Finally!

Finally! It may have taken us until mid December this season, but we finally have a Premier League game in which we were dominant from start to finish, never really looked like we weren’t in control of the game and got the required number of goals that our performance warranted.

I thought we were brilliant yesterday. From the first minute until the last. We started off with an air of authority and control over a confident Newcastle team that looked like the Arsenal of last season. I feel like a wandering desert nomad who has finally been given a glass of ice cool fresh water. I have been waiting so long to drink from the cup of ‘comfortable Premier League victory’ that i’d almost forgotten the tast. I’ve become accustomed to have a hard afternoon. There was nothing hard about yesterday, unless of course you count trying to understand Lee Mason’s refereeing decisions. He was the only negative on a lovely early evenings football. To my mind, he missed a clear boot to the chest of Alexis by Tiote, a couple of penalty decisions, plus he decided to penalise Danny Welbeck for being too close to Janmaat when a gust of wind knocked him over in the box and Welbeck finished superbly to make it 2-0 within the first 15 minutes. Or at least it should have been. Like I said, that gust of wind was a real doozie and Welbeck’s goal was rubbed from the scoreboard.

It all seemed to work yesterday. From back to front we were on it. You only have to look at our first goal, in which the passage of play was started by Hector Bellerin biting in to a tackle and then giving the ball to Giroud. The Frenchman then fed Alexis and took his position in the middle of the box to head home an excellent cross. It was brilliant stuff and no more than we deserved. Before that even big Per was in on the action with a looping header that hit the bar.

We popped the ball around with purpose and poise and how the scoreline was still 1-0 at half time is anybodies guess. I can say it now, because we were comfortable all afternoon, but at half time you’ve always got that worry that we’ll conceded and then end up ‘backs to the wall’-ing it as the opposition fight to come away from The Emirates with a point. But the second half saw us up it another gear and Santi’s little dink over Alnwick to make it 2-0 had the hallmarks of a player in form. He could have even been given a penalty had he not scored, because Coloccini had almost taken him out inside the box. But the diminuitive little Spaniard did what every one wants to see; he stayed on his feet and got the goal that his performance warranted.

Four minutes later it was game over, as Giroud got his second of the night and what a second it was, with the outside of his boot and with the tightest of angles. He really can be quite some players on some games. It’s amazing how we seem to have a player that can blow so hot or cold during the course of a season. But I supposed he is an example of this Arsenal team. They can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a week.

We’ve now had two 4-1 victories and it’s looking like we’ve recovered a bit of that fragile thing called confidence. Which is just as well really, because next week we return to the location of our humbling last season and face a Liverpool team who will – regardless of what happens today – be massively up for this game and so we need all the help we can get through our levels of confidence and remembering performances like that.

Individually, it was good to see some systems worked. I thought the front three rotated well and were a handful all afternoon. Arsene said in his post match report that we looked dangerous every time we went forward and he’s right. I thought we could have scored every time we went forward and as I reflected afterwards, to friends and family members that would listen, the 4-1 scoreline flattered Newcastle in fairness. The fact that they even scored was a cause for irritation, because the defence probably deserved a clean sheet. Debuchy was good at centre half, although that might have been because he wasn’t troubled as much, but I thought he attacked balls lumped forward well, looked like he was confident, then positionally was assured enough too.

In midfield, The Ox gave a couple of balls away, but in the main he was good with the ball at his feet and he is an able deputy for that box-to-box roll role that Ramsey normally occupies. Santi Cazorla has found his ryhtm too, putting in another great display and getting himself in the goals too. I have seen some people (not Arsenal fans, obviously) who have said he was a little disrespectful with his little dink of a penalty. But if we score every time, we can be as disrespectful as we like as far as I’m concerned, because all I care about is Arsenal scoring goals and winning games. The rest of the football community can ‘do one’.

So that’s it for another weekend. A victory, three points, a good performance, some players looking like they’re hitting form, plus a week to rest and recuperate for when we play Liverpool on Sunday next week.

Come on you reds!

Happy, but feeling a ‘little bit out of jail’

I spent most of yesterday evening – both pre, during and post match, lamenting the poor form of this Arsenal team. So whilst I’m obviously overjoyed that we beat a stubborn Southampton team, I still harbour serious concerns about the capability of Arsenal, version 2014/15.

That the goal came from Alexis was hardly a surprise, but that we had to wait until the last two minutes of what the yanks call ‘regulation time’, perhaps was. There’s no doubt in my mind that we deserved the victory, but there’s always something about a last-gasp victory that always feels a little forged to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing because 99% of the time the opposition doesn’t have a chance to respond, but in my warped mind it feels a bit fraudulent. It’s weird, because had we scored in the first minute or two then I’d probably be telling a different narrative, but such is the manner of timings on goals that it feels like we got a ‘little bit out of jail’.

The reality is that we deserved three points. Southampton rarely threatened and, whilst we were hardly the cutting edge champions elect you’d hope we’d be, we still deserved all the points. Fraser Forster was in particularly inspired form, tipping over a Welbeck header in the first half, plus saving from both Ramsey and Giroud in the second. Perhaps it is such that ‘keepers with lots to do always look better (a topic of discussion with a few Gooners I met before the match and chatted to over a pint), but those were the types of saves that we haven’t seen Szczesny make of late. His replacement however, looks like he is growing with every game he gets in the first team, and I have to be honest and say that with the way he commands his box, you couldn’t be too surprised if Arséne opts to keep him in the team. After all, it was a similar situation that saw Szczesny usurp both Almunia and Fabianski about five years ago, so why not the young Argentine?

I still think Wojciech will return to the team as soon as he is fit, but at least it will give something for Arsène to think about, and I’m all for the ‘thinking’ about stuff you know.

So what about the rest of the team then? Well, like I said, I’m really not sure at the moment. On the one hand we’ve managed to string together back-to-back-to-back victories. But on the other hand, we’ve laboured to two out of three, so should we be worried? Again, I guess it is all down to the narrative. For example, if that result had happened this time last season, you and I would probably be talking about the resolute defence, ‘never-say-die’ attitude and winning mentality. But because we’ve stuttered all season, we all feel a bit sheepish about the team right now, not really able to make comments like “they’re up and running finally” for fear that we’ll only trip ourselves up in the next game. Which, incidentally, is that horrible annual schlep into Mordor of Stoke at the weekend.

I think I’ve said it before on this blog, but life is not so linear. X plus Y doesn’t always equal Z and our performance this evening doesn’t mean we’ll roll over and have our bellies tickled against Stoke on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting us to swat aside a team with whom we’ve traditionally suffered at on account of their general unpleasentness, but likewise am I thinking that the performance of last nights game will mean a guaranteed loss for us.

The only real thing we should take from tonight’s game is that we’re three points richer come this morning. Plus, the arrival of Olivier Giroud appears to be having a definite impact. As both Billy and I remarked very shortly after his introduction, it’s the impact Giroud has on other players that is so surprising. Ramsey, for example, instantly looked happier and was involved in the build up to our scrappy goal with his cut back to Alexis. It’s fair to say that up until that point it had looked like ‘another one of those days’ for the Welshman, but he has still ended the game with an assist and for that we can all be grateful and appreciate his contribution. Just a few less of those Hollywood balls would be grand Aaron, thanks.

As for the rest of the midfield, it’s hard what to exactly make, again. Flamini did ok, but was never really tested, but then again I’d prefer to always say that he wasn’t tested. Cazorla looked decent enough, whilst never really threatening with any of his attacking play.

Going forward we had The Ox, who was good in patches but surprisingly to Billy and I, Arsène was booed for taking off. He had a few stray passes and as Bilbo pointed out, doesn’t get his head up often enough, so to see him come off for a more direct Giroud was no real surprise to me. And it was the right move from Arsène, with the benefit of hindsight, to back up the argument.

Defensively was probably where we can take most heart. Kos was brilliant and Per looked more assured. Chambers did well enough defensively and actually put in some really good balls in both halves, except there was hardly ever an Arsenal player getting on to the end of them. Monreal looked obviously more comfortable at left back and with that back four having picked up the confidence of three clean sheets, we’re in the best possible position going into a game at The Brittania.

So onwards we plough further into December with another three points tucked under our wings, with the chance to make it four in four on Saturday. If we can beat Stoke, I might even start to believe there is some momentum building.

Catch you tomorrow.

Nerves, openness and Burnley

The whole world seems to think that today will be a walk in the park at home to winless Burnley. Everywhere I look there are match previews and predictions ahoy of 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0.

But you and I know better. You and I know that rarely in top flight football do you see batterings of teams and when you do, it’s not normally the team’s you’d expect, as we found out to our detriment last season.

You and I know that The Arsenal rarely make life easy for us. So I’m not going to pretend that I’m confident of a cricket score today, that’s for sure. Do I think we will win? Well yes, of course, but do I think that we’ll all be home and dry in the first 15 minutes? Not on your Nelly.

It’s our form and our play you see. Sure, we’ve strung back-to-back victories together, which one hopes we’re starting to build a bit of confidence and momentum. But the way in which we’ve gone about getting those victories has hardly been by swotting aside our opponents with consummate ease. We’ve huffed and puffed all season and I expect much of the same today.

But who cares as long as we win? There are people that are unhappy because we have won whilst playing poorly, but think back to the last few seasons. When have we regularly played really good football? I bet you could count the number of games on your fingers. The series of early season 2-0s last year had people saying that we were winning without playing so well. So what’s the problem? I’d take a rather drab 2-0 Arsenal win today, make no mistake of that, so let’s start with the desire for the points and see any score line that results in that as a good one. Even a good old fashioned ‘One Nil To The Arsenal’ would do me fine. It might make for a nervous afternoon towards the end but I’d be fine with that.

I’ve had a Burnley supporting friend over to stay this weekend and he says he’s just down for the fun of the experience. Ahh, I can’t even remember when football was just about the fun and experience. There are highs, of course, but it’s my addiction and when things don’t go to plan, I often worry too much. I worry before the game, during the game, then if we’ve won I start to worry about the next game about two hours after the victory.

So, as I said, my Burnley mate. He doesn’t expect anything, but is still a little apprehensive about how Burnley will line up today. Sean Dyche has lined up his team as 4-4-2 all season and is apparently playing an open and expansive brand of football that leaves Burnley susceptible to being opened up by the bigger teams. When I was talking with him last night he said that the game at home against Chelski was a classic example. They came out, got the first goal and his his words “then Chelski got angry and just started scoring for fun”.

I want us to be ‘angry’ from the first minute. If Dyche does stick to his footballing philosophy, then Burnley will be open and we need to capitalise on that, by banging the door down on their goal. So the emphasis today has to be on the forward line performing. We need Alexis, Welbeck, Cazorla and The Ox (all of whom I’m assuming will play) to be at it from the off. With Wilshere injured, Rambo will also step in and we will need to see more of the 2013/14 version of our Welsh Jesus, rather than the slightly stuttery version we’ve witnessed this season.

I suspect Mikel Arteta will anchor the midfield and the makeshift back four will see Monreal slide across to left back with Chambers at centre half and Bellerin at right back. I’m kind of ok with that, because in reality we should have less to do defensively, and I thought Bellerin did well at home against Hull.

But like Hull, Burnley could just as well promise to play open football but not actually deliver, so let’s not expect an easy ride. Steve Bruce said Hull would ‘come and have a go’ but had no intention to do such a thing. If Burnley get through the first half without conceding then they will have similar desires I suspect. And hey, I don’t begrudge them that, because the onus should be on us to break out opponents down in 90 minutes.

So whilst I don’t think we’re in for an easy afternoon, I do think we’ll pick up the points, and I certainly hope so too.

Up The Arsenal!

Nervy about form, but a reaction is needed

Matchday! The bestest day of the week! Today it’s Sunderland away and the best thing about football is that it very quickly offers the chance of redemption, so after a number of really poor performances, the Arsenal players could wash away the bad taste left in the mouth from the home draw to Hull or the smash and grab in Brussels.

I’m oop Norf for today’s game with The Management’s family and if I’m completely honest, whilst I’m excited to be popping along to the game this afternoon, I’m also really apprehensive. There are a lot of factors which could mean that this afternoon is not as enjoyable as I’d hope it could be.

For starters there’s our own form. Sure, we picked up a win in midweek, but we haven’t really kicked into gear all season as yet. Perhaps the Galatasaray game was the only exception, but even the Villa game had some scary moments before the match was effectively over at half time and turned into a testimonial in the second half.

We are not playing well and going forward we were quite toothless on Wednesday and on Saturday too. If we are going to win the game today, we can’t afford to be so lethargic in our passing. Our good football is about movement. It’s about pulling teams apart by quick interchanges of possession and willing runners. It’s not about static sideways balls from one side of the pitch to another via three midfielders all in a line. The only way we will win today is if there is energy in the performance.

And that’s the second reason why I’m nervous, because I think we’ll see a Sunderland side with a lot of energy today. They will have spent a whole week stewing on an 8-0 performance and so their players will be pumped today. They will be running their arses off in front of their home fans and so if we are not at it from the first second, I think we’ll be in trouble. Where we were appalling last season was when teams blitzed us in the first 15 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me if Poyet tells his players to do the same. The first opening exchanges of today’s game might just require us to dig deep and play well defensively. Which leads me to the third reason why I am worried about today…

Defensively we had nothing to do against Hull and we still were masters of our own downfall with the second goal. Forget the first, that was an anomaly and should have been a foul, but there can be no excuses for the second goal. Likewise in midweek, with what felt to me like a carbon copy of the second Hull goal (caught under the flight of a ball and opposition player nods beyond the ‘keeper), we can’t really have any complaints. Today Sunderland will be looking to exploit our defensive frailties by testing our back four with balls in to Fletcher through the channels, most likely delivered by either Wickham or Buckley, or through set pieces from Larsson or Johnson.

If Arsène chooses to field the same side as he did on Wednesday, with Monreal in the heart of the defence, I fear what the repercussions will be. Monreal is not a centre half and so I have no beef with him, but more I have beef with the boss if he continues to choose him. I hope Arsène sees sense and puts Chambers in the heart of the back four, bringing Bellerin in at right back, because I think that gives us more balance than the team that played in the Champions League. Bellerin was impressive against Hull and I certainly think he deserves another shot at playing against a Sunderland side that might give us a bit more space going forward.

Which leads me to trying to finish up today’s match preview blog by being a bit more positive. Defensively Sunderland have the same problems with lack of numbers that we do, and whilst they will be massively up for this game today, they are still the same side that conceded eight against Southampton. If Sunderland aim to come at us and catch us off guard by pressing higher up the pitch, it will give room for Welbeck and Alexis to do their thang. Alexis was awesome against Anderlecht and another performance like that will most likely go a long way in giving us the win. Bellerin might also profit from Sunderland pushing forward, because he did look good going forward against Hull and he is very rapid so he might get a bit of green grass to run into today. If he does, he’ll need the support of the midfield runners like Ramsey and the vision of Cazorla, to support him in finding an outlet in our final third.

The blueprint for our struggles this season has been when teams have sat back and let us pass ourselves to death. I’m not sure Sunderland will do that today. They might do, I could be wrong, but I think their fans will get on their backs if they set themselves up for a draw at home. So them coming at us like Villa did could end up being a blessing.

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners!

Patiently waiting for Walcott…and Mesut…

Hooray! A long term injured player returns to the squad, as opposed to being omitted, due to a long-term injury! What a novel feeling it is to be pleased to see players like Theo Walcott back in the fold and taking part in full first team training.

He was a massive blow to have missing for most of 2013/14 due to two long-term injuries, so to have him back in the squad and available for selection is a timely boost, like being given a bottle of Lucozade after running a 10k. He will add yet more depth to our attack and his direct running and finishing will mean we have another option to try. Hopefully he can stay fit and we can finally ditch the whole ‘Mesut Özil out wide’ experiment that everyone is still a little bit baffled about.

Whether Theo will be able to start and have a serious impact for the next month will be debatable though. After all, Jack has spoken about his own recovery from long-term injury and he’s only now finding his form after some quarters of the footballing world questioned whether he’d ever get back to his best. So to expect anything from Theo for the next two to three games would be folly I think.

Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact and get himself off the mark coming on from the bench now, does it?

One question I saw on Twitter yesterday that I thought was very pertinent indeed, was posed in relation to Theo’s pace, whether or not he’d have the same level of pace as he did before the injury and whether anybody at the club has tested him. Now he’s back into full training I’m sure the fitness and medical team are monitoring closely, but with a player who has had plenty of historical injury worries, I suspect they’ll be über careful with everything Theo does for a while. At least I hope they are. I mean, they have bodged a few players’ returns by over playing them as soon as the return, or not properly resting them. So we’ll have to wait and see how sparingly he’s used.

It’s a shame that with Walcott back, Özil has now disappeared from the team for the immediate future, because upon the German’s arrival over a year ago, Theo was one of the players that profited the most from Mesut’s vision. We have pace in Welbeck and Alexis already to feed from Özil, but Walcott as a wide man loves to play very high up the pitch and look for runs in behind the back four, more so than any other player at the club I think. So I would have love to have seen those two link up upon Walcott’s rerun. Hopefully he can stay fit and when our playmaker returns they can rekindle that understanding that existed when Mesut made his debut at Sunderland last season, when he put enough balls on a plate for Walcott, that he could have dined out on them for a month.

Speaking of Mesut, he’s got a clever little PR team, eh? After the frankly ludicrous rumours of a return to the Bundesliga under Pep surfaced, he took to Twitter to thank the Arsenal fans for the messages and dismiss the Bayern Munich rumour with all the subtlety of a hashtag, using the Bavarian phrase ‘Mia San Mia’ (we are who we are) to message ‘#miasanarsenal’. In this world of reading too much into everything, I think that will do nicely to dispel any rumour and even the faintest chance that Mesut will ever leave Arsenal other than to retire when he’s 38 and having played 350 games for the club and got a bazillion assists. Simples.

Of course in the summer if Bayern were to actually come knocking in a Barcelona-esque fashion, who knows what the reaction of the player might be, but I’d like to think he’s happy and only wants to improve at The Arsenal. And he will.

We’re still waiting for the tedium of the International Break to subside, so there’s not really a lot going on, other than the relief that Welbeck should be fine for Saturday. But then again, is an ‘everything is ok’ alarm (see The Simpsons for reference) really that necessary in this instance? Probably not.

Adios amigos!

Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

Arsène and his cassette, they won’t countenance freebies

I wonder why Arsène hasn’t had his pre-match presser yet? He normally does these things on a Spursday when we’re away from home at the weekend, so to leave it all until the last minute, is a bit strange.

Mind you, given his love for a last minute deal – see any of the last four or five transfer windows for an example of that – perhaps he’s developed a penchant for leaving everything in his world to the last minute. When he needs to go the the loo (the one where you have to take a paper or your 5110 to play snakes on), I bet he waits until he is touching cloth before he heads to the throne room.

Perhaps he’s waiting for some good news on Jack and Debuchy. Maybe he thinks that if he waits a little longer he’ll be told that Debuchy will be out for two weeks whilst Jack will be ready for the weekend, but come on now Arsène, we are Arsenal. We’re masters of the worlds longest ‘three-weeks away’ injuries and unlike Chelski, who I’m convinced also sold their souls to the devil every time I see them get away with something (like the Costa lengthy injury that turned out to be a week), we aren’t afforded any kind of good fortune when it comes to injuries.

Maybe he’s just decided that he can’t be arsed with the journos any more. That would be funny. Seeing them all eagerly waiting for his arrival and which words they can seize and re-shape to their own agenda, only to be greeted with one of the PR team quietly walking in with a life-size cardboard cut out of Le Boss and a tape player – a full on old fashioned one that you have to put a cassette into – to which they hit play and all they here on a continuous loop for ten minutes is Arsène saying “congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!” and so on and so forth.

All this is to say that there really isn’t much to say about The Arsenal today. The players have been speaking to the site about how they must learn from their mistakes, not be naive, yada-yada-yada, but we’ve all heard it before. And besides, none of us like reading or talking about the spoken response from poor performances on the official site, we like talking about how they went away from home after a tough midweek game and gave Aston Villa a right old tonking.

Obviously that’s highly unlikely, but I’d be over the moon with any result that can get us three points come 5pm on Saturday. Villa has always been a tough place for us to go, so I’m not expecting anything less that a really close game, but more on that tomorrow with a match preview I think.

There’s nowt really else going on I’m afraid. Unless you countenance the rumour that Arsenal are in for Lassana Diarra, a free agent after leaving Russia, but I’m not really buying that one I’m afraid. Firstly, he left in slightly acrimonious circumstances, bemoaning Arsène and the lack of game time he got. Secondly, he would probably represent a very Flaminiesque-style signing, to which we already have Flamini so one would have to wonder what the point would be. Thirdly, like it or not, Arsène loves Arteta and he’s his captain so I don’t think he’ll be benching him regularly this season. Do you?

So I suspect that those of you who are wondering about the free transfer market, should probably cast your gaze elsewhere, because this is the squad we have for the next three and a bit months and we need to hope that Arsène finds a solution from within to the shoddy start to the season we’ve had.

As for me, I’m going to go to work, look forward to the weekend and put up some curtains. That’s not metaphorical, I literally am putting up curtains tomorrow, I’m that rock and roll.

Catch you tomorrow.