will have been afforded to us thanks to a late kick off, but because we will want to see a reaction and I think the crowd know they can play a part.

So it’s for that reason – the atmosphere and the ability of the home fans to turn up the decibel levels inside the ground – that I think the players will react too. They’ll hear us roar from the first minute and they’ll want to show that the tiredness can be abated with the benefit of adrenalin. If we can up our games as fans, why can’t the players, against vastly superior opposition?

I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it; our form compared to city’s doesn’t look great and as I said yesterday, nobody seems to fancy us, especially the bookies. But when you look at how the team has played against the big players at home in the league this season, there is cause for optimism, not least in the fact that of the current top seven teams, we’ve conceded one goal in the league at home. I’m sure that record will be tested tonight, but small mercies and all that…

What we will need to do is be better in taking chances. City has tightened up defensively, but they still have their frailties, so if we can capitalise on any mistakes then we simply must. Ollie G, I’m looking at you here kid, time to shake off those treacle-covered boots and show that you can show up in big games. Pretend it’s still the autumn of something.

I think Arsene will opt for a similar line up to the one that played on Tuesday, but I’d think long and hard about adding the end-product of Podolski into the mix, plus throwing in a Gnabry-shaped curveball. We need to try something different and I think the young German would give us that. With those two – both inevitably fresher because they haven’t played in midweek from the start – flanking Giroud up top, my hope would be that we’d see two players more willing to get beyond the Frenchman and therefore give him more options for his little flicks and touches. We all know that Giroud is a lay-off specialist, so let’s put men in and around him and even in front of him when he comes to collect the ball.

In behind that three I’d give the nod to Rosicky, Flamini and Cazorla. Rosicky is the elder statesman of the team and has played a lot of football recently, but Arteta has looked the most leggy of the three and so I’d be inclined to sit Tomas alongside Matthieu. Of course, the challenge might be that Rosicky might want to get forward more than Arteta and against a team with the attacking threat of City it may be more suitable to have two holding midfielders sitting to stifle the play in front of our back four, but Rosicky is that player that knows how to tackle and can inject a little bit more pace in move the ball on quickly from front to back.

As for City, well, where do you even start? Smashing in goals for fun and the Premier League Title in sight, they know that a win today could be vital. Pellegrini can play it down all he likes: if City win tonight I fancy them for the title. I wouldn’t mind seeing City lift the title ahead of Chelski and Liverpool, but I’d rather they win every single game after tonight between now and the end of the season, because the priority is always Arsenal and seeing Arsenal succeed. If we do manage to fashion a win at home, imagine what it will do for the confidence? Points-wise it will probably not mean a lot because Everton are sure to beat a shocking Fulham team, but it would keep breathing distance between us and the toffees and means we could all but seal a Champions League spot with a victory at Goodison, which in turn would put us in a great position to really have a go at the FA Cup the following week. Players would be returning and the place would seem a little rosier than it has these past seven days, so I am extremely hopeful that we’ll see a strong Arsenal performance and a win against a team with the reprehensible Samir Nasri.

Anyway, that’s it from me today, I’m off to find my lucky flat cap which I realised is only lucky when I wear it inside the stadium, rather than at home on my parents sofa like I did last week.

Peace out.