Find Wenger’s kidnapper

This country I reside within is beings severely punished at the moment. How else can you explain the ridiculously cold weather that we’re having to endure? I mean really, 2’C? Madness!

I tell you who else is mad: Arsène Wenger, that’s who. I think the present cold snap has frozen his transfer deflector shields, because yesterday he was asked a direct question about a player who doesn’t play for us and is not on the verge of signing, and essentially admitted that if we get the work permit situation sorted the deal can be done.

Who are you and what have you done with Monsieur Wenger? That must be some sort of silicon infused android, because Arsène is normally way more guarded than he was yesterday, so I’m thinking that we have to start a man-hunt for Arsène’s captor. Think about it: defensively resolute against the champions at the weekend, admitting to transfer business that the android himself said was 50-50, then next thing you know he’ll be wearing a baseball cap on the touchline and publicly chastising players in the post-match presser. The evidence was there in his press conference yesterday too, identifying the strikers and singling out Joao Teixeira by the looks of the official site transcript of his conference yesterday. Arsène Wenger. Looking at an opponent and their weaknesses. And looking to nullify them. People: this is not a drill – a mans life could be at stake here!

There’s only one way we can find out if it’s the real Arsène: give him a really long coat with a zip. If he does it up first time, we bullet the evil android in the head and start the search immediately.

There are plenty of suspects. Ivan Gazidis, looking to finally have some control and therefore investing some of his sizabel bonus on the technology to build an Alien-style part human, part machine. Jurgen Klopp, who is looking for an exit from his Dortmund nightmare and has also invested some of his annual chunk of change on developing the technology. Hey, maybe it’s Dick Law, who is fed up with being given the run-around by 18 year-old prospects and has kidnapped Arsène and will never release him, just get ‘Evil Arsène’ to do his dirty work so all he has to do is to turn up and collect a player from the airport.

Clever Dick.

Of course I jest, but the important thing I guess, is that we are making serious moves in the market and we’re doing it almost a week before the transfer trapdoor slams shut until June. I just hope – and suspect it’s the case – that we have other options on standby in case we don’t get the positive response from the Home Office that we’re looking for.

The team news ahead of the weekend has some question marks, but I think I’ll leave the pondering on the eventual line up until Sunday morning, because I suspect a few players will be rotated. Arsène already admitted that Özil would start and with Santi in what Le Boss described as ‘the best form of his career’, it seems strange that our record signing has to contend with FA Cup appearances to show that he can get back into the side. It’s a strange and beautiful situation for Wenger to be in and, if Mesut runs the game on Sunday, it makes it delightfully more difficult for Arsène to choose who starts the following week. I’m sure he’s not worried about that in the slightest though.

He also didn’t seem too fussed about the Coquelin contract situation either, so hopefully that will be wrapped up soon, because we lose quite a few midfielders in the summer and even with Coquelin, we still need another defensive minded midfielder in my opinion. I just hope Le Boss’ confidence that the deal will be done isn’t just a smokescreen like the Flamini situation the first time around that we had him.

There’s plenty more Arsenal stuff that I could be babbling on about today, but I’m running out of time as my Met line train hurtles towards Finchley Road and ‘Nosignalsville’, so I’m afraid I must cut my ramblings short and hope you have a less frost-laden day than I am having.

Out.

‘Classics’, kids and contracts

As we lurch ever closer to this weekend’s game against Moneychester City, the build up is already beginning by the media online, talking up ‘classics’ and how this weekend’s game will compare to encounters between the two games.

I have to say I don’t really remember too many ‘classics’, if I’m honest, because we were either dominant in beating a mid-table team at best, or we’ve been pretty much dominated since they were the second English winners of the football lottery, sponsored by Oil Whores Plc. Still, I suppose it fits a narrative for Sky to try and whip up expectation and viewing figures, I suppose.

We’ll no doubt hear about the squad availability from Arsène today, but I’m not sure when the full presser will be, given that it’s a Sunday game. It might still be tomorrow, but we’ll just have to wait with baited breath. A little bit like we’re waiting for some sort of transfer to be sorted for the problems of depth we currently face. Here’s a question: when does ‘baited breath’ becoming ‘holding your breath’? Because I’m sure there’s a few that would suggest avoiding doing that in terms of transfers.

There is one that is supposedly almost concluded and, when I asked The Management who she thought Arsenal might be about to announce as a signing, whilst not being able to name the person she did a pretty good job of getting the attributes right.
– A position where they don’t need to sign anybody
– A 17 year old who won’t make the first team
– foreigner

Two out of three ain’t bad, is it? It’s a worrying sign when even your loved ones can predict what sort of player the club are going to sign, and that player rarely ends up being what we need for the here and now.

Still, the club are active, the lad Bielik seems to be a hot prospect and one would imagine that there will be a need for him over the next couple of years as Arteta’s career begins to wind down and Flamini has another form of card created just because of referees overuse of the yellow one they bring out for him every game.

The club are active, that’s a positive, right? Yeah, definitely a positive. Definitely. We’ll definitely address our deficiencies within the next two weeks. Definitely.

Maybe.

Even if it’s just a loan.

Anyway, don’t crack Chris, because you’ve managed to avoid being sucked too deep into the transfer quagmire that is the January window thus far. Just two weeks to go.

For Poldi, it’s about four and a half months to go at Inter and, supposedly after telling the press about him wanting a little more respect from Arsène after his departure, he’s said that he’s not sure what his future will hold. He’ll return to Arsenal in the summer and find out, he says, but I think we all know (and he does too) that he will be finding a new club in the summer. Even if there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel that is his Arsenal career, those words he spoke to the press will have hardly given Arsène any more desire to bring him back in the summer, will they?

That’s probably why I was so sceptical at first. I mean, why burn bridges at the club that still holds your contract, when you could end up going back there anyway? It’s a strange one. You don’t have to look far back into the Arsenal archives to see an example of a player who burned bridges, then ended up spending a season at the club because we were short of players in that position. It’s what happened last season when the ‘marriage of convenience’ was forged with Bendtner and Wenger. Bendtner had spent all summer telling everyone he was offski, had offers, didn’t want to be at The Arsenal, only to have his route blocked and end up having to spend a season as a man of last resort for Le Boss to call on. It wouldn’t surprise me at all for Podolski to have a similar situation in the summer if his time at Inter Milan is a hit. He’s on big wages and there are a lot of clubs that just can’t afford it.

There’s nothing else that’s really kicking around that I can see at the moment. Not related to the first team, anyway, as Benik Afobe never really got close to establishing himself at the club and I can understand why Arsenal and Wolves found it quite easy to come to an agreement over his signature. The player that they clearly want to try and tie down is Akpom, who has looked like he is being looked at by a number of clubs across Europe, and with his contract running out at the end of the season you can understand why he’s holding out to find out how close he thinks he can get to the first team. Unlike last season, where he would probably have been given more chances had he developed a year earlier, this season we’re quite well stocked in the attacking department. So if Akpom is finding his route to first team football a bit congested, you can understand his reluctance to sign on the dotted line. I suspect that will play out a bit more – possibly until the end of the season – where he might decide to move on. If the club really do expect big things from him though, we’ll know soon enough as they’d probably spend a few bob to try to keep him.

See thee tomorrow, my wonderful friends.

The horizon of hope (and less injuries)

Well what have we hear? Good news and returning players from injury? Is that cause for optimism I see galloping over the horizon, heading towards us at a rate of miles per hour? Sort of, I guess, because until we win some back-to-back games, which seems as likely as a Ched Evans apology right now, I don’t think that Black Beauty will neigh its way past us for a few weeks. We have a game against Stoke tomorrow with which you’d hope we can pick up a victory, but the following week see’s us go to the Etihad to pick up yet another loss to continue our dreadful away form against the big teams.

But stop this, Chris, because you’re being positive today so get back on track for today’s blog. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts…..3-2-1 you’re back in the room…

So we have the return of Mesut Ozil to all get excited about. Missing since October, his patchy form of the beginning of the season belied his natural ability and I think – as does Arsene if you believe his presser yesterday – that we’re going to see the best of our German for the second half of this season. Arsene spoke about the ‘hunger’ that he has back in his belly and that’s a-ok for me. He’s a man who see’s things that nobody else in our team can do. We may have bemoaned the lack of Cescyness in our team this season, but you only have to look at the sheer volume of assists he made for us last season, as well as for a number of year’s with Ronaldo, to know what we’ll get in our team.

This is the thing you see. Ozil has never had someone at Arsenal with the pace and the ability to get in behind defenders. Ronaldo may be one of the most skilful players on the planet, but he is also a pacey one, getting in behind defenders and relying on his teammates as much as he relies on his own ability. Mesut spent the first half of this season either injured or shunted out wide, with only a handful of games in the middle. Arsene has already admitted that he saw his World Cup players look like they had a bit of what he called ‘artificial hunger’, but with Alexis out wide on the left, Giroud through the middle and one of Welbeck/Ox/Walcott occupying the other position, if Arsene is going to get Ozil in this team it will be in that number 10 role that we’re all craving him to play in.

It will however, mean the end of Santi’s spell in that position and as a result you have to feel for the Spaniard. There are plenty that will – rightly – call for Ozil not to come in until he has earned his place or until Santi’s form has dipped, but I reckon we’ll see Ozil slowly drafted in to the team regardless of how well Cazorla played. That’s just the way he is. He has his favourites. Always has, always will. But hey, at least we now have enough options to be genuinely having a discussion about who has earned the right to play, eh? Much better than looking at a squad and repeatedly reciting the word ‘deadwood’, right?

With Ozil’s arrival we also find more positive news on the injury front, as both Ramsey and Flamini have been declared fit, so it means we finally have more options for the manager to choose from. Competition is important to at the top of professional football, as we’ve seen with Szczesny, so to have Flamini and Le Coq now fighting it out, as well as Ramsey, Ox, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky all vying for a starting slot, it augurs well for the players’ desire in the latter part of this season.

That’s why I don’t think Szczesny should be dropped right now, actually, because I think the knowledge that his position is under threat might just spark the kind of hunger we want to see from him. I have always been a fan of his, but with Ospina now fit and the press even questioning whether or not he should start along with some Arsenal fans, you do wonder if that is exactly what the Pole needs to recapture his form on amore consistent basis. Just think about what happened to him when the very real threat of Fabianski suddenly materialised after a few years of him clearly not challenging Wojciech for the gloves? It made him a better player and he even admitted it.

So I’d be inclined to make a public statement if I was the manager and start him tomorrow, but with a private sentiment that he’s a game or two away from losing his place on a longer term basis.

By the sounds of it Arsene was in fine form yesterday, making the odd joke and even being slightly coy with his response about the whole smoking thing and there being someone who leaked information into the dressing room. I bet Stevie Bould is shifting a bit awkwardly in his seat today, because John Jensen did him up like a kipper by leaking the info about the smoking a few weeks back. Anyway, water under the bridge, or water out of the showers and onto a Benson & Hedges, I guess you could say. Everyone will move on and hopefully we’ll do the business tomorrow.

I could talk a little bit about the transfer stuff, but I really can’t be bothered if I’m honest with you. There will be plenty of time to be looking at that sort of stuff when the football isn’t on, so let’s just be happy in our Saturday activities, safe in the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a squad that is looking more impressive week-by-week.

So long, you wonderful lemon flavoured popsicle sticks.

Newcastle preview: makeshift defence needs protecting, attack needs closeness

Howdy there partners! Happy Saturday and hopefully one in which all of Goonerdom is blessed with that holiest of things: three precious points.

It’s the black and white stripes of Newcastle United that come to town and quite frankly, after last weekend’s abomination of a performance in the first half against Stoke, I’m looking for one heck of an improved performance from those available today. And therein lies the nub of us on this chilly winter’s day: can we patch together a team capable enough of winning a game against a resurgent Newcastle team that have won six of their last eight and one against Chelski last weekend. They were the heroes for us against Mourinho’s men not seven days ago, yet now we find ourselves facing them as the enemy.

It’s a tough one to call. Over the years, even when we haven’t been great, you usually look at these games as ones that we win. Despite all of our grumbles about not really competing at the top of the league on a consistent basis for a number of years, when you look back at the end of the season and see the ‘W/L/D’ columns, there’s more wins than defeats. So it’s why actually, we get to be happy more than most – because we’re usually one of the best four teams in the division. But this season has been different. There haven’t been any league games in which we’ve looked comfortable at all in the league. Even the Villa game in which we smashed and grabbed three goals in a matter of minutes had its moments both before and afterwards. So I’m not going to expect us to buck this seasons trend and put Newcastle to the sword in the first half like Stoke did to us last weekend. Especially given our makeshift squad at the moment.

So makeshift, in fact, that it looks like Francis Coquelin might even find his way back into the matchday squad by virtue of the fact that he still has all of his limbs, joints and muscles in one piece. The injury list is lengthy and the recall of Coquelin from Charlton has been hastened due to absentees such as Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere and Ozil, in addition to Ospina, Koscienly, Monreal, Chambers through suspension and even Walcott, although I suspect he might be in the squad today based on Arsene’s comments this week. But it’s all looking a bit ropey defensively, isn’t it? As I said yesterday, it looks like it’s another defensive shuffle that will take place and I suspect we’ll see Debuchy slot in to central defence as the more experienced player in the squad. Mertesacker normally plays on the left of the two centre halves, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him shifted to the right to support Bellerin, whilst Debuchy plays next to Gibbs. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a worry for us defensively and given our recent transgressions in the league, i’ll be biting all of my fingernails every time a black and white shirt ventures into our half.

That’s why the responsibility of the midfield today will be essential. With Flamini back he’ll need to ensure that he gives as much protection to the two central defenders as he can possibly muster. With a side like Newcastle and the injuries they have, the temptation might be for him to venture forward more to support the attack, but that’s not his job and we really could do without some sucker-punching goals like we’ve conceded all season. He’s been quoted as saying that at times they like to win the ball back higher up the pitch, but if Newcastle play with pace on the counter with the likes of Cisse and Cabella, then we’ll need him to be a protector rather than a gallivanter in the opposition half.

I know Newcastle have been in form, but I suspect they’ll want to soak up pressure and not come at us too much. Pardew is not an idiot and will have seen how susceptible we are on the counter, so I think he’ll sit two holding midfielders in front of his back four and hope to hit us quickly on the break. That’s where the form of players like Santi and the Ox will be essential I think. Both will slot in to central midfield and I expect to see them the ones that will battle with Tiote and Colback in the midfield area. It will be on the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck to provide the support for Giroud, who will need a vastly improved performance from the game at The Britannia. He’ll be up agaionst Coloccini and probably Mike Williamson, so his role will be to hold off those two centre halves and bring our pacey wide men into play. We started to see signs of what these three could do together in the final third against West Brom, but today will be slightly different. Newcastle will try to suffocate the space around Giroud, so those little flicks around the corner and knock downs will need to see our front three operating very close together I think, if we’re to get any joy that is.

There’s no doubt we have the players that are technically capable of beating this Newcastle team later this evening, but the real question is around the confidence and mental fragility of this side. We’ve already drawn far too many games and every time we look to be stringing together some results we seem to come-a-cropper with a poor performance. At home it has tended to be draws when only a win will do. Away it has been the damaging defeats that have been hard to stomach.

I’ll be relegated to watching the game in the local pub, as I’m at a family event, but hopefully Ian and his boy (who have taken my ticket today) can bring the team some luck. We could do with it.

See you tomorrow. Hopefully i’m all chirpy because we’ve smashed the magpies. But I’m not expecting it.

Grumpy at injuries and our Rubik’s cube defence

This horrible weather we’re having in London can do one. Sideways. With a spatula. That’s on fire. So can signal failures, which are the bane of everyone’s lives.

If you can’t tell already, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, the one with the Velux windows that sound like the heavens have fallen on your house when it’s windy and raining.

So I give you this disclaimer of grumpiness: if today’s blog seems overly morose, please don’t think that I’m turning to the dark side or something like that, I’m simply a tired man feeling increasingly like an old man. At 32. And yes, I’m painfully aware that my professional football career is all but over. Anyways, I’d only get a one year deal at The Arsenal, so it would be fleeting as it is.

So to Arsenal, and Arsène, who appears to have crossed the paths of so many black cats he’s started tripping over them. The team news made for grim reading on the official site yesterday didn’t it? No Koscienly, no Monreal, no Chambers, no Arteta, no Walcott and Ramsey is being assessed for a severe case of ‘Butt Rot’ or something similar. It reads like the transcript of the opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan, with bodies just littered around the treatment room like some sort of morbid Christmas decorations.

Quite what it means for our defensive worries I haven’t the foggiest. With the arrival of Debuchy we took one step forward, but the news from Le Boss yesterday was effectively that we’ve taken one step back. I was really looking forward to seeing our back four all be players from their natural position. But there you go, such is the cross we all must bare.

So it looks like we’ll have our 9,253th combination of four defenders – the only four senior defenders we have left mind – that will take to the field. More speculation on how they will line up against the Geordies in tomorrow’s match preview, but I do wonder if the gods are testing the old Rubik’s cube theory on us. You know the one; how there’s about a million permutations for just fifty or sixty coloured squares. I wonder how many different variations of an Arsenal back four could be used for the duration of a season?

A saving grace for tomorrow will be that Newcastle seem to have just as many injury problems as we do. I joked a few weeks ago that ‘only Arsenal’ would have two goalkeepers out at the same time. Turns out that statement should have had ‘plus some Geordies’ added to it as well, because they are pretty Donald Ducked by the sounds of it. You never know, we might get treated to a five-a-side score line tomorrow evening. Hopefully it’s an 11-4 in our favour though, eh?

We’ll get a better indication on where we’re at this morning when Arsène takes his seat in front of the microphones for his regular pre-match chin wag with the national hacks. I’m not so sure he’ll be as eager to dish out the platitudes about his opposite number as Alan Pardew did yesterday. ‘Pards’ was effusive in his praise (straight out of the Football Manager archives, that one) for Arsène, going as far as suggesting that he should have a stand named after him, which fiend respective two managers history, was certainly a surprise to me. This is a guy, after all, who has aimed pot shots at Arsène for fielding too many Johnny Foreigners, before deciding that he had French ancestry and delving into Ligue Un to populate his side with Gallic fellows. Or, a guy who likes a bit of shovy-shovy on the touchline, with Arsène and other managers/players in his managerial career too.

So Alan wants a stand named after Arsène, does he? Well I’m sure Arsène will get his statue one day, but he’s got some repair work to do first, starting with a win tomorrow evening. And besides, the Emirates is more of a bowl these days anyway, so doesn’t really have ‘sides’ or ‘stands’ so to speak. So ner-Nicky-ner-ner Alan.

Anyway, that’s it from me for one day I think, to which there’s of much more to do other than point you in the direction of this humurous ditty from http://www.twitter.com/gunnerblog, which is an ode to the Cesc saga – http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=YJMr6nrl7c0 – bravo sir, bravo.

Prepping for a ‘grubby’ fixture

It’s Friday, the end of the working week for most, the dust finally settling on the three point euphoria of a last minute goal against Southampton and all eyes turn north to the cold harsh lands of the Orcs of Stoke for tomorrow’s game at The Britannia.

I don’t know about you, but this fixture always feels a little grubby to me, perhaps a consequence of one win since Stoke joined the Premier League party. They represent the antithesis of what Arsene’s Arsenal have become renowned for. Stoke are the old school ‘British Bulldog’ who might as well all have ‘they don’t like it up them’ tattooed across their foreheads. The media love a narrative, so once a season they get to dust off the ‘British Bulldog versus hoity toity Johnny Foreigner’ mantra and see how much copy they can eek out of the fixture.

Of course, the modern incarnations of both sides are very different to the rhetoric produced by the gutter press, as both teams now have both elements of grit as well as a little bit of flair. Stoke have tried to ‘sex up’ their team with players like Bojan and Diouf, but they still have clobbers like Shawcross and Charlie Adam to bring them back to their roots. As for us, we are a little less blunt instrument and more refined samurai sword, but we still have a steely determination to us when we have all of our players fit (har-har). That’s been shown by consecutive clean sheets and the hope for tomorrow has to be that we see the same.

A lot will depend on who is available and how we line up, to which we shouldn get an indication from Arsene later today. He’ll be asked the silly questions, like “do you expect a tough game” or “why have you got such a poor record at Stoke?” and will answer them without giving anything away, but I’m more interested in finding out who’s availabkle to play and whether Arsene tries to replicate the team that went to West Brom and got a result. More of a match preview tomorrow.

Going back to my original line of thought though, specifically the ‘grubby’ feeling of this game. Perhaps it’s because we’ve gone up there, not been outplayed by any stretch of the imagination, then always seem to come a cropper. Last season was terrible. We were poor going forward, but so were Stoke and they had to rely on an incredibly harsh handball by Koscienly to secure them the victory. I hope that tomorrow we see a bit more cutting edge about us. I know we haven’t seen much of it to date in most competitions, but we’ve got to click at some stage, right? Right? Anybody?

I suppose tomorrow will not be about whether we click or not, it will just be about getting three points by hook or by crook. We’ve got to find ourselves some sort of five or six game winning streak to get ourselves the old swagger back, so if that means a few more games of harem scarem one nillers, then i’d take it.

I understand and appreciate Arsene’s optimism, when he says we can challenge for the league, as he did so after the Southampton win, but the reality is that we’re just not there at the moment and so this season’s league feels almost like one that you just want us to get over and done with and secure a top four space so you can look at what we can do next season. Perhaps we get a cup run, but that’s about it really, so we need to just make sure we accumulate enough points to leave the rest of the pretenders behind for third or forth, then get on with our lives. After all, it’s pretty clear that them lot in West London are going to win the league, so if that truly does transpire, then I’d just like to forget this season ever happened if i’m honest.

There is some stuff on the official website about how big Per talks about how amazing Alexis is, but we kind of already knew that, and it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know, so I think i’ll say my goodbyes for another day and catch thee in the morrow.

A reversal of fortunes from when we played the Baggies last year

Good matchday morning to you my friend, I hope Saturday is one that can bring both you and I what we are all quite desperate to see, three points away to West Brom. It’s a game in which last year we stuttered having been on a decent run and, if I recall rightly, it was the first game in a while last year when we really didn’t play that well, after having played well for a number of games previously. This year we are all hoping for a reversal of those fortunes, having played pretty poorly all season this time around. A stellar performance from the team would make this weekend marvellous I must say.

The weekend didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of news, after all, because we have an all-star cast of players who have been knocked about more than the occupants of a Catamaran on the Bay of Biscay. Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Debuchy, Ospina and Szczesny all remain either a doubt, definitely out or facing a race against time to be fit through late fitness tests. IT’s interesting how much has been made of Man United injury problems, but theirs have all been short term and will disappear as quickly as they appeared. For us, as we all know, we’re likely to have this problem throughout the whole season.

It’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually saw Podolski get some game time if he remains at the club beyond January. I don’t believe it is possible for our stand out player – Alexis – to go the entire season Injury-free. The second he signed his paperwork at the club he was a marked man and so at some stage – providing he doesn’t tell Wenger he wants out – he’ll get his chance. But for now it looks like that door is closed to our social media loving German. Arsene was asked about Lukas in his presser yesterday and gave the usual response about how he expects him to stay. It was as believable as the old “three weeks away” stuff we have heard from the club over the years. But hey ho, they’ll be plenty of time to speculate on the ins and outs at the club in about a months time. For now, a trip to the Hawthorns looms, to which we absolutely must build on the victory from midweek against Dortmund.

Thankfully, it sounds like Koscienly is back and, if he really is fit enough to start, I don’t see how he won’t alongside Mertescaker. They’ll both be flanked by Chambers and Gibbs and with Debuchy a maximum of two weeks away, we’ll have our first choice back four back just in time for the January window to open and Arsene to declare he has no more available space in his squad for incoming players. Happy days.

West Brom will be up for this. They’ve lost their last two league games as well and will want to take a big scalp today. And they’ll have seen that even shocking teams like Swansea and United can have their day of glory against us, so they’ll probably up their game to give us an extra hard afternoon. There was some suggestion yesterday about the early kick-off playing against us when you look at last seasons games, but I don’t see that as any factor whatsoever. After all, before we lost to Moneychester City, Liverpool and Chelski in those early kick offs, we’d also beaten Crystal Palace away. So you can hardly say there was a pattern developing. Unless you say it’s a pattern of bottling it in the big games. That we can all agree on.

Tactically, you can already see signs of what Alan Irvine wants to do. He highlighted to the press this week that he thinks Arsenal are vulnerable at the back and at times have left just three players (including the ‘keeper) in their own half, so I think he’ll look to see if he can draw us out and catch us on the counter. Think the first goal we conceded against Swansea, or the Rooney second goal last weekend. He’ll probably line up quite defensively and hope that the pace of Berahino will cause us a headache. Where we can help ourselves will be to replicate the responsibility of the defenders in getting forward. Two centre halves and one full back in position when we lose the ball is essential. And a Flamini that is disciplined and not drawn forward is important. If West Brom do try to play us on the counter, there will be no need to try and win the ball high up the pitch, because they will only counter in ones and twos, so if Flamini is sitting, it would give us plenty of cover to deal (in theory) with their attack. Sessegnon will also be an important player to snuff out. He’s a tricky and fast little player who, whilst not having the best scoring record, will sit behind Berahino and be a handful all afternoon. That’s where Flamini will be important in breaking up the play. With his now customary yellow card, of course.

As for us, I expect we’ll line up with Martinez in goal (it didn’t sound to me as if Szczesny had fully recovered from last weekend’s knock, so why risk it?), with the back four as described above. I think injury dictates that the two in front of the back four will be Flamini and Ramsey, which will mean two wide of Cazorla and The Ox and Sanchez sitting just behind the striker. I think Arsene would probably ideally want to go with Welbeck if he is fit, but if there is any doubts then Giroud will get the nod. And who knows? The Giroud/Alexis combo might just work. If Alexis knows that he has a target man who will hold up and feed him in, we might see him latching on to more knock downs and flick throughs. I guess we’ll see in a matter of hours.

Right, I’m off for some breakfast, a morning chore or two, then the pub. Come on you reds!