Ox in the box and Jack the quarterback

If you go down to the Ems today,
You’re sure for a big surprise,
‘Cos Arsène’s worried and running out of his footballer guys,
They’re injured, battered, bruised and sick,
They can’t play very much so this is it,
If you go down to the Ems you’ll be an Arsenal player!

Little ditty there I thought up about ten minutes after I saw Welbeck hobbling off against Scotland last night, having spent the entire game steaming into challenges and scaring the bejeebus out of this here gooner. Honestly, I thought Jack would be the one that we’d have to close our eyes every time he went near a Scottish player, but it was our rampaging Manc-Gooner (‘Mancgoonian?’) up top that turned out to be the most worrisome for you and I, didn’t it?

Despite what Roy said afterwards about him being fine for the weekend, I think I’ll wait until Arsène has his day tomorrow with the ‘who’s fit?’ webpage on the official site. I fully expect Wenger to tell us all that Welbeck came back in a plastic bag and is currently trying to be reassembled by the Top Gear team using sellotape, string and ‘little bit elbow grease’.

With Giroud not fully fit, Walcott still not being afforded too much game time (we should probably be pleased with the sensible approach being adopted), Alexis only probably touching down from his trip to Mars to play a select Martian XI against Chile, we find ourselves unsurprisingly reliant on young mister Welbeck. So it would be good if Roy is right, but how he can make an effective diagnosis about ten minutes after a game is a little beyond me. If he’s going on what Welbeck has told him…well, we all know where that has got us with players like Jack in the past. Young guys just want to play football. They think about the here and now and not the potential to knock a year or two off the tail end of their career by playing through the pain.

Cross everything, will you? I certainly am.

The plus points of the evening have to be the performance of The Ox, who with more displays like that and a few more goals to his game, will probably run Theo very close when it comes to retaining his place in the side. He was one of the stand out performers yesterday and I’m sure it wouldn’t have escaped your attention that the first England goal was born straight out of London Colney. A wee knock from Welbeck to Wilshere, then a sumptuous diagonal pass from Wilshere to the ‘Ox in the box’, resulting in first blood to The Arsenal. Ahem, I mean, England.

When you watch it again you see just how good that goal is from the pass, to the run, to the flicked header in. Replicate that in the Premier League lads, and you’ll have us all purring, because that’s the sort of movement and vision that we’ve been painfully lacking at times this season.

It does make you think about Jack’s future role at The Arsenal though, doesn’t it? I mean, in the last four England games that I’ve seen, he’s been deployed in this sort of quarterback role for England, and he’s flourished. We all know he can travel with the ball and is good over five to 10 metres – Arsène has said so himself – but what I’ve seen whilst he’s been on international duty is a player who also has a fantastic ability to spot a pass. I don’t want to draw comparisons with a guy who now plays for the oil whores, but it was Fabregas who was the last player in an Arsenal shirt that I saw with the ability to spot a run like Jack did yesterday. The thing is, it wasn’t an isolated incident either, as he has found Rooney time and time again over the last four games. In Estonia he put the ball on a plate for the England captain more times than I can count. It’s just a shame Rooney couldn’t finish his dinner on that night.

I said it on Twitter last night and I’m more than happy to reiterate; surely Arsène now has to look at him as a deep lying midfielder? Surely we should be playing Wilshere and Arteta at the base of our midfield, with an all-action number 10 running the length of the pitch to get forward and back? How about we have Alexis as that guy, with Walcott and The Ox either side of Welbeck? Isn’t that just a little bit sexual as a prospect? I think so.

I will wait with eager anticipation on the starting line up on Saturday. We just need to find out who is actually available to play.

As for other factors in Saturday’s game, it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that Mike Dean will be refereeing our weekend game against the red Mancs. Nothing, and I mean literally nothing, is good about having that guy referee. He is a blister on the game as far as I’m concerned. As much as I’d love the idea of him being the pantomime villain in that ‘celebration’ that he made when the Spuds scored against us at The Emirates a couple of seasons ago, in my heart of hearts I know that it’s probably unlikely he was actually celebrating. That doesn’t stop him giving United absolutely everything on Saturday, to which I’ll probably cry foul come the end of the game, but for now I just have to contend with a disliking for a guy who probably isn’t a complete hater of Arsenal. Hopefully he can prove us all wrong by giving us 55-60% of decisions as the home team. That’s what you normally accept as a fan, whether your team is at home, or away.

Anyway, enough conspiracy theories for one day, let’s just sit quietly and wait patiently for Arsène to give us the good news. He’s holding open trials for spots in the team on Friday and everyone’s welcome.

Arteta’s importance; attack more important than defence

I know there is a round of pointless friendlies today and tomorrow, but short of wanting our players just to come back in one piece, I’m back to caring little about what happens. Especially this evening. If there’s nothing else on I’ll more than likely flick the TV across to the home of the interminable Andy Townsend, but only for the Arsenal players on show, because he really is one of the worst commentators out there. When you add Adrian Chiles to the punditry team, you know times are hard and desperate.

So, with the lack of interest in international football thankfully returning to my mood, I’m already looking at Saturday’s game in which I think it has more significance than ever given our recent form. After five or six games in the season I looked at this match up as a bit of a ‘meh’ in comparison to other rival teams at the top of the division. But as our form has deteriorated and our injuries have exacerbated, I find myself becoming more and more concerned with the granular details of the match up.

For example: Mikel Arteta. Is he fit or isn’t he fit. I see to recall Arsène saying something about coming back after the international break. If he is available, we can only see his return as a welcome one. With him screening the back four we look a better outfit. I don’t want to put two and two together to make 968, but we cruised against Anderlecht until his withdrawal and, with Flamini venturing forward against Swansea, there was no Spanish Captain to top Barrow in his tracks further up the field.

As couple of years ago I wrote a blog about appreciating Arteta more, as after six months of him at the club, I begun to question his contribution. The blog was one in which I appreciated how he kept us ticking over. I’m not a very good stat man, but it feels like we have more control when in possession when he is in the team. That’s not to say we’re not prone to lapses with him in the side, but merely that I believe our probabilities greatly increase in favour of being more secure defensively when he plays.

So finding out that he is fit on Thursday when Arsène announces the squad situation will be a small win and confidence boost that I’m looking for on the eve of this big game.

The other thought that has been swirling around in my mind over the last 24 hours is the old ‘attack vs defence’ debate that will inevitably gather momentum as the week wears on. Namely, who’s is worse off defensively, or better off offensively. It’s a tough one, but with Arsenal tinted specs on your have to say we should be better in both departments, because our injury woes defensively don’t seem as bad (plenty of time for us to find out from Arsène that our players have burst into balls of flame whilst on international duty) as theirs and in attack, we have the in-form player of the moment in Alexis.

A question I posed on Twitter yesterday was whether it was more important for our attack to have a good game against United, or our defence. There’s no doubt that this makeshift defence is facing world class players for the first time since they came together, but I still can’t quite manoeuvre my thinking away from the attack, and how it is more important that our front line performs than our defence.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see a playground five-a-side score against Man United, but I think if our front line is firing on all cylinders, we should be able to cope defensively. Believe it or not, I don’t think Monreal has been that bad at the heart of the back four. Chambers has been exposed for pace, but he’s had a good season, and the other three are first team regulars for us anyway. So defensively – assuming United have to field Valencia, Carrick, Smalling and Shaw, we should be seen to have a better back four than theirs. Which means it’s down to our attack and their attack and who will perform better. We have the ace in our pack in Alexis, but is the rest of our hand stronger than United’s? That is something I’m really not sure about. Which is why I think this game on Saturday is won off the strength of the attack rather than defence.

One final thing before I depart for the day: Yaya Sanogo. When are we going to get the guy who seems to tear apart teams for his under-21 side? The guy has a phenomenal record (when fit) at that level, yet looks so out of his depth at Arsenal sometimes that it’s painful to see. Please Arsène, get him out on loan for the rest of the season and let’s see if he can bang in goals in the Premier League. It’s helping nobody having him coming on for five minutes and having the Arsenal fans frustrated at his lack of quality, which could be just due to a lack of experience, if I’m trying to be kind.

See thee tomorrow. When the countdown to United can really begin.

Closing space is essential against Swansea

Swansea away today will be a test, of that I’m sure, which is why I’m more than a little apprehensive of our back four.

It’s not just down to Nacho Monreal that our form and frequency of goals conceded has greatly increased from last season. Per Mertesacker has to step up too and, with Arteta injured today, he needs to demonstrate his leadership abilities by marshalling the defence and keeping the unit tighter together. Also, with Arteta out, it will be incumbent on Matthieu Flamini to drastically improve his form today if we want to stay resolute at the back. Defending is not the sole preserve of the back four; it has to be a team effort that starts from the forward players and works backwards. Thankfully in Welbeck and Alexis we have so players who will press higher up the pitch, but should Santi and Rambo start again in midfield, we need to see more from them from the defensive side as much as the offensive. On Tuesday night the warning signs were there in the first half. There were two or three breaks from Anderlecht players where massive areas of the middle of the park were left free for purple-shirted players to run in to. It simple wasn’t acceptable and I remember see Arteta have a bit of a shouty moment in that first half at his fellow midfielders for not closing the space.

Today we have to be able to be more compact as a team and use our fantastic pace to counter Swansea at lightning speed. We simply must ensure that the area of the park in front of our back four is looked after. In the absence of Arteta, that must mean Flamini, but I’m also looking in the direction of Rambo too. He has to get back to basics and do the simple things first. Win tackles, close down space, distribute the ball to a red shirt effectively. That’s what we need to see from our Welshman. Who knows, maybe the return to Wales and the inevitable booing of a Cardiff boy in Swansea, will give more motivation for Rambo to have a great game. I certainly hope so.

As for the other free spot in the team, I think Arsène will play The Ox again. He was decent enough against Anderlecht and his goal will give him plenty of confidence to take into this game. He’s also more of a willing runner when it comes to tracking back, so I think that will remain in his favour and Arsène will name an unchanged side from Tuesday. Personally, I’d be tempted to put Rosicky in, perhaps over Santi, but I don’t think Arsène is in that frame of mind, so expect to see a grumpy looking Tomas this afternoon on the subs bench.

As for Swansea, they’re two scary players are clearly Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson. I would say Shelvey as well, but that’s less to do with his play and more to do with his overall appearance. And anyway, he’s suspended today. Sigurdsson is the real gem though. The Swansea team looks to be at its best when he is pulling the strings and he looks like he has a telepathic understanding with Bony. That’s why I think it will be essential that we close down space in front of our back four, because that is where Sigurdsson will look to operate and find those balls for Bony in front of our back four.

Nacho is going to need to be strong too, because Bony will look to play off him as much as possible I’d expect.

I don’t want to come across as too much of a neg this morning, but I simply don’t see us not conceding today, which is why the front three will have to get us at least two goals I think to win the game. My hope is that Swansea are as low on confidence as we are – having not won in six games – but the trouble you have with a big team is that sides like Swansea really get themselves up for games against the top three or four, so you know that they’ll look to come out the blocks quickly and try and stun us into silence.

It’s never been easy playing Swansea and they have a good record against us, but if we think that there’s even the tiniest slither of hope of challenging for the league, this is a game that must be won. Heck, even to get our Champions League aspirations on track, we still need to get a win. We’ve had too many draws already this season so I’m hoping we’ll not be treated to another one today.

Come on Arsenal!

Per missing a friend, the team missing a ‘hunt in packs’ mentality?

Pre-match presser Friday is always useful for a humble blogger looking to make a half decent word limit. Unfortunately for me, my early morning blogs mean that I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning before pouring over every word that Arsène says.

But no matter, there is still plenty to talk about, starting with Per’s bold assertion on the official site that we will most certainly be bouncing back on Sunday afternoon. I’m glad to hear it, I must say, because it comes from a guy who I think will try his utmost to make amends for the defensive – his particularly – frailties – that we’ve exhibited to date. I don’t think it’s too unfair to say that we haven’t quite had the kind of form from our World Cup winning vice captain. He’s looked a little ropey at times since returning from his summer excursions and, as somebody has already pointed out to me since Tuesday evening, it was he who wasn’t quite ‘touch tight’ enough to his marker on the third goal. I had thought it was Monreal that was at fault in real time.

I don’t know whether or not it is the absence of his usual partner Koscienly, but he hasn’t quite looked his old self so far this season, which he of all people needs to address and quickly. On paper we’ve played four pretty poor teams since losing Kos, so this game has always looked like the first real test for our patchwork defence, so it’s one that I’ve not been wholeheartedly looking forward towards. There’ll be more by way of some kind of match preview over the weekend, but suffice to say I believe the game will be won or lost on the strength of us improving significantly defensively. If your forwards are regularly scoring twos and threes in games, you simply must have a defence that does not concede in the volume we’ve been shipping goals.

It’s a collective thing though, not just the sole responsibility of the back four, and Flamini also took to the official site this week to reiterate that point. He spoke about his role in shielding the back four, which we all know, but it’s not just him that needs to take that responsibility. I don’t know if it was somewhat of a dig at his fellow midfielders, but he also talked about defending and attacking more closely together as a team. The fact that we were in the 90th minute and still pushing Ramsey and Cazorla forward has clearly not escaped the attentions of our feisty Frenchman. His form may have been poor this season and he may be showing clear signs of a decline in his career, but he is right about defending more compactly as a unit. I remember seeing a couple of Barcelona teams rock up at the Emirates a few years ago and Guardiola’s men were the epitome of the phrase ‘hunt in packs’. When they pressed high up the pitch it was in twos and threes, which I think is the blueprint when you’re trying to get opponents notching up their own ‘unforced errors’ tally. A Ramsey hassling and harrowing a creative midfielder on the edge of our box, flanked by Flamini or one of the centre backs, is always going to see them make a mistake if they are pressed quickly enough. It’s human nature. The ‘fight or flight’ mode is triggered and most humans will choose ‘flight’ and try to release the ball without thinking clearly about where it’s going.

Perhaps that is exactly what we need to see when we talk about Ramsey getting back to doing ‘the basics’. He needs to get back to winning the ball, distributing the ball, running his arse off and finding positions in the box. Forget the flicks and tricks, just concentrate in getting in to the positions and the rest will come.

The team news for this weekend is no different to what we expected, but is perhaps better for the long term. With Giroud returning to the squad next week for training, as well as Arteta not as badly hamstrung as we thought, it all looks good for some key players returning after the international break. Heck, I’d probably go as far as to suggest that this particular Interlull has come at the perfect time for us. Even for someone like Walcott, who has just come back from injury and will no doubt get a few minutes under his belt both this weekend and then the following weekend with England.

There’s little else really to talk about today, well, certainly not this early on a Friday. I’m sure we’ll get some soundbites from Arsène after the presser, but I’ll just have to wait to hear what he thinks of Swansea until after my days struggle as a desk jockey in the Big Smoke.

Catch you tomorrow.

Injuries, rotation, tactics: dammed if you do/don’t?

Blimey, it’s colder in London this morning than a shoulder that Arsène would give you, after asking him why he didn’t buy a centre half in the summer.

Still, at least we’re not staring down the barrel of a Champions League gun this morning, or ruing the miss of a penalty that cost us qualification against a team who two years ago I’d have asked you if it wasn’t an alcoholic liquor of some kind.

Yesterday on Twitter I said that Arsène’s pre-match presser can’t come quickly enough, because at least we’d get to look ahead at the weekend’s game, rather than look back at the midweek debacle. At least Chelski and Moneychester City did their level best not to make us feel so bad by diluting our failures with their own. I didn’t watch any of the games (why would I?), but I wish I’d have been in a place where I could have seen the post match dissection of both fixtures. I wonder if there was as much of a savaging as we got on Tuesday? Was Merse present?

Anyway, we can all engage in that lovely bit of Schadenfreude at least for this week, chuckling away at our fellow English Champions League entrants this year. Nobody in this country made it out of Matchday 4 with an real semblance of success. I can take solace in that. Glass half full and all that jazz. I’m sure you know how I feel. You know you do.

But we have to look forward and selfishly (we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?) we have to look at ourselves and what is going wrong at The Arsenal. There will be plenty of time to look at those other teams around us – barring Chelski – and be thankful that everyone is buggering up their season, but at the moment a little bit of inward soul searching needs to happen at The Arsenal. The form of players like Flamini, Mertesacker and probably most notably (because of his superb displays last season) Ramsey, are all being questioned and at the moment the only person that is answering is a diminutive Chilean who this time last year was probably waking up to a Spanish sunrise. We’re not playing well and everyone is looking for answers. But rarely do we ever get any. There doesn’t seem to be anyone that I have seen that can effectively articulate why we seem to have dipped so dramatically compared to last season. Sure, there are eloquent people who write excellent blogs with tactical analysis of how we have played, but nobody has a time machine to go back and test their theories by replaying games by trying different things like I used to do for Championship Manager back in the late 90s. Until someone invents that real-life DeLorean, everything will be speculative.

Take me, for example. As I was walking towards the Tube station this morning, I began to ponder why we look so different this season, compared to last. We have not lost players through transfers, only injuries, but the team still feels like it should have the requisite quality to be able to successfully dispatch some of the teams we’ve played this season. So what is it? I’m probably not qualified or knowledgeable to give you chapter and verse on the tactical nuances of Arsenal, version 2.014/15, so please forgive some humble assumptions or out loud musings on potential causes. Feel free to dismiss or add your own input. As I say, it’s only ever going to be a hypothesis, with no real ability to test the thoughts until Doc Brown comes knocking at my door.

It’s easy to say injuries have cost us and, invariably, they have had an impact. But the reason for our stuttering so far is not a linear equation that can be solved by adding Laurent Koscienly back into the team to instantly transforming us back into Arsenal version 2.013/14, because we had Koscienly earlier in the season and we were still shipping silly goals. We were doing it when Debuchy, Per, Kos and Gibbs were our back four and it seems a widely accepted view that swapping Debuchy for Sagna was an acceptable ‘like-for-like’. There’s no doubt we should improve with that back four back together in December – fingers crossed – but I don’t think it’s injuries alone that have caused our doddery season to date.

Or is it because of the injuries we’ve had, we haven’t been able to put together an eleven that get to know each other, who therefore can put together a run? Again, this might be something worth considering, but as a person who has often question why Arsène hasn’t rotated more, how can I merrily type away that we need a consistency of our first team in order to foster that winning mentality and put together a run in the league? It’s inevitable that even if you can put together a team that is unbreakable in terms of impact injuries, eventually through over-playing them they will break down and you will have to dip into your squad to find players to fill in who haven’t had any chance to build up any kind of form.

It strikes me that Arsène is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. To rotate and risk having to spend time getting lots of players in form all at once through game time, or not to rotate, which may bring an 11 to the boil quicker, but at the risk of broken footballers in the New Year and the falling away of any title challenge (not that I’m convinced we can mount one this season, mind). I’m not trying to excuse the manager here, let me tell you, but I am trying to understand the consequences of certain actions, or trying to understand both sides of his footballing dilemma.

Perhaps the issue is his tinkering? He’s tried different formations against different teams and they either have worked (Galatasaray at home, Villa away), or they haven’t worked (Chelski away, Hull at home). Do we, as fans, want to see this kind of tinkering? Again, it strikes me that we want the best of both worlds, and I include myself in this bracket too. I want Arsenal to have an answer – tactically – to every single team we come up against. If the answer to tactical success is the experimentation of different formations, then why (“get back to playing 4-2-3-1!” and “ditch the 4-1-41!”, etc, etc) am I – and vast swathes of the Arsenal fanbase – getting annoyed when the manager tinkers with the team and it doesn’t work? We’ve all accused Arsène of being tactically negligent at times, but if we found out that he was going through a bit of a teething period whilst he gets the players acquainted with different styles to play during the course of the season, would we all cut him a little bit more slack?

Probably not. Because, and herein lies the nub of my desires and point in this protracted prose, all we want to see is Arsenal winning games. We want the here and now and whilst we’re all happy to make suggestions on rotating players to keep them fit, or changing formations to counter the opposition, ultimately victories negate any kind of desire to see a specific type of football philosophy realised. Arsène Wenger is by far an infallible man. He makes mistakes and he frustrates the hell out of us. But could it be that the pain we’re going through at the moment could actually be beneficial in the long run – formation and tactics-wise?

Don’t know. All I know is we want a win. Then another win. Then another after that. Repeat to fade. When you don’t do that. You’re doing everything wrong. When you do, you’re a genius.

Anyway, like I say, I’m no tactical genius. I’m just an Arsenal fan with no copy of the Metro to read every morning, so I spill my Arsenal thoughts on to this blog. I’ll see you in the morrow for the next ramble.

Alexis love-in; how high can we press as a team?

It’s interesting that, after I suggested yesterday that Arsenal should get a little credit for forcing Sunderland players into making mistakes, Danny Welbeck mentioned that Arsène had specifically stated to the players before the game that they should be pressing with a higher line to put pressure on the Sunderland back four. Now, perhaps it’s an obvious statement to make and should be something that is clear for all matches, but I still maintain that the Arsenal players should receive some credit for their part in the two goals, rather than making throw away comments about how we would have drawn the game if the Sunderland players hadn’t made their errors.

If you’re going to have that logic, then perhaps you should question every time a goal is conceded from a corner, or a free kick that is nodded in. Because essentially you can argue that if it wasn’t for a rash tackle or an inability to keep the ball in play, there wouldn’t have been a goal!

Welbeck is loving playing with Alexis and it’s hard not to see why. His effervescent nature rubs off on the team, but Welbeck too is cut from a similar cloth, because he is a constant runner and energetic in his play. With both of those players pressing from the front, I see many more goals coming from forcing opponents into mistakes.

Flamini too is part of the Alexis love-in this morning, and you can see why, because the Chilean embodies the graft that Flamini has demonstrated during his two stints at the club. Seeing an attacking player track back and win tackles in the defensive third of the pitch is a god send for someone like Flamini, so it’s no surprise that he’s chipped in with some superlatives.

What I do think will be interesting to see will be the return of Theo Walcott to the team. If we’re maki the assumption that Alexis will be wide left and Welbeck up top, Walcott completes the trio of blistering pace that will have us all foaming at the mouth. However, if the team is to continue with the policy of a high press, then the midfield will also need to press higher up the pitch to avoid the massive gaps in between attack and midfield caused by forward players pushing up the pitch. As a result, to avoid space between defence and midfield, we’ll have to push the defenders higher up the pitch too. The result of all of this, assuming we don’t want to leave big gaps for playmakers to be successful against us operating in between defence and midfield, is to have the whole team press higher up the pitch leaving more grass for forward players on opponents teams. We don’t have the quickest back four at the best of times, so leaving us susceptible to quick forwards getting in behind our back four is something to be concerned about.

Of course I’m a fan of the high press, so I think we’re better to push out opponents into making errors, but I recognise that it does come with its own risks. The reality is that we need to find a delicate blend of high press and reducing space in between our lines, with not having too many opportunities for quick forwards to run in behind our back four. I don’t have the answers as to how you find that delicate blend, but in my defence, I’m not paid millions of pounds a year to work that out.

Anyway, as with most things in life there are compromises and trade-offs to be made, and right now with the injuries that we have Arsène will invariably have more decisions to make about how much we press, with which opponents and how often. With Gibbs rumoured to be out for six weeks if you believe the press chitter-chatter, it takes away another pacey defender, so no doubt when we find out the extent of his injury we’ll know how much problems we have defensively and what we can and can’t do tactically given the personnel available. It’s a big blow to be losing Gibbs for any amount of time, but it’s even bigger given that we already have two of our first choice back four out at the moment. It’s time to dig deep Arsenal.

That’s it from me today. I refuse to pass comment on the axis of evil that took place yesterday in Manchester. Cheerio.

Nervy about form, but a reaction is needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners!