Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts 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

This ones a freebie in my eyes

Hopefully I can approach today’s match preview blog in a slightly different manner to that of my online Gooner counterparts when I say:

We’ve already won tonight.

The victory may not be tangible, it may not see us into the quarter finals of the Champions League, but after the whole world and most of Goonerdom has written the team off, anything else other than a 6-0 thrashing will be a moral victory of sorts I believe. Nobody expects us to turn over a two goal deficit against a Bayern Munich team who appear to have found a glitch in the game, a quick FIFA style cheat if you will, that has seen them absolutely rip apart the German league like it was the Scottish Premier. So if defeat does indeed hit us tonight, then the whole world will just shrug and say ‘move along’ as if it would be expected. If it happens, hopefully the Arsenal players will be able to do the same, because there are still a plethora of massive games in the coming weeks that they can make amends for any cup exit tonight.

There’s no doubt the FA Cup victory at the weekend has also totted up some goodwill points amongst Arsenal fans as well. Exit at the weekend, followed by defeat over two legs and exit tonight, would have left us all in a pretty gloomy place. But knowing that silverware is still in our grasp whatever the consequences of defeat tonight should be used as an instant confidence adrenalin shot should we drop out to the reigning European Champions.

So I’m approaching today’s game as a ‘freebie’. The damage was done at the Emirates with a sending off that really shouldn’t have happened and as a fickle football fan, I’m using that ‘get-out’ to shrug off any exit. We were shafted by referees again dontcha know?

As for the team, there was some good news and some bad news delivered by Le Boss yesterday. I’d have loved him to have delivered it in that fashion, asking the assembled hacks which one they wanted first, but the upshot was that whilst Koscienly is fighting fit again, Gibbs unfortunately has succumbed to an ankle injury. Again, in the spirit of my nonchalant nature towards this game, I offer a simple ‘meh’, but where the ‘meh’ becomes an ‘oh no’ is whether or not he makes it back for Sunday’s trip to Spudland. We will need a fully fledged left back available for the trip to ‘them’ and with Nacho still not close to fitness, I’m going to be doing all kinds of voodoo shizzle in the hope that he can make it at the weekend.

The question for tonight remains which of the current square pegs has the most rounded edges for Arsene to pick at left back? Does he opt for left footed Vermaelen, who clearly has more experience than putting Jenkinson at right back and telling the versatile Sagna to give it a go at left back? Last season Jenkinson played in the Munich game I believe and he performed well. Given Vermaelen is clearly a bit rusty and has shown he’s uncomfortable at left back, it’s hardly a ‘no-brainer’ to put him in, although if we do need a bit more experience and strength in defending set pieces and corners, you’d think his role in the team could come in handy.

It’s a dilemma that is Arsene’s to ponder, but, I guess that is why he’s paid the VERY big bucks.

The rest of the team will probably line up as a full strength unit. With the Spuds playing Benfica on Thursday, I’d be surprised if Tim ‘the Gooner’ Sherwood didn’t pick his strongest team, which means that Arsene could probably do the same knowing they’ll be just as fatigued at the weekend as our players are. So I’d expect to see a midfield of Flamini, Arteta and Özil, with Cazorla, Giroud and the Ox taking the attacking and flanked positions. Perhaps he’ll opt for Gnabry as that unknown factor and a player who’ll want to show what he’s made of in the attacking positions, but I think the form of the Ox and Cazorla carried over from Saturday warrants their inclusion.

If some sort of miracle is to be achieved, we’ll need to see another performance where there are four or five options for man-of-the-match tonight. Against arguably the best team in the world, you wouldn’t have thought it would happen, but stranger things have.

As for Bayern, well, take your pick from the array of world class talent they have. Ribery is now fit to play and so I’d expect he’ll get a start, so with Robben on the other flank, Guardiola just needs to decide who in midfield should play out of Garcia, Goetze, Kroos, Muller, Alcantara, etc, etc, the list goes on…suffice to say he’s spoilt for choices!

Anyway, wherever you are, however you watch the game, try to enjoy it. It’s why we want to be in competitions like this and not lining up against FC Dnieghausgdindbavxgskakxbsjskdb of Haifbrhskxnslsndi like them other lot along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Bayern – What a game of football

On Wednesday night last week Ben and Chris frequented the Emirates to watch the Bayern Munich game. Ben said he wanted to write a blog on the evening, but didn’t bank on Chris and his ‘scheduling’, so we’ve had to wait until now to give it to you. Anyway, less chitter-chatter and more Ben. Take it away boyo.

The Bayern fans had great humour and wit. Signing ‘footballs coming home’ after the second goal, did make me chuckle. But a huge thanks and congratulations has to go out to Red Action for the marvellous card display. Proves hard work and endeavour can work wonders – well done.

I’d been excited for this game since the draw but I had my ‘dark thoughts’ about an absolute N5 murdering, who wouldn’t? I wondered how the night might pan out and I’d thought about every possible scenario in my head – How we’d track runners? The dribbling ability of Gotze and Thiago? Lahm in midfield? Martinez at centre back? Funnily enough, I forgot to incorporate ‘football magic’ into my thoughts. A red card and two penalties later, the game was well and truly dead and buried. Not what I hope for at all – I didn’t expect a win but I hoped for a valiant draw.

I have to be honest, I felt frustrated how the loss occurred rather than the loss itself. From an Arsenal perspective, the first 20 minutes went very well and we created a few very dangerous chances and exposed Bayern’s high-line.

Unfortunately for us that quickly changed and as soon as Szczesny saw red, the tie was over. It must be remembered, yes we lost, but it was deservedly so. Bayern are the best possession footballing side on the planet and demonstrated their superiority. That said, I enjoyed to see Guardiola’s take on possession football – He’s bloody good.

After our initial pressure, Bayern regained possession. We almost lined up with a 4-4-1-1. Özil kept drifting to the left and right to try and expose the full backs. At times, Bayern lined up in a 3-5-2 with Robben tucking in next to Mandukic and Martinez becoming a third centre back. This is where Mesut found a lot of joy creating all the early chances. We showed a lot of pace and physicality which is something we’ve missed in recent weeks and the Bayern midfield didn’t know how to cope.

The first 20 minute saw Mesut Özil at his best. Our catalyst, running with the ball, fast flowing possession and variety, simply keep Bayern guessing. The penalty miss threw him completely, and he seemed to become very nervous. He tried to take charge, but Munich completely blocked out our attacking zones of play. Mesut (AND OTHERS) were getting isolated when in possession and Bayern strangled out the tie like a python. We couldn’t even muster an attack, that’s how good Bayern were. You try and put out a chip pan fire with a bucket of water.

Also a side note – Özil was switched to the left because Santi wasn’t tracking Lahm efficiently enough and Pep switched the focus of play. Brought on Rafinha (Who was Dani Alves advanced) to put pressure on Mesut and Monreal. Pep was vindicated in his decision.

As expected, Bayern simply controlled the game and possession. I enjoyed to see Peps take on possession football. They didn’t press as hard to get the ball back as Heynckes Bayern did, but, as Arsene says about Özil, we saw Bayern demonstrate ‘shear quality of passes that just wear the opposition down’, and it did.

Bayern penned us back working the ball in triangles on either wing trying to slide either ‘winger’ to get in and behind our defence. The quality and precision on each pass was magnificent. Bayern really came into their own in the second half as we began to tire. Gotze who was on the left (He started on the right – Part of the switch of focus) tucked in, which encouraged Alaba to get round him. Thiago and Kroos worked the space for Robben and Gotze to try and break us down and It seems Pep sees Gotze as his Iniesta card. It would have been interesting to see how much damage Ribery would have done to us – scary stuff.

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With Bayern camped out in our half, they lined up with an almost 2-1-3-4. We simply couldn’t cope with the number of players Bayern had in advanced positions. Kroos and Thiago had acres of space and time. Late on, Guardiola brought on Pizarro to try and nick another goal. Muller and Pizarro were taking turns dropping between the ’4′ and the ’3′leaving Koscienly and Mertesacker guessing which eventually led to a goal. The German forward darted into the huge void of space that was meant to be our defence and killed the game. Another tactically brilliant move.

Lahm and Kroos

Your’re going to have to listen to me wax lyrical about Lahm and Kroos. They were magnificent and to think Bayern haven’t offered the latter a new deal (yet) seems like utter madness. Two technically perfect players. I was utterly in awe of their vision and their ‘football common sense’ – let alone they’re quality on the ball. It’s strange to see a player(s) provide that much penetration but be as equally as efficient. They are both steps ahead of everyone and the epitome of what we all think a German footballer should be.

I think it was very fitting that Lahm set up Kroos for his phenomenal goal. It was so good, It was heading towards Highbury before eventually bending in and behind Fabianski. I could honestly watch it on a loop.

Martinez – a lesson should be learnt Arsene

I found myself staring at the Javi Martinez the entire time. He dictated the tempo of play and made it a Bayern paced affair. His positioning was out of this world and perfectly placed himself between the attack and midfield. He is a piece of the puzzle who has taken Bayern to that uber level.

I was reading Four Four Two on the train on the way to the game. They had an in-depth and very fascinating article on all things Bayern Munich, and a little snippet that caught my eye which was they’re decision to sign Javi Martinez.

The Bayern board (who consist of ex German stars) sat and debated the transfer for what seemed like an eternity. They all deemed Martinez ‘too expensive and overpriced’. But they asked themselves, ‘Would Martinez add that little bit of quality needed?’ and they all agreed he would, so they decided to pushed the transfer through.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the Martinez transfer was fully vindicated for Bayern. The Spaniard played a starring role in their run to Champions League glory – Especially against Barcelona. Top level football is all about small margins and if you can try and help swing those in your favour, football can be made a lot easier.

I really hope Arsene backs his judgment this summer and gets the players he feels can move this Arsenal from a team in transition (Transition maybe a little harsh, slightly further forward that transition I’d say) to the uber force we can be.

I’m very excited for the second leg and hope the football gods sprinkle their ‘Football magic’ on Bayern, instead of our beloved Arsenal. Keep the dream alive…Stranger things have happened…

Up the Arsenal!

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

A stroll in the Sun against Sunderland

On yesterday’s blog I mentioned that I wasn’t sure which Sunderland team would show up at the Emirates in the lovely sunshine of a February afternoon. It would either be a group of players so intent on forcing their way into their managers plans for next weeks trip to Wembley, or a team with one eye on the final and therefore we could capitalise.

Thankfully it was the latter, which from the first minute you could see as The Arsenal dominated possession, attempts and territory against a Sunderland team that had gone six away games without defeat.

Perhaps it was the fact that Dennis had been in the stadium to see his statue unveil, for which he and his divine powers refused the result to be anything but a stroll in the sun, or perhaps it was because I had decided to wheel out my secret weapon – The Management – who’s record remains in tact yet again* and so coupled with the presence of arguably our greatest ever player there was only going to be one result.

The tone was set from within the first five minutes which, as we were all too painfully aware two weeks ago when we were on the receiving end of a goal in the first five minutes, which meant that the home support could settle in to an afternoon knowing the team had an advantage from the early stages. It was a lovely goal that involved Rosicky, Wilshere and then eventually Giroud and right now, interns of where he’s at in his head, there is probably nobody else you’d want more to be slot home the ball than Olivier.

We settled into a passage of dominance that was reaffirmed only fifteen or so minutes later with a second from Giroud. As The Management and I watched the game back on Match of The Day in the evening, she made a very good comment on the fortuitous nature of the goal, because it was only made so by the anticipation of Giroud that the centre half Vergini (sounding like a pet name for ladies bits if you ask me) would go back to his ‘keeper that allowed him to nip in and take the ball away. The Sunderland centre back had a horrible afternoon all day and looked shaky throughout, almost heading the ball into his own net in the second half and looking like he had never played professional football in his life.

2-0 it was and it was happy days inside the stadium. All we needed was ‘The Fonz’ to appear and give us two thumbs up. Of course Henry Winkler was indisposed no four doing something else on a Saturday back in the states, so our own ‘go-to-guy’ stepped up with an absolutely sumptuous finish after an even more delectable build up play, reminiscent of the Wilshere goal against Norwich. The main difference with this goal was that the chief protagonist was Tomas Rosicky, who exchanged one-touch passes with Cazorla, Wilshere and Giroud to get in behind the Sunderland defence and lift the ball over the advancing Mannone. 3-0, not even half time and the ridiculously over-priced Carlsberg’s tasted all that sweeter as we met up with Steve and his brand new good luck charm – his wife Jen – to talk about what had transpired right in front of his very eyes.

The second half was always going to be a bit of damage limitation for the Mackems and so I never really expected a goal glut for us. Instead, we maintained position, controlled the game, got an extra goal through Koscienly and saw it out. The only blot on the copybook has to be the concession of a goal from one of the Sunderland midfielders, but it was that well struck from outside the box that if you’re going to concede, it’s better to do it through a great strike than a comical bit of defending.

Three points, back in pursuit of the top spot and, although the football gods continually reward the undeserving (John Terry), at least we’re doing our bit to keep pace with the chasing pack.

There was a couple of concerns with the half time arrival of Jenkinson for Monreal – suggesting an injury to the Spaniard – plus the fact that Koscienly came off for the last ten minutes or so, but Arsene has since said that both should be available, so we have to just hope that it was precautionary action taken.

What Arsene did learn yesterday is that, yet again, he can trust his squad. In came Podolski, Rosicky, Monreal, Arteta and Giroud from midweek and Mesut Özil was given much needed rest that will hopefully serve him well when we travel to Orc country next weekend. Management of the squad fatigue-wise is crucial at this part of the season and being able to switch things around – particularly at home against teams in the lower half of the table – is really important to ensuring that we can compete on multiple fronts.

One more thing to note before I clock off for the day: with Özil rested, many thought that Cazorla would take up that central role in the team, yet from where I was sitting both him and Rosicky occupied the central territory. There was a lot of interchanging of positions between the two which meant that the Sunderland players had more to think about when considering which players to track. Perhaps this was a one off, but it does make you wonder whether a bit more of that (although I know Özil drifts too) and perhaps a bit more game time for Tomas is the answer. He was easily my man of the match yesterday.

Have a good Sunday folks.

*Every time she attends a game at home, The Arsenal win by three clear goals. The theory has even been tested against better teams – she attended both 5-2 victories against the Spuds.

Sunderland: how key is rotation?

It’s hard to know what to make of today’s game against Sunderland. I mean, we’ve just had a fatigue-inducing run around from Bayern Munich, so there will obviously be some tired legs. Arsene said so himself when he admitted there would be changes in his press conference yesterday. But Sunderland have a Capital One Cup Final next weekend and as a result could be forgiven for having an eye on a potential bit of silverware next season. Equally, the players that take to the field for the Black Cats will know that they are playing for a starting spot next weekend, so will be desperate to show Gus Poyet that they deserve a place in the first eleven at Wembley.

Questions will no doubt be asked about how much Arsene will rotate and whether too much of said rotation will lead to a disjointed performance from The Arsenal today. Le Boss will have been buoyed by the performance of some of the squad players against Liverpool and I’m sure that the result will have given the manager the belief that he can mix it up a bit. I’m a child of the Championship Manager era and, whilst it certainly doesn’t make me any more qualified to make judgements on real-life players, it does make me an advocate of having a strong squad and using them frequently to compete on multiple fronts. There will have been many tired legs out there come full time on Wednesday night, so the ability to bring in other players to help support those that simply can’t be dropped, I think will be vital.

In the heart of our defence we have a back four that really can’t afford to be rotated I don’t think. Szczesny will obviously start and Monreal will come in for the injured Gibbs, but the absence of Vermaelen through injury means that we aren’t really left with any other choice at centre half. Carl Jenkinson may have performed admirably against the scousers last weekend, but Sagna is a step above and so I’d also expect our outgoing Frenchman to play.

Midfield poses yet another conundrum, as a decision needs to be made on who plays at the base of the quintet (or trio if you think of our formation as more of a 4-3-3). Flamini covered a lot of ground as usual against Bayern, so Arsene might be tempted to plump for Arteta who was suspended during the week, but equally he could play both sitting in those holding roles. It’s not a preference most of us would have against Sunderland, as a direct runner like Wilshere or The Ox would give more of an attacking impetus to our play, but with both players putting a shift in during midweek it is a very real option. Alternatively, Arsene could use Rosicky’s quick rotation of the ball from back to front as an option alongside one of the more defensive-minded players. We’ll soon find out.

“What to do with Mesut Özil?” might be something Arsene is pondering. The German was also putting a shift in on Wednesday night and as a result may be a bit fatigued, but with his confidence supposedly hit (so said the boss in his presser) because of the penalty miss, is now the right time to bench him and risk pushing him even further into a morose and sad state of mind? Arsene will know whether or not he can play today and, as some have already suggested on Twitter, sometimes it’s better to get straight back on that horse – so to speak – so if he’s ready, willing and able enough, he should start.

Either side of Mesut I really hope we see Poldi. Unused against Bayern, unwanted by the manager it seems, but perfect for these types of games in my opinion. His style and efficiency would be well suited to how the game might pan out today and if he gets his chance I’m of no doubt that he’ll take it. I’m not sure he’ll get his chance though. Arsene has been favouring Santi on the left and Cazorla came off as the substitute for the goalkeeper on 37 minutes in midweek, so he’ll hardly be fatigued. On the right hand side, assuming Santi is preferred, we will see either Gnabry or the Ox and given his form of late I think it will be Alex who is preferred.

As for our opponents today, they will be without serial red card enthusiast Wes Brown, serving out the second of another ban for being sent off. We’ll also see the return of Vito Mannone who, whilst never really convincing any Arsenal fan, you just know that he’s going to have the game of his life today. Let’s hope not though. Or, he can have the game of his life like I did in an under-13s cup game against a team two divisions higher than my team at the time. I got a shake of the hand and congratulations by the opposition manager. We still lost 18-0 though.

They have Steven Fletcher and Carlos Cuellar returning to their ranks, but I’m not sure whether or not they’ll be fit enough to start, so it means Big Per and Kos’ afternoon will probably be dictated by the American that looks more like a wrestler – Jozy Altidore – rather than the Scot who looks like he’s been served a lifetime supply of anti-social behaviour orders.

For most of us though, we know their biggest threat will come from Adam Johnson. The upturn in form of Sunderland (undefeated away in six) has not just coincided with the arrival of Poyet in charge, but also in the form of the North Eastern lad and to ensure we maintain that excellent home defensive record we will need to keep him quiet all afternoon. It’s something we certainly have the personnel to do.

We have the squad capable of picking up three points and with the next few games all being those against teams that are not in the top six, followed by four games that are, we need maximum points before we go into ‘DEATHRUN 2′.

Let’s hope we get what we need today. Come on you reds.

Things change so quickly

What a difference a week makes. From having a mental block against the so called big teams, mentioned as some sort of inferiority complex, we’ve beaten a in-form Liverpool side, where tactics, formations, get chucked completely out of the window, then supposedly gone back to square one if you believe the British tabloids. Nah, me either, actually.

What’s interesting about this Arsenal side is that we only seem to evolve when we become confronted with adversity and the so called problem is pushed to one side. Considering Bayern last year was out trigger point, I wonder how the mainstay of the team will see this milestone, or millstone across their neck, if you will. Will they grasp this opportunity with two hands in the face of defeat to Munich?

I love a good football debate. It’s interesting to watch social media and watch people, babble, ramble on about an issue (which I might add, I enjoy) of a so called conventional problem. It then circulates, and funnily enough, usually isn’t the actual problem at all. I think we saw that case and point at the weekend. Giroud has been a talking point in recent weeks. In steps, the young,unproven Yaya Sanogo. In the grand scheme of things, was his performance that much different to what Giroud actually offers? Obviously technical differences are there for all to see, but the role, effort, work rate was very similar. It’s kind of a mute point really, but the issue has been and had always been the midfield. If the service is correct and the midfield functions, we will have success. ‘Feed the goat and he will score’. Or Ox, or sheep, or small gerbil. That last one probably didn’t work.

Midfield issue…

The midfield axis of Flamini and Arteta against Liverpool made for interesting viewing, and food thought. Flamini was deployed as more of the last line of defence, which left Arteta the freedom and ability to press high and very aggressively. I can’t quite remember if that’s what they’ve done in previous games together. Even so, It definitely helped Arteta feel a lot more comfortable and that was evident in his performance. One of his better performances this season as he’s been under par in my opinion. I don’t think Mikel has been as good as he used to be. Whether it’s due to age, injuries or his midfield partners, the Spaniard seems to be less influential than when he first arrived with his perfectly manicured barnet.

More importantly for the team, that cog in the midfield helped it work much better, well, better than in recent weeks, anyway.

With our current environment, well, midfield options, would you continue with it, just for stability reasons, against Sunderland? The first choice in my midfield would be Aaron Ramsey. His development has been simply remarkable. But, as we all know, he isn’t available. You’ve got Jack, he’s had the weight of expectation on his shoulders and arguably struggled since our shift in formation, then before that we had Alex Song and Fabregas, who have now departed. Considering we now have a winning formula, I’d say, stick with it. Jack played against Munich and unfortunately for him and most of the team he never really got the chance to prove himself after the sending off, so it’s difficult to work out the best course of action this weekend. I hope Jack can keep his head straight, and just play the game, if he is selected above Arteta. He needs to stamp his personality on the game. Just not let the opportunity stamp on him.

If we go back to the United game, Arsene wasn’t comfortable with us controlling the midfield. Our passing was off. Hence the hesitant attacking play.

Thinking long term, Arsene needs to find a partnership that’s solid and tactically astute, but doesn’t sacrifice any penetration in attack. Whether that’s Jack, Aaron or Alex in some sort of combination or a new addition (Which I would like) something needs to be done in the summer.

Drastic Özil improvement.. No doubt he’s our number 10

Özil was unplayable at the weekend. I was delighted to see his form slowly but surely return, but again, he struggled in midweek. Again, like Jack, he never really had the chance to shine against the German champions and he suffered on Wednesday by being crowded out every time he picked the ball up I their half. Let’s focus on the positives. The way he reads the game, the opponent, is just sublime. He waits for exactly the correct moment before attempting the daring, yet correct option. His understanding for what the team needs, is hard to explain, he can just feel it. You watch other playmakers in the league just attempt the tricky through ball when the time isn’t right. A lot of the time, the ball is just given away and the opposition regains possession. Thank god for Mesut Özil.

What to do with Lukas Podolski?

I think we can all agree something is going down with Podolski, and as I write this, it seems the writing is on the wall for the German goal scoring machine. We saw glimpses against Liverpool (and as we mentioned on the podcast) of what he should be doing on a regular basis – One-touch passing. Lukas is one of the best we have and up their in the league as one of the best in that skill set. His goal against Liverpool was very reminiscent to his goal against Montpellier – In terms of his sudden burst of pace. The way he goes through the gears, it’s pure brute strength. I hope he gets more opportunities, but more importantly, he grasps the chances he gets.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

No fear, just excitement

These are the kinds of evenings that we all look forward to as Arsenal fans. Home ties against the cream of the crop. Big European nights where we put our wits against the best. And tonight, we probably are putting them against the very best.

I don’t need to tell you who’s coming to town, nor do I need to impress upon you the gravity of the situation tonight, but what I do need to tell you is how I feel about the game at The Emirates this eve.

I’m excited.

I’m not nervous. I’m not fearful of what a heavy defeat will do for team morale. I’m not pondering what life outside of the Champions League will feel like if, as most of the world is telling us Arsenal fans, we go out to a Bayern Munich team that have won 19 out of 21 league games and drawn the other two. Nope, it’s just happiness and excitement that courses through my veins, which is a new and fabulous pre-game feeling that I haven’t felt in years.

You see, I’m a worrier, I’m afraid. I’d really love to be able to ‘enjoy the moment’ in each game, but the only time that seems to happen for me is when we have a three goal margin and there’s about ten minutes to go in a match. Yes, I know it’s irrational – especially when you look at our fantastic defensive record at home in the league throughout the season – but it’s a feeling that has built from strong foundations of collapses over the seasons, so I think it will be a while before I could get my mind adjusted to feeling ‘comfortable’ whilst we’re one or two goals up – irrespective of the opposition.

Anyway, that’s just me and my own psychological footballing issues, which seemed to have taken a temporary leave of absence. Even now, as I type this on the Met Line hurtling towards the City for a day of work first thing in the morning, I am excited to see how we get on this evening. Much like Flamini alluded to in his comments on the official site, I don’t fear Bayern, perhaps naively, but I don’t care because ignorance is bliss and what I have sitting adjacent to ignorance as a result, is confidence. I don’t think we’ll lose tonight. I think the team know the importance the Bayern game played in our rehabilitation this year, plus I think they’ll be acutely aware that it took us a game to recover confidence post Anfield, which is why I think we’ll see a cautious approach building up to a second half crescendo against the. German (and European) Champions.

Of course, the first fifteen minutes of tonight’s game will set the tone of the evening, so that’s where we need to get it right initially. Last year Bayern blew us away quickly and stunned us. At Anfield Liverpool struck hard and fast and we never recovered. So the blueprint for this tie needs to be a solid back line able to repel the threat of Robben, Goetze, Muller, et al and then build on composure and ball retention.

In a way, I think last year’s win at the Allianz Arena might help us for today’s game. I am not sure that Bayern will be as aggressive as they were last year, because they’ll know we have the ability to sucker punch. This Arsenal team has shown it’s ability to absorb pressure and then deliver killer blows as a result, to which I’m sure Dortmund could testify to their German counterparts.

As for our team, I suspect that we’ll see our settled back four with returns to the side for Szczesny, Sagna and Gibbs, whilst in midfield the suspension of Arteta guarantees Flamini’s inclusion. Who will partner him in that deeper lying midfield role is a difficult one to call, but I personally would opt for Rosicky. He moves the ball quickly from front to back and was rested completely from the Liverpool cup tie, so I expect him to be his usual effervescent self if he does make the first eleven. In front I would hope to see a trio of Podolski, Özil and The Ox, but with the clear reservations that the manager has for our loveable German, I think Santi will get the nod, with a rested Olivier Giroud completing the line up.

Whoever plays in those attacking positions, I hope they are fit and able-bodied runners in behind Özil and Giroud, because it was that lack of penetration that cost us our best chance in an age to turn over Man United at The Emirates last week. Both players will perform at their optimum if they can see players looking to be more direct in their attacking runs and so the hope is that Arsene spotted this deficiency against United and eradicates the ponderous nature of that draw.

Having said that, a 0-0 draw against Bayern would feel a lot different from the 0-0 draw against United.

So whether you’re going or watching tonight, I hope you can enjoy the game as I am hoping to, as well as singing until your lungs get sore.

Up the Arsenal.

Tipping the cap to Arsene’s gamble – Liverpool

Well happy Monday to you! Isn’t it a fine Monday for us to be sharing? I’m sure you feel the same, especially after a hard-fought home victory for The Arsenal. Yep, I’m feeling just fine and dandy, thanks to goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski to set us up with another big game in the FA Cup at home to Everton. Not quite content to see us have an easy ride, are they, these footballing Gods? That will have been three out of the top six we’d have had to beat to get to the semi’s where, you just know there will be Momeychester City lurking if we progress. Ah well, let’s count those chickens once they’ve actually hatched, eh?

As for yesterday, I think it only right we give Arsene a tip of the cap this Monday because let’s face it, when the team was announced yesterday there were plenty of mumblings of discontent. The feeling amongst a lot of the fanbase was that prioritising competitions wasn’t a luxury we could be afforded, yet with five or six changes to the first team (depending on who you think is a current starter), it seemed as though Arsene had decided that he would rather sacrifice the FA Cup than anything else.

Bringing in Jenkinson, Monreal and Sanogo wasn’t exactly thought of as a move we could really make, yet the managers faith in his squad to do the business was rewarded yesterday. I thought most of the team was superb yesterday. Jenks rarely put a foot wrong, Monreal had some wobbly moments at the start but grew into the game, whilst Sanogo have us the first glimpse of the promise that Arsene and his scouting network have seen.

He’s a big lad, isn’t he? Fending off Agger and Skyrtel is no mean feat, yet our Postman-in-waiting showed some great hold up play and even a couple of decent touches too, although he did have a couple of fresh air swings at the ball so you can see he’s a work in progress. It doesn’t mean he’ll be turning into the next Didier Drogba, but this was a rare start that showed he might just has something about him (providing he stays fit).

Indeed, it was the young Yaya who was instrumental in putting us in front in the first half, bringing the ball down under pressure from Skyrtel, rifling a shot against Gerrard’s back only for it to fall to The Ox to touch in. He was another fine performer on the day and in the opinion of the commentary team on BT Sport, the Man of the Match too, rightly in my opinion. All day his direct running caused a problem for the Liverpool team and his arrival from injury shortly after Theo was confirmed to be out for the season has been a timely re-introduction indeed. Arsene may see his long-term future in the middle of the park, but if short-term needs dictate him being deployed on the right of that three-pronged attack, then surely it is a case of ‘needs must’.

The second half gave us exactly what you need in a game against big rivals in the form of a Lukas Podolski goal which provided a two-goal buffer. Podolski too had a good game – penalty concession aside – and I jokingly tweeted an open letter to Arsene asking him to play Poldi more often. There is clearly the reluctance on the managers part to play our effective German, but yesterday he was imperious, running his socks off and supporting Monreal defensively, as well as once again providing a killer touch in the business end of the pitch. He must surely warrant more starts with performances like that, no? When you have such a clinical finisher, playing them in the big games is a no-brainer, because they will take the few chances afforded them. You don’t have to look too far – Giroud’s late miss on Wednesday from a Sagna cross – to see what an impact a natural born killer in front of goal can do.

I’ve singled out the squad players at the moment, but the regulars were also pretty darn good, don’t you know. Özil carried on from where he left off against United and looked like the Özil from the start of the season. It almost feels like he woke up Sunday morning last week, saw the savagery of the British tabloids, then decided to show them a footballing ‘f*ck you’ by making his mark on a couple of big games. Equally, the much maligned defence last week was back in its groove and deserved a clean sheet. Yes, the defence was breached in the second half, but if you take away the clumsy challenge of Poldi inside the box on Suarez, I don’t think our back four would have been breached. Both Per and Laurent looked shaky for the first ten minutes and Sturridge probably should have put Liverpool ahead, but it’s what we should have expected from a team whose game plan is to blitz opponents early and coast to victory, as opposed to our more cautious opening approach leading to pressure in the second half to breach the oppositions defensive line. Overall, defensively we looked strong once again and it bodes well for the upcoming tie against the best that Europe has to offer.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the contentious decisions made by Howard Webb yesterday, for which both teams profited in different ways. There was most certainly a second penalty from The Ox on Suarez To which Howard had a perfect view, but one can only assume that the way the Uruguyan threw his body around, only counted against him. In unsurprisingly hypocritical manager form, Brendan Rodgers said he had no idea why it wasn’t a stone wall penalty, whilst following that up by saying Webb got it right when Gerrard scythed down the Ox shortly after that incident, for the ref to give a free kick but no second yellow. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but Liverpool fans bemoaning bias towards the home side would do well to remember their own fortune towards their skipper.

A word on Fabianski, another fine performer on the day who did nothing wrong in goal and even produced a fine stop when Sturridge was one-on-one and bearing down on goal. It’s clearly a frustration for him that he hasn’t had more game time, but the form of Szczesny is what it is, so if that means that Fabianski is playing in his last cup run for Arsenal, then I hope it’s a good one that sees him show just what he is capable of to potential buyers.

Overall you can hardly call it a ‘vintage’ Arsenal performance, but I’m getting used to this Arsenal side and their efficiency in victory. Last season United won the league at a canter with a side widely described as ‘average’, yet nobody could argue that they weren’t efficient in winning game after game. If somebody could tell me now that I had to watch Arsenal grind out 2-0 after 2-0 between now and the end of the season, but there’d be something shiny at the end of it, I’d bite their hand off and start working away on the arm until I hit the shoulder.

Onwards and upwards, towards a tantalising Wednesday night time against Bayern, where there might just be some revenge to speak of on Thursday.

There are those chickens again.

Liverpool: We shouldn’t rotate, but we should ‘freshen up’

Today’s an interesting game to call, isn’t it? I mean, on the one hand you have an Arsenal team that have had their pants pulled down by Liverpool just over a week ago, which could either lead to a bit of fear from the players that take to the field today in red and white, yet on the other hand you sense that those players will want to prove that last week really was an anomaly and will therefore be extra up for the match this afternoon.

Likewise, you have a Liverpool team that will no doubt be buoyed by that 5-1 drubbing of us last week, as well as a last-gasp winner against Fulham on Wednesday. But equally, that’s a Liverpool tea that will surely be wary of our need to prove that last week could not be repeated, as well as the fact that defensively they still concede some sloppy goals.

I honestly don’t know which two teams will take to the field today, which makes this game impossible to call, so I don’t think I will!

In November Brendan Rodgers got his tactics wrong at the Emirates and a couple of goals from Santi and Aaron gave us a comfortable 2-0 win. He readdressed that last week by catching us cold and tactically outperforming Arsene with pace, with and a lightning quick start. He will obvious want to replay last weekend’s game in terms of the two styles, but the challenge he’ll have is making sure his team make another quick start. That’s where we have to make sure that, true to our home form this season, we are strong and compact in defence and we avoid the suicidal high line that cost us so dearly at Anfield. We’ve made a habit this season of starting games slowly and building our momentum throughout, so the blueprint is there for success: don’t let. Liverpool catch us cold in that first 15 to 20 minutes.

Thankfully, we are at home today, which I’m sure will help the Arsenal lads that take to the field because the home fans will want the sweet smell of revenge just as much as the players. We’ll need to be noisy and loud and – cliched as it may sound – be that twelfth man to ensure we navigate this very tough fifth round tie.

There’s been a lot of talk amongst Gooners and the press about the possibility of Arsene resting a few players today in prep for the arrival of Bayern on Wednesday. Personally I hope that Arsene is tempted to make wholesale changes. I hope, if anything, that he takes this game more seriously than the Bayern one, because I am a pragmatist and I think we have a better chance of silverware in this competition than in the Champions League, so I don’t really want to see wholesale changes. I know it’s not a thought process I’m alone with either, as Dave over at 1 Nil Down 2 One Up also talks about in his match preview he wrote yesterday.

Having said that, I do think Arsene needs to freshen it up from Wednesday’s draw against United, because we looked lethargic and short of ideas going forward in that second half. There has been plenty of online column inches provided by Gooners and journos alike bemoaning our lack of pace in attack, as well as runners in beyond Özil, so I hope that Arsene sees today’s game as an opportunity for Gnabry and Podolski to operate either side of the loan front man. Whether or not that is Giroud is remains to be seen and I wonder if Arsene will be tempted to start Bendtner to see if he can perform against the scousers.

In midfield Jack hasn’t had the greatest of weeks and I’d be tempted to go for a rotated two in the middle of the park of Flamini and The Ox. Matthieu has just sat out over a weeks worth of football and so will be fresh and Alex’s performance against Crystal Palace could mean he’s given another chance to shine. Alternatively, he could look at giving the effervescent Rosicky a run in the middle of the field, as we all know Arsene loves giving Tomas a shot in some of the big games. He usually performs well too.

As for Liverpool, I’m expecting the exact team that played us at Anfield last Saturday, why wouldn’t we? They smashed us to pieces with their pace and width and Rodgers will no doubt believe he has found the blueprint to beat Arsenal. That’s what worries many of us about the result today too I think, because defeat at home today will raise a lot of questions as to where we’re going right now, as well as the possibility that teams have worked out how to get at this Arsenal team.

The other worry is that Liverpool have seen what United do and play for a bore-draw to take it back to Anfield to finish the job. Let’s face it, they don’t have the fixture pile up through European competition and so don’t have as much to worry about in terms of a replay, so I’m sure if you offered it to Liverpool fans and the manager himself, he’d probably take it and try to replicate the home demolition of us in the league.

Unfortunately for me, my own current circumstances have dictated that I cannot make the game, so I’ll be watching it through the horror-show that is BT Sport in a local pub. But I hope that we can get the result we need because so far, this current ‘DEATHRUN1′ has not been ‘so good’.

Come on you Gunners!