Positive team news and the underdogs milking it

Is it me, or has somebody put the brakes on this week? Feels like it. Probably because my working week has consisted of getting up (early), going to work, going for a run, coming home, eating dinner, packing up boxes (house move) and then going to bed. Rinse, lather and repeat…

I really hope this Saturday is worth it and I see players in red and white holding aloft the big silver thing with big ears. That would be nice.

As for the Arsenal world, what with it being a special game n’ all, Arsene had a special news conference a day earlier than most of his usual pressers he tends to do. It wasn’t just the hacks that we’re present at London Colney, but Arsenal bloggers too, of which I might have been there had work meetings not prohibited me from picking up my phone. Never have I felt at the beckon call of my desk jockey role than yesterday, I can assure you. However, such is life and we must move on, hopefully moving on quickly so Saturday arrives.

By all accounts the team news is positive. Despite appearing to limp at the Norwich game, Sagna is available for selection and despite the obvious questions as to whether he deserved a start given his impending departure, Arsene was fairly unequivocal in his response and confirmed that he has no problems with starting a player who will be wearing another teams colours next year. It’s that kind of belief in players, as well as his staunch defence of them in relation to what happens on the pitch, that is why you rarely (Lassana Diarra aside, but he was a bit of a tit anyway with his bulging beluga forehead) see players have a bad word to say about him – even after they leave a club. You can question their loyalty to The Arsenal, but I don’t think you can question that they don’t all hold an affection for Arsene.

I suspect Bac will play, but Fabianski is a whole other ball-related sport, as Arsene expectedly neither confirmed nor denied whether he would be starting. More on a team line up in the match preview on Saturday, but suffice to say I think we’ll see our strongest team out against Hull, which may mean now space for Lukasj.

There were the usual stupid questions about both players contracts and Arsene’s contract himself, to which he obviously didn’t answer, but there was also an understandable interest in the fitness of Jack and The Ox. The latter is a late fitness test away from being available and as much as I’m sure he’d try to move heaven and earth to be part of this cup final on Saturday, there’s no point risking a player who has already spent half the season out with a serious knee injury. Apparently Arsenal we’re extra cautious with Jack’s injury problem, so one would hope that a precedent has been set there, with The Ox only coming back if he is 100% able-bodied.

Le Boss was asked about the fact that nine years without a trophy (has it really been that long? Why haven’t the media informed us of this up until this point?) and whether or not this would play on the minds of the players at all in the run up. Whilst I raised an eyebrow when he admitted it might add some more pressure (put your Wenger Bingo cards away – he never mentioned ‘mental strength’ once) on the team, he did move to reassure the more apprehensive of us (I’ll raise my hand in full acknowledgement of that) that when the players get on to the pitch it will be different. A sentiment echoed by Ramsey the day before and hopefully something we get to see come 5pm early Saturday evening.

He is right though. Appearing in a big stadium at a big game is not something that should, in theory, phase these Arsenal players. They do it on a regular basis both domestically and across Europe; I guess the difference a quite heavy silver trophy perched on the edge of the pitch can make is quite substantial though.

Will Arsenal take Hull lightly and think they have this competition won though? I don’t think so. The team and manager are making all the right noises about respecting the opponents, but I guess the only real way to tell that will be the performance in roughly 56 hours from when I write this piece, so we’ll probably know an hour or two after that. It’s no secret that Arsene won’t set up his team to counter Hull’s strengths, but that’s not a lack of respect, it’s the hallmark of a manager who has never really ‘done’ tactics.

Hull are certainly milking the ‘underdogs’ card to carry favour with the neutrals and the rest of the UK, but we knew that would happen, so let’s just hope there isn’t upsets two years running. This rubbish I’ve seen from David Meyler about us already thinking we’ve won it because signs have appeared in London mentioning a potential victory parade is another attempt to eke a bit more public support. The ‘Big Bad Red and White Wolf’ thinks the job is already done, or so he’d have the world believe, but the reality is that unbeknownst to Mr Meyler (who should not even be allowed to play at Wembley after his stamp on a United player over a week ago) London is quite big and to get the right permissions for a special event where roads are closed, you kind of need a bit more than 24 hours to ensure you have the right crowd safety and policing requirements in place.

But let’s let them milk their underdog status. As long as we’re FA Cup winners come Sunday morning, I’ll not be too precious, maybe…

Anyway, that will do from me today, I have another day of work getting in the way of an FA Cup countdown so I’ll say my farewells and catch you on the flip side. Or something like that.

Excitement and trepidation in equal measure

We’re now on a three day countdown until the FA Cup final and I can already sense the anticipation amongst the fellow Gooners that I speak to. Plans are being drawn out for pre and post game drinks, speculation over who will cross that white line come 5pm is rife, with nervousness and anxiety of what might be beginning to set in.

I have to admit that I keep occasionally straying into daydreaming territory at work and home where I think about the possibility of the hoodoo being undone by the time Saturday comes. But almost as if to temper my excitement, in equal measures I also get a pang of worry hit me, as I realise how long and painful the summer might be with little transfer activities and having to relive another cup final disaster.

It’s everything that comes with it you see. The disappointment for at least a week afterwards. The ribbing at work from rival fans. The sense of Groundhog Day yet again. The fear of psychological damage it could do to next season’s team belief that we can get over the line. All of this bundles itself together to fill me with a sense of trepidation. There’s excitement, of that you can be sure, but perhaps in my mind my way of trying to keep myself balanced I seem to have that same level of anxiety about Saturday. Hopefully the football karma gods will reward me for my humble approach to this match.

Aaron Ramsey spoke to the official site yesterday about how the players are feeling and by all accounts he sounded quite buoyant. Where as the 2011 team seemed to be inhibited by the pressure of a cup final as clear favourites, this team appear on the face of it, like they are relishing that role and are intending upon acting on it. They all have experiences of the hurt that can come from cup final defeats (Mertesacker with Bremen I believe, Jack, Szczesny, Koscienly with the Birmingham defeat, Rambo whilst at Cardiff against Portsmouth, etc) so rather than it prove to be too much of a cross to bear, I hope it fuels their desire more than anything not to go through that same pain again. Rambo spoke of what it feels like to be an underdog and whilst it’s easy for me to say, he seemed quite genuine in saying that he preferred to be a favourite.

It’s certainly true that the team has more experience than three years ago. You only have to look at the chief protagonists on that day in Szczesny and Koscienly to see how they have improved and the fact that they’ve both had a very good season can only bode well for us this Saturday (assuming our Polish Number One has made the starting line up that is).

It’s times like these that I’m thankful that our form has improved so dramatically since the turgid performances in the semis and during March. We looked like a team that was dead on its feet and bereft of ideas, but now the confidence has returned, we seem brimming with confidence and I hope that allows the players to express themselves. We’ve won five on the bounce and are beginning to look like the pre-Christmas Arsenal that stormed to the top of the table. There will be time to consider whether the pressure of a league title being taken away allowed the team to play with the freedom of the last month, but that is not for now, as all efforts must concentrate on lifting that FA Cup trophy by hook or by crook.

I’d love to see a repeat of the last time I went to an FA Cup final, which was the 1-0 win at Southampton. Yes we weren’t completely rampant, but I don’t remember us ever looking uncomfortable throughout, so I’d love to see a repeat of that. If the team can get a few goals to make the afternoon a little less nerve jangly too then all the better, but I won’t hold out too much on that front.

Today Arsenal have a press day and I believe Arsene will want a pre-match presser in there early, so we’ll most likely see an extended end of season chinwag between Le Boss and the hacks that descend upon London Colney, so let’s hope he’s in fine fettle and that we don’t get any stupid questions that mean nothing to anybody (“how important is winning the Cup, Arsene?”). He’ll most likely give us an update on who’s fit and I hope we get good news on the Ox. With his ability to up our pace and trickery in the final third, he offers us something different to any of the other options available to Arsene on Saturday, so even having him as a bench option would be a great boost for the team.

That’s it from me today. I’ll see you when the countdown reaches two.

Oooh, sorry, one more thing. A quick shout out for Gooner Tim Sherwood who, despite providing Arsenal fans with hours of entertainment through his gilet inspired antics, was mercilessly sacked by Daniel Levy yesterday. Poor old Tim, you will be missed on the touch line, certainly by Arsenal fans. The only worry I always have at times like this is that the Spuds might actually get it right one day and bring in a decent manager – simply by the law of averages – but that’s another conversation for another day. Cheerio.

Being more Kenyan and inner peace easier to find than signings

There’s nothing sweeter than getting home from a hard days work in the Big Smoke and finding an envelope with two FA Cup Final tickets. Except if those tickets were wrapped in a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. And a cheque from The Arsenal saying they’ve decided to donate 10% of their surplus cash to me. That’d be nice. I’d take enough to live comfortably and use the rest to hire a world class computer hacker to stab at the heart of Goal.com and CaughtOffside.com. What a joyous summer that would be.

Apologies if you don’t have a ticket and are annoyed/sad/upset; it is genuinely not my intention to dig the knife in sooner or wind anybody up. It’s just that this is my first cup final ticket of what I’d call a really big competition that I’ve managed to get through my own sources by having a season ticket, so it feels more special somehow.

Anyway, enough of my delight, how about we focus on the delight of potentially seeing a return of Jack Wilshere this weekend? Arsene assumed the normal position in the press room yesterday to give an update on education for young players coming through the youth system, the ‘stamina league’ which even as I type I’m rolling my eyes, the usual ‘nobody buys before the World Cup’ line, as well as who’s fit for this weekend’s game. Unfortunately there’s still no return for The Ox, but Gibbs is back in the squad and that is great news ahead of the cup final. As is par for the course with Arsenal, we seem to have managed to get almost all of our players back fit right at the end of the season, but at least Arsene will have a series of very tough decisions to make when he has to pick the sixteen man squad next Saturday week. There will be a number of good footballers that will miss out and you’d have to feel for them when it happens.

But believe it all not, we have a game in between that and it’s a trip to Norwich that we’ll have to endure this weekend, which gives you an indication of how much stock I’m placing on this match. With Norwich needing 17 goals against Arsenal, they must know they are down and with a week before the cup final, you’d expect Arsene to rotate. So games for Wilshere, Gibbs and Diaby might be a good opportunity for some of the players with less game time to get themselves on to the pitch and stake a claim for a spot in the squad next Saturday. More on the game against the Canaries at the weekend though.

For now, let’s talk about the ‘stamina league’ shall we? I mean, I say ‘talk’, but if you can find any words to try and fathom what the bloody hell Arsene was talking about yesterday then you’re a smarter human than I. Hearing comments that we won a battle because we were at the top of the league the longest throughout the season is possibly one of the most bizarre comments I think I’ve heard Le Boss come up with. I don’t have to trot out any tired cliches about winning nothing until May, etc, etc, but surely a comment about having stamina, then talking about how Moneychester City won the ‘marathon’ because they will most likely win the league in the end, means that they are in fact the ones that have won the ‘stamina league’, which actually turns out to be the actual Premier League?? Having stamina means you’re able to last the distance and, having seen how this season has transpired, how can anybody say we have shown that attribute above everyone else?

If anything, we won the ‘shoot your load too early’ league. To use Arsene’s metaphor, we thought we’d be like those runners that try and sprint ahead of the pack and gain an assailable lead, only for the more impressive and experienced Kenyan runners to catch us at the end and overtake us. We need to be more Kenyan. I’d love to be more Kenyan. I’d take being Kenyan all day long in this metaphor.

But we’re not Kenyan’s. Not yet. Maybe a bit more training, ‘marathon management’ and understanding when to peak at the right time, and maybe we could get there.

What we’ll need is more personnel that the manager trusts to make a difference. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, judging by Arsene’s comments yesterday, as he once again laid the foundations for another infuriating summer. First we were treated to ‘we don’t need any more players’, now it’s ‘nobody will make any signings before the World Cup’, then we’re halfway there to our Arsene Wenger bingo line which you might remember tired excuses such as ‘we have to secure Champions League football first’ and the old favourite ‘most business is done on the last day anyway’ rubbish.

I put this to you, my friendly Gooner reader: there will be signings made by other clubs – decent signings too – that are made before the World Cup. Teams don’t want to pay over-inflated odds, so they will try to get deals tied up as soon as possible. Except, it seems, our club. I hope Arsene is playing the old ‘who’s Cazorla?’ game with the press, because the idea that we’ll just down tools and wait until players have a blinding World Cup before bidding below their market price, fills me with a numbness that I wouldn’t want inflicted on any man, woman or beast.

But I guess we just have to accept it’s the way our club is run. We might not like it, it might drive us insane, but we are powerless to have any impact. Maybe I should just start taking more baths, or try to take some hypno-therapy to get through what could be an excruciating summer. I can’t control what Arsenal do, but I can try to find inner peace.

Unless inner peace is on hold until mid July too!

Catch you tomorrow.

Arsene plays the trombone to the press

Yesterday’s lack of posting was due to me being at the very whim of lady liquor, who had decided the night before that Friday would be a write off. Unfortunately for Arsene, he was unable to book the day off from work as I did and as a result undertook his usual Friday morning presser, despite clearly being a little under the weather. It sounded to me as if he was taking his presser through the vehicle of music, such was the tromboneliness of his voice.

But as a man obsessed with his work (like him or not, you can’t argue with that statement) he did what was needed and addressed the gutter press, looking to carve out a soundbite by talking about anything from Diaby to Newcastle, to David Moyes and the fact that Financial Fair Play has been dealt another arrow of worthlessness with the decision to not suspend teams that break the FFP rules. We all knew that something would be on the horizon which would ensure that UEFA can still lay on their money-spinning competition with all of the big teams still in it, and this is what it appears has been the decision. There could probably be a whole blog I could write about the ineptitude of UEFA, but perhaps I should save that topic for when we don’t have any Arsenal games on the horizon to talk about.

The team news, first and foremost, is that there is little change from the Hull match. Diaby inevitably picked up a groin strain after the Under-21′s game he played in, but you’d expect him to pick up something like that with over a year out of action. Vermaelen will be back but the mystery as to why Gibbs has got injured after playing in the FA Cup Semi final remains. Still, we have an adequate replacement in the form of Monreal and so there won’t be too many people complaining in that position I would have thought.

The real story, from my perspective, was when he was asked about Sagna. Arsene gave what my untrained eyes would call the ‘clearest indication’ that we’ve all but lost Sagna as he stated that the ball is in his court and it is up to him to come back to the club. Apparently this has been the case for a number of weeks and so I would have thought this will only mean one thing as far as he is concerned. He’ll be plying his trade somewhere else next season. My only hope is that it’s not in the Premier League. The thought of him trotting out at The Emirates as an opposing player next season is hardly one that fills me with extreme happiness. However, the club have supposedly offered the three year deal that he wanted and yet he still hasn’t signed, so whilst we can speculate all we want about why he hasn’t put pen to paper, we’ll only know when he leaves the club and does the inevitable ‘Arsenal didn’t do X for me’ interview for his new team.

Arsene also spoke about the return of Wilshere to the team being before May and the return of the World Cup – which let’s face it is all the media care about, not Arsenal – but as I’m looking at this team at the moment, I’m struggling to see how he’s going to elbow his way into the first eleven. He’s shown that he’s not quite that type of player that can sit in front of the back four and screen them for oncoming attacking opponents, so he’s not going to displace one of Arteta, Flamini or Kallstrom, so that leaves thee Englishman fighting for a spot with Rosicky and Ramsey in that second midfield position. If Ramsey continues the form he’s shown since returning from injury, ain’t nobody taking his role, whilst Rosicky has also been in fine form in different positions for the team. I’ve mentioned before that Jack isn’t quite as versatile to play in the more forward lying positions as somebody like Rosicky and with players having returned to the starting eleven from injury, whilst others seem to be hitting a bit of form (Podolski), I am really struggling to see Jack make an impact between now and the end of the season.

But hey-ho, competition is the nature of being a top flight team and as fans we’d much rather see players having to fight for a starting jersey, than being given it by default through a mammoth injury list. One things for sure, we have players returning to the team that should really push us towards a top four plus FA Cup win. I’ll reiterate should for dramatic effect there.

One more piece of news (i’m not talking transfers yet, simply cannot be bothered) actually came after his press conference, when Arsene gave the clearest indication to a journalist in a one-to-one that he would be signing a contract. Now we all know that words mean little without actions, but Arsene has been quite deliberate in his fence sitting for most of this season, so to come out with a clear statement that he’s staying seems to show what many people have been talking about from whispers within the club. One suspects it will be his final contract with Arsenal and if he is staying, then he’ll need to have a little change of heart in the way in which he resources his teams. It has been his failing in appointing enough recruits in certain positions, so rather than leaving everything until the end of the window, he’s got some convincing to do before the World Cup starts that he’s serious about us mounting a title challenge. He’s given the fans a taster of how close we are with our attack on the league this season, so anything else other than a large scale recruitment drive will see his stock fall even further. But again, let’s leave that for the day when he does announce he’s staying at Arsenal, because this is all conjecture at this point.

That’s pretty much it from me today. Have a grand Saturday and let’s hope that Southampton do us some kind of favour this afternoon.

No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

On this most holiest of days in the Christian calendar, it is that most precious of things that you and I wish for our beloved Arsenal: three points picked up away from home against Hull City.

Of course the press conferences of both managers were dominated by discussions of the impending FA Cup Final between the two sides, but understandably both wanted to emphasise the importance of today’s match up, ensuring the focus is on three points and not on using it as a dress rehearsal for the final. For Arsene, this game is an opportunity to show the world that his side are masters of the fourth place trophy, so putting another win under our belts as we head towards the end of the season is all important. For Steve Bruce, this is about further cementing his sides Premier League credentials and climbing the table as high as possible, but there will also be an element of “look at us, we can turnover this Arsenal team in the league, so why not in the cup final?”.

Hull currently sit six points clear of relegation and whilst not many are talking about them being dragged into the relegation mire, they are not completely safe from a nervy end to the season, especially with results like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday evening. So there is certainly motivation for the Tigers, which I suspect we’ll see materialIse in the shape of a quick start and a loud crowd hoping to catch us cold early on. That’s how most teams have outdone this Arsenal side this season and that is why we have to ensure that the first fifteen minutes – if not all Arsenal – are certainly relatively quiet.

At The Emirates Hull lined up with a 3-5-2 formation but were pretty much nullified within a few minutes as Nik Bendtner (remember him? That crazy ol’ Danish Samurai) struck early which meant Hull had to come out and play and as a result made for a more open and expansive game. The fact we only won 2-0 belies the performance that day, as I remember coming away thinking it should have been four or five without reply. But perhaps that is an example of how Hull have managed to look ok defensively for a newly promoted team. They’ve never really been battered by anyone in terms of score lines and I don’t think we’ll be hitting them for six again today.

They also have a totally different strike force of Long and Jelavic who, if I’m completely honest, I’m very glad won’t be making the cup final. Long is a good player and has caused us a few problems over the last few years during his time at West Brom, whilst Jelavic always strikes me as one of those centre forwards that if he’s shown the love by a manager, he’ll replicate in form. He’s a bit like Giroud in that respect. Which provides me with a lovely little segway into talking about how our team will line up today…

Thankfully, Arsene has some decisions to make for today’s game. Gibbs may be out, which would force his hand if Monreal is not fit, but the rest of the back five is obvious. They will need to contend with the running of Long and the goal-hanginess of Jelavic and if they do that, you have to fancy our chances, because without wanted to sound like I got an Easter gift of ‘The Big Book of Football Clichés’ solid defences help you to build winning teams.

The midfield anchor could be either Flamini, Arteta of Kallström, but I suspect we’ll see the Frenchman come in for the Spaniard because Tricky Micky has looked a little tired of late. With Flamini having served his two games suspended, he’ll be bright as a button and an important screen for when the runners from midfield make their way towards our box. The next decisions will be who will play alongside that anchor, which for me should be only one real choice: Aaron Ramsey. He has the offensive and defensive engine needed to compliment both Özil and Giroud and with him in the team there is instantly more pace injected into the side from midfield. It provides that extra man in attack when the front three are looking a little pedestrian. that front three, which I think will consist of Podolski, Cazorla and The Ox, will need to get as close to Giroud for those knock downs as possible, because it’s only when he has teammates around him, that Olivier looks a threat. If he’s isolated alongside a back three that includes the in-form Curtis Davies, then we won’t see too much joy I’m afraid, but if Santi and Podolski get alongside the big Frenchman, then we’ll see an altogether different performance I’ll wager.

What we need to see from Poldi today (assuming he starts, which I think he will after his two goals on Tuesday), is more of that end product that he’s becoming famous for, so moving a bit more centrally and coming closer to Giroud to link up would provide that I think. The Ox has the trickery and pace to get in behind the Hull defenders, so he and Ramsey can be effective runners beyond Giroud, but Santi and Poldi need to have all of the play in front of them, hence why I think they should be tight to our buffon-loving centre forward.

“No Özil?” I hear you ask and, whilst I think he’ll certainly play a part, with a month out through injury and Le Boss able to call on a number of different players I think we’ll see him eased in from the bench.

This is a game in which we should have enough quality to win, but with the form of the last six weeks only picking up over the last game (and that was only really in the second half), I think we’ll still see an element of fragility about this Arsenal team. I can’t see us coming charging out of the blocks, so I think this will be a cagey affair in the first half, with the need not to be blitzed within the first 30 minutes. Thereafter, the hope is that we see more football like the second half on Tuesday night, which will certainly see us pick up some points if we play like that, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

absence makes the heart grow fonder

Happy Saturday to you fellow Goonerite. It’s an interesting one because as we hit the last few dregs of the season, Sky and BT Sport have their grubby mits all over the most important fixtures, which means the chances of seeing Arsenal play a Saturday 3pm kick off is about as likely as Miley Cyrus admitting that she is actually a clone of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But with clear deficiencies in the cloning process obviously.

There was some interesting news as the working week drew to a close, which included Aaron Ramsey being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the year. It’s great to see his early season exploits have been regarded so highly and, had he stayed fit throughout the season and continued his form, one expects the end of season ceremony would have been more a case of ‘what time do you want me to collect the trophy?’ rather than ‘will I win it’ for the Welshman. His nomination also brings into stark contrast the challenges the team has faced missing in-form and key players for varying periods of time this season.

For example, I have seen a few Gooners (thankfully in the minority) bemoaning the form of Ozil before he was injured, yet some of those very same people are now overjoyed that he is returning to the first team fray, which certainly shows that the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder a true one. As Gooners we’ve become accustomed to saying to ourselves “yeah but, what if he was fit? Where would we be now?” and whilst it’s a path that is both pointless and maddening, it’s still something we should all be aware of.

Thankfully we have plenty of players returning for this final push on the league and on Thursday Arsene confirmed what he had already said post West Ham: Ozil is fit and raring to go for tomorrow and we appear to miss just Gibbs, Walcott and the eventual return to fitness (albeit most likely to be fleeting) of Abou Diaby. Had there been some magic cream to rub on the wounds of the returning players a month ago we might still be clinging on to a league title aspiration, but such is life and we must accept where we are and what is in front of us.

Kim Kallstrom has had his say on his experience and after some shaky misplaced passes in the first half on Tuesday, I thought he grew into the game well, showing some good upper body strength and above all with Arsene Wenger teams retaining possession is important. He certainly seemed capable in that regard. He thinks his experience will prove important in the next month and whilst I’m inclined to agree with him, I’m not sure how many chances on the field he’ll get to actually play. With Flamini back from suspension I think Arsene has his hierarchy of more defensive minded midfielders and I think Kallstrom is certainly in at number three there. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season. I don’t know if Kallstrom is available on a free transfer or not, but I’d be surprised if Wenger had the interest in making a 31-year-old a permanent offer, so perhaps this is just an opportunity for Kallstrom to market himself in the Premier League as much as possible and try to get a club. Perhaps the fact that he’s playing at Arsenal might be enough to convince a Premier League manager that he’s worth a punt next season, but I’d be surprised if he’s gracing the Emirates in a red jersey come August.Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Arsene has also talked up (as you’d expect) the importance of Giroud recovering his….ahem….mental strength in overcoming his recent transgressions both on and off the field and appeared to be back to his form of earlier in the season against West Ham. He also made an interesting observation about the number of headers Giroud wins from out wide in crossing positions, compared to the number of headers he wins when the ball comes from deep. He’s right of course; it’s interesting to see a player that is so good in the air in one type position not be as good in another. I guess you could say that you have to be a lot more accurate when heading towards a specific part of the goal rather than just winning the ball for it to ping off in any direction. You can’t say it’s a difference between how aggressive he is when he attacks the ball, as to win any header in the first place you have to be aggressive. It’s something I’m sure Giroud is conscious of too.

Personally, I just think that Giroud’s form has been linked to who we are playing as much as his fatigue this season. Every Gooner I meet accepts that he’s a player with limited abilities, so sure it must only be rational to assume that he is therefore a player that we are only likely to see score goals against teams who are also limited in their technical capabilities? If you want to make the difference in big games, you need ‘special’ players. Giroud tries hard, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal player that agrees he’s ‘special’. So whilst we can all bemoan a missed chance against Chelski or Liverpool, perhaps we should just accept that from a striking position we’ve got what we essentially paid for, so it’s difficult to be too frustrated with the Frenchman in that regard.

The positive of this, however, is that if this is true, then we can expect Giroud to have a better end to the season than the last month. The next few games include matches from teams that are all in the bottom 10 in the league, where Giroud – like Arsenal this season – is a bit of a flat track bully and has been scoring goals. Providing he stays fit I’d expect him to play all of the remaining five games, with Sanogo only being used if the chips are down. Putting aside the sobering thought that we have a raw 19-year-old as our ‘go-to-guy’, if Giroud can hit some form then at least we could see him get to perhaps 23 or 24 goals.

Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of me for one day, so I’ll take my leave and request that you have a lovely Saturday.

Back with a match preview tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twinges, switcharoo’s and Everton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Holloway Road goats and a managed expectation on Rambo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks

Nobody fancies us

Well here we are. At the end of a long week that was made positively Jack Bauerian after defeat to Chelski and then a sucker-punch at home against a very average Swansea team. Yep, it’s just me and you chilling, waiting for tomorrow to arrive, trying to deflect the cruel retorts of rival fans who have decided to further stick the knife in on our title chances.

Nobody seems to fancy us tomorrow either. I’ve seen plenty of glum tweets on my timeline to suggest we’re facing an impenetrable wall and, whilst I’m not one to be blowing carbon monoxide into your back passage, I’m not sure whether the ‘we’ll lose 3-0′ is coming from if I’m completely honest. In fact, the one thing I’ve learnt from this topsy-turvy ol’ season, is that you can’t rule anything out. For example, we were sitting pretty at the top of the league and in-form when we went to Liverpool, yet they served us a metric tonnes worth of humble pie, so who’s to say we can’t do the same tomorrow? It’s a funny old game and all that…

Arsene was certainly taking that approach when he spoke to the official site yesterday and I think he made another good point: everyone is looking at Everton catching us at the moment, so why shouldn’t we look at doing the same to those above us?

Of course, the stark reality is that all of the teams around us appear to be bang in form at the moment, where as the only thing we’re ‘bang in’ on right now is an injury crisis coupled with a crisis of confidence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ll catch the teams above us, but on the eve of another big match at home I am full of that thing that all fans have in varying stages during the season: hope.

I hope that the players that haven’t had as much chance to prove themselves can step up to the plate and show that this team is capable of big results. I hope that we see the best of Thomas Vermaelen, The Ox, Santi and Giroud. But most of all I hope we can ditch the ‘big game bottlers’ tag that seems to be tightly affixed to our collective necks at the moment.

It’s hard to work out whether Arsene believes his own rhetoric when he speaks about taking positives from what was by and large a pretty poor performance against Swansea, so when he talks about Vermaelen ‘taking his chance’ you do have to wonder if it is more for the Belgian’s own confidence than actual belief that Thomas can usurp Koscienly for a starting spot. Against Swansea he did ok, but was still outmuscled for the Bony goal and when you’re up against an in-form Dzeko, who’s to say he won’t suffer the same fate? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s also the fact that Swansea didn’t really venture forward too much during most of the game, which meant that defensively we had little to do anyway, so you could question how well any of the back four did.

Arsene will take to the scrummage of mic’s this morning in his first proper duel with the press since the debacle at Stamford Bridge and, whilst I’m sure many will think he’ll go a bit prickly on the assembled hacks, I think he’ll make it one of the most all-time boring pressers there is to be had. After all, what more is there to say, that hasn’t already been said? How much more can they dig the knife in more than he probably has dug in himself at this point? I’d wager not too much, so Arsene will be as vanilla as possible and hope that his team responds on the pitch which if we’re all honest, is all we want to see as well.

The team news will reflect the boredom of today’s presser in that there isn’t really any of note to report. Kos begins the second week of his ‘three-weeks-then-setback-leading-to-another-three-weeks’ time on the sidelines and Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil will be mentioned in dispatches as playing for Arsenal at some stage between now and the end of 2020, so it will be on the players who’s form is as indifferent as Wenger’s opinion of ‘out-tacticing’ whoever his teams are up against on any given week, to put in the effort to nab us three points against a Moneychester City team that are back to being ‘a little bit scary’ again.

I know I’m being a bit flippant with my remarks today, but I really do hope that Arsene can turn it around, because I hate to see a well-regarded man have his legacy tarnished by the latter part of his tenure. I want us to go on a seven game unbeaten run, win the FA Cup and have the manager declare that he’s ‘going big’ in the summer to make us a title challenging side (right to the end). I’m not sure that will happen, but I want it nonetheless.

You?