Ollie’s recapturing of form good for us

Much like Chelski and Tiny Totts are to us all metaphor ally speaking, I have a real pain in my neck this morning, which caused me no amount of irritation when trying to get to sleep last night. Honestly, it’s like Jose Mourinho himself had pulled up a chair and started jabbing me in the back whilst complaining about everything he could possibly complain about. And we all know just how much he can complain.

We’ve still got just over 24 hours before we’ll know who’s starting against QPR in West London tomorrow night, but I expect Le Boss will be on hand to make his usual pre-match assessments on the proceedings at Loftud Road, in today’s press conference. Hopefully he’ll be in more jovial mood than he will have undoubtedly been in before Friday’s presser, but unlike the pundits, I’m pretty sure he will be more than acutely aware of the potential threat that QPR pose. 

After all, they’ll be fresher than a spring daisy after their eleven or so days off, so I expect them to be a feisty opponent for us to take on. But more on that tomorrow. For now, we just have to be happy that the bad taste in our mouths – like when you have particularly horrible mouthwash that leaves a metallic flavour lingering on your tongue – from the Monaco defeat has been partially rinsed by three points at home to Everton. 

One man who will be particularly happy will be Giroud. His goal against the Toffees has enabled the Monaco performance to not become a ‘thing’. We’ve seen how badly Arsenal players have been affected in the past by ‘things’. Just look at Eduardo and his injury form after leaving us. He was never the same again. So I’m pleased that Giroud got his goal because that will ensure that he is given the self belief to give the first leg of the Monaco game the old Gallic shrug and move on. He’s credited the manager and I think rightly so. It could have been all to easy for Arsène to ‘rest’ Giroud and against a decent opponent like Everton you’re hardly guaranteed a hatful of chances to make amends. But he did and we’ll be in better shape with him feeling better as a result.

The other questions I expect Arsène to be asked tonight is who will be rotated after the game on Sunday? I am quite anxious to see whether Coquelin has found his nose underneath all of the blood that appeared on Sunday, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see that he’s given some recuperation time so he can be ready for the battle against United Monday week. As I’ve said before, rotation is an important part of modern day football, but Arsène will be wary of rotating too much and if his hand is forced into changes through injury to players, I’d expect other players to miss out who might normally have been rotated for this game. 

Still, at least we won’t have to face Joey Barton trying to cheat his way through games trying to get players sent off, so hopefully that doesn’t mean we lose more players to suspension or injury in the immediate future. In fact, we’re due to receive a boost of Ramsey and Flamini today from Arsène, if the rumours are true. That’s probably just as well, because with Arteta, Wilshere and perma-crock Diaby all still out, missing Rambo and the Flamster with Le Coq possibly out too, would probably leave Arsène scratching around searching for Chambersesque square pegs for round holes. 

More on the game tomorrow. For now, I’m going to look like the weirdest man on the Metropolitan Line by shaking my head side-to-side slowly like I’m dramatically disagreeing with somebody in a Hollywood courtroom drama scene from a movie.

Cheerio.

An arm around the shoulder or slap around the chops?

Arsene faced the media yesterday and, probably as you’d expect, he was reasonably defiant after an appalling game in midweek. He didn’t rule us out of a ‘miracle’ as Big Per has put it, but equally he didn’t retract some of the criticism for the team from Wednesday. It’s the right thing to do, because they all need to know and be reminded of how poor we were, if nothing else than to fuel the fire in their bellies to pick up more wins over the coming weeks and months.

I really hope we do get a response. I hope we get a response of anger, rage and destruction over an inconsistent Everton team, but one that will be riding high after going through in the Europa League. Is it still called that? Or have they reverted back to calling it what it should always have been called, the UEFA Cup? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just want Arsenal to pick up three points tomorrow.

Hopefully we can do that and with the news that we have no fresh injury concerns to speak of, it seems as though Arsene has a choice of players that he can pick for his starting eleven. In his presser yesterday he did say that we will have to rotate, certainly with a game against QPR to come in midweek, so I think there might be one or two players given some bench time. You’d like to think it was because of their poor performance, but he can’t drop the whole team, so who should he opt for?

This is a mini debate I had on Twitter and a couple of people made some really good points. You could take the hard line against the players and completely rotate. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud all had particularly poor games and could in theory be replaced by Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Rosicky, Walcott and Akpom, but I doubt we’ll see that many changes. For one thing large-scale changes usually lead to a disjointed approach to a game. Players may train with each other a lot, but they haven’t all got the actual live game experience of playing together under their belts, so it’s usually too much to ask. This is especially the case against a decent Premier League Team like Everton. If we’re lining up in the cup against a team like Brighton, or Walsall for example, you can afford to rotate on a larger basis and expect the quality of the squad to shine through. But Everton are too good to take that chance.

So who gets dropped? This is where you have to put your trust in the manager, because I think it becomes about assessing who needs the motivation, and who needs the arm around the shoulder. For example, I would think a player like Alexis would just be more pumped to prove a manager wrong if he was dropped. But I suspect dropping Giroud could see a fragile confidence fall even lower if he isn’t asked to play himself in to form. So I think he’ll be given another chance for a reprieve. I know that sounds a little bit like we’d be mollycoddling a professional athlete who should be able to motivate himself rather than need a kiss and a cuddle every time he has a bad game, but football is as much about winning psychological battles as much as anything else sometimes, so the best managers in the world are the ones that know when an arm round the shoulder is better than a slap around the chops.

Incidentally, I’d be surprised if Alexis was dropped, because he’s been one of the stand-out performers this season. But I do wonder if Big Per could be given a temporary Spanish Archer from the starting eleven. Perhaps Ozil too will be given time on the naughty step to think about what he’s done, with the Ox in prime position to take up his spot in the middle of the park.

It’s tough making the right decisions in professional football, but that’s why you’re paid more than I will earn in my lifetime in just a year, so hopefully Le Boss makes the right ones and we win tomorrow. Motivation is  massive part of professional football and knowing when to ‘hairdryer’ it, or when to talk up your team, is what makes the best managers the most successful. It’s not just about picking the team and dropping or playing players, Arsene needs to get them fired up in the right way with his pre-match talk too. Does he leave them to say it and trust they are hurting enough, or does he give them a Churchillian war-cry and send them out to battle? We’ll never know. We’ll only know if what his choice was, actually worked, by the way they perform tomorrow.

The injury news seems quite good too, actually, as Rambo and Flamini start training again and I’d expect with a week under their belts they should be back again for the United game. The Wilshere ‘setback’ is only temporary – so says Arsene – so if it’s just a case of removing some pins from his ankle you’d expect him to be out for a week as the cut they use to get to the pins re-heels. Don’t hold me to that though, as my medical knowledge goes as far as watching Doogie Howser in the earlier nineties with my mum and dad. So probably as much as our medical team then! I kid, I kid…

That’s pretty much all there is for today. I don’t really want to go into an exact line up for tomorrow, as I’ll have nothing to talk about then, so I’ll take my leave and see thee in the ‘morrow.

‘Obvious’ klaxons, Giroud’s award and Welbeck’s form an issue for Theo

It’s all rather quiet on this Tuesday morn, which is lovely given that there’s a big game tomorrow and no doubt Arsène’s presser at some stage today, so we’ll get an update on who’s available.

We’ve already had Arsène’s thoughts ahead of the visit of Monaco, in which he really goes out on a limb, describing the game as ’50:50′ in terms of our likelihood of success. Wow Arsène, mind those splinters buddy!

Champions League games are always cagey affairs when you get to the knockout stages of the competition though, so I can see why he’s trying hard not to give the Monaco team any motivation ahead of the tie, but it should be one we should be looking to win over two legs. I was at The Emirates Cup in August and we looked leggy and lethargic and the difference even then was a Falcao header. With him now firmly established in the Manchester United dugout as one of the coaching staff, Monaco have lost a massive asset, but will still be a threat so Arsène is right to be cautious. More to come on Monaco tomorrow though.

The other news is that Olivier Giroud is up for a fans player award by the PFA. Ok, so it’s only for February, but with goals and solid displays under his belt for the whole month, it will be a good confidence booster if he wins it. And let’s face it, we have the largest football fan community online at Arsenal, so I’d expect us to vote in our handsome Frenchman with consummate ease.

The hope is that he wins it and the subsequent confidence boost will propel him to being even better than he has been of late. His form is sparkling and with each game that he scores, I remain convinced that he will hit the 20 goal mark for the season, which would be quite some feat indeed given his lengthy absence last year.

That man Welbeck has also had his say on the Champions League, talking up our desire to go far in the competition which aside from the fact that ‘state the obvious’ klaxons appear to be sounding all over the place at the moment, is the sentiment and the attitude we need. No talk of advancing and who we might face in the next round, just respect for our opposition we’ve currently got and the professionalism to do the job, home and away.

You’ll all be acutely aware of the shattering feeling that Alex gave us when knocking us out of the competition after we conceded a late goal against PSV a few years back I’m sure. We need no repeat of that upset and if it means the players and coaching staff have to make obvious statements about the game then so be it.

Welbeck himself has also looked good since returning, actually, so much so that there aren’t many people calling for an instant return for Walcott. Given that we’d have chewed each other’s arms off to have him available this time last year, that’s quite a turnaround and it’s the high intensity pressing that Welbeck and Alexis give us – as well as their end product (which in Danny’s case has been assisting in build ups rather than actual goals) – that has meant Theo is an increasingly bit-part player at the moment. The long-term future for him is something that can be debated for another day, but I don’t see him being wheeled out in the immediate future and that’s a positive testament to how well Welbeck is playing, especially when you consider that Theo is scoring plenty of goals when he’s given the chance.

So we’re in a good place right now. There are plenty of form players, we’re winning games and we currently sit third in the league, which is ideally where we want to finish. We have a big European night tomorrow, with which victory be a healthy margin would help to foster yet more belief and confidence in the team, as well as the possibility of That Dutch Bloke being a longer term injury to United. He’ll develop some sort of miracle recovery time so that he can play us in about 13 days time, but for now let’s all just keep ourselves content in the knowledge that all is looking roadt in the Arsenal garden.

See you tomorrow.

A door opening for Chambers and Jack?

With the Crystal Palace game about 30 hours away, all of the focus turns back towards the Premier League today with Le Boss’ press conference ahead of the trip to Selhurst Park.

We’ve already had an injury update from the manager, confirming that Ramsey is three days in to a three week rehab programme, as well as doubts over Flamini and Bellerin. The Flamster is probably a loss we can absorb in the squad quite easily, as Coquelin will slot in to his recently acquired position, but Bellerin has established himself as first choice at this moment in time so his injury might be more difficultly felt. Especially as Chambers – whilst very good against Boro – has found it hard going when matched up against pace this season. Or, if I’m going to be a little more positive, I could argue that this kind of opening will give Chambers the opportunity to win his place back in the team. He’s been sitting on the sidelines for a few weeks and I reckon he’d have seen Nacho win his place in the side and will fancy a bit of it, so I’m hoping that this mentality in the squad of fighting for all positions, will have a beneficial effect on players like Chambers.

Still, Palace will surely look to exploit the apparent lack of pace if Hector isn’t available, but more on the actual nuances of the game tomorrow, I think.

Jack will probably see some bench time tomorrow and whilst the loss of Flamini wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement if he wasn’t fit, at least we have another midfield option, which is good considering that the Ox, Rambo, Arteta and Diaby (!!) are all out and unavailable this weekend. It’s the toe of game where you’d hope we’d see more possession and a player with close control like Wilshere might just be useful for unlocking a resurgent Palace under Pardew.

The other story on the official site saw Arsène talk about the draw as an ‘interesting one’. Not for me it isn’t. It’s a bloody horrible one. Away from home, at a ground where we haven’t won in nine years, against a team in which we have beaten twice since what feels like 1977? Nope, to me that sucks and if I’m honest, I’d rather have had Reading at home and let other teams knock United and Liverpool out so we don’t have to be faced with it. But it is what it is, so we have to overcome them to get through to the next round. Come on Arsenal!

Not really sure what else there is that’s Arsenal related today. As always, I shoot my load too quickly when it comes to blogging, as I do this first thing in the morning whilst heading into work on the tube, so I can’t really tell you about Arsène’s presser, or what he thinks about racist Chelski. Of course, I don’t believe that all Chelski fans are racist, but they seem to have a more chequered history than any other English club. They maybe be irritating, fickle, general scummers because of the team they support, but on the whole I don’t believe they foster a culture of racism within the club or the stadium. How could they? Much like all football teams, their fanbase is a diverse mix of people, from the poorest scrotes to the most affluent of idiotic Chelski morons, but they don’t all get memos before games to bring their white cloaks and pointy white hats.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing that a small collective have passed on to their offspring, which is contributing to the terrible reputation they have, but there’s not really a lot that club can do in that regard other than the banning orders they’ve already looked to enforce. Well, I guess they could neuter all of those fans, but the European court of human rights would probably have a field day. Even if it is the best thing for the world and the future.

Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time for one day, so I’ll take my leave.

Happy Friday.

Arsène on tomorrow, me on Szczesny, as well as the new TV deal

I do like FA Cup weekend. Especially when a load of teams I would traditionally ‘fear’ have been knocked out in the previous round. Now, if only Preston and Palace can do me a big flavour and do the business against United and Liverpool respectively, then the FA Cup will become super awesome.

Of course, we still have to navigate Middlesborough and they will be very tough to break down, as well as full of confidence and fancying an upset. But at this moment in time, before a game is kicked, we are apparently favourites and I like that. I like that because on paper – again, at this moment in time – there is nobody that I would fear us playing either home or away in the competition. Obviously United or Liverpool away will be two of the toughest games, but hopefully we won’t have to face them if we can knock out Boro *touches wood for Boro win and not facing the aforementioned teams away*

Yesterday Arsène faced the media and thankfully, after hearing that Karanka has said that Boro won’t be a surprise, he was equally expressive in assuring the assembled hacks that we won’t be taking the Teesiders likely. There’ll be more on thoughts of how we’ll line up tomorrow, but with injury news confirmed today as Alexis, Ramsey, Ox, Diaby (!?!), Arteta and Debuchy still the major absentees, I think we’ll see Arsène not take too many chances with the first XI tomorrow. He did confirm that Gabriel was close to his debut and one would expect that to be tomorrow too.

What I did think was interesting yesterday, was the way in which Arsène talked up Szczesny, confirming he’d start tomorrow. Of course, you’re you always expect him to be uber positive about his players, but he seemed to my untrained eyes to be especially so with the Pole. I can’t give you any real insight other than gut feel, but I just wonder if this little spell out of the side has been Wenger’s way of motivating Wojciech again like he did with Fabianski previously, which will inevitably lead to Szczesny’s return to the side. The only probably Woj has, however, is that if tomorrow’s game goes how we all want it to go, he won’t have very much to do, so he won’t be able to force himself back into the first team. That said, I think Ospina will be one fatal mistake away from losing his place in the side, where as I think Szczesny would need a couple before being given the boot. Many will argue the Southampton game showed otherwise (he was good against West Ham only a few days earlier), but I think that omission from the team had more to do with his puffing than his ‘keeping.

So he might have to wait a little longer before he gets his chance again after this weekend methinks.

The other major talking point from the presser yesterday was the bumper TV deal. Arsène rightly said that it will improve the strength of the league because teams will be able to pay more to players, as the Premier League passes on the most of the revenue hike on to the clubs. But whilst I can agree with the manager that it will increase the global brand of the competition, as well as the desire of players to play in this league, I can never see such massive figures as a good thing for the long term future of the game.

This deal feels like it has nothing but bad omens about it. For one thing, the TV companies are not going to pay such vast sums for the rights to show football, only to absorb those extra costs and not pass them on to the consumer. It’s just not going to happen. There might be a price freeze for a year, but that will be an exercise in PR, rather than a genuine desire to keep the cost of watching football so low.

It means that as a season ticket holder, I’ll probably be paying upwards of £2,500 per year for a combination of Sky, BT and my season ticket. That’s a massive chunk of my disposable income and means I have to make sacrifices in other parts of my life just to be able to watch my team. The alternative is streaming, which I haven’t done to date because I have the world’s worst personal laptop, but it will probably become something I have to consider more and more as time goes on.

Should some of the cash be passed on to consumers in the form of reducing Matchday ticket prices? Of course. But whilst the clubs already have customers paying for tickets at the moment, why would they reduce them? The answer is of course that they wouldn’t. So the Matchday experience will remain an expensive day out. I dread to think what it would be if I had a couple of sons who had season tickets.

Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about this any more, because it’s depressing me. Let’s hope Palace can cheer me up later today. Cheerio folks.

Le boss in fine fettle and the club in form; what we all want, right?

Arsene took on the press yesterday and, as expected I suppose given our form and the announcement of a signing to talk about in the shape of Gabriel, he was in quite a jovial mood. I must say, it is much more preferable to me when everyone is a little bit more happier. I think there are some Arsenal fans out there in the world who seem to thrive on misery in some sort of footballing masochistic mindset, because some people only seem to get a thrill when we’re failing. But me, I like it when things are rosy in our garden. I like it when Arsene can have a joke with the press about giving them his address so they can send another signing his way if he is an ‘exceptional talent’.

Le Boss told the assembled hacks that Gabriel was ready, fit and will go straight into the squad, which is lovely to hear and something that will be a great boost to the squad as a whole. He may not speak enough English yet, but his fellow Spaniard’s in the team will give him enough support and I suspect that if we can get ourselves a comfortable lead on Sunday (which I don’t think will happen by the way; I suspect Villa will be hard to break down and it will be a tighter game than the pundits are suggesting, but more on that tomorrow), we might see Gabriel as a sub appearance to ease him in to the team.

The only downer that you could possibly have on the presser yesterday was the confirmation from Arsene that Alexis is unlikely to be risked. He’s picked up a knock and as a result I think Wenger will play the cautious game. It’s a sensible option and one that is made all the easier for the boss by the form of other players, as well as the fact that we have somebody like Rosicky who, in my opinion, deserves another run in the team after the Brighton game. Of course, the options are such now, that Rosicky may not even start, and with Ozil back you wonder if it will be a combination of Santi/Ozil or Santi/Rosicky for that left wing position. My preference would be Rosicky out wide left because I think the best players who are in the best form need to play and Santi is in the best form so he has to play centrally. Ozil out wide left hasn’t worked as much, but Rosicky has more experience in that position, so I’d give him the nod. But second guessing Arsene is like trying to break the Enigma machine, so I’ll not bother trying with that just yet.

Welbeck, Jack and the Ox are still out, but with the sheer volume of quality players we have at the moment – something Arsene confirmed when he spoke yesterday when replying to whether there would be any more signings – means that we have plenty of options to cater for our massive injury list. You just watch: now that we seem to have found solutions to the troubled positions that have been rocked by injury, we’ll end up having the whole squad fit and players getting unhappy because they’re not playing as much. I guess we’d all rather have that than the other end of the spectrum though, i.e. no players fit so we go back to putting square pegs in round holes!

I do wonder with the Welbeck situation, whether Arsene is being ‘ultra cautious’ because he has other players that he wants to play who are in form over recent weeks, hence why he won’t be featured this weekend. Arsene has said that in the past he’s told the press that a player is injured, or has a ‘little bit knock’ of varying degrees, but with the form post Moneychester City and Brighton, Welbeck doesn’t just walk straight in to this team. It saves his, as well as Arsene, a job of fitting players in if one is a bit ‘short’. I know I’m going all conspiracy theory-esque on you now, but it just seems convenient that Welbeck is back on Monday and, after Rosicky will have played the last few games back-to-back, Arsene might then have a get out by saying ‘look, he is 34 and he cannot play every week, so I have to be able to rest him’. I know, I know, I’m getting way to hypothetical here – especially if Rosicky doesn’t play tomorrow – but given that I saw somebody on Twitter speak about how they had met Welbeck and he’d said he is fit, it feels like Arsene is keeping players back to save their own face as he tries to fit in so many talented footballers into his matchday squad.

But hey, I’ve wanted this for so long (squad rotation) so please don’t mistake my comments as a literary bashing at the manager- they’re really not supposed to be. If you’re going to have a big squad of talented footballers, you’re also going to have a lot of bruised egos when they’re not playing, so the best thing to do is to protect them in the public eye and I’m sure they will appreciate that too. So I say ‘bravo’ to Arsene. It feels like his mindset is shifting and he’s starting to manage the fitness of the players better; rotating them on a regular basis, keeping the competition for places realistic and at the same time ensuring that the infamous ‘red zone’ is this evil thing that is way off into the distance somewhere.

We’re in good spirits right now. A win tomorrow will give us yet more momentum and with a trip to Spudsville on the horizon, it will be good to see that we are in the kind of ‘positive spiral’ that could help us to put on a show and potential collect three points at our nearest and certainly not dearest rivals.

Until tomorrow.

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.