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?

Swansea couldn’t come quick enough – providing we win that is

After the club (or more probable, Arsene) imposed a short exile from media duties, I thought I’d follow suit by laying off The Arsenal for 24 hours or so, which gave me time to reflect and ponder the issues of the weekend. But thankfully, rather than jot down some notes on that debacle at Stamford Bridge, our fixture list has stepped in with a nice warm hug and a cup of Bovril.

It’s Swansea at the Emirates tonight and what better way to expunge the painful memories of Saturday than to look forward to another game within days of that defeat. To me, this result could not be any better positioned, which means I hope the players feel the same and are super-charged this evening. Let’s face it, after the Dickensian style gruel we were served up against Chelski, nothing else other than an arsenal team collecting three points tonight can be considered acceptable.

There simply must be a response. End of.

Some positive bit of news that emanated from the FA yesterday was the dropping of Gibbs’ ban and the refusal to sanction a transferral of the ban to The Ox. It’s handy because we already have a plethora of injured players, so we could do without others being taken out of the first team squad options, so let’s take the small wins as they come eh? I don’t know whether or not the FA just felt a bit sorry for us after the hiding we had, but I’m glad that they came to that decision, because the Ox has been (Chelski aside) one of the stand out players of late. It must have been guilt or feeling sorry for us, because the fact the ball was going wide and therefore common sense dictates no red is irrelevant to the FA. Common sense has no place within their walls.

Also, thankfully, yesterday I managed to get FA Cup semi final tickets. All it took was 40 minutes of having three phones repeatedly redialling and two laptops in the online queue, but there you go, I’ve got what I needed so it’s all gravy. You would have though Arsenal would adopt a British Gas style ‘you are number xx in a queue’ holding sequence, but obviously the purse strings at the club can’t stretch to a bit more cash adding to the buying process.

Anyway, back to tonight, which is a game in which we must win and ‘get back on the horse’. The title is pretty much gone in my book, but we’re back to looking over our shoulders at the Spuds with their win at the weekend, so a victory at home against an inconsistent but still decent Swansea side, will see us be nine clear of them lot with seven games to go. It doesn’t cement a Champions League spot, but it does help our cause.

The shitty news is that Koscienly is out of tonight’s game and ominously Arsene couldn’t give a return date. It’s yet another smash to the ribs for the team at a time where we’re already without a number of key players. The way our season has gone, I’m expecting the football karma gods to furnish us with adamantium infused players that are impervious to injury for the subsequent three or four seasons, such is the luck we’ve had with players missing. I’ll personally be doing the football injury equivalent of an Indian rain dance before Saturday’s showdown with Moneychester City, because we simply can’t afford to have. Kos out for too long. Hectar Bellerin comes into the squad in his place, but one can hardly imagine he’ll get too close to having too much action unless something drastic happens tonight.

Oh God, something ‘drastic’ is going to happen now, isn’t it?

The rest of the team is available and so I’d expect to see Bac, Per and Kieran take to the field with Vermaelen. In midfield I’d imagine we’ll see Flamini, but who will sit alongside him will be interesting. I’d personally go for Rosicky, as he moves the ball back to front quickly and if Arsene flanks The Ox and Gnabry either side of Cazorla, then it adds an element of pace to our team that has been severely lacking of late. It will also give Giroud the option of players willing to run beyond him, rendering him more relevant than his abject last couple of performances. This is the type of game that he has been good at having an impact in this season, so providing his head hasn’t completely gone, I expect him to be up for this too.

Arsene spoke about ‘repairing the damage’ on the official site yesterday, which is exactly what we need to do, regardless of whether or not it puts a sticking plaster on a really big wound. It’s better to have that plaster than a fist full of table salt rubbed into it tonight by a Swansea team that has suffered the effects of a European campaign.

Swansea may have been beaten at the weekend by Everton, but they looked good at times and we know that they will cause us problems, playing the possession game and looking to set the effective Bony up with chances. If we play to our potential, maintaining the ‘bullies’ tag that has been attributed to us for beating most of the teams below sixth this season, I think we’ll get the result. But if we give cause for optimism against a capable Swansea side, they’ll hit us with the same counter-attacking style that saw them walk away with a 2-0 win at The Emirates two seasons ago.

Like I said at the start of this blog, mercifully this game has come so quickly after the West London debacle, but it will only be ‘merciful’ if we show no mercy to Swansea tonight.

Speak tomorrow, when we’re hopefully all a bit happier, maybe.

Mega early pre-match Chelski thoughts

Morning ladies and gents, I have decided to be massively premature in my blogulation this morning and hit you up with a mega early pre-match blog, that’s just how I roll.

It’s also because Ben has something special planned for the next couple of days and so I’ll leave the floor open to him tomorrow and on Saturday and give you some super pre-match thoughts. Well, the ‘thoughts’ aren’t so much super, it’s more the timing, but you knew that already, so I’ll just crack on then…

This weekend may be Arsene’s 1000th and quite an occasion, but nobody should be under any illusion on what exactly it means for our season in terms of the domestic league, because I truly believe that this weekend will set the course for the remainder of our Premier League season. A defeat closes all doors to the title in my opinion. We’d still have a game in hand over Chelski, but seven points adrift with just eight games to go is too much to expect – especially when you look at their run in. When you also consider that Moneychester City have so many games in hand – two of which they will most likely win and be on similar points to Chelski, I doubt we can expect to see too many teams around us that will all be dropping that many points.

A draw will keep us four points behind with a game in hand, which keeps us in the mix but again the thought process is similar to Liverpool and Moneychester City – I don’t think all of those teams will drop that many points. However, a victory, well, that puts us into ‘we all believe’ territory as it will take us a point behind Mourhino’s lot, with a midweek game against Swansea which could give us an opportunity to go top before we play City, which then becomes a clash in which a victory at home puts us in pole position.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: I’m a bag of nerves at the moment. I’ve even got a bit of a dull ache in my stomach writing this blog, a full two days before the match even takes place, so lord knows what I’ll feel like come Saturday lunchtime.

If only we were at home, I’d be feeling a little (not a lot mind) more confident about getting the result. Wenger should have banished the Mourhino demons at The Emirates in December, but we came up against a ‘park the bus’ Mourhino and Giroud just wasn’t firing that day. It’s that flipping record that puts me off more than anything else. Never having lost a league game on home soil is quite impressive and, whilst I admit it has to happen at some time, there’s no doubt that the odds are not stacked in our favour for Saturday.

The only plus point is that we’ve had a full week off to recover from the defensive display against the Spuds. That game has now been put to bed and in the cold light of day we all have to admit that Chelski are a big step up from that lot, so if they get similar chances on Saturday we know they’ll take them. Also, the fact we’ve had a full weeks rest didn’t really stop us from putting in dire performances against Stoke or Liverpool, so I’m not going to be making any assumptions that we have any advantage on that front.

Obviously the down side to such an early preview blog is that I have no idea who will be selected and who is available from injury, but I’ll have a stab at it anyway, because I’m normally wrong even when I know who is in the squad! I suspect the back five will remain in tact and, after the performance on Sunday I think Arteta, Rosicky, Santi and The Ox will play, but against big strong defenders like Terry and Cahill, Olivier Giroud is going to be meat and drink, so I hope Arsene goes for pace in support of him by giving the Ox a run out on the wing and perhaps even Rosicky on the other side. That would probably leave room for Flamini to come in and with the Chelski danger men operating behind Eto’o, I think that added coverage is the right option. Of course, Podolski would drop to the bench and be a player I’d be looking to give twenty minutes to towards the end of the game depending on the result.

As for the Chavs, they’ve got the impressive Willian out suspended, along with the divey Ramirez, but it doesn’t really weaken them too much, as they’ll have Matic sitting in front of their back four and probably give a run out to the irritating Mikel, who loves getting away with snidey fouls against us and I’d expect the same treatment on Saturday. The real danger for us will be the attacking prowess of Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle and an Eto’o who seems to have suddenly picked up his striking boots, which is bloody annoying. Keeping those four at bag will be a massively challenge and without wanting to sound too pessimistic, I can’t see it happening.

If that is the case and our defensive walls are breached, then we need to counter by less profligacy in front of goal. The Ox needs to bury his chances, Giroud needs to be more active and a handful for the back two and Rosicky and Santi need to retain the ball and feed the attackers well. We can do it, of course, but this is by far the most pressurised league game we’ve had this season.

I’ll be wearing my lucky flat cap, so let’s hope I can make it three wins in a row with it on my head.

Catch you all on the other side.

NLD: It’s the waiting wot kills ya

It is indeed, the waiting wot kills you, you know. Here we are, Saturday, Premier League football this weekend, yet we have to wait until 4pm tomorrow before we get our fix of The Arsenal. I don’t like it I tell’s ya, I don’t like it.

It’s worse when it’s the North London Derby away from home. It doesn’t matter where the two teams are in the league, I always look at this fixture with apprehension and tomorrow’s game is no exception, in fact it’s probably heightened because of the precarious position we are in because of the league and the way the fixtures are falling over the coming weeks. I can’t help it, i’m what would colloquially be known as a ‘worry wart’. I’m not really sure why a wart should have feelings in the first place, let alone adopting a more negative emotion, but it is what it is and our fixture this weekend falls where it falls. I just need to deal with it.

I am worried because I don’t want our eyes to be taken off the Premier League prize. Or at least the Champions League prize. It’s something that Arsene has always secured and up until the Stoke game away, I haven’t really looked at the possibility of us not getting in to the Champions League. But with a really tough game this weekend, and the next weekend, and the next weekend and the next weekend, we could conceivably find ourselves outside the top four spots if the worst case scenario plays out. Boy, I hope the worst case scenario doesn’t pan out, that would be tragic. It would also mean that Europa League football would turn our season into an endless array of horrible Sunday games. I shudder at the prospect and I should probably move my thinking away from that particular path – negativity breeds negativity and we wouldn’t want all Arsenal fans to hit one of those ‘spirals’, would we?

It’s the perpetual curse of the football fan actually – looking ahead with trepidation I mean. I remember the season we went unbeaten. We had an amazing team, they played great football, yet it wasn’t until the league title was confirmed that I didn’t stop worrying. Constantly looking ahead at the next three or four games and trying to concoct a route to success rather than living in the now and appreciating what I/we had in that team. Even after the title was won, I worried about being defeated in the season and so on the last game against Leicester, whilst I was at Uni, I sat by my radio in my student digs and waited tentatively for the final whistle to be blown so that I could be happy, or more accurately, relieved.

It’s why days out like the semi final (and hopefully the cup final) are so important and should be treated as great occasions to enjoy – even if the result goes against you. I’m not suggesting that in 2011 we should have be bouncing down Wembley Way after the game, but certainly before the game I wish I hadn’t have been so nervous. I keep trying to tell myself that the game against Wigan won’t be the same, but it’s simply not the way I’m built to function; I am a worrier and come 12th April I’ll be supping pints with colleagues pre-game, getting concerned about what will transpire in the upcoming hours.

Which brings me back to this weekend. I’m sat here in my PJs in my lounge at 8.30am blogging away with a knot in my stomach thinking about tomorrow’s game. It doesn’t matter that the Spuds appear to be imploding at the perfect time for us, it doesn’t matter that we’ve just come off the back of a good Everton victory and a morale maintaining Munich draw, I’m concerned that there will be a backlash from a Tiny Totts team that hasn’t tasted defeat at White Hart Lane against us for seven years. Seven years! That’s quite a record when you think that Arsenal have been a consistent performer at the top of the league for most of my lifetime, yet even if I go back further I see that we have tasted victory just five times in 25 matches since the beginning of the Prremier league. And that’s in all competitions. That’s a 20% win ratio people. It shows that it’s not a happy hunting ground for us usually and I can’t see the game being easy on Sunday.

Arsene was asked about the fact we hadn’t won for a while at theirs and replied as expected, focusing on being a bit more positive and talking about the positive memories we have of victories there, but it must be playing on his mind. AS we’re slap bang in the middle of this ‘Death Run’, it’s obvious that victories are essential to keep our fading title hope alive and with a game against Chelski coming up after this weekend and a full weeks rest for the team, imagine the powerful effect a morale-boosting victory would have? Conversely, what does a confidence-sapping defeat to your nearest (geographical) rivals will do. A draw might maintain the status quo between the two teams as far as points differential, but in reality it does little for anyone’s hopes of achieving their goals. Fine margins people. And the margins are so fine at the moment that victory or defeat will be heightened to ‘nth’ proportions tomorrow. THAT’s why i’m even more worried. And guess what? Writing today’s blog hasn’t helped!!

So if you’re on Twitter, message me with nice things and make me feel better today. Tell me it’s going to be ok. Because it is, right? Right?

Preparing Arsenal for The Orcs – A-Team style

Being the sneaky little devil that he his, Arsene and the club decided to curveball everyone by hosting his presser yesterday which, in actual fact, is great for fans, as we get more information about the impending trip to the fires of Mount Doom and which soldiers will be available.

In fact, I had a different theory yesterday on Twitter, as I believe Arsene had hired the A-Team to weaponise the Arsenal team bus in double-quick time. Of course, we all know about Arsene’s need to control everything at Arsenal, so I think that he needed the press conference early because he was rushing off to make sure Hannibal was instructing BA and Face to affix the turrets in the right position. I dread to think of the bickering that would have taken place between the leader of the Arsenal Team and the leader of the A-Team.

Anyway, what’s more important than the merging of two of my favourite things as a kid is the news on the team for this weekend and, as suspected it might be a little scary at left back if both Gibbs and Monreal are out. Only at Arsenal, eh? Only we can have adequate cover and still have our players injured! But having watched the press conference yesterday I suspect that Monreal is the most likely to return and he’ll face a late fitness test to see whether he’s available for tomorrow at 3pm. Let’s hope he’s bathing in horse placenta right now.

The good news is that we have Mesut Özil returning fresh from a 10 day break and I am hopeful that it has done him the power of good and we see the Özil that performed so well against United. I think we will because after that Liverpool game I saw a determination in him following some pretty unnecessary chastising from the press and some sections of the fanbase. Much like after the stinging Anfield defeat, I think Özil will be eager to put his penalty miss demons to bed with a stand out performance and what better way to do it than by weaving in and out of stripy goblins that only come up to your chest, like Charlie Adam.

Thomas Vermaelen will also come back into the squad for the weekend and his return gives us the defensive buffer that we need to ensure the squad can compete on multiple fronts. He’ll almost certainly be off in the summer I suspect, but whilst he’s still here he’s making all the right noises about being committed to the team and when he’s come in to the first eleven he’s always performed quite well. But when you have a Koscienly/Mertesacker axis like we have, he’s always going to play second fiddle and he knows it. He might start at left back tomorrow if we have no other options, but I’ll save my speculation for Saturday’s blog piece.

I thought Arsene’s reaction to the questioning about the time off he gave his players was interesting. He seemed incredulous that he was being quizzed as to why he should or shouldn’t be allowed to give some time off for his players, whilst hitting the journo in question with an icy stare, but as much as I like to give the gutter-press a barracking, I think he may have interpreted the tone slightly. From what I saw, I think the question was born out of interest as to whether the players were feeling fatigued after a run of some very tough matches. Yet I think Arsene took it as a questioning of him and his training/scheduling methods. I don’t think it was. Having said that, I actually think it was the perfect thing to do after a couple of tough weeks. We’ve had a full week without The Arsenal and the players had a week until the next game, so if that allows them to relax, unwind and be fully fresh and ready to take on The Orcs, then I’m all for it. I don’t want to see leggy performances like Southampton away in the first half, I want to see performances like the first half against Sunderland for the weekend just gone.

So hopefully the team is fully patched up, because no sour they’ll be some bruising after this weekend, before we play Everton at home in the cup.

That’s it from me today. Catch y’all with a match preview tomorrow.

Sunderland: how key is rotation?

It’s hard to know what to make of today’s game against Sunderland. I mean, we’ve just had a fatigue-inducing run around from Bayern Munich, so there will obviously be some tired legs. Arsene said so himself when he admitted there would be changes in his press conference yesterday. But Sunderland have a Capital One Cup Final next weekend and as a result could be forgiven for having an eye on a potential bit of silverware next season. Equally, the players that take to the field for the Black Cats will know that they are playing for a starting spot next weekend, so will be desperate to show Gus Poyet that they deserve a place in the first eleven at Wembley.

Questions will no doubt be asked about how much Arsene will rotate and whether too much of said rotation will lead to a disjointed performance from The Arsenal today. Le Boss will have been buoyed by the performance of some of the squad players against Liverpool and I’m sure that the result will have given the manager the belief that he can mix it up a bit. I’m a child of the Championship Manager era and, whilst it certainly doesn’t make me any more qualified to make judgements on real-life players, it does make me an advocate of having a strong squad and using them frequently to compete on multiple fronts. There will have been many tired legs out there come full time on Wednesday night, so the ability to bring in other players to help support those that simply can’t be dropped, I think will be vital.

In the heart of our defence we have a back four that really can’t afford to be rotated I don’t think. Szczesny will obviously start and Monreal will come in for the injured Gibbs, but the absence of Vermaelen through injury means that we aren’t really left with any other choice at centre half. Carl Jenkinson may have performed admirably against the scousers last weekend, but Sagna is a step above and so I’d also expect our outgoing Frenchman to play.

Midfield poses yet another conundrum, as a decision needs to be made on who plays at the base of the quintet (or trio if you think of our formation as more of a 4-3-3). Flamini covered a lot of ground as usual against Bayern, so Arsene might be tempted to plump for Arteta who was suspended during the week, but equally he could play both sitting in those holding roles. It’s not a preference most of us would have against Sunderland, as a direct runner like Wilshere or The Ox would give more of an attacking impetus to our play, but with both players putting a shift in during midweek it is a very real option. Alternatively, Arsene could use Rosicky’s quick rotation of the ball from back to front as an option alongside one of the more defensive-minded players. We’ll soon find out.

“What to do with Mesut Özil?” might be something Arsene is pondering. The German was also putting a shift in on Wednesday night and as a result may be a bit fatigued, but with his confidence supposedly hit (so said the boss in his presser) because of the penalty miss, is now the right time to bench him and risk pushing him even further into a morose and sad state of mind? Arsene will know whether or not he can play today and, as some have already suggested on Twitter, sometimes it’s better to get straight back on that horse – so to speak – so if he’s ready, willing and able enough, he should start.

Either side of Mesut I really hope we see Poldi. Unused against Bayern, unwanted by the manager it seems, but perfect for these types of games in my opinion. His style and efficiency would be well suited to how the game might pan out today and if he gets his chance I’m of no doubt that he’ll take it. I’m not sure he’ll get his chance though. Arsene has been favouring Santi on the left and Cazorla came off as the substitute for the goalkeeper on 37 minutes in midweek, so he’ll hardly be fatigued. On the right hand side, assuming Santi is preferred, we will see either Gnabry or the Ox and given his form of late I think it will be Alex who is preferred.

As for our opponents today, they will be without serial red card enthusiast Wes Brown, serving out the second of another ban for being sent off. We’ll also see the return of Vito Mannone who, whilst never really convincing any Arsenal fan, you just know that he’s going to have the game of his life today. Let’s hope not though. Or, he can have the game of his life like I did in an under-13s cup game against a team two divisions higher than my team at the time. I got a shake of the hand and congratulations by the opposition manager. We still lost 18-0 though.

They have Steven Fletcher and Carlos Cuellar returning to their ranks, but I’m not sure whether or not they’ll be fit enough to start, so it means Big Per and Kos’ afternoon will probably be dictated by the American that looks more like a wrestler – Jozy Altidore – rather than the Scot who looks like he’s been served a lifetime supply of anti-social behaviour orders.

For most of us though, we know their biggest threat will come from Adam Johnson. The upturn in form of Sunderland (undefeated away in six) has not just coincided with the arrival of Poyet in charge, but also in the form of the North Eastern lad and to ensure we maintain that excellent home defensive record we will need to keep him quiet all afternoon. It’s something we certainly have the personnel to do.

We have the squad capable of picking up three points and with the next few games all being those against teams that are not in the top six, followed by four games that are, we need maximum points before we go into ‘DEATHRUN 2′.

Let’s hope we get what we need today. Come on you reds.