West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

Right, plenty to get through today, so let’s crack on.

Firstly, the clubs announcement that they’ve received 25,000 tickets for the FA Cup final, which let’s face it, is nothing short of a travesty with 45,000 season ticket holders. I am fortunate enough that I have enough away points not to be affected by a ballot, but this farce is a perpetual joke that the FA consistently deliver to all fans of teams that get to the final of the competition. I’m not a fan of the semi’s being at Wembley, but when you have so few tickets available for supporters, I see it as at least a plus point for most to be able to get to go to Wembley. Will the FA change? Don’t hold your breath. 40,000 tickets going to corporates and fans not affiliated with the club (officially). And people wonder why there appears to be less atmosphere at some of these games…

Anyway, much like the mentality the players must adopt in the wake of an important game under the floodlights of the Emirates, as a collective body of people we must now forget the glitz and glamour of an FA Cup showdown with Hull and force our steely gazes towards the arriving East Londoners. It’s Sam ‘Clobbermesiter’ Allardyce who rolls himself into town today with a gameplan that will be so transparent that, if you were a fly, you’d spent your life trying to get through it only to be stopped by its tedium and invisible force-fieldiness.

My brother is a West Ham fan. Half my family hail from that area and I can assure you, if you didn’t already know, the natives are restless and impatient in that part of the world. They don’t like the brand of football he plays, we don’t like the football he plays, heck, even some of the West Ham players probably don’t like the football he plays. But unfortunately it’s a results business and that is what he’s good at.

Tactically, he’ll set up his side to be difficult to break down, catch us with set pieces and rely on our fatigue and fitness levels after a gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend to see if he can deliver a sucker punch in the latter stages. He practically said so in his press conference yesterday. So if that is his plan, we need to make sure that we’ve delivered enough jabs to the face and torso shots to render any random late left hook as a mere footnote. If it goes to points, we want that technical knock out to be comfortably in our favour.

Apologies for the over indulgence of boxing metaphors, but when you’re up against a manager like ‘Big Sam’, what else can you expect other than a physical battle that will more than likely leave us bruised and bloodied come Wednesday morning. They will play Andy Carroll up front, knock the ball long to him and hope that they can get enough support from the two Noble’s to furnish them with either: a) a scabby goal they can cling on to as we desperately find a way to respond for the majority of the match, or b) a scabby goal later in the game when there’s no time to respond. It’s like being asked which pointy end do you want hammered into your crotch.

The first 25 minutes will be all important tonight. If we start quickly and do to West Ham what Liverpool did to us, we can render the result irrelevant. I know you’re probably thinking ‘yeah right, when was the last time we did that’ and certainly our form doesn’t suggest that we will, but good form has to begin somewhere, so why not tonight?

Under normal circumstances this is a game I’d fancy us to get plenty of joy from. The performance on Boxing Day may have started off slightly sluggishly, but the introduction of Podolski and freshening it up a bit in the second half, swung it in our favour. The problem we have tonight is that ‘freshening up’ isn’t really an option we can draw upon with the depleted squad we have. Chamberlain looked like he needed a leg transplant by the end of the game and Rambo, having just got back from injury, ran himself into the ground until the 113th minute, so quite where we inject some pace from is a bit of a mystery to me.

I suspect Kallstrom might be given his first start in midfield and I’m certainly crossing everything in the hope that Rosicky is back fit. Thankfully we have Gibbs and Giroud who only made extended cameo appearances along with Kallstrom on Saturday, so I’m expecting to see that trio looking a bit more spritely, along with a return of Koscienly to give Per the option of a more mobile partner in the heart of the defence. If all of those players make it for tonight’s game, then hopefully it will have a positive impact and Sam’s ‘wait til they get knackered lads’ tactics will be negated somewhat.

This is one of those ‘take a scabby 1-0′ games if you ask my opinion. We are devoid of pace, we have ailing players and we’re up against a team that’s just had 10 days off. We need to get in, get out, keep the Champions League fourth place race alive and look to another big game on Sunday against Hull. Because if I’m honest with you, I can’t see Everton slipping up against Palace at home tomorrow night, can you?

The problem we have, as so many have already pointed out just about everywhere that I read, is that we’re too predictable with the way we set up. Allardyce is one of those men that studies the opponents rigorously and where their weaknesses are, so coupled with the extra rest his team have been afforded, he’ll really fancy an upset tonight. Dealing with Carroll will be the biggest challenge, but up against big men this season I’ve been impressed at how we’ve managed to deal with the pressure. I think to Spuds and Villa away and how both teams set up to get balls into the box to the front man, which were routinely hammered away by the Per/Kos axis. That’s why Koscienly’s re-introduction into the team could prove to be pivotal. There’s reasons to be cheerful, given that he was snapped by the club in training yesterday, but thankfully Arsene has admitted he will remain cautious on playing him unless he’s 100%. We need Per and Kos to be fit for the rest of the season. If we want to replicate ‘gritty Arsenal 2013′, built on a solid foundation and an ability not to concede goals, it is those two where it starts so I hope he makes his way back in to the team lineup from the start.

This West Ham team will pose us some troubles tonight I fear. But the hope, however, is that our need is greater than a team that should now be more than comfortably clear of a relegation dogfight, so I’m hoping on a West Ham team that is already planning their Maldives getaway in June.

How about this for some positivity? What price could you put on the team being reborn after the confidence boost of knowing you’re in a cup final? What if the knowledge that reinforcements are being shipped in like it’s our turn next to roll the dice in a footballing real-life version of ‘Risk‘, as Özil and Gnabry appear on the horizon ready for their part to play? Arsene himself seemed a little bit chipper about returning players yesterday, so let us hope that our nightmare form which has seen us not win a game (in normal time!) since what feels like 2008, is starting to dissipate and be replaced by an end of season charge to the top four.

Catch you tomorrow.

Puppy sacrifices with no repercussions

I learned quite some time ago that life isn’t fair, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that in football, there’s ever anything that is fair in this world.

I was all ready with my ‘har-har, chortle-chortle, Chelski lost to a team that plays with an RnB singer from the nineties’ jibe, when I find out on BBC News at Ten that they’d scored a last minute winner to get through to the semi final.

I mean, really? Do you think that the footballing gods could just give Chelski some sort of karmic comeuppance, just once, just at some stage? Probably not. John Terry, dressed in an all white Ku-Klux-Klan ensemble, surrounded by puppies to which he bullets each one, then finishes off by eating them on national television, probably wouldn’t see any kind of karma come back to haunt them.

Jose Mourinho can make all the jibes about rival managers he likes, but you just know that the second Arsene have it a go, we’d lose 12-0 to a Tony Pulis inspired Crystal Palace side. Actually, Arsene might as well start making derogatory quotes about the opposition, because when he doesn’t it still doesn’t keep us immune from batterings.

You might want to take a step back from today’s blog, because I’ve filled it with some sour grapes and they’re really starting to turn…

What we really need to see ‘turn’ is our form and, as the Everton debacle begins to fade slightly (but unfortunately cannot be forgotten), I find myself trying frantically to return to some semblance of positivity. After all, come Saturday night at around 8pm UK time the world could look like a slightly brighter place. Of course, it could also look like an unfair wasteland of ripped Arsenal shirts and broken cannons, but as Billy said on GunnersTown in his piece yesterday, hope is a much more powerful and thoroughly enjoyable feeling than that of bitterness and anger.

So my plan for the rest of this week is to recapture that feeling that all is certainly not lost in this season. An FA Cup semi final victory followed by victory over West Ham in the league will provide some much needed belief to all concerned with Arsenal. The hope, however, is that the team can handle the pressure against lesser opposition.

If I can offer any glimmer of positivity to you in the days leading up to the semi, it’s that our season success has been built on the back of beating teams further down the table to us. Wigan are certainly further down the table, as are all of the sides we now face in the Premier League, so whilst our fate does not reside in our own hands for the race for fourth (eurgh), the team have shown they have the minerals to dispatch teams this season.

Aaron and Wojciech have been the chosen mouthpieces for talking up the Arsenal response this week, which I can understand because Rambo’s return appeared to show no major ring-rustiness and despite being partially culpable for the third goal on Sunday, there’s not really a lot wrong that Szczesny did against the toffees and so both players emerged from the second Merseyside debacle of the season relatively unscathed.

It will be good to see Ramsey line up in midfield – probably alongside Arteta – at the weekend and whilst the Spaniard has looked a little bit war-torn and weathered of late, having someone with the energy of the Welshman will do him the power of good I’m sure.

We’ve still got a few days before Arsene or anyone at the club emerge to talk all things cup competition, so perhaps it’s a good thing that they’re getting down and concentrating on trying to rediscover some form. What we really need them to be doing is having another group meeting and some home truths laid down a lá Tottenham away last season. There needs to be a team reboot because it hasn’t been working for some time now. A fresh approach can come from a bit of team bonding and motivational speaking, but if ever there was a time to try and re-jig the first eleven to inject some pace, it’d be right now.

More on possible team line ups in the coming days.

When the moderates start turning…

I don’t think I’ve seen the tide of support for the manager so quickly dissipate as I’ve seen these last few days. There’s always been a hardcore following of people who have been firmly entrenched in the now well known “Wenger Out” school of thought, but this weekend just gone by seems to have pulled many moderate Arsenal fans into a school of thought which is pondering life after Arsene and also questioning his ability to motivate the team.

Those moderate Gooners questioning – and I include myself in this – do so with a heavy heart as it’s uncomfortable to see a man with which we thought could do no went at some stage, seemingly void of the spark needed to drive the team forward. You only had to look at the limp way in which the team approached the game to see that there didn’t seem to be the heart there.

For me, what makes it worse, is that it feels as if Arsene is clutching at straws a bit, trying frantically to find a reason as to why his team has seriously under-performed this season. He’s trying to find reasons that don’t lead back to him and I think, in his heart of hearts, he knows that they are not there.

What’s more worrying for me is what lies ahead. If the players cannot be motivated for a massive game like Sunday’s, then a tricky run-in over the next month may turn out to be calamitous. Yesterday I read Arsene’s comments about the FA Cup being a different competition and therefore maybe that is a good thing and it really worried me. He’s like the alcoholic saying to himself that one more drink won’t affect his rehab. How on earth does the type of competition affect how a team should set up? How does it affect the mentality of the players? Is he saying that perhaps the players are a little worn down by the Premier League? Because that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence if you ignore the opportunity of an FA Cup trophy and just look at our fourth place trophy. His comments on the official site sounded to me like a man very much clutching at straws.

This saddens me. I never thought I would not have enough faith in Arsene to deliver what’s needed as I do now. I want to extract those negative thoughts out of my brain and put them in a compost bin round the side of my grandmothers house where I will never realistically go to. But I can’t and the net effect is that I see the end looking like it is in sight for someone who is undoubtedly one of our greatest ever managers. Nobody can deny that, nor can they take it away, but right now it feels like a chapter is closing.

My wife has family up in the North East and I speak to her uncle all the time about football. He’s a mad passionate Newcastle fan and I remember talking to him about Bobby Robson when he left Newcastle. His response was to tell me that all Newcastle fans love him, but he went on a few too many years, as football evolved and he couldn’t cope. I see a repeat happening at the moment.

It’s all been a bit doom and gloom so far on today’s blog, so I’ll try to scratch around for some positives, to see if I can’t end today’s ramblings feeling a bit better.

We’ve got a semi final to look forward to. As terrifying as it might be on Saturday, we’re two wins in the FA Cup away from ending ‘Wenger: The trophyless Years’ and that would be amazing. We’ve also got five Premier League games (three at home) against opposition that you’d hope we can get the better of and if we do, with the tricky games Everton have got, you’d hope that we could secure fourth place.

Heck, in two weeks time we could be looking at an FA Cup final on the horizon and an Arsenal team that has wrestled the initiative from Everton in the Premier League to give us the chance to end the season successfully. If we achieve both of those aims this season, I will still see it as a success and we should still view 2013/14 as one in which we moved forward.

I think I’ll leave it there for one day. Have a good one peeps.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts tomorrow.>

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.

I don’t like high-stakes Arsenal poker

Hello to you on this Monday, a Monday in which I’m sure many Gooners might be waking up to the sobering image of ‘Stevie Me’ lifting the Premier League trophy, for which the knock on effects will be an army of scousers – most of whom I know having never actually been to Liverpool – will become almost unbearable overnight.

Right now, I’m trying to put the prospect of them picking up their first Premier League trophy out of my mind; not least because it will make the pain of our inevitable capitulation in the league even more unpalatable. What the Liverpool rich vein of form shows is that with a little bit of momentum and confidence, plus fortune with key players avoiding injury for the whole season, can do for an assault on the title.

As for us, the fact I was left deflated having seen Everton get over the line against Fulham, perhaps shows how nervous I am that we’re going to end up buggering up our usual standard position of fourth. As little as a month ago I was thinking ‘hey, even if we fall away this season as we probably will, at least we won’t be embroiled in another race for that fourth-placed trophy’. It probably doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it out loud because the fact I even thought it got the attention of the footballing fates and they must have had a merry ol’ time chuckling away at was to befall my team over the subsequent month.

The reality is that we are well and truly knocking knees against an Everton team that, much like their Mersey rivals, have momentum and a lack of injuries in their squad. Compare that to our one win in five and a team so decimated by injuries that Arsene has hired an army of clairvoyants to see if Cliff Bastin can be coaxed out of retirement from beyond the grave; suddenly the unthinkable has become very thinkable.

Next weekend’s game, despite being a full six days away from happening, has been drawn into the sharpest focus one can imagine. I’m talking beyond 1080p, highest of the highest definition, 3D glasses definition here folks. In classic Arsenal style we’ve waltzed straight through the casino hall, past all the easy-going slot machines and straight into a game behind a velvet curtain for a game of high-stakes poker with nearly all our chips. A win against Everton and we put daylight and potentially get ourselves a little bit more comfortable about the fourth place spot, a defeat keeps the toffees at arms length, a defeat sees us head to Wembley licking our wounds and looking to other teams for inspiration against Everton.

I don’t like high-stakes poker. I wish we’d have stayed in the hall playing that machine which has cascading ten pence pieces. It’s so much more restful on my heart. Plus, we’re with a gambler in Arsene who doesn’t exactly have the best of luck in his gambling ways, I’d point you to the number of times we’ve lost players (Thierry comes immediately to my attention) because he’s gambled on them and it’s failed.

Still, what you can say if you’re supping on your half pint of milk (not me, I hate milk, but you carry on), is that it’s half full and the cause for optimism comes from that second half display on Saturday. Podolski, once again master of end product, was a lucky Hart ricochet off his heel away from winning us the game and had that have gone in we’d not only have even more daylight from the Toffees, but we’d have the confidence to boot. I’ve said on this blog a number of times that I feel like we’re a confidence team and one of extremes – unbeatable or unwatchable depending on whether our confidence is up or not – and so I’m hoping that the players take that second half and see that half pint of milk in its most fullest of milkyness.

Right, that’s it from me, as you’ve probably had enough on my rambling nonsensicalness, plus my overuse of commas, so I’ll take my leave and see thee in the morrow.

Swansea (and our own panic button) show how far away we are

(Stewart) Houston, we have a problem*.

We have a problem of our own making. It was a problem forged in the fires of Stamford Bridge, exacerbated in the supposed comforts of our home, and most certainly entirely of our own making.

Tonight I saw a bang average Swansea team rock up with little to play for, comfy and cosy in mid table, happy to sit on their one real attempt of the first half and wait to see what an emotionally battered Arsenal could do by way of retribution for being given a humbling at the hands of a supposed rival.

Let’s all be clear at this juncture: as much as we believed Chelski and City were our rivals, as the dust settles on this latest setback, I’m sure we can all acknowledge that a title assault was always a long-shot at best. It was a forlorn hope born out of a fantastic initial run at the beginning of the season that was never going to last. You can’t go into a season with a decent – albeit limited – centre forward as your only choice. You can’t go into a season with a squad that, with a few injuries will look threadbare, and expect to come up trumps. And more than anything else, you can’t go into a season where the manager overuses players so that when the new year approaches we are left to lick our wounds because we’ve run players into the ground.

This was an Arsenal performance devoid of any real drive and desire to make amends of their wrongdoings at the weekend. We were lethargic in attack, ponderous in defence and vanilla in midfield. At halftime I turned to Ian and asked where the next goal was coming from. The response? “If I had a gun to my head, I’d say Swansea”. It was a damning indictment of a team that showed no real desire to show the world that there is fight, spirit and that gawd awful ‘mental strength’ that became a parody of Arsene’s teams of three or four years ago.

Today’s blog may sound overly negative, for that I can only apologise (I’m hurting, you see), but as a fan you expect more after a performance like the weekend. I said to Ian during the first half that I’d feel better if we’d have dominated play, forced saves from Vorm and ‘knocked on the door’ to show a response and had been suker-punched with a goal, but after that first half all I can really remember is an early Ox shot that was well parried away. We got nothing as fans. No fight in that first half. But do you know what, I still sang up for The Arsenal, despite the lethargy. Whether the players deserved it is another matter for another day, but I still put my effort in, which was at least partially rewarded in the second half. Two quick goals put a lovely glossy finish on what was a poor performance, but it was probably inevitable that our meandering through the game was punished by Swansea with a typically Arsenal implosion.

Let me ask you a question. Of the following teams, how many do you see fall apart as easily as Arsenal: Chelski, Monechester City, Liverpool, Everton? I’d wager you can’t remember as many times as has happened to The Arsenal. Do you know why? Because we are not capable of consistent success. We are an accident waiting to happen at times and in typical Arsenal fashion we couldn’t hold out against a Swansea team that were dispatched against Everton at the weekend.

I’d love to say that we have an opportunity to readdress the balance against City this weekend but, if we’re all honest with ourselves, does anybody see that happening at the moment?

There’s no point in complaining about individual performances. We know that far too many players gave a 6 out of 10 yesterday, but what was really needed was eight’s and nine’s and we just didn’t look capable. This was in no way near the pain of the weekend, but the end result makes Saturday even more palatable.

Arsene needs to have a word with the players and ask them where the drive is going to come from. We’re already in a dogfight for fourth, so there is no way we can afford too many performances like we’ve been having, so we need him to step up and show why he’s paid the REALLY big bucks.

That’s it from me today.

*DISCLAIMER: in no way do I advocate the return of Stewart Houston, I just wanted to make a funny at a time in which there is little to laugh about.

An open letter to the football gods on derby day

Dear footballing karma gods,

I am a good boy. I work hard, pay my taxes and generally try to build enough good karma in my life to make sure that it is a happy one. Yesterday whilst I was out walking I even picked up some litter in my town centre. It was a Robinson’s Fruit Shoot and somebody could have tripped on it.

Yesterday you saw fit to grant myself a small mercy in the watching of Chelski lose to Aston Villa and for that alone I was grateful, but you even thought you would deliver a couple of red cards to Chelski players too, which will ensure that both Willian and Ramirez won’t take to the field next weekend when we play them at Stamford Bridge. Thank you for that. Also, thanks to you for ensuring that Moneychester City’s best central defender won’t be playing against us in two weeks time as he serves the final game of a three match suspension, having been sent off against Hull. Again, I thank you and appreciate that you couldn’t go as far as having Hull win against the oil whores, I understand and appreciate that.

But today is a new day, a special day, a day in which I am beseeching you to grant me all of your cosmic karma powers and help to deliver Arsenal three points. I know that a lot of getting those points will be down to the eleven players on the pitch that play in red and white today, but if you can see fit to grant us any kind of luck on an important day in our season, I will express my gratitude by personally and publicly thanking you and for repenting any of my sins and curse words I have sent in your direction over the last seven months or so. I know I have cursed your hand of fate dealing us injury blow after injury blow, but if you seek to re-address the balance this afternoon I will happily ‘call it quits’ with you. How does that sound?

I’m sure Arsene will do everything in his power to set up a team that is capable of beating our nearest (geographical) rivals today, to make your job a little bit easier, so I expect to see the back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and probably Monreal at the back. In midfield I think Arsene will go with a more defensively minded two of Arteta and Flamini and the three just sitting behind Giroud will probably consist of The Ox, Santi and Poldi. You might have seen The Ox against Bayern during the week; he was superb and at times looked unplayable. What am I talking about? Of course you saw the game in midweek, because you saw fit to take Mesut Ozil away from us for the next month or so. But I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I just hope that you can see it in your heart to give us three points today.

Three points this afternoon will give us Gooners hope. If we get it, it will mean we’re four points behind Chelski with a game in hand and level on points with Moneychester City (although they have a game in hand over us), with them still needing to come to the Emirates in two weeks time. We can speak about that on another day, because I’m probably going to be sacrificing a goat or some similar hillside creature to you around that time as well. Is that what this afternoon’s fixture needs? Do you need me to sacrifice some sort of creature in order to appease you? I’d love to, in fact I have a suggestion in the form of Mike Dean who is reffing the game today, but a) I’m not really the ‘killing’ kind, and b) it would probably end up with the game being called off. Ritual human slaughter isn’t my thing I’m afraid. I will wear my newly found lucky piece of clothing for the duration of the game, in the form of the flat cap I’ve had for about five years but never taken to the football. I wore it against Everton and it seemed to work its magic, so I’m prepared to wear it again today – inside my own house and look like a bit of a wally – if The Arsenal get three points today.

The Spuds are an unpredictable lot, your footballing karma godliness, you know. They have been awful of late and some of their new manager’s (he’s a Gooner don’t you know, so actually, if you think about it, he’s in a win-win situation from his side, so you can deliver us a victory without fear of making him as sad as he was last weekend against Chelski) team selections at times have been puzzling. That makes me even more nervous though, because I fear the unknown and we don’t know what sort of Tottenham team will step out on to the field today. Whoever does play, I know they’ll be massively up for it, so if you could grant us a bit of early luck for which the Arsenal players could capitalise on, i’d be forever in your debt.

Finally, before I bid you my goodbye, I’d just like to point out that we haven’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007 and so by granting us our first win in seven years, you’d be throwing one of those curveballs you so love to deliver. Like you did yesterday when you made Mourhino look sad.

Yours faithfully and sincerely

Chris.

P.S. Come on you reds.

Munich: glorious equality?

If pride comes before a fall, then Arjen Robben must be the most delusional person on the planet, because if he’s proud of his efforts in falling to the floor every time he is touched then he’s going to get labelled and receive nothing from referees. Let’s hope that happens because yesterday was a shining example of what nobody wants to see in football.

I thought the penalty awarded was softer than a new-born babies hind and the decision not to book him when there was the most obvious dive inside our box was farcical. But then again, we can hardly expect anything else from European referees, can we?

As for The Arsenal, well, I think we can certainly use the word ‘proud’ to define our performance. Up against the best club side in the world, two-down from the first leg, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a dead rubber and mentally the players might treat it as such. But far from it, I thought we put on a solid and impressive defensive display against a team who’s form has more ‘W’s in it than Porkie Pig trying to say “Well Why Won’t We Win When We Want to?”.

Perhaps there was an element of Bayern trying to keep us at arms length and ensure safer passage to the next round, which inevitably led to a more cautious approach than the battering they gave Wolfsburg at the weekend, but I like to think that’s because they gave us respect because they know what a threat this team can be. After all, we’ve scared them before, so they were always going to fear the second striking of lightning.

As for the side that lined up, Thomas Vermaelen coming in at left back performed admirably I thought, whilst Podolski on the left was an interesting one given that it had seemed as if Arsene was beginning to freeze him out of the side before an inevitable departure in the summer. Thankfully he hasn’t and it was our clinical German that gave us hope on the night with a fine finish at the near post. I don’t buy the ‘Lahm was fouled’ quotes I’ve heard, because I’m pretty sick of seeing players feel even the tiniest bit of contact and falling to their feet. Martinez was a master of that yesterday, yet the emperor of all that is ‘divey’ was of course Robben.

I thought the gameplan was pretty well executed by Arsenal actually. We clearly wanted to keep it right until half time and see if we could nick one to put the frighteners on Munich. A sort of ‘European Anfield 89′ if you like which, up until Schweinsteiger wasn’t tracked by the central midfield duo and chipped over Fabianski, we had executed well as a defensive unit. Having watched the replays again you do wonder if a Flamster in the side would have seen that runner and tracked him, but let’s not be too harsh, given that Bayern have quality all over the pitch that can hurt you.

Specifically, the Ox was immense yesterday, as he weaved in between and through Bayern player after Bayern player and on a number of occasions was cynically brought down. He is starting to put together a run of games that are making for a very impressive footballing CV of late and the importance of him to our team dynamic and the success of this season can’t be underestimated. He has a fabulous engine, he’s a very good runner at defenders and he has pace. He’s shown an eye for goal and at a time when we seem to be losing players left, right and centre to injury – Özil being the latest with a hamstring injury – if he can replicate performances like last night on a regular basis it will go a long way to demonstrating that this squad is not as week as many would have you believe.

How about our injury problems though, eh? It’s as if Arsene walked into a house of mirrors in the summer armed with nothing but a machete and a twitch. There were some people that we’re arguing once again that this was, in some way or other, the medical teams fault that we keep picking up injuries like this. I don’t see how personally, given that Ramsey, Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Özil injuries have all been picked up this season through game time. Sure, you can question the overplaying of players leading to them eventually breaking down, which has some legs to it as an argument (no pun intended). But some of the longer-standing injuries that were picked up were at the beginning of the season. Theo’s first injury was at the beginning of the season and he wasn’t long back before he was injured again, so you can hardly call that overplaying.

I just wonder if the football gods just don’t like us very much. Either that or toiling away and seeing the despair of Gooners amuses them more than fans of other clubs, particularly Chelski who seem to get more fortune than a factory of Chinese cookies.

Anyway, I digress, so I’ll redirect my route back to the game last night. Defensively we were sound, but where we were lacking – yet again – was undoubtedly in the attacking positions. Against a team like Bayern you’re never going to get lots of chances and so it’s hard to be too harsh on the forwards, but I thought Giroud struggled all night. He had trouble holding the ball up and when he did, there was so much space between him and the next yellow shirt that he was on a hiding to nothing for most of the game. Having said that, in the latter stages of the second half he did get a couple of chances, but never really looked like scoring. Games like yesterday aren’t designed for big target men like Olivier, they are designed for pacey forwards who can expose defenders on the counter. Just look at the opening minutes when The Ox found himself running at Dante, only for the funny haired bloke to chop him down in a ‘take one for the team ‘ yellow. Even after that yellow, you suspected that he wouldn’t be tested that much by a pacey attacker for the rest of the game, which is exactly how it transpired.

We’re all disappointed today because we’re out again in the second round, but what these two legs have shown us is the fine margins that separate teams in knock out competition. We were undone at home by a harsh sending off and it was effectively the end of the tie from the moment Szczesny was sent off.

So that’s European football done for the year, to which we turn our attention to purely domestic matters, the smallest of which begin this weekend with a trip along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch you tomorrow.

You know what the International breaks can do…

Take a deep breath, close your eyes, think calming thoughts….and begin……

Nope, didn’t work, so here goes….

International football can take a short walk off a very deep and never-ending cliff. But for good measure, just to make sure that it is suitably impaled, I want to walk a few paces behind it with an Acme Anvil. Attached to the anvil will be a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand Piano, having been purchased through reparations taken from the Football Associations account.

We learned yesterday, as if any of us were surprised, that Jack Wilshere will effectively miss the rest of the season through a hairline fracture in his foot. So yes, today’s blog starts off with anger because it was a game that should not have been played at a time in the season that should be solely dedicated to domestic football. These frigging international bodies are getting their way this summer. Is t it enough that they take players from their domestic clubs and run them into the ground in the heat, then toss them back with little or no pre season before the real football starts? Aren’t they happy with ruining a perfectly congested fixture list, that thy must wedge in another money-spinning tie against pointless opponents? England fans themselves said yesterday that they learnt nothing. But that’s not the case, is it? They learnt how to lose a player through a useless football match that should have never have been crowbarred into the football calendar.

I hope Arsene loses his shizzle at his press conference today, because I would if I was him, losing one of his key assets and at such an important time. But what does Roy or the FA care? Jack will be back just before the end of the season so they’re perfectly happy.

I only hope we don’t find out today from Le Boss that more players are out (Kos most likely), because there’s no doubting we’ve been dealt the harshest of injury cards this season. Just check out that injury league table thingy that exists. We’ve won that at a canter I tell thee. So for all the bluster and commentary about the strength in depth of the oil whores compared to our squad, it is us who are actually tested the most to see how we can cope. Oh well.

Today we might also get an intention on what sort of side Arsene will put out tomorrow. He will always roll out the cliches about putting a team out to win the game, but if you listen carefully to what he says, you can always read between the lines of his intentions. If he’s talking about rotation, ‘bigging-up’ a specific player, then the chances are he’ll make a number of changes. That might not be a bad thing of course, as it worked against Liverpool in the cup and after the performance of the weekend he would be justified in showing some players that they’re not as secure as they think, but against an Everton side that ran us ragged at home earlier in the season it would pay not to completely overhaul the side. The FA Cup feels within our grasp. A home tie in the quarter finals against a good team and a good performance there gets us to a semi in which we’d more than likely face Moneychester City if we get through. But that’s a whole other lifetime away right now, so we’ll save those thoughts for another day.