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!

Jacks injury leaves all eyes on Aaron

Howdy there partner. It’s Friday, we’re still all happy after the Dortmund victory (aren’t we?), plus we’ve got a game tomorrow to look forward too in the shape of West Bromwich Albion at lunchtime on a Saturday. Arsène will deliver his update to us on injuries and even the horrid news about Wilshere being out for three months and Arteta being out after his calf problem from Wednesday night can’t put me too down at the moment. Well, maybe a little, but after being a bit of a ‘Neg’ recently, I’m inclined to bask in a little bit of success after our Champions League qualification was secured.

I’m also feeling happy for a particular Welshman who, to this gooners eyes, looked to be approaching a semblance of his old self on the Emirates turf against the yellowness of Dortmund. He was tidy in possession, there was a distinct lack of tricks and flicks, but he still busted a gut to get across the pitch. On Tuesday at the pre-match conference he said he felt like he was getting back up to full speed and hopefully this is more like what he meant, although I wouldn’t say wayward passing and random Cruyff turns has anything to do with fitness, personally. But hey, what do I know, right?

If it is true, that he does feel like his ‘old-new’ self from last season, then that bodes well for the coming months. With Jack confirmed as a long term absentee, you have to look at someone like Aaron filling the void, and filling well during this winter period. There have been lots of questions that have been raised as to whether the two can play together, but Arsène has had that particular opportunity to prove the doubters wrong by the ridiculous challenge by McNair last weekend. I personally think that given enough minutes together on both training pitch and actual game time, any top level professional athletes can learn to feed off one another’s strengths. People might argue that Lampard and Gerrard prove that this isn’t the case, but I don’t believe that they actually had any real opportunity to develop that ‘on the field’ bond for England, hence why it never happened.

Anyway, I’m digressing, because my line of thinking today is about Aaron Ramsey and how important he will be to this team over the coming months and for the duration of the season. He is the player that sits between the deep lying midfielder and the number ten and is the one that has to both defend and attack. The most natural of all of our box-to-boxer’s, I think we’ll see a good festive period for our Welsh Jesus. The more I’ve watched him over the years, the more it occurs to me that his game seems to be more intrinsically linked to his confidence levels, than almost any other Arsenal player. They all get affected by dips in form, but it appears as though Rambo suffers more, probably because of his work ethic and desire to work harder to correct any imperfections in his game. He’s a trier, there’s nobody that can dispute that, but when he tries too much he suffers all the more. It’s why Arsène has publicly said he needs to just focus on doing the basics well and the rest will come.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation with him when you look at our form as a team too. I think he needs a run of three or four good, solid, ‘back to basics’ games before it will all click back into gear for him. But so does the team. Arsenal have shown over recent past that they are quite capable of putting together winning runs, which you think we really need to start doing, like now. But our performances are contingent on our best players playing well. If Ramsey is playing well, then the team will more often play well and increase their probability of victory. But in order for Ramsey to get back to his best, he probably needs the rest of the team to step up and carry us to a few victories. So both are as reliant on each other to move into what I suppose Andre Vilas Boas would call a ‘positive spiral’.

With tricky Micky Arteta out for an extended period of time, it’s probably more important that Aaron gets his defensive work right first though, because with Flamini as the holding midfielder, you do fear for our propensity for being opened up against most Premier League sides. A deeper lying Ramsey to sit alongside Flamini more often, will help to break up the play more than one bombing forward and being caught in possession. That Rambo (the defensive-minded one) needs to be trotting out onto the Hawthorns pitch tomorrow.

There’s a few other titbits of information that is knocking around this morning, but until Le Boss gives us an injury update in preparation for tomorrow’s game, I don’t really think it’s worth talking about how players are ‘back on track’. If we get to the New Year and we’ve won all of our games, let’s call it that, but until then I remain to be convinced.

Convince me lads, convince me.

Injuries abating, history fears not

So, Le Boss hath spoken, decreeing that we have no new injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s massive game against United. In fact, the injury situation doesn’t seem as terrifying as it has been over the past month, as players are beginning to return. As usual with The Arsenal, players are returning in all of the positions that we are currently well stocked in but hey, beggars, choosers, etc.

It might have only been a brief update to the official site, but it was still welcome to get Arsène’s ‘all clear’ on some players. Arteta, for example, will be needed in the base of that midfield if Flamini’s recent performances are anything to go by. The tenacity and cardiness of our Gallic enforcer still seems to be there in his system, but Flamini seems to have lost positional sense and his ability to find another red (or yellow) shirt of late, so the metronomic movements of Tricky Micky will be welcome for our back four.

We may still see a duet of the Flamster and Arteta just in front of the back four, to provide extra cover against the obvious attacking threat United possess, but at least if a scenario like the one that led to the first Swansea goal two weeks ago happens, we know that Mikel is taking down an oncoming player closer to the centre spot.

The other good news is that Giroud will be back, which will certainly please Aaron Ramsey of all people, who thrived from his hold up play last season. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Rambo is not versatile enough to perform without the big Frenchman, but there’s no doubt he profits from Olivier’s place at the top of the field. It will probably be a few weeks before he’s ready to effectively challenge Welbeck for a starting spot, but just seeing him in the squad will be a welcome boost, not least because it will push poor old Sanogo further down the pecking list. I feel for the fella, but he’s not at Arsenal level yet and without games he never will be, so Arsène needs to January loan his ass to another club. Preferably in the Premier League. After all, he only needs to watch Match of the Day to do his scouting. Plus, we’ll save a few pounds on travel expenses if he stays in this country. No need for booking flights for any of Steve Rowley’s crew then, you see.

Anyway, back to the team and thankfully both Kos and Debuchy are out and about running. Arsène still thinks it’s three weeks but the fact that Kos is actually alive is pleasing to hear. We’ve had both Vermaelen and Rosicky in recent past disappear for injuries expected to be a couple of weeks, only to see them gone for an entire season, so I’m sure you’ll join me in breathing a huge sigh of relief there. The sooner we can get the first choice back four together, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

What was interesting about yesterday’s update, I thought, was that there was no mention of Welbeck. Perhaps that’s because there was no need to. After all, Woy said he was fine and if Arsène doesn’t even feel the need to mention it, surely it’s a non-story, right? RIGHT?? I hope so. But the trouble with supporting this club is that usually ‘surprises’ don’t fall into the ‘nice’ category. They usually fall into the ‘dropped your car keys into a poo-encrusted toilet so now you have to since when you dip your hand in there’ category. I’m trying to stay positive. Welbeck will be fit. If I have to avoid three-drained manhole covers all day between now and the game tomorrow evening I will. I’ll do it I tells ya!

So, finally, before I wrap up for the day I thought I’d give you a little ‘heads up’. I am terrified about tomorrow. I’m terrified because at home, against the poorest United side in my living memory, with the injuries they have, we’ve never had a better chance of picking up three points. Yet I’m terrified because we never seem to get the run of the green against that lot. I think back to 99, when we’ve dicked on United and gone down to a wonder goal after Bergkamp missed a penalty, or two when Owen Hargreaves (of all people! He could barely walk for most of his United career) scored that free kick after we’d outplayed them in their own back garden. Or when Almunia and Diaby’s 50p head caused a 2-1 defeat that I witnessed live in the flesh. Or when Sagna went for a meaningless challenge two seasons ago that cost us three points. Or even last season’s 0-0 bore draw. Every time we come up against United we rarely have the beating of them. We’ve had one win in 14 since 2009. I’ve been a season ticket holder for six years and I’ve never seen us beat United (I was away for the Ramsey goal that got us our only win in that time). That’s why I’m terrified. I’m terrified because of history. Because history is rarely kind to The Arsenal. History against United is the person that unscrews the salt pot so you spill all of your salt on your dinner and can’t enjoy it. That history is one in which I am haunted.

I fear another haunting. I fear us totally dominating and losing. Or drawing. Another draw. Don’t let it happen Arsenal. Please.

Anyway, more of my terror tomorrow. Adios for now.

Grumpy Arsene cautious on Theo and non-committal on Joel

Was it just me, or did Arsene seem like he was in a bit of a mood in yesterday’s pre-match conference? I mean, he was a little monosyllabic in some of his comments, more so than I would have expected. I get that you don’t want to give the media hacks too much to re-hash to their agendas, but it felt like he was a little grumpy yesterday. Normally you get one or two jokes from Le Boss, but he kept it to just the one yesterday with a comment about the fifth official having a seat and a nice book. A fair comment actually, because our game in midweek proved they are as useful as a chocolate teapot.

I suppose given the scoreline at home against the Belgian champions he was entitled to be a little grumpy. He was effectively shafted over by his team when they decided to push on to get a fourth goal but ended up conceding a third. I’m pretty sure Arsene wouldn’t have specifically said ‘EVERYONE FORWARD!’ with a minute to go. Whilst he must take some of the blame for his substitutions and the mentality of the team after we conceded the second goal, the players have been a bit shielded from blame thanks to the manager I think.

So we had a short presser and a grumpy-sounding Arsene with which to try and dissect thoughts on team morale in the camp. Arsene says the morale in the camp is very positive and that it is just the media that perpetuates the negativity. I understand that to an extent, but it’s hard to agree with him on the positivity if I’m honest. A positive and happy team would most likely be a confident one and you can’t argue that we’re playing with bags of that stuff. Sure, they might all be smiles and laughs when on the training ground practicing with each other, but deep down they will all be hurting and their confidence will have taken another blow on Tuesday night. It’s why I am a little fearful of the game tomorrow. The team has shown that confidence takes a long time to get back and can be shattered quite easily, so you do wonder what blowing a three-goal lead will do to them. Hopefully it will spark a response that sees some players step up.

One player who could help to be that catalyst is Theo and, despite the understandable caution from Le Boss, I do hope he gets significant game time tomorrow. The benefit that Theo has through his injury is that he will not have been affected by the indifferent start to the season. He is coming in with a blank sheet of paper and can paint whatever picture he wants through his contribution. He’s that kind of explosive player that can unlock games and in between his two big injuries last season and the season before he showed that he has matured into one of our biggest threats in front of goal. With him and Alexis the hope is – particularly away from home – that they can exploit that little bit of extra space you get to run in behind defences. Arsene was non-committal as to whether Walcott would start, but I hope he is starting sooner rather than later. Wenger was clear in his articulation not to expect a guy who has been out for 10 months to be the saviour, but I still think that his place in the team will give other players a lift and, when you’ve just been held back by a frankly average Anderlecht team, to have a player come in and pick you up is a welcome boost.

Understandably Arsene was also respectful of Swansea, talking about their style of football, which I think will also be a benefit for us. Swansea’s form has been patchy too this season, so it will be interesting to see how they line up. They will invariably play a passing game, but will they be a little bit more cautious, or will they treat this game as a ‘freebie’ and come at us? Either way, I’m not sure which is more beneficial for us. IF they come at us, it will prove the sternest test of the makeshift back four so far this season. If they sit, we could see another drab draw trying to break down a stubborn opponent. I don’t know about you, but I’ve just had about enough of my fill for draws this season.

Just finally before I knock off for the day, how about this situation with Joel Campbell, eh? Arsene was asked about whether he’s happy and said something like ‘you should ask him. I hope he is always happy’, then when later Joel Campbell was asked about it he confirmed he wouldn’t be leaving in January. I wonder if there is something going on there. Campbell has shown glimpses of a good player in the small cameo appearances he’s been getting, but in the last few games he hasn’t really been anywhere near the first team. Why? Is this one of those situations where Wenger just doesn’t fancy him? OR is there a plan to integrate him later on in the season? Remember that he did the same with Benayoun when he was on loan. He barely started for Arsenal until the latter part of the season, then he became a regular player for the club. I could never wonder why and a lot of people I spoke to felt that Benayoun was the biggest waste of a loan fee ever. But eventually he came good and maybe that is the situation with Joel? Or maybe Arsene will offload someone like Podolski in January and that will free up some space for the Costa Rican to get involved. Either way, it looks to me that he’s not getting anywhere now and so I suspect that unless his career takes a Benayounly turn after Christmas, it might be his last at the club.

Catch you tomorrow you sexy people.