Ramsey likes Coq, Mesut likes DJ Luck and MC Neat

Aaron Ramsey has a confession to make: he loves a bit of Coq behind him. 

Speaking to the official site, I think this was the second or third time that he has specifically referenced Francis Coquelin for singled out praise, talking about how much ground he covers and how many tackles he wins. It’s no surprise that Le Coq has won over the players as much as the fans: he’s been tenacious in the tackle ever since he got back from Charlton on loan. I’ve no idea what they did to him there. Probably just sent him out into deepest, darkest South London with a stab vest and a smile, but there you go. 

It is amazing Arsène seems to have stumbled upon the exact player we needed to add more balance to our midfield. Let’s not pretend that this was all part of an Arsène Wenger’s master plan here though; he literally ran out of midfield options and started firing off telegrams left, right and centre to clubs to see if we had any loaned out midfielders that he could pull back in to the team.

But it does go to show you how important it is to have that enforcer sitting at the base of the midfield. Now I have much respect for Arsène Wenger and there’s no doubt that he’s infinitely more qualified to lead the team that you and I support, but whilst 90% of the time we all suggest changes in personnel/type of players that don’t work out, 10% of the time we cry out for a certain type of player and it’s the general consensus that is proved right. 

I think that’s happened in the Coquelin instance. We’ve all cried out for a tough tackling enforced and now that we’ve got one we’re more solid defensively and players like Ramsey have admitted that it gives them more confidence when they’re venturing forward. Let’s not pretend that it is that type of player that has always been on Arsène’s mind, because if that were true we’d have gone for a shinier diamond than Flamini two seasons ago.

But hey, we have the positive formula now, we’re winning games and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. Whether by fortune or design, it is Arsène Wenger’s formula he has found and it’s concocting a fabulous brew at the moment.

Speaking of the partaking of fabulous brews, who’s been a naughty boy by being pictured in a German nightclub living it up just after declaring that he had a sniff or two?

BAD MESUT! YOU’VE BEEN A VERY NAUGHTY BOY!!!

Hey, I’ve no doubt that he would have had some sort of illness, because he’s a man in form and he looks to be enjoying himself at the moment. But even so, it was just a little bit silly to be snapped in a nightclub just after being declared unfit to travel up to Newcastle. I know this is a story that is classic ‘nothing else to talk about’ tabloid trash, which is why I’m taking such a light-hearted approach, but I bet Arsène gets wind of this information and roles his eyes on a regular basis with his players when they do silly things like that. Actually, Arsène’s probably just pleased it wasn’t Jack again, because there’s only so many times he can put someone in detention before calling the parents.

I know they are only young fellas and Lord knows I’d probably succumb to a bit of nightclubbing and a boogie if I had time and money on my hands, but I’d like to think I’d be wary of the desire of others to make stories like this out of nothing, so giving it an extra 24 hours before going out would have been more prudent.

Having said that, if it was a ‘one night only old skool garage classics’ featuring DJ Luck and MC Neat, that would probably explain the desire of the German. Maybe I should research the acts on at the club before I judge. 

Anyway, there seems to be little else on at the moment bar an analysis of Arsenal’s best tackles this season, which appears far too rife for euphemism for my liking and subsequently too easy a challenge for me to even start. So I shall once more descend into the depths of the London Underground for a day of proverbial pen pushing and see you tomorrow.

Title as likely as an eclipse?

Arsenal winning the Premier League this season is about as possible as a solar eclipse…

It’s Friday, we’re all hopefully feeling fine and good, plus we’ve got plenty of information that has been furnished on us from the club yesterday in the form of the pre-match presser from Le Boss.

Arsène must have as much of an inner smile as an outwardly projecting one at the moment. Sure, he won’t be happy that we’re out of Europe, but I used up all my anger in the first leg a few weeks back so I’m just looking at the fact we’ve won 13 out of the last 15 games and we’ve even had the ridiculous notion of winning the league thrust at us by the media.

Hey, it’s their job to make the dull more interesting and let’s be honest, with Chelski leading from the early parts of the season and all but guaranteed to win it, it will have been one of the most boring title races since the Premier League began, so I can understand why the hacks are trying a bit of the old ‘what if’ on Arsène. But he’s an old wiley dog and didn’t bite yesterday, preferring to maintain his current course with comments about the ‘security’ the scummers from West London have. Sensible enough. If there were 20 games remaining maybe we’d fancy it, but with only 9/10 left for the teams at the top, a monumental slip up like that is hardly likely.

So Arsène is rightly focused on the next game, which is Newcastle away and although we’ve had a good record up there, it’s pleasing to see that he’s still wary of their threat. I’ve been up to Newcastle every season for the last four and although we’ve had two wins and two draws, each one has seen us biting our nails a little bit to close to the cuticles for my liking. Yes they’ve got little to play for, yes it appears they only have a temporary manager and yes, it helps that Cisse won’t be around as their main goal threat. But I still forsee an afternoon of uncomfortableness for us.

We’re at the business end of the season now though and what with United and Liverpool duking it out on Sunday, the game tomorrow represents an opportunity to put more daylight between more of those teams just below us, so I hope we take it.

The good news is that it seems Arsène doesn’t have a host of bodies to patch together after Monaco. Everyone seems fit bar a few ‘knocks and bruises’ and even the return of Rosicky to the team means we’re plenty stocked with options. More on who I think Arsène will play from the start tomorrow, but I do wonder if he’ll rotate again after admitting that he’ll need to assess the levels of fatigue today. 

A quick one on the whole ‘away goals’ rule thing that Arsène has said he has long campaigned against. Le Boss has spoken of the rule as an outdated one from the sixties, that it was designed to stop teams from defending at home and football has changed, so the rules should reflect that. Whilst it’s hard to argue that football isn’t a different beast than it was 50 years ago, I can’t really get behind his argument I’m afraid. For one thing, we still seem teams in the league play defensively against us, so why wouldn’t that revert to type in cup competitions? Also, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that scoring away from home is harder than at home when you have you’re home fans behind you, so why shouldn’t a team be rewarded for their exploits on their travels? Finally, this kind of thinking only seems to get airtime when a big team goes out, as I suspect Arsène might have kept relatively schtum should we have been the beneficiaries on the night. So I don’t really think his argument washes with me on this one. We all know the rules and you have to adapt your football to ensure you win the competition within their parameters. Sorry Arsène.

What I’m not sorry about is the FA Cup semi final, for which I picked up my tickets yesterday and am thoroughly delighted to have been given front row again, so hopefully you’ll see me waving away on tele in a few weeks time! And on that cheery note, I shall bid you ‘adieu’.

how big a factor will fatigue be? 

It’s West Ham today and I have to say, I am intrigued as to who Arsène picks in the first XI come 3pm. 

It’s an interesting dilemma that he faces; on the one hand he’ll have confidence-high players who will be on top of the world after breaking the hoo-doo that enveloped the team when visiting Manchester in seasons past, but he’ll also be Mindful of that ill-fated ‘red zone’ that often preys on the most brittle of hamstrings and calfs. 

My hope is that he opts to keep the team fresh above anything else. West Ham have been away to Dubai for a couple of weeks and will have completely recharged their aching limbs, so I’m expecting them to come at us all guns – or hammers – blazing from quite early in the game.

The advantage we have is the number of injuries and unavailable players they seem to have amassed. No Reid or Tompkins at the back and with Jenkinson unavailable due to the terms of his loan, Allardyce will have some major reshuffling to do with his back five. Hopefully that plays into our hands, but as annoying as he is, Fat Sam can certainly set his team up tactically well enough to make life frustrating for us.

That’s why the forward line will be so important today, but also the supportng cast that sit behind them, I’m specifically thinking about the full backs. I don’t expect we’ll see a swashbuckling 3-5-2 or 4-2-4 from West Ham, so having players with that little bit more going forward must take priority over anything else I think, which is why I hope we see Gibbs and Bellerin start. Both are better going forward than Nacho and Calum and have extra pace too, so I’d give them a run out, despite the fact it would be harsh on Monreal.

It’s also because of the way that West Ham will play, that I think we’ll also not see Theo, because his primary assets of pace and playing off the shoulder of the last man will be left rather redundant against a team who will sit deep and look to take advantage of set plays. 

So for me it’s got to be a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. There’s pace enough the either side of Giroud and Welbeck is a slightly better technical player than Walcott I think. 

Sitting behind them id love to fit in Rosicky somewhere, but how can you drop Mesut or Santi in the form they are in? You can’t and I don’t think Wenger will. A unless Tomas changes his entire game overnight and wakes up a ball winning defensive-minded player, it’ll be Coquelin behind the Spaniard and German, with Per and Kos sitting behind him.

I think we win this game if we approach it in the right way and aren’t lethargic with our play. West Ham aren’t in the best of form and we know all too well what problems occur when a squad is decimated with injuries. But the only niggling factor that could impact the game will be who is not quite 100% in terms of fitness, because West Ham will be and we have to be ready for it.

We need to maintain momentum to keep up the feelgood factor at the moment. The weather is getting warmer, we have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and are in a good position in the league, but we need to keep it up.

Come on Arsenal, let’s knock back another three points.

all is well

Liverpool and Chelski out, City all but gone against Barca and Arsenal remain the only hope for British success in the Champions League.

How did that happen?

I’m not complaining though. Certainly not as much as Chelski players were, apparently, last night. I’ve seen plenty of friends comment on the antics of the West Londoners, but I’m not surprised, a horrible club.

So pardon me for activating schadenfreude mode and having a little Barry Chuckle at a team who have spent the best part of a decade financially doping themselves to the top. Then relying on more slices of luck when they actually won the thing than any team I’ve ever seen in my life.

But matters need to move away from Google searching for player interviews with the words “we can win the quadruple” and towards the wonderful world of The Arsenal. It’s a world of super awesomeness and at this very moment in time is one in which we have an FA Cup semi final to go, plus a run-in for the Premier League where we could see us get third if we can maintain our momentum, starting with West Ham this weekend.

I’m certainly not counting my chickens because there is a lot of winning that needs to be done, but if the best pose or scenario does happen and we finish third and win the FA Cup, all of a sudden this season of inconsistency represents genuine progress. On paper at least. I mean yeah, we haven’t even got close to challenging for the league, but last season was one in which we finished fourth and won the FA Cup, so third and the FA Cup (again, those chickens remain firmly in their coop) would be an improvement that we can all celebrate, especially given the decimation of the squad in the earlier parts of the season.

The positive signs are there though. Arsène has options. The bench has never looked so strong and even back-to-back hammies (Gabriel and The Ox) won’t see our team drastically weakened for the next couple of weeks. I’ve always bemoaned Arsène’s lack of desire to rotate effectively and yes, perhaps he still only does it because we are constantly picking up knocks, but by Jove we’ve now got one heck of a squad for him to call in reinforcements on. 

Every game there’s an argument to be made on the first eleven and coupled with our form at the moment, it means that every player knows they have a chance of playing and knows that they must perform when they are given it. Look at Cazorla. He’s in the form of his life. Özil has got back into the team after injury and looks a different player. I’m not a stats man – reading this rubbish I brain dump on this blog every day will have proven that to you already – but I know what I see and on Monday night Özil battled to win the ball through making tackles three times I counted. I wondered if he’d ever had to make a tackle before he joined The Arsenal. But he’s adapting his game to the English league and showing that he’s more than capable of being a success.

Giroud was the ‘big man on campus’ last season, but this time around he can be dropped for a crucial FA Cup away game to Manchester United. Do you think that thought would have even spent a millisecond in Arsène’s mind if that would have happened a year ago? Not a chance. But now he knows he has to perform, or he’ll find himself a cosy seat next to Theo, who I haven’t even mentioned yet because he’s barely featured all season. 

As usual I have no real underlying message to today’s blog. It’s just my thoughts and feelings as far as Arsenal are concerned right now. The feelings are good. I won’t deny the fragility of those feelings should we trip and stumble at this crucial time of the season, but right now you have to admire the team and the manager, both of whom are doing everything that is asked of them. Winning football matches.

And all is well.

self-fulfilling confidence profacy

I’m still buzzing about the result on Monday night. More so than I thought I’d be actually. Probably more so because I know there’s a Wembley semi final that lies in wait and, although we can’t be presumptive enough to assume we’ll waltz our way into the final (see Wigan last season as a case in point), it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of silverware for a second season running.

Somebody asked me recently if I’d swap a cup final for fourth and whilst four years ago you’d have probably had me asking “which cup final”, now I really don’t care. I’d take any cup final, any day. After going to Wembley, seeing us lift the cup live and in person, there’s nothing I’d rather have than the opportunity to experience it again.

That’s why – although the semi final at Wembley is derided by many – for me it’s great. It’s a great day out and I’m thankful that I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity. To get to a final and win it? Amazing. It’s a memory that will last infinitely longer than a nervous 1-0 win away to Newcastle to secure a top four spot. So give me any semi-final or final, any day, of any week.

That probably explains why I feel so much more elated than if we’d have won away from home in the league. Yes, we’d have gained some distance and further enhanced our chances of securing top four, but Premier League victories can be quite easily undone by a poor result the following week. The FA Cup quarter final victory will be able to stay with us right up until we play in the next round in April. It’s fabulous and means that we can relive and recount the result as much as we like over the next few weeks.

Not so for the players however, who have to move on and make sure that they are focused and determined for the visit of West Ham on Saturday, on that most novel of things which is a 3pm kick off. The attention will shift to the Premier League, but the goodwill factor of reaching the semi-finals will remain and I’d expect the opening exchanges of Saturday’s game will see quite a raucous home support cheering on The Arsenal as we sing songs of Wembley.

That’s also why this result will have further positive ramifications than just getting through to the next phase of the competition. People inside the stadium will be buzzing on Saturday. The noise will be turned up a notch and that will hopefully carry on to the players. We’ve had people like Arteta and Big Per admit that the fans do play a part in helping to give the team that little bit of extra ‘get-up-and-go’ in the past, so with a good five days between the United game and West Ham at home not not is there time to recharge the players’ batteries, but there will also be an extre impetus for them with the atmosphere that the United win will have helped to forge.

It then becomes a self-fulfilling profacy, you see, because we feel the team are playing well. We then make more noise and give them more motivation to make them play well. They react to that and play well. I’m hoping that’s the case anyway!

All the players need to do is to not take West Ham likely. They need to be confident, bold and dominant. If they are all of those things and remain steadfast and resolute at the back, we’ll maintain our momentum of winning football matches and it would bode well for a positive end to the season.

Smile. Being an Arsenal fan is good right now.

‘Obvious’ klaxons, Giroud’s award and Welbeck’s form an issue for Theo

It’s all rather quiet on this Tuesday morn, which is lovely given that there’s a big game tomorrow and no doubt Arsène’s presser at some stage today, so we’ll get an update on who’s available.

We’ve already had Arsène’s thoughts ahead of the visit of Monaco, in which he really goes out on a limb, describing the game as ’50:50′ in terms of our likelihood of success. Wow Arsène, mind those splinters buddy!

Champions League games are always cagey affairs when you get to the knockout stages of the competition though, so I can see why he’s trying hard not to give the Monaco team any motivation ahead of the tie, but it should be one we should be looking to win over two legs. I was at The Emirates Cup in August and we looked leggy and lethargic and the difference even then was a Falcao header. With him now firmly established in the Manchester United dugout as one of the coaching staff, Monaco have lost a massive asset, but will still be a threat so Arsène is right to be cautious. More to come on Monaco tomorrow though.

The other news is that Olivier Giroud is up for a fans player award by the PFA. Ok, so it’s only for February, but with goals and solid displays under his belt for the whole month, it will be a good confidence booster if he wins it. And let’s face it, we have the largest football fan community online at Arsenal, so I’d expect us to vote in our handsome Frenchman with consummate ease.

The hope is that he wins it and the subsequent confidence boost will propel him to being even better than he has been of late. His form is sparkling and with each game that he scores, I remain convinced that he will hit the 20 goal mark for the season, which would be quite some feat indeed given his lengthy absence last year.

That man Welbeck has also had his say on the Champions League, talking up our desire to go far in the competition which aside from the fact that ‘state the obvious’ klaxons appear to be sounding all over the place at the moment, is the sentiment and the attitude we need. No talk of advancing and who we might face in the next round, just respect for our opposition we’ve currently got and the professionalism to do the job, home and away.

You’ll all be acutely aware of the shattering feeling that Alex gave us when knocking us out of the competition after we conceded a late goal against PSV a few years back I’m sure. We need no repeat of that upset and if it means the players and coaching staff have to make obvious statements about the game then so be it.

Welbeck himself has also looked good since returning, actually, so much so that there aren’t many people calling for an instant return for Walcott. Given that we’d have chewed each other’s arms off to have him available this time last year, that’s quite a turnaround and it’s the high intensity pressing that Welbeck and Alexis give us – as well as their end product (which in Danny’s case has been assisting in build ups rather than actual goals) – that has meant Theo is an increasingly bit-part player at the moment. The long-term future for him is something that can be debated for another day, but I don’t see him being wheeled out in the immediate future and that’s a positive testament to how well Welbeck is playing, especially when you consider that Theo is scoring plenty of goals when he’s given the chance.

So we’re in a good place right now. There are plenty of form players, we’re winning games and we currently sit third in the league, which is ideally where we want to finish. We have a big European night tomorrow, with which victory be a healthy margin would help to foster yet more belief and confidence in the team, as well as the possibility of That Dutch Bloke being a longer term injury to United. He’ll develop some sort of miracle recovery time so that he can play us in about 13 days time, but for now let’s all just keep ourselves content in the knowledge that all is looking roadt in the Arsenal garden.

See you tomorrow.

Gritty three points

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game with Crystal Palace felt like a really big result, in the context of our Premier League season.

There were many people I spoke to during the week who were pretty convinced that we were going to go to Selhurst Park and sweep aside a Palace side who have had a wee bit of resurgence under Alan Pardew, but who have stuttered ever-so-slightly in the immediate past, but I never really believed that the game would be anything other than a challenging 95 minutes (although where the referee worked out those five minutes of injury time was a bit of a mystery to me).

Last season when we played Palace it was anything but plain sailing, but so it was that the home team with their partisan home support, were able to influence the game much more than many would have predicted. Under Pardew you can see that they try to press hard and fast and at times we made it difficult for ourselves with some slack passing of our own, but you can always tell the difference between the top sides and those that languish further down towards the foot of the table. Crystal Palace may not be relegation fodder at this moment in time – nor it must be said do I think they will be come May – but you could tell there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in their forward line.

Pardew is no mug and knew exactly how he could potentially get some joy against our team, targeting Monreal with Zaha’s pace in the first half and looking to get Gayle isolated against Chambers too. In the second half Chambers was run ragged by Bolasie on our right hand side and it was on that side that Palace were able to get the goal they scored in injury time, plus the Murray header off the ball with seconds to go. But again, the fact we were able to take our chances and Palace weren’t able to make the most of the 22 attempts they have, perhaps shows why we are fighting at the top of the league. We have the players to make the difference.

That’s what Welbeck did in forcing the Palace full back to make a challenge on six minutes that led to the penalty we scored. And no Ray Houghton, no Robbie Savage, despite your clear desperation to find fault in decisions given to Arsenal, it was on the line and so is a penalty. Calm down and perhaps stick to playing golf in your retirement from the game.

That cutting edge in the final third means everything, and it was that with which we capitalised through the second goal, a fine through ball from Özil (I think) finding Welbeck and his shot fell kindly to Giroud to tap home. The Frenchman is developing a lovely habit of being in the right place at the right time and is doing it on a fabulously consistent basis at the moment. Long may his form continue.

Long may our overall form continue too, actually, because we’re stringing together a number of wins that are building some real momentum. With United losing, plus Southampton and Liverpool playing each other today, we find ourselves in third and with a run of matches in the league in which you would expect us to pick plenty of points up from. Victory against Everton next Sunday, followed by an away success to QPR during the midweek after that game, will see us firmly secure a good footing on which to build success in our season. Success for Arsenal would be a trophy and securing Champions League football. We still have a lot to do to get that trophy (I don’t fancy United away I have to say. They will be pants, but they’ve made it an art how they can perpetually skank us in every competition), but if we pick up 12 points from the next four games, I’d wager we’d be halfway there to achieving the Champions League objective.

We’re looking good at the moment. We’re grinding out games when we need to, like today, but we’re also adding the occasional bit of swagger to some of our performances. That’s the Arsenal that we want to see.

Now, bring on Monaco…