Rueing Rambo’s absence, loving Poldi’s end product

I do like it when victory appears comprehensive for The Arsenal, even if the reality is that it isn’t quite so convincing when you watch the match in real time.

Yesterday’s 3-0 victory against Hull was as welcome as the huge Turkey dinner I consumed shortly after half time, followed up by chocolate, beer and Prosecco. But it was not one that had me nerve free from the first to the last minute, that’s for sure, as Hull set out to cause us some problems and most definitely did in that first half.

Arsene surprised a few of us by naming a relatively similar side to the one that beat West Ham on Tuesday night. Only Ramsey, Özil and Monreal came in to the team at the expense of Kallström, Rosicky and Vermaelen. Arsene clearly loves an Arteta on a match day and so it proved again, as the Spaniard lined up for yet another game. Overall he wasn’t too bad, but I was surprised to see that he wasn’t rotated with a couple of others yesterday. I guess ultimately though, when you’ve come away from a tricky away fixture with three points and a nice little boost to the goal difference charts, you have to say the manager got the selection decision right.

As seems to be par for the course with this Arsenal team though, the first half felt very laboured, so much so that when the excellently worked Ramsey finish was tucked away I did wonder whether a neutral would see it as against the run of play. But who cares about that, fright? I mean, that first goal was so excellently worked and when Cazorla slid Ramsey 2.0 (that’s the improved version from previous seasons) in, you just knew he was tucking that away.

It was great to see, but it also left me cursing our luck at half time, as a fully fit Rambo for the last four months could have delivered half a dozen extra goals for us. How crucial could that have been for games like United at home? It’s easy to play the hindsight game, but I’m sure his presence would have led to at least another six points in the team, which would have kept us clinging on to hope of a league title at this stage in the season. He was easily man of the match yesterday and ran so much of the game that it was as if he’d never been injured. Sigh…

But it does not do well to dwell on things that have passed, so we have to look at what’s in front of us and we can see three games in the league in which three wins secures the fourth place trophy and one after that secures the FA Cup.

I don’t buy all of the ‘psychological advantage’ that Sky Sports spoke of yesterday, because we had the same margin of victory away to Birmingham in the league when we played them in the League Cup, but we still contrived to bugger that one up. Hull will be a different team with a heck of a lot more motivation, so we will need to be at our best, hoping that the pressure doesn’t get to the players.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s game, and it not being the walk in the park the score line suggests. Hull’s game plan was simple; balls into the box, try to use the fact they get extra bodies in their as often as possible and see if they can get that early goal. Even after we went ahead, the scare from a Livermore shot off the post was there for all to see. But we rallied, got into half time 2-0 up with another good strike from Podolski, whose lashed shot from Ramsey’s knock-down was another fine example of team build up.

The game was probably effectively over from that point, so when Poldi got the third it was a nice little Easter gift and ensured a comfortable last twenty or so minutes for Gooners everywhere. Except me. I still remain nervous at 3-0 because once upon a time Arsenal shattered my confidence by being 4-0 up and drawing 4-4, so I never get comfortable on a three goal advantage until at least the last ten minutes of a game, but based on yesterday and also the Arsenal of the last twelve months or so I shouldn’t be as concerned. Yes, we still do implosions like nobody else, but that’s usually when we’re behind already. We seem to be alright at keeping a lead these days.

I thought Podolski had another game that was almost a carbon copy of the West Ham result. End product. That’s it. Get him into the box and let his finishing do the talking. His finishing was the difference between two worrying games and what ended up two relatively comfortable results. When all players are back and fully fit you have to think that he won’t be in the starting eleven, but if he keeps this scoring run going – four goals this last week – it will be impossible for him to be dropped.

He’s like the specialist kicker in a game of American Football, but the only difference is that he has to be in the team for other duties, which let’s him down. Having said that, based on his end product and Santi’s – usually preferred on the left – yesterday, I would personally keep the German. Cazorla may have slipped Ramsey in for goal number one, but I didn’t think he had the greatest of games and so for me based on what he brings to the team, Lukas should be starting ahead of the tiny little Spaniard.

So that is that then. A tough away fixture navigated, back-to-back home games in front of us and a hope that two wins might just be enough to see us finish in the top four, dependent on what Everton do of course.

Have a happy Monday Gooners.

A tale of two halves: peanut butter and oranges

I am all about the result right now. Much like the blogs I write, I am a man concerned not with the intricate details, but the end game. That game is one in which three points are everything and anything less than that is like ash in my mouth. Or peanut butter. That stuff is rank.

So ultimately, yeah, I’m pretty happy that just over 72 hours after the players secured our route to the FA Cup final, we managed to overcome a West Ham team that fancied an upset under the North London floodlights.

Three points is everything to Arsenal right now and with the margins thinner than Kate Moss, we can’t afford to be slipping up against mid-table teams, which seemed a very real possibility after that first half display that we witnessed last night.

Sluggish in possession, devoid of pace in any areas of the pitch (apart from Sagna, who I thought was excellent tonight, sign him up please…), we started as if we’d played and finished the FA Cup semi final about half an hour before we actually kicked off. As if it was some cruel Sunday league under-12s ‘double header’ that was going down. My compatriot for the evening, Billy and I, were at a bit of a loss to explain the lethargy if I’m honest. Arsene had rotated a number of players and rested Gibbs for Vermaelen, Ramsey for Kallstrom and Rosicky for The Ox, yet we still never really looked remotely fresh. Perhaps the general malaise of our other Premier League performances had clouded the weekend’s exploits and exuberance of the team?

Whatever it was, it didn’t feel very ‘Arsenal’ and as West Ham pressed us slightly higher (clearly with the mandate to try and grind us down after our difficult cup tie against Wigan), whilst looking to hit Carroll as often as possible when in possession, we looked devoid of any spark to set us going. So when the West Ham goal came first, the apprehension in the stands was palpable, with many a contorted face wondering whether this season would sink further into the mire. As Billy and I turned our necks towards the big screen to relive the pain, it occurred to me for a fleeting second that Giroud’s flicked miss only a short while earlier when put through from Santi, had been our only real chance of the game and could possibly have been the last at that rate.

Sometimes though, when you’re not playing well, you need just a little flash of brilliance. So step forward that man Lukas Podolski. He is an absolute enigma. Put him inside the box with the ball at his feet and you could bet your house, wife, dog and kids on him. But anywhere else on the park he looks lost at times. If there was the ability to freeze play, bring him on as a specialist player – like a kicker in American Football – and put him in a dangerous position, he’d be worth a billion bucks. But as an all round footballer he leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, right now I wouldn’t change him for anyone, because it’s clinical finishers like that who make the difference in top flight football. Had the score remained at 1-0 going in to the interval, who knows how it might have affected the teams mentality, yet his timely finish just before halftime enabled the team to regroup, tuck in to some half time oranges and come out firing in the second half.

And boy did those oranges work. The team that trotted out to the field for that second half looked totally different to the one that we have become used to during the last few weeks. There was more zip about the play and almost instantly you could see that the passing had more purpose to it. If the first half had been an exhibition of our mental fragility, the second half was an example of the teams testicular fortitude, because they released the ball quicker when in possession, they fashioned a chance almost immediate with Giroud cutting in behind the left back and central defender and they seemed like a team determined to show they could replicate some of that early season swagger.

A Cazorla cut infield and snap shot fizzed the post, a Podolski free-kick stung the palms of Adrian, all precluded the second goal and, as much as Podolski remains a mystery to us, to too does Giroud. The goal he scored last night was more reminiscent to the type of control and finish we’ve seen Suarez tuck away this season, so to see our much maligned centre forward tucking it home with his weaker football was, well it was a surprise and a half I can tell you.

After that we looked more comfortable, the passing remained assured and we fashioned more chances. Giroud, in particular, suddenly looked like he could retain possession when it was knocked up to him. Perhaps being dropped against Wigan was his Szczesny moment from a couple of seasons back? We can certainly hope so and if the threat of rotating with a raw 19 year old and potentially losing your cup final place in a months time, is the jolt he needs to get back to his pre-Christmas ways, then I’m all for it.

The game was secured ten minutes from time with a fantastic finish from Podolski, but the header down from Ramsey on the edge of the box was what excited me, because it was perfectly weighted for Lukas to roll his man and smash the ball home.

It’s amazing what a difference a day makes. Arsenal pick up three points to arrest a worrying winless streak, Arsene confirms that players are returning including Özil for the weekend, plus we have a bank holiday weekend and a dress rehearsal for the cup final coming up on Sunday. Happy Days.

I hope the players are feeling on top of the world today. I hope the win last night was the catalyst to us returning to our form that saw us to the top of the league and I hope that three points on Sunday will put us in the strongest possible position to secure top four.

Up The Arsenal.

A final by hook or by crook

How emotionally draining can Arsenal make our lives, eh? They couldn’t possibly do any more than the torture we sat through yesterday as we secured our place in the final of this year’s FA Cup on penalties against Championship Wigan.

Say that out loud. An FA Cup final. For the first time in nine years. Our first at the new Wembley.

Ultimately all that was needed yesterday, by hook or by crook, was passage into the next round and you have to credit the team for achieving that. In two weeks time it won’t matter that we huffed and puffed against a Wigan side that, despite their giant-killer status, offered little by way of a real threat to our goal and when I had a look at the match stats after the game I was left scratching my head as to how they managed to get seven attempts in the whole match.

Conversely, Arsenal battered down the door in terms of attempts at goal with 27 – nine of which were on target – and a mixture of the woodwork and good goalkeeping from Carson proved to be to our frustration until Per nodded in eight minutes from time to atone for his penalty concession earlier in the game.

We looked like a team that had been given a bit of a bruising and felt a little fragile, like we had been out on the tiles and we’re feeling the after-effects, with loud noises and not much movement other than from the bed to the sofa. Certainly in attack we looked a little sluggish at times and Poldi never really impacted the game at all out on the left. Sanogo tried to open his scoring account with a good header that was straight at Carson in the first half and he is definitely more mobile than Giroud, but as lone target man he was not really too convincing in my eyes and struggled to pull apart a capable but limited Wigan central defensive pairing. Again, I know we’re all bored of reading and hearing this, but a lack of genuine firepower to alternate or compliment Giroud could have made the difference in normal time yesterday. It’s something we have to live with and given that we have managed to reach a cup final I guess ultimately you can’t say we aren’t coping with it.

I should probably credit Carson for his world-class save from Gibbs, who nodded the ball goal wards in the second half and looked certain to be a goal. It was up the end I was in and for all the world looked like we’d scored.

So after being unable to break Wigan down over 90 and then a further 30, I was left with a numbing effect as I watched with my seven other compatriots on the day as we helplessly looked on in hope that this Arsenal team could drag us over the line in a shoot-out. They did and, although I got the specific person wrong in yesterday’s blog as I called on an ‘unlikely hero’, we had one nonetheless as Lukas Fabianski did his bit by saving the first two penalties.

Santi converted the winning penalty and cue a rush to the Polish ‘Keeper from his teammates. I heard afterwards that Roy Keane slammed the players for celebrating beating a Championship side, but if more fool him if he can’t acknowledge the pressure and relief that a penalty shoot out victory gives, so I don’t begrudge the players a celebration or two on a day like yesterday.

Our eyes may flicker over to the next game at Wembley this afternoon, but for those Arsenal players the focus has to be solely on West Ham on Tuesday night. There remains a job unfinished and after an extended period of time out on the pitch for those Arsenal players, with so many injuries and so few playing options available, it will be a case of ‘once more unto the breach’ for a number of those players that played yesterday. Thankfully we’ll have Gibbs and Giroud a bit fresher having played less than the full 120, so let’s also hope that there is a bit of freshness in the team that the manager can call on when we face the hammers.

Enjoy your Sunday, we’re on our way to Wembley.

Blooding Gnabry the right way

I am so very much looking forward to the media savaging of a Chelski team that is clearly lacking in one department and yet has failed to address this, consequently falling to the sword against one of the best teams in Europe. Perhaps they will be described by the English media as ‘naive’, whilst some of their players will be labelled as ‘flops’ and a single player hoisted out from amongst the crowd to be labelled as a thief by taking wages from the club.

Perhaps not.

Perhaps I should focus a little more on matters closer to my heart, such as the positive noises made by Gnabry on the official site. He’s still in his formative teenage years, but with 14 appearances under his belt he’s admitted it’s been a welcome – albeit big – step for him to get in and amongst the first team squad.

There’s been a lot of people more regularly calling for his inclusion in the first eleven, based on what we’ve seen so far, which shows how highly regarded he is by the fans. And by the manager as well I might add. In Arsene Wenger he has a man who is fiercely loyal to his players, but if he doesn’t have the trust of Le Boss then he wouldn’t have managed to rack up as much game time. He’d probably have been sent out on loan like so many other players around his age, to see if he could ‘cut it’, build him up physically for the demands of the Premier League and hope that he’s a Wilshere in waiting for subsequent seasons.

I’ve often questioned why he hasn’t been able to force his way into the team, particularly on as a sub in more games, but it’s important to recognise that he is still a young player who is capable of mistakes and almost needs to make mistakes in order to learn from them. We don’t have to look too far to see what happens when a very young player gets into the first team and the whole world expects an instant impact. When The Ox first joined us he had a similar trajectory to Gnabry and put in some particularly impressive displays (a great game against Blackburn springs to mind), but last season found form a little bit more hard to come by. Injuries also stunted his development this season and whilst we’ve seen some great performances from him since returning from his cruciate injury, The Ox has still put in some poor performances, like Chelski. It happens. He’s a young player too and we’ll probably get a few more of those over the next year or two, but the important thing is that we see more positive performances than negative ones and I think that is certainly happening with The Ox at the moment.

It’s the same with Serge and that is perhaps why Arsene is so keen to use him sparingly. In fact, had we been able to field a more full-strength side at this stage in the season, there would be few that would be hollering for his inclusion in the first eleven. That he offers something slightly different at a time in which we look like we could do with it – most notably pace – only seeks to enhance the desire to see him play a bigger part. The mind has a very poor way of recalling events, which often means that those players that are not playing are always afforded an extra 25% of awesomeness added to their game as our minds cast back to when we have seen them. For me I am as guilt as the next man, as I mainly recall his impressive display against Swansea and the goal that helped set us on our way to victory as well as winning the penalty against Palace, but I can’t really recall his individual performances thereafter and so my memory is deceiving me into thinking those two performances are the least we can expect if Gnabry starts against Everton.

It’s for that reason that I can understand why Arsene is using him sparingly. He doesn’t want the hype to become too much, yet at the same time he doesn’t want any inevitable mistakes to be magnified, which tends to happen when you have a young player at one of the top clubs in the division, that get most of the attention in the media.

I think he’ll go on to be a great player and the way he is being blooded by Wenger is the right thing to do.

There’s only one other bit of Arsenal news I wanted to touch on today, which is the bit of gossip about Arsenal’s supposed interest in Younes Kaboul. I resisted the temptation to write an entire parody blog about the farcical and spurious attempts at winding us fans up with the Kalou stories that dominated from the gutter press earlier in the week, but this one surely has to be another attempt at getting us to bite, no? I mean, what do we want a shaky, bulbus-headed looking Spud in our squad for? Move along folks, nothing to see there.

Back tomorrow where hopefully Arsene’s got some news for us.

A glorious day for the glass to be half empty

What a glorious day it is scheduled to be today. We’re approaching half-time on the working week and the sun has finally got his hat on. Hip-hip-hip-hooray.

As for me, I’m feeling as chipper as one can on a tube line hurtling towards the City with a days worth of pen-pushing ahead of me, but I’m starting to get the worried feeling about the game this weekend. It’s an irrational feeling based on nothing but the experience of being metaphorically judo-chopped in the goolies by Arsenal over the years, but also one of a man that sometimes finds it hard to look at the glass being half full.

I don’t know why I can be a pessimist sometimes. After all, it’s hardly a fun existence, is it? I mean, if you think about boss really irritating people that dish out jovial ‘banter’, they are also usually the ones that can shrug off defeats quite easily. I find there’s quite a lot of Spuds that I know seem to do that. But then you have those self-torturing souls; people like me who have the twisted mentality that if you play down everything, you’ll not end up being disappointed. But the problem with that school of thought is that you are in a permanent state of disappointment. So perhaps I should just try being one of those overly positive ‘nah, we’ll win this weekend’ fellows that, when it doesn’t happen, is able to shrug it off. At least I won’t have a week leading up to a game getting too worked up.

Words. All of this is just words unless I can actually change my psyche. I’ll let you know how I get on.

A brief interlude:
I am now fully entrenched in the ‘please don’t let Liverpool win the league’ camp. This line of thinking has been drawn into sharp focus with the assertion from Jamie Carragher that Liverpool will win the league. After reading his comments and pondering the sheer scale of pro-Liverpool ex-players that are now on TV on our screens, it’s not even the fans I want to see unhappy – it’s them lot ‘n all.

Anyway, what’s happening in the world of Arsenal, eh?

Well, we’ve signed a new player, called Abou Diaby! I know, I know, I’m sure I could have come up with something infinitely more humorous and quick-witted, but it’s early so I’m going to plead with you to not hold it against me.

What we do know is that when Ramsey comes back it’s going to take him a few games to get back to math fitness, so for Diaby I expect we’ll see very little of him for the rest of the season. Perhaps a couple of ten minute spells and maybe a good 20 under his belt, but with a year left on his contract in the summer, he and Arsene would be best served taking this as an extended pre-season training camp for his body in preparation for a new season in August. His talk of the French World Cup team is laughable, and if he were to go it would be a wet kipper slapped across the thousands of Arsenal fans for whom he’s become a perpetual sore point when talking about injuries. Of course every player wants to go to the World Cup, but if he has a few games under his belt and is in with a chance of selection, I would hope he and the French National Team manager sit down and have a serious discussion. If he goes to Brazil, in the humidity and heat, in one of the most intense football competitions in the world, and breaks down again, he’ll find himself on the footballing scrap heap next year. So he needs to have a serious think about it, should the opportunity become very real and present itself, which in all honesty I don’t think it will.

Thommy V has spoken about how he wants Arsene to stay, but that’s hardly ‘STOP THE PRESS’ stuff, is it? He’s the club captain and is talking about the spirit of the squad in his interview that came out yesterday, so it wouldn’t exactly be in keeping with the tone of the piece if he uttered ‘but yeah, y’know, if Arsene does skid-addle then it might give me a chance to win my place back so I’m all for it actually’.

So that’s pretty much it from me today. We’ll get some pics of the players in training at some stage today, plus Arsene’s ‘who’s fit?’ piece tomorrow in which he says ‘nobody returns, as you were’ before facing the press on Friday. Exciting stuff.

Catch you tomorrow.

Fullbacks are key to winning football matches

Morning you wonderful people, Chris here, but taking a back seat today to give Ben the floor. I know you’ll be extra nice to him, for no other reason than he’s an extra nice bloke, which he is.

Since I started watching Arsenal we’ve always had very good fullbacks. I’ve seen a number of formations, setups – from 5-3-2 to the current 4-2-3-1. As time passes football develops and roles progress, which ends up putting more emphasis on tactics. We’ve seen football clubs change and create a new football philosophy – Everton being the prime example. Which brings fresh ideas and leads to upping the performance levels of the given league they are operating in.

We’ve seen a shift in responsibilities in the fullback position from being a more solid, dependable (i.e. Lee Dixon) type, to a player with pace and being a lot more positive with and without the ball (i.e. Kieran Gibbs). Also, we’ve seen the modern day fullback needing the intelligence and ability to read the game, especially the offensive side.

The way the game is developing fullbacks are being used as auxiliary forwards. We’ve seen a lot of the major forces in European football get rid of the so-called ‘traditional winger’. You could argue the winger has lost it’s place in the modern game. Since the current adoption of the inside-forward, and the attacking playmakers, there has been a tendency of a lot of teams narrowing their forward line.

The way Arsenal and the majority of Europe’s top teams play has been transformed – two strikers are rarely used anymore. The second is dropped in between the lines to help link up attacking play and help flood the midfield for possession reasons. Midfield shape has also changed. This has shifted the focus of play onto the fullbacks and a lot of teams play with three in midfield. Barcelona and Ajax are good examples of this, their full-backs are so far up the pitch that the defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets and Daley Blind respectively – become a third centre back. This leaves the fullbacks as the only players on the pitch with any real space.

If you add that to the wingers playing on opposite wings, i.e. Robben and Bale (when he was at Spurs) and things can become very compact. To ensure width isn’t lost, full-backs are licensed to get forward and support the attack, therefore creating space for others.

As we’ve seen recently, the main benefit of adventurous fullbacks is to allow teams to have two extra players in attack. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and now Bayern Munich utilised this well as have Spain throughout their recent domination.

It’s seen in the way he likes his team to build the play, he overloads and isolates the opposition fullbacks with the ‘winger’ in possession of the ball (or vice versa), and the fullback goes flying round the outside. At times it’s simply impossible to defend against.

Certain players are being instructed with various responsibilities within their standard duties. Some of these are fresh in my mind because I’ve been lucky enough to see them live – Pep Guardiola used Victor Valdez as ball playing option at the back. Javi Martinez at Bayern has a very disciplined role but he needs to be able to play through the lines as a third centre back or in midfield. The level needed for each players is slowly creeping up.

We saw from Thomas Vermaelen in the second leg against Bayern who defensively did very, very well. On the other hand, offensively, he offered little to nothing. The modern fullback has many duties to perform. It is no longer enough to leave an opposition winger battered and bruised on the floor.

A modern fullback must offer a huge attacking threat. He must have the ability to make a pinpoint pass, or deliver a perfect cross. He must possess pace, he must have discipline and most importantly, superb positional sense. This is also needs to be complimented by endless stamina to continually get up and down the pitch.

Steve McManaman famously said the first bit of Spanish he actually learnt when he moved to Real Madrid was ‘cover me’ as Salgado, his fullback, flew past him.

Arsene Wenger has always seen the importance of the fullback. He inherited two of the best in the business – Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He eventually replaced them with Ashley Cole – who started out as a centre forward in the youth side, and Lauren, a ball-playing midfielder he signed from Spain. From the outside looking in it seems he opted to put more offensive players into those positions, which demonstrates how important the role is.

It will be interesting to see how a team will successfully counter this within culling their attacking threat.

One thing for sure is that the attacking fullback will be a constant but the role is ever evolving. Top sides field their most creative players in wide attacking positions and there is perhaps a need for full-backs to be strong(er) defensively, but only time will tell.

Arsène will have a very tough decision to make in the summer (If Sagna leaves). He has Jenkinson who is a decent player but not near Sagna’s standard. If he can have a good run of games he could be good player. Will he settle for good? He has Bellerin who offensively is very good and, in my opinion, the epitome of the modern fullback. Although question marks will remain over his defensive stability until he gets a run of games in the first team to prove otherwise. If Arsène does go into the market for a new addition, then spending a lot money on one will be completely justified in my opinion. It is a major part of the modern game and needs to be respected.

As things stand, Bacary Sagna seems to be closing the curtain on his Arsenal career. You know how these things work, as soon as I press the publish button, things will change. If he does leave then it’s going to leave a massive hole in our lineup. He’s been marvellous for us and I wouldn’t begrudge him a move after all the wonderful service he has given us. Whatever he decides, all the best Bac. Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben

Everton: Counter the width from the Toffees, then use right balance in attack to win

Having started the day at 3.30am this morning with a trip to Southend airport to drop the parentals off for their trip to Portugal, there is a very real risk that come the end of the match today at around 2.30pm i’ll have peaked and to coin an Arseneism, be a ‘little bit jaded’, so I hope that a) the Arsenal players fair better than that today, and b) that those that are selected give me something to be pleased about so that I can snooze soundly on my Metropolitan line train home this afternoon.

Everton will be a tough game. We all know that. They were certainly the most expansive opponents we’ve played at The Emirates this season – and I include the Champions League ties in that too (Dortmund were pegged back and sucker punched us earlier in the season and the red card to Szczesny effectively ended any competition against Bayern) – and they will go into this game thinking that they have a really good chance of pipping us to a semi-final showdown against Man City, who I am convinced the winners of today’s tie will face. At least, Everton have picked up plenty of draws at the Emirates in recent past and whilst their record for victories is not great, their ability to give us a good game has always remained constant. If you look at the last six games against Everton in all competitions and there has been three wins for Arsenal and three draws home and away, each of them being by a one goal margin, then looking at the games at The Emirates we’ve seen similar results, with three draws and three wins, only one of which has been by more than a one goal margin.

So history surely precludes that this afternoon’s game against the Toffees will most likely be won by a goal margin, or a draw which for an Everton team who find themselves nine points from fourth, will probably be looking at the FA Cup as their chance for glory rather than sneaking in to one of the top four spots. They will set up to be solid defensively, but they’ll use the flair players of Pienaar and Mirallas to support the man mountain that is Lukaku, who has always been a thorn in our side even if he hasn’t always been on the scoresheet. He got an outing against Everton last weekend and scored from the bench and with Traore injured he will surely be given the nod to start today. The Everton strength from the wings will also be something to pay close attention to. With two very good full backs in Baines and Coleman who like to get forward and support the attacking wide midfielders, Martinez will be encouraging those players to stretch our full backs as much as possible.

It is for that reason that I hope Arsene opts for Gibbs and Sagna as his starting full backs, along with players who can track back and provide support for overlapping Everton full backs. In the last round against their Mersey rivals, I thought Poldi did a really good job in doing that role and supporting Monreal, as did The Ox on the wide right position, so I hope both players start. Yes, I know Podolski was poor – bordering on anonymous – against Stoke, but few players came out of that game with any credit and we can hardly drop the whole team, can we?

I have no problem with Fabianski starting in goal and continuing his cup place, but in central defence I hope Kos passes his fitness test and plays. It may frustrate Vermaelen, but with someone like Lukaku likely to occupy both defenders, you want the one with the best positional sense plus the best recovery pace, to be there ready in case he shrugs off one with his physical presence and power.

Midfield simply must see Flamini in the heart of the engine room and with jack now confirmed to be out, I’d like to see Rosicky pulling the strings, with Ozil sat in front of them and just behind the striker. I think those three players all add something different (defensive stability and bite; quick movement of the ball from front to back; ability to pick a pass and create opportunities for others) to the side and I think it is the strongest possible line up we could muster at the moment. Up top will be a mystery. Go for Giroud and hope he shrugs off his current funk? Or plump for the unproven kid who put himself about a bit against Skyrtel and Agger a few weeks back. Despite his obvious failings, he does like the comforts of home (on the football pitch anyway!) and is clearly our best player in that position at the moment. If he does play, he’ll need those players in and around him making those runs for his little flicks and hold up play and with Poldi able to ‘shoot on site’ and The Ox with that bit of trickery to get beyond defenders, I think that quartet including Ozil would have the right balance to it to give us the best chance of progression.

Will Arsene do that however? That’s the $64,000 question I guess. I don’t know why he wouldn’t go for his strongest team, because shooting from the halfway line hoping for a glorious three-point finish for a win is always more risky than taking the slam-dunk for two points and a draw, so if I was the man at the helm I’d be looking at throwing everything at today’s game and seeing who’s feeling freshest during the week.

This to me represents our biggest chance of silverware this season and for that reason it simply must be approached in the best possible manner, with the best possible team, to try to get the job done first time. Everton could afford a replay and they would happily take their chances back at Goodison Park too, so I don’t want to see us start tentative, I want to see us quick off the block and getting the ball to the most form creative player at the moment: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Come on Arsenal, I want to get to Wembley. Twice. And win the FA Cup. Any chance of that?

How many superstars before harmony is disrupted?

Everyone’s going a bit mental at the moment over this wonder kid Draxler, aren’t they? I mean, he’s hit the back pages of this weeks Mirror, Twitter was going crazy at the prospect of a bid and everyone’s suddenly become a football scout and are extolling his virtues.

I’ll hold my hands up. Even I’ve been sucked in. But like some sort of vortex of transfer speculation, or killer whirlpool, the current was simply too strong for me to swim against. Hence the fact I’m even talking about his potential arrival. I hate the transfer window and the hyperbole, but at the same time I’m like some kind of Puritan with an eye for a bit of flesh, peaking from behind my hands at what earthly delights are available in front of me.

Arsene has said we’re looking for a striker and on this week’s SG pod the lads spoke about Draxler, but the general consensus was ‘not this month’. The worry asserted by the gents, however, is that by the summer everyone and his wife will be sniffing around the German. I know little of his exploits, I must confess, but that’s because I’m a blinkered Arsenal fan that only really ever wants to watch The Arsenal and rarely anything more, unless there’s not anything on TV. Some would say I’m probably not a real football fan. I probably am not. I’m an Arsenal fan and it’s my club that defines me.

But anyway, enough of my faux Shakespearian Henry V style attempt at a rousing monologue, back to Draxler. Much like a lot of people in this world, I’m very much of they ‘gimmie, gimmie, gimmie’ culture that has been bred today; I hear a name, hear multiple people say he’s an amazing player, then immediately want him to bolster the ranks. When that player signs for someone else? Sometimes I’m disappointed, but as every passing day, err, passes, I think I’m learning to realise not to get too hung up about stuff. After all, for every ‘we nearly signed Hazard/Mata/Ronaldo’, there’s always the dodged bullets of players like Niang (remember we were after him, but off he went to Milan and he hasn’t got near the first team) or Ricky Alvarez (the guy that was ‘pinched’ from under our noses by Inter Milan? Haven’t seen that much of him…although I don’t watch that much Italian football), so I’m not too worried at this stage.

Like I’ve said on previous blogs, I’m more concerned with our league form and making sure we put ourselves in a great position to kick on and win the league. Thankfully, it seems the players have that mentality as well. Arseblog highlighted a great example of the togetherness in his blog yesterday in the aftermath of the Villa game, in which Mertesacker was asked about his landmark 100 games and he shrugged it off as another performance, that the win was more important than personal achievement and that it is the way the team performs that should be applauded rather than the successes of the individual. Or he said something along those lines. But it stands to emphasise my point; the team ethos at the moment is one of victory through harmony and that is what is carrying us at the moment.

Here’s a thought: how many £35million+ superstars can you have in one team before there is the potential for that harmony I’ve just spoken of dwindling a bit? It’s a provocative question designed to stimulate debate, but I do wonder what impact it could have. We’ve signed Özil who thankfully doesn’t seem to have an ego, but the reason we’ve been so successful has been because all of the players at the moment are at similar levels of ‘superstardom’ in my opinion. We were all talking about the fact that there wasn’t any single player that the team relied on any more in the summer, which meant that we were finally not living in fear of the dreaded summer-long transfer sagas of pre-seasons past, but could the acquisition of two, three or four superstars result in that harmony eroding away? After all, a superstar often will come with his own ego that needs to be massaged, just look at masseurs Ronaldo, That Dutch Bloke, Rooney, Drogba, Suarez, Ibrahimovich, etc. They all need to feel like they are number one. So how can you stock a team full of those types of players?

I don’t really have the answer here. A counter argument to the ‘too many superstars’ debate is clearly demonstrated in the sky blue Mancunian exhibit A we’re seeing on our screens every week. But that is a formula that has cost £1billion and has delivered an FA Cup and a league in four years. The phrase of throwing enough of the proverbial at a wall to watch at least some of it stick has to run through when you’re talking about that many zeros. We have plenty of zeros, but we’re the equivalent of the son of a well known surgeon; we have plenty of toys, a nice lifestyle and a beautiful house in South Kensington. Manchester City is the equivalent of the son of the Sultan of Brunei; they give their servants the toys that we play with, then ask the servants to fight to the death using only the toys they have provided, for their own viewing pleasure.

I’ve gone off piece slightly here, but my question still stands that I’d love some thoughts on from you: how many superstars do you think this Arsenal team could have before the harmony starts to be disrupted?

Let me know.

How much rotation can we afford?

It’s a tough one today. I’m up North with The Management’s family for Christmas who are all based in the North East, so it’s been a perfectly timed away match in terms of my attendance, but in terms of the opposition it’s not really the perfect time to play Newcastle. Flying high with seven wins out of nine, plus a comprehensive victory against Mark Hughes’ Stoke on Boxing Day, it makes for quite a challenge for The Arsenal to come away with three points come 4pm this afternoon.

What also doesn’t help is that Newcastle could afford to play in third gear after they dispatched their third goal of the game on Thursday. I watched the whole game on Boxing Day and the two sendings off allowed the Magpies to pop the ball around knowing they could wear down their opponents without much worry of running out of steam themselves.

Where there is hope, however, is the way that Stoke broke in amongst the defensive ranks of Newcastle before they lost their first man. Stoke were very bright and Newcastle looked leggy. There was also space for Charlie Adam to dictate the play in that midfield, so my hope is that Mesut and Santi – should they both play – get the same space with which to orchestrate proceedings. If that does happen, then we will create chances, hopefully we’ll also score enough goals to secure the three points.

I don’t know if Newcastle missed the defensive nature of Tiote, but they won’t have to worry about that today, as he returns from suspension to probably have another match of his life no doubt. He loves a game against Arsenal so I suspect he’ll be fired up and running his arse off for the whole game, probably steaming in to tackles, which we will need to be mindful of. Not least because of the last three times I’ve been up here to watch Newcastle, we’ve had players needlessly sent off for silly offences, so the hope is that we can avoid giving a man advantage today and make sure we punish those Geordies. Although after the referees we’ve been given in the last few weeks, I’m having expecting Mertesacker to be sent off for being drop-kicked in the head.

Rotation is the name of the game at this time of year, so I am left pondering what team Arsene will pick for his starting eleven this afternoon. Does Monreal deserve a recall into the side? Should the effervescent nature of Rosicky be called into action? Does Poldi’s impact surely mean that he makes it from the subs bench to the starting line up? As usual this season, there are lots of questions about who should start, but I do think we’ll see a bit of shuffling, but not much. Giroud looked a little off the pace against West Ham, but his inclusion in the team is a no brainer; if he’s going to be rested, it must surely be at home, so Cardiff on New Year’s Day would be a better option for the Frenchman to sit one out.

Either side of Olivier there must surely be a start for Theo and, with the display of Podolski a couple of days ago, I hope Arsene gives him the nod. In the middle of the park I wonder if Mesut should be given a rest, with Santi being given the option of playing in a more natural free role, like he was able to do last season. Sitting behind them I would opt for the defensive screen of Flamini and Arteta to protect the back four, as I think Arsene will be wary of the threat of Ben Arfa, Gouffran, Sissoko and Cabaye. Those four like to operate just behind a main striker like Cisse, so we’ll need players that can sit and control possession in midfield.

I think Kos will return today – we need our best central defensive pairing and that means Big Per and Laurent.

There’s no doubt we have the players and ability to beat Newcastle, but as with all games like this one today, I think the first 15 minutes will set the tone of the day. If we get at Newcastle and were even to score in that time, it quietens the crowd and allows us to take hold of the game, but if we allow them to dictate play initially then we could be in for a long day.

Come on you reds!

Merry Christmas: what presents might Arsenal get for January?

Merry Christmas to all and as tiny Tim would say ‘gawd bless us, everyone’. As it’s the season to be jolly, exchanging gifts and all that jazz, I thought I’d take a look at some of the possible transfers dealings that we might see in the weeks to come. I know I usually don’t go for the transfer bumf at this time of the year but I thought ‘what the heck, it’s Christmas’, so where will Arsenal look in the January 2014 window for inspiration? I think there are four names considered to be gunning for Arsenal. We’re once again back on track to win the Premier League title after 10 years. And as Arsene Wenger gazes at the January 2014 transfer window, numerous names have sprung up as to who will become the newest Gunner after Mesut Ozil joined the club last September.

Gossip mills and betting houses are abuzz as to who Wenger should recruit come the January transfer window. One can find Premier League tips from Betfair suggesting that either a striker or a goalkeeper is a plausible choice who would compete with Olivier Giroud or Wojciech Szczesny, or the commentary of The Star’s football writer Ralph Ellis recommending that Wenger should make another high-rolling recruitment similar to Ozil’s record £42.5 million purchase. The following stars are considered to be top contenders to the The Emirates-based side in January.

Javier Hernandez
With strikers Wayne Rooney and “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” given priority on the Old Trafford field, 25 year-old Javier Hernandez should be seriously thinking about making a transfer to rejuvenate his otherwise promising football career. Arsenal is one team where “Chicharito” would fit best, and fans should expect Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere constantly feeding him with crosses.

Michy Batshuayi
The Gunners could boost its attacking line-up by recruiting Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi. Wenger is reportedly setting his sights on the 20 year-old Standard Ligue player, who may prove valuable to Arsenal’s Premier League campaign by taking the pressure from Giroud whose impressive performance on the field contributed 7 goals in the first 4 months of the season. Batshuayi, on the other hand, isn’t shying away from the prospect, saying that he wants to join Arsenal because “they give opportunities to young and talented players.”

Iker Casillas
Rumours have been going around about Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas possibly transferring to Arsenal or Manchester City in January. Worried about his No. 1 position both at Real Madrid and in the Spanish National Team for next summer’s FIFA World Cup, making a move to the Premier League proves to be logical for the 32 year-old goalkeeper. While his value to the team can be contested, there is no doubt that his experience as a Euro and World Cup champion would add prestige to Arsenal’s Premier League title campaign.

Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski’s transfer to Arsenal may be a long shot, but the impending expiration of his contract with Borussia Dortmund and his reported desire to play in the Premier League have opened the possibility of Arsenal enlisting Lewandowski to the squad. As one of Bundesliga’s top goal scorers, he would certainly be a great complement to Giroud and a huge asset to Arsenal if he decides to join the club this January.

So, just four names, but there’s little doubt that any of the above would improve our team. But what say you to some of these options? How many would you take? Who would be your preference, and do you think there would even be a signing in the offing in January? Let me know in the comments.

Catch y’all tomorrow, when I’ve consumed my own body weight in turkey and beer.

Merry Christmas.