Thoughts on City from Benjy

Every time Thierry Henry pauses for dramatic effect. An angels heart skips a beat and one of those Lad accounts on twitter dies. I spent the early part of Sunday afternoon hanging off every word of what the delicious Frenchman had to say. It reminded me of having an new colleague at work. They have a fresh mind; they see things in a different light. Simple things that get over-looked get pointed out. Generally because you haven’t been tainted by the fog of expectation. Or Neil, who fucking continually does stupid things. Do one Neil.

The discussion pre-game was the typical narrative. Arsenal don’t defend, Arsène is tactically naive etc, etc. Insert your preference of choice reader. It does feel like media outlets prepare flash cards that they can quickly whip out depending on the outcome of the game. Opinions and perceptions in football are so instant and definitive. Which generally leads to misinterpretation of the situation or said individual. On several occasions on Sunday we heard the commentary team slip into that -“Vincent Kompany with a rare mistake”. “Arsène Wenger doesn’t usually set his team up like this” They are culprits of going along with the general consensus of football interpretation.

Even our gorgeous hero dropped a clanger before kickoff, or did he? Saying Alex Song is the sort of midfielder Arsenal need.

Disclaimer – Alex Song was ok at kicking a football. We can argue till the cows come home about having him in the current squad. But we were no better defensively with him in the side.

Back to Henry. He’s hedging his bets, he’s playing the game of life. We lose, and he can say *dramatic pause* “see” or “I’m pleased they’ve finally done what we’ve all been clamouring for”. It’s like betting against your team, they lose you win some cash, if they win, you can do a victory dance to Taylor Swift, shake it off. And we all know who the real winner is.

That said, I wonder if Thierry enjoyed his TV debut. I did. I wonder if he thinks he’s made the best choice for his career and brand Thierry. It can be easy, punditry, you don’t have to make any big calls, you can just end up looking very intelligent. Spouting some guff. Anyway, Good Luck, Thierry x

I have to say I’m not entirely convinced the way we set-up to play City was entirely new to Arsène. It was all about the execution. We tried to play the same way against Chelsea earlier on in the season. Unfortunately for us Chelsea have this marvellous player, Eden Hazard. You may of heard of him. The ball-boy kicking magician has attempted and completed the most dribbles this season. Key to breaking down a low block. Aguero has just come back from injury and not fully firing didn’t help their cause. I imagine they will try and fill that void in the summer.

I’m really tempted to write we were lucky with the result, but we weren’t. We deserved the victory. To put It in a very simplistic way – I thought we were able to take our chances. If you decide to play the way we did and concede first (i.e. Chelsea) you need to quickly change how you are going to go about things and for many reasons, that isn’t easy.

I’ve always felt Arsène (Emirates years) has been very good at containing issues rather than conquering them. That isn’t a dig at the big man, just the way he goes about things, hence the usual up and down nature to our seasons. Which kind makes this victory even more sweeter. To play a ‘perfect game’ is one thing, but the players have to execute the plan in order to get a result, which is another thing. It was incredible how cohesive we looked. It was exactly how it should be, a strong collective unit with fearsome counter-attacks. Maybe, fearsome isn’t the right word, but we’ll definitely get there.

The most pleasing thing was the framework we gave the entire team to work in. We made it easier for Coquelin to squeeze space between the lines. Coquelin had time, which allows him to anticipate interceptions and give him a perfect view of the whole pitch. Bellerin had enough protection from the resurgent Chamberlain. The young Englishman ploughed up and down the flank allowing the midfield three time to control the midfield areas. Monreal’s stint at centre-half has really appeared to change his outlook. Mertesacker and Koscienly combined perfectly, a pleasant reminder of how good they are together.

Alexis Sanchez was just as good as he usually is. Just traded his spectacular flair for industry but with the equally dazzling effect. He was like a Jack Russell, chased every ball. Perhaps he didn’t create as much as he’d like, but what did he offer was priceless. His and Chamberlain’s hard work allowed Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin complete control over the centre of the park, stifling Man City’s creative spark – David Silva. Whilst the trio we had maintained our attacking threat. The big advantage of playing a deeper 4-3-3 is that Santi becomes a viable out-ball from defence. He has ability to hold, turn and begin the transition. This will probably go down as his greatest performance in his Arsenal career.

The natter before the game was who is the better player, Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero. The funny thing is, it’s Santiago Cazorla.

If you believe it was a tactical masterclass, or a perfect execution of tactics we’ve attempted previously, I don’t think it entirely matters. The performance was a massive achievement. Bask in it, and the potential of this squad.

Ben

Old cliches, new blueprint?

Well that wasn’t quite what we expected yesterday, was it? I mean, victory against the Champions, on their own turf? Ok, who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

I’m still actually quite stunned to be honest with you. Somebody obviously decided that the ‘Big book of footballing certainties’ was torched, because Arsenal away from home to one of the best sides in the country, do not tend to get a result. Like, ever.

But here we are, waking up this morning to the realisation that after years of performances that leave us fans coiling and wincing in pain, we have finally broken the farcical record we have against the Manchester clubs which saw us last winning in Manchester in something like 2007.

Well, I know we beat City about four years ago at the Etihad, but that victory always felt a little flawed because of the very early sending off of Boyata. But not yesterday’s. Yesterday’s win was fully deserved, meticulously planned and superbly executed by and Arsenal team that was pretty unrecognisable from the fragile team that we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season.

Arsène Wenger set up a team to not get beat. I repeat: Arsène Aenger set up a team to not get beat. Here is the man who we all know prefers to take the line that if we play our way, we’ll win regardless of what the opposition do, who yesterday looked at the opposition and said “nope, we’re going to have to play differently today”, which is exactly what his team did. It paid off. Compact in defence and resolute in keeping our shape, aside from a small spell after halftime which had me reaching for the booze, we controlled the game in a ‘rope-a-dope’ style that is more akin to seeing a Mourinho Chelski perform than Arsène and his charges.

Gary Neville was positively purring all yesterday, which was great to hear instead of the usual embarrassing list of issues that usually gets (correctly) labelled at the team. The defence will get the plaudits today I’m sure, but as Souness pointed out after the game, it was the responsible actions of a disciplined midfield that ensured that Koscienly and Mertesacker were not massively stretched throughout the 94 minutes. Aaron Ramsey went ‘back to basics’ as Arsène has suggested previously. Francis Coquelin was imperious in midfield and snapping into tackles left, right and centre. He won a number of aerial duels yesterday when the ball was pumped long by Joe Hart and it had me wondering when was the last time we had a player who won the first ball like that in a big game?

But Santi deserves his own paragraph. What a performance. Playing centrally is definitely something that is working for him right now. He won tackles, he distributed the ball well, he scored a good penalty, he set up Giroud’s goal and he had a few very fancy dribbles that were mesmerising. He even had time to throw in a little jig when Giroud headed in his free kick. Mesut Özil is a fine player, but he will have to wait some time to get back into the team with the way that Santi is playing right now. Both him and Coquelin have been essential over the last few weeks and whilst the clamour to solve problems is often seen as being something to sort out in the transfer window, the midfield isn’t something that looks like it needs tinkering with at all. I only hope that Coquelin doesn’t just ‘do a Flamini’ with his contract running down at the end of the season. He’s now strung together about five games in which he’s been excellent and he only needs to put together another three or four of those and there won’t be many suggesting he can’t be the answer to our defensive midfield problems.

As for the way we set up yesterday. Doesn’t it feel like the penny has finally dropped for this Arsenal team? I know it’s just one game and we could easily pick the penny back up again knowing this Arsenal side, but it feels like they actually ‘get it’. The best teams adapt their styles to nullify the opposition, whilst trying to assert their own style on the game where possible, thereby achieving the required result. Moneychester City wanted an Arsenal team that would try to go all ‘Rocky’ on them and turn a football match into a slug fest of ‘you have a go, we’ll have a go’. They wanted us to come at them so we could be picked off. It didn’t happen. Arsène was right post-match when he talked about the importance of getting the first goal. With the way in which we set up, the first goal allowed us to protect what we had, whilst probing for a second in a conservative nature. Had we conceded early, it’s unlikely that we’d have stuck to such a stringent, self-imposed defensive shape. But by striking first we were able to set our stall out for the game and beat the champions on their own home soil.

Is this the blueprint for future games against the best teams? That’s a difficult question to answer. Football is a game of variables and it would be folly to suggest that we can play like that every time we play a big team, home or away. For example, when we play Chelski at home in a few months time, do you think Mourinho will play a more expansive game? Or will he play just like we did yesterday? The answer is obvious, but if we set up exactly the same when we play the Chavs at home, it would probably have ‘bore draw’ written all over it, which would not be what the home support would be wanting to see. So whilst I don’t think we’ll be going back to ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ any time soon, it is pleasing to know that the manager is prepared to be flexible to get the result he wants, by understanding and adapting to the opposition.

There wasn’t a poor performance from an Arsenal player yesterday. I haven’t even mentioned Alexis, who was his usual tireless self, or the two full backs Monreal and Bellerin, who were excellent. Nor have I waxed lyrical over The Ox’s good display. I could probably fill another 1,000 words talking about each individual player, but I’ve only got about five minutes before I lose phone signal, so I’ll wrap it up for today.

It was only three points yesterday and we have to recognise that, but the psychological boost this will give the team will hopefully be massive, so let’s see whether the team can go on a run now.

See you tomorrow.

Anything’s a bonus today

It’s Sunday, the time of prayer in the Christian world, to which I too am offering up some prayers to the football gods for this afternoons game. I am praying for a win or even a draw, because let’s face it, our chances seem slim giving our history, the form of the champions, our patchy form, plus more news that we’ve lost more players to injury this week. Yet more blows to the team.

Yet despite the injury problems, despite the opportunity to address that by signing somebody in January and despite the bookies and most pundits expecting this to be a routine home win today, the good thing about pre-match run ups to the game are that there is still hope.

I still hope that we will turn up and surprise City. I still hope that we can put in a performance more like the one at home to Stoke rather than the one away to Stoke. And I still have hope that Alexis Sanchez will win the battle of the big stars against Sergio Aguero.

In the reversal of this fixture it was Alexis who put us ahead with a stunning volley that was worthy of winning any match, but as usual our defensive fragility came back to haunt us, conceding from a corner allowing an unmarked Demichelis to nod home. City could have had other goals that day and we rode our luck, but a draw was probably a fair result, so given that the oil whores are on home soil today, I would expect to be punished more than we were at home if we defend like we have done at times this season.

The manager has a decision to make on who plays in goal and, whilst Ospina has done nothing wrong, I just wonder if Arsène will bring Szczesny back into the team today. Wojciech has gone on record before to say that sometimes he needs that bit of competition to push him and improve him. Well Woj, now you’ve had it because you’ve lost your place, so what are you going to do? Arsène might just have that in his mind and he might have used a relatively safe game like Stoke at home to scare Wojciech into thinking he could lose his place into the side. So if he starts today, I fancy him to be quite motivated indeed, so I do.

Defence picks itself I think. Back two because we don’t really have any options, with Monreal still playing instead of the returning Gibbs, plus Chambers on the right hand side rather than Bellerin. Hector has done nothing wrong, but he’s a young and inexperienced player who has struggled at times away from home, so I’d be surprised if he was in the team from the start against City.

Midfield and attack is where it gets interesting, because Arsène does have a choice, so I think he’ll find it tough deciding who starts today. I think Coquelin has done enough to retain his place, but the role of the other two midfielders is a tough one. I suspect he’ll start Cazorla from the beginning in the middle, because he’s been so effective of late, but does he go with Ramsey or Rosicky as his box-to-boxer? Or does The Ox get the nod, with Theo wide right and Alexis wide left? That pace would certainly give City something to think about and if they play a high line against us then you have to hope that we can capitalise if both those two are flanking Giroud up top.

One things for sure, if those two do play, we need to get Santi or Özil on the ball as often as possible. They are the two best passers at the club and if we’re going to go direct with pace, then those two need to be given the ball any time we break down a City attack. Ramsey and The Ox’s passing range is not great at all, but Santi and Mesut could drop the ball on a pin head, so you want to see them giving Alexis or Theo the ball from deep.

We also have the option of hitting Giroud with the ball and, with his ability to be such an effective link up man up top, one suspects that the two wide men need to be as close to him as possible for the big Frenchman to have an effective afternoon.

Whatever side we put out, the odds are stacked against us and with all of the teams around us winning yesterday, I don’t hold out much hope. Defeat today isn’t the end of the world, because all of the other teams that visit the Etihad around us will drop points there, if they haven’t done so already, so it’s a strange situation where I’m looking at this game and thinking a single point would be a bonus.

Keep those fingers crossed and let’s hope for some positive news come 6pm.

Stoke preview: time to get back to being flat-track bullies

Blimey am I not a fan of these Sunday 1.30pm kick offs. It’s a ruddy pain in the derrière if I’m completely honest. After all, Sunday’s should be solely for sleeping in and recovering from any said hangover that one might have. Particularly if Arsenal have won from a 3pm kick off on a Saturday. Sleeping and terrible TV. That’s what Sunday’s should be about.

Still, rather than be accused of being ungrateful for what I’ve got, I should be thankful that I get to go in the first place. Which I am. Many cannot, I am privileged to be able to, even though I certainly pay my pretty pennies for it.

Listen to me, moaning away like some sort of grizzled old prospector who hasn’t found a single ounce of the yellow stuff in months. Today is a happy day! Or at least, it is for now as we all prepare for the game this afternoon against the Orcs of Stoke. Should we be victorious in battle (and I’m sure it will be a battle), we will leapfrog the Spuds and be right on the coat tails of Southampton, so perhaps there is cause for optimism rather than grumbliness.

There’s optimism too on the injury front. We’ve got a trio of midfielders returning in the shape of Ramsey, Özil and Flamini and I suspect we’ll see at least one of those players start. I couldn’t be 100% sure who that would be, but if I was forced under duress to pick one, I’d go with Ramsey. He’s the only player who’s position hasn’t seen a colleague step up and perform well in, so with Santi’s and Le Coq’s form being as it is, I expect those two to accompany Rambo in the heart of our team.

The defence should pick itself and, you’d have to think that Szczesny will start. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Ospina, as well as Wojciech’s attitude, but his attitude hasn’t suddenly changed overnight from the Southampton game. He’s always been viewed as a little bit arrogant and so I’d be surprised if Arsene bought Ospina in for today’s match up. If he does play, as The Arseblogger said on his Friday Arsecast, I think there’s more to this smoking story than meets the eye. Players had smoked before, but to be booted out of the team like that would point to something else in my opinion. There will be those of you probably saying now “yes, but he was terrible against Southampton so that might be why he could be dropped” and I understand that line of thinking, but the game before against West Ham he was excellent, so I don’t think Arsène would drop players on the basis of one game. He’ll look at it over a series of games and so far you can hardly say Szczesny has gone all ‘Almunia’ on us, can you?

The front three will be an interesting one to pick. Alexis and Giroud come straight in I think, but who occupies that third space? For me, as much as I’m loving the longer term prospect of Walcott and Alexis’ pace in our front three, I would give The Ox the nod this lunchtime. My thinking here is that the Ox is better with the ball at his feet. He’s a better dribbler and will be able to beat a man. Let’s not pretend that Stoke will come here today and be anything other than very compact and sit deep. They will hope to give us possession in front of them and not allow any space in behind their defence by sitting deep. Theo is a player that is unplayable when there is plenty of grass to run in to, but if teams sit deep, I’ve seen him struggle at times.

Last week against Hull was the perfect game for him because it was a knockout competition. Hull got nothing from sitting back and keeping it to 1-0 and so there was naturally more space for Theo. He got more chances as a result and if he had been back a few weeks earlier and already had a few games under his belt, I think he would have cleaned up. But I can’t see him getting that much joy today.

The Ox can be a little bit wasteful at times, but he is better operating in smaller amounts of space and so that’s who I would pick. The good news is that with so many players returning, we have plenty of options from the bench should the afternoon not go the way we are hoping it will.

This will be a tough game. It always is against that lot. They will rely on Arnautovic and Bojan to hit us on the counter and Mark Hughes will want to see Crouch holding the ball up as much as possible to bring those runners in to play.

If you look at both teams you say this is a home banker. But we are the patchiest form team in the league. Every game this season that I’ve rocked up at home has been a case of shrugged shoulders when somebody asks me over a pre-match pint ‘what’s the score going to be?’. I have no idea. We could win this by three goals (unlikely), or we could labour to a draw, or just as easily get done over by the one shot Stoke have in the entire game. Your guess is as good as mine.

What we do need to start seeing though – like, now – is a string of victories being put together. It’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future, as we have an away trip to Momeychester City next weekend, but that makes the importance of three points, all the more obvious today. Last season we were flat track bullies with every team below see the or eighth in the league. I’ve accepted that we’re never going to win away games against the bigger teams, but if we can get back to home and away wins against the mid and lower league teams like Stoke today, then we should have enough for fourth. But we haven’t done that all season, so our form needs to change, and change soon, if that standard season trophy is achieved once again for the bagillionth time under Arsène Wenger.

That’s yer lot from me today. Come on you reds!

The horizon of hope (and less injuries)

Well what have we hear? Good news and returning players from injury? Is that cause for optimism I see galloping over the horizon, heading towards us at a rate of miles per hour? Sort of, I guess, because until we win some back-to-back games, which seems as likely as a Ched Evans apology right now, I don’t think that Black Beauty will neigh its way past us for a few weeks. We have a game against Stoke tomorrow with which you’d hope we can pick up a victory, but the following week see’s us go to the Etihad to pick up yet another loss to continue our dreadful away form against the big teams.

But stop this, Chris, because you’re being positive today so get back on track for today’s blog. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts…..3-2-1 you’re back in the room…

So we have the return of Mesut Ozil to all get excited about. Missing since October, his patchy form of the beginning of the season belied his natural ability and I think – as does Arsene if you believe his presser yesterday – that we’re going to see the best of our German for the second half of this season. Arsene spoke about the ‘hunger’ that he has back in his belly and that’s a-ok for me. He’s a man who see’s things that nobody else in our team can do. We may have bemoaned the lack of Cescyness in our team this season, but you only have to look at the sheer volume of assists he made for us last season, as well as for a number of year’s with Ronaldo, to know what we’ll get in our team.

This is the thing you see. Ozil has never had someone at Arsenal with the pace and the ability to get in behind defenders. Ronaldo may be one of the most skilful players on the planet, but he is also a pacey one, getting in behind defenders and relying on his teammates as much as he relies on his own ability. Mesut spent the first half of this season either injured or shunted out wide, with only a handful of games in the middle. Arsene has already admitted that he saw his World Cup players look like they had a bit of what he called ‘artificial hunger’, but with Alexis out wide on the left, Giroud through the middle and one of Welbeck/Ox/Walcott occupying the other position, if Arsene is going to get Ozil in this team it will be in that number 10 role that we’re all craving him to play in.

It will however, mean the end of Santi’s spell in that position and as a result you have to feel for the Spaniard. There are plenty that will – rightly – call for Ozil not to come in until he has earned his place or until Santi’s form has dipped, but I reckon we’ll see Ozil slowly drafted in to the team regardless of how well Cazorla played. That’s just the way he is. He has his favourites. Always has, always will. But hey, at least we now have enough options to be genuinely having a discussion about who has earned the right to play, eh? Much better than looking at a squad and repeatedly reciting the word ‘deadwood’, right?

With Ozil’s arrival we also find more positive news on the injury front, as both Ramsey and Flamini have been declared fit, so it means we finally have more options for the manager to choose from. Competition is important to at the top of professional football, as we’ve seen with Szczesny, so to have Flamini and Le Coq now fighting it out, as well as Ramsey, Ox, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky all vying for a starting slot, it augurs well for the players’ desire in the latter part of this season.

That’s why I don’t think Szczesny should be dropped right now, actually, because I think the knowledge that his position is under threat might just spark the kind of hunger we want to see from him. I have always been a fan of his, but with Ospina now fit and the press even questioning whether or not he should start along with some Arsenal fans, you do wonder if that is exactly what the Pole needs to recapture his form on amore consistent basis. Just think about what happened to him when the very real threat of Fabianski suddenly materialised after a few years of him clearly not challenging Wojciech for the gloves? It made him a better player and he even admitted it.

So I’d be inclined to make a public statement if I was the manager and start him tomorrow, but with a private sentiment that he’s a game or two away from losing his place on a longer term basis.

By the sounds of it Arsene was in fine form yesterday, making the odd joke and even being slightly coy with his response about the whole smoking thing and there being someone who leaked information into the dressing room. I bet Stevie Bould is shifting a bit awkwardly in his seat today, because John Jensen did him up like a kipper by leaking the info about the smoking a few weeks back. Anyway, water under the bridge, or water out of the showers and onto a Benson & Hedges, I guess you could say. Everyone will move on and hopefully we’ll do the business tomorrow.

I could talk a little bit about the transfer stuff, but I really can’t be bothered if I’m honest with you. There will be plenty of time to be looking at that sort of stuff when the football isn’t on, so let’s just be happy in our Saturday activities, safe in the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a squad that is looking more impressive week-by-week.

So long, you wonderful lemon flavoured popsicle sticks.

Heartless display that the manager must take responsibility for

Where do you even start with a performance like yesterday? How do you dissect something that was so turgid, it doesn’t matter which way you look at it, you’re not going to like what you see?

What I saw yesterday, the first day of 2015, was an old familiar sight that I’d hoped could be banished with the heralding of the new year. In my pre-match thoughts before the game is spoken about how good 2013 was from a league perspective, but how horrible it 2014 was in consequence. I had hoped that we’d start 2015 as we mean to go on by beating a Southampton team that haven’t yet tasted defeat to us at St Mary’s.

Blimey, got that one wrong, didn’t I?

I got it very wrong indeed, because what we were subjected to yesterday was one of the most gutless performances of the season, and I’m not just basing this on the result I hasten to add. It was gutless because the whole game was played at a walking pace and we showed absolutely no conviction to try and outdo a pretty average Southampton side. From the first few minutes we had a warning as Pelle headed just wide, but we never really looked like that bothered us. Far be it for us to take heed to warning signals, because teams never ever punish us when we give them even the slightest sniff of a chance, do they?

But we’re Arsenal, so we can’t be content to let teams think they have a chance, oh no, we have to wrap it up, tie a bow on it and wait patiently for them to open their presents, don’t we?

Step forward Wojciech Szczesny, who decided that he would be in a generous mood by having a hand in both Southampton goals. The first was a standard crazy venture to the edge of his box on the left, whilst the second was a bit of hesitation and misunderstanding and a beauty that Tadic probably couldn’t believe had fallen at his feet. We make dreams come true at Arsenal. For opponents.

There was still half an hour to mount a comeback though, even after two atrocious bits of defending, but do you think we could muster any kind of spirited resolve? Could we heck. Lots of possession, very little penetration, a team that looked like it couldn’t really be arsed. Maybe they all had late nights. I know I did. I played ‘Million Pound Drop: The Board game’ until 4am. But then again, I didn’t have to work the next day and my work certainly don’t pay me the types of cash that these players get paid.

I can handle a bad day at the office you see. It happens. I can understand if things don’t click and we lose. I’ve seen it plenty of times. But what I can’t stomach, what really yanks my chain, is when I see some players not really looking like they are trying. Because I felt like I saw plenty of that yesterday. Players just not wanting to win the ball as much as Southampton players. Players bottling challenges, or not chasing back misplaced passes. That has nothing to do with technical ability, but everything to do with effort and application.

And I’m afraid, that is where all attention needs to be pointed towards Arsène Wenger, because he is the man charged with ensuring his players are up for a fight. Yesterday it didn’t look like it. In the good old days of Wenger’s reign, even after the first couple of years of trophies drying up, Arsène’s teams would come out fighting in the second half if we were behind. We were behind and terrible in the first half, so the last thing you’d expect to see is a mirror image in the second half yesterday. Yet that is exactly what we got.

We are unfortunate with injuries, we all know that, to which you cannot really blame the manager with at the moment, certainly not some of them. But when the team is not mentally prepared, or doesn’t look like it really wants to fight for the points, you have to look at the manager and question his ability to motivate the team. Yes, you can look at fatigue as an excuse if you want, but every team is fatigued at this point in the year. You can also look at the fact that Koscienly and Debuchy have not played that much football recently, nor Coquelin, so that argument is negated for those players. Players with a legitimate excuse to be tired, like Alexis, are still running their guts out. So what’s the excuse for the rest of the team?

I don’t know. I do know that it feels like we are the very definition of the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” and it feels like we’re as likely to string three league wins together as I am of starring in a Broadway Musical right now.

I spoke to my brother yesterday about top four chances. He’s a West Ham fan and doesn’t think they are anywhere near, but did agree with me that the only way we are getting into those hallowed positions that Wenger loves, is by having other teams around us implode. Notice how I use the term ‘Wenger loves’, because do you and I really care about it much any more? Aside from the fact that not being in the Champions League will potentially harm our chances of attracting big players (ha!), I find an increasing amount of apathy when it comes to playing out this particular dance. It’s the same song and the same moves, so what difference would sitting one out be? I don’t know.

What a cheery way to start the year, eh?

Won’t be pretty, but points are everything now

Happy New Year to you and welcome to 2015.

It’s a tough one to call today. Southampton away has seen us draw twice in the Premier League since they were reintroduced and one suspects that this season will probably have never been harder to beat the Saints on their own turf. Currently sitting fourth in the league and level on points with us, they’ve already managed to pick up a draw to Chelski and smash Everton by three goals to nil, so anybody not thinking we’re in for a tough ride should probably think again.

They may have seen a stint of games in which they dropped points, but they appear to have steadied their ship and will fancy their chances against an Arsenal team who have given opponents plenty of hope on the road this season.

Having already picked up two wins over Christmas though, plus seven wins out of the last nine, we seem to have suddenly stumbled upon some sort of form, so I’m hoping for another victory today to put us in the driving seat for that top four spot. Perhaps surprisingly though, I find myself thinking ‘just don’t lose, a point away will be ok’. Perhaps that’s indicative of how spluttery our season has been, but with our confidence seemingly permanently standing on the edge of a precipice, avoiding defeat seems more important than anything else right now.

Southampton will be missing Schneiderlin after he was sent off against Chelski and he has been a chief catalyst for everything that has been positive about Southampton this season. Hopefully his absence is felt keenly enough from the home side and we can take advantage, but their success this season has been built on multiple players hitting form like Pelle, Ward-Prowse, Clyne et al, so I think we’ll need to stifle a few players to be successful today. Avoiding being overrun in the wide positions will be important, as Southampton like to use the pace of the full backs to quickly support the wide players. Southampton play good football and have enough about them to give us an actual game and not a clobberfest, but I think it’s good that we’ve got our first choice back four fit and ready for today.

In the middle of the park the manager might be tempted to give Coquelin a run out alongside Flamini, but with a team less likely to lump balls up to the target man, I wonder if someone like Rosicky would be more appropriate. He moves the ball quickly from front to back and was excellent against QPR and I suspect he might play today.

Our attacking three will probably be the same as at West Ham, but if Welbeck hasn’t made it fitness wise, then I think Walcott will be thrown in from the start, with Alexis up top and the Ox making up the third man.

This is a time of the year when grinding out results is everything, so I’m not expecting to see anything pretty, probably a bit scary at times, but if we pick up some points, nine of us will care come 5pm.

Come on Arsenal, let’s start 2015 off on the right foot with a win.