Gritty three points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, bring on Monaco…

Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

Santi the quarterback dominates Boro

Arsenal are a funny old team, eh? After labouring in the North London Derby, then huffing and puffing against a Leicester team with bodies behind the ball, they faced a confident Middlesbrough team and simply swotted them aside yesterday.

I have to hold my hands up and admit I didn’t see that coming. I assumed – wrongly it seems – that we would be in for more of the same as the Leicester game. I thought Boro would be organised, hard to break down and we’d have to scrap right until the last minute.

That it was the score line that flattered to deceive the North Easterners, should tell anybody who didn’t watch the game just how comfortable an afternoon we had. Indeed, it felt like if we really wanted to, I mean really wanted to, we could have won that game by about five or six, something Dave had assured me would happen yesterday before a ball was even kicked. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to his narrative; the Blackburn blip a few seasons ago aside, we don’t tend to get beaten in the FA Cup at home, especially to lower league opposition.

You could tell how in control we were within the first five minutes. The tone of the game was set when Santi drifted into acres of space at least three times in the first five. He had yet another exemplary performance in the ‘quarterback’ role sitting deep and picking passes, but Boro’ simply didn’t pick him up at all at times, which set the tone for the day. Karanka said afterwards that he thought his team perhaps underestimated how difficult repeating the feat of the Etihad was, but I think yesterday’s canter was as much down to Middlesbrough not performing, as it was Arsenal playing superb.

We were superb too. I could reel off the names of players who had good games yesterday and it would just look like I’m writing down a team sheet. Gibbs at left back was great. I noted to my colleague Tom yesterday (up in the gods of the Clock End for a different perspective does give you a better vantage point of tactical set up) that Gibbs was playing very wide – almost hugging the touchline – and it gave our players the ability to stretch the pitch a bit more than when Nacho plays. Monreal is worthy of his starting berth at the moment, so I don’t begrudge him that, but Gibbs playing counter-balances our tendency to be a little narrow when Özil is playing on that side and when Alexis drifts as he likes to do. There was a few occasions yesterday when Gibbs was waving his arms about with a heck of a lot of space and perhaps it was telling that it was his run that was key in the first goal. Santi (natch) found him with a delightful pick out and his ball to the near post was perfect for Giroud to steer under Meijas.

So next to Giroud, who bagged both goals and was the quickest to spot the freedom of the penalty box on a corner to double the advantage just a few minutes later, this time picked out by Alexis from the corner. It was quick-witted and clever but Karanka won’t be too happy about the marking for the second goal.

Giroud has been superb since returning from injury. I haven’t looked up the goals tally for him for this season, but if he doesn’t surpass his season’s best at this rate, I’d be surprised. And let’s not forget that’s including the fact he’s missed a few months due to a broken leg. He’s looking every bit the quality centre forward we need and this season has added big-game goals to his repertoire.

But it wasn’t just the Santi, Gibbs and Giroud show, because a number of players had good games. Take Mesut Özil for example, having scored and assisted in every one of his games since coming back from injury (I think – don’t quote me on that!), he showed once again that he’s coming back into force as one of the stars of the team. His movement, ability to retain the ball and link up play was wizardry at times, to which you can only watch and applaud. He was outshone in midfield by the little Spaniard yesterday, but his performance was still sparkling and yet another good game under his belt will have done his confidence the power of good, important as we enter the business end of the season.

A good solid debut was had by Gabriel alongside Koscienly, who won nearly every header all day, and coupled with Chambers looking decent at right back and Flamini marshalling the midfield, we didn’t give Middlesbrough a sniff until the dying embers of the game.

Arsène can be rightly happy this morning. He’s seen us navigate a potentially tricky tie against a team at the top of the Championship, with a quarter final now awaiting, most likely at Anfield or Old Trafford knowing our luck. I don’t see it being anything else other than that. There’ll be a couple of heated up balls in the pot tonight to make sure it happens. Mark my words.

But who cares? We can go to Anfield or Old Trafford and get a result. We are The Arsenal and with the way those two sides have played this season, even one of those toughest fixtures in the competition, we’ll have to do it eventually against one of those teams.

All eyes now turn toward preparation against Crystal Palace. They may be licking their wounds after an FA Cup exit to Liverpool, but by the time the game on Saturday comes around, I’d expect them to be fired up for us and I think we’re going to have a really tough afternoon in South London. More on that as the game draws near.

For now, I’m going to bask in the glory of victory, dreaming of another FA Cup final in the sunshine.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.

Mood Swings

So. Ermmm. The 7th of Feb wasn’t great was it. BUT THE 10TH WAS. SO LETS TALK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD *weeps uncontrollably*

It’s incredible how quickly football changes. How your outlook on things can be quickly reversed with the swing of someone’s boot. I’ve decided in the last few days that at least 40% of my mood is completely determined by Arsenal’s form. Sad I know, but it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile.

Meanwhile, having to deal with the frustration on a Monday morning is the worst, bumping into people *those people* (we all have one). Smug people, who don’t really seem to know what they’re talking about, but always have the last laugh. Sometimes I wish they would all just fall in a hole.

The most frustrating thing about the Spurs game is the fact that it’s a stain on our season. We’ll have to sit and dwell on the fact that we won’t get another opportunity to try and redeem ourselves against an average Sp*rs side. Forget all that other stuff; finishing above them, etc, it’s the bragging rights we all want and we currently don’t own.

I’ve rambled enough so let’s talk about ‘that’ game. Our ‘Plan B’ didn’t really work. As much as it pains me to say, Sp*rs dominated possession for very long periods. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure with very poor passing. I do live by the motto that the majority of stats are wanky, but our pass completion was terrible, with Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker the only starters to finish the game with over 75% pass accuracy. Coquelin was the best with 78% (which is still awful).

Hindsight is obviously 20/20 so it’s easy to sit here and say this player should have played or the approach, should have been completely different, but personally I thought it was the right way to go. It’s just that the execution was very poor. Watching it for a second time (I know, I know), Spurs did in fact, play well. Pochettino organised his troops very well and also managed the game in a particularly good way. I remember thinking when I saw their line-up, it seemed bizarre. Playing Dembele so high up the field, considering his lack of end product. As the game went on it became very clear why the decision was made. He totally wiped players out, stealing the ball off our midfield trio and recycling possession. I heard a very interesting story about him on The Guardian Podcast a few weeks ago. When he was a child in Belgium, he played football on a basketball court, with no goals. The aim of the game was to take players on and eliminate them. All makes sense when you watch him play.

The decision of Danny Welbeck to start over Theo Walcott seemed bizarre for many. However, considering the opposition and the occasion, it was entirely understandable in my opinion. Welbeck’s all round game was more appropriate, especially his defensive work rate, which I think was the key for chasing him. Arsène probably anticipated Pochettino’s pressing approach. It was something he had success with against us last season when he was in-charge at Southampton.

Theo’s lack of defensive contribution was proved when he did very little to prevent Bentaleb’s cross from sailing perfectly onto Harry Kane’s head. Slightly more gutting was his clumsiness, but can that be put down to rust? In the final minute, when Rosicky sent him clear of the Sp*rs defence, the ball just bounced off him and rolled to safety. Is that rust or a wider issue of his all around game? Have we all forgotten Theo of three years ago, who would frustrate and delight in equal measure?

Football is all about fine margins. The same reason Theo wasn’t on the pitch when Arsenal conceded. On the other side of the coin, Arsenal needed a goal, but he fluffed his lines.

I said a few weeks ago that Theo deceives. I wonder what the consensus on him will be in a few weeks time. Part of me feels he should have a free pass until the end of the season (before he’s judged amongst the masses) but his contract is looming above his head. It will be interesting to see how things stand in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, in our last handful of games we’ve appeared to be comfortable to allow the opposition possession of the football to see if they can hurt us. The difference between the win at The Eithad, the draw against Liverpool (For small periods), was that we were able to relieve the pressure. Against Spurs we didn’t have enough to trouble them on the counter which just allowed them to put us under even more pressure. You can’t win a game of football if you keep giving the ball to the opposition in vital areas.

What I found interesting from Sp*rs’ approach, they essentially isolated Harry Kane and Per Mertesacker for the majority of the game, which was definitely a bad matchup for Arsenal considering we didn’t have a right back or [Insert description of choice] midfielder to relieve pressure. It appeared that Sp*rs ‘allowed’ Ramsey to actually have the ball. That’s interesting (not in a good way) because a) He isn’t a ball carrier and wasn’t able to break out for their press, b) He was very poor on the day, and C) He isn’t Mesut Özil.

They overloaded our left hand side. Which left Bellerin isolated whilst cramping out Özil and Cazorla. I wonder if Welbeck had been a little sharper in possession, we may have done considerably better.

So what have we learned about Arsenal in the last year or so? Against teams that employ a high pressing strategy they will get something from us.

I think in time we’ll improve and we’ll be more comfortable when we’re under the kosh. We’ve all played football, well attempted anyway. When you’re three nill up and the opposition score. You can feel the tide turning and you can’t stop it. It just felt we were drowning and couldn’t even tread water, let alone float unaided.

On paper, a high press can leave space in behind and if you can just break that first wave of pressure, you’re away. We will improve playing the system, I have no doubt about it, it just may take a little more time than hoped.

Be Happy,

Ben.

Taking pleasure from victory, if not performance

Regardless of the 95 odd minutes that ensued last night, if you can’t enjoy the fact that three points were secured and the team got back to winning ways with a win against Leicester, then you need to have a think about taking up something new to fill the void where football once was in your life. I’d suggest something a little safer on the old nerves. Maybe join a sewing club or something. Because despite all of the tension and frustration in a laboured performance against the basement boys of the Premier League, three points saw us leapfrog both the Spuds and United, albeit temporarily until they play Burnley at home tonight.

Seeing that Liverpool had beaten that lot down the road was a wonderful end to the evening for me, because in my mind, it effectively cancels out the North London Derby. As Winston Wolf would say…

“Like it never happened…”

I thought the ebb and flow of the game was effectively decided by the one goal that Leicester got in the second half. Up until that point we looked pretty comfortable. 2-0 up thanks to goals from Koscienly and Walcott, as the second half wore on, so too did the expectancy that we would get a third and put the game to bed. But the third never actually materialised. Instead, it was replaced by a Leicester goal that you could see visibly gave the Arsenal players the jitters. Yes Cambiasso handballed in the build up to the corner that led to the Krameric goal, but the passage of play when the goal was scored was entirely avoidable. We had ample chance to push out and even when the shot came in, Ospina would probably have expected the save one at his near post, but the goal gave Leicester hope.

Up until then, they had been content to play with a bank of about seven defenders in a line across their 18 yard box and hope that they can counter as Arsenal pushed forward for a third, which of course is exactly what we were doing. But with Walcott and Özil as the wide players, we were always going to look to play narrow and centrally and the net effect was that we often found ourselves running into blue shirted traffic for large parts of the game. Perhaps we have to give credit to under-fire Nigel Pearson, because he anticipated what Arsenal would look to do and countered it with three big centre halves who were more than happy to act as clobbermeisters against Alexis & co.

Of course Mike Jones had no intention of being anything other than his incompetent self. Robert Huth alone got away with three fouls in the first half where no warning was even offered. Mark Schwarzer was allowed to take as much time on goal kicks as he wanted, whilst both full backs for the foxes saw the leeway they were being given and decided that wild swings at both Bellerin and Özil in the first half were a good option, as Jones had no intention of punishing them. Even a late booking for Giroud for having the ball whacked at him from Schwarzer was baffling in the extreme. I tweeted last night that the ineptitude was positively Antony Taylorian in its magnitude of errors, yet I’d expect even Taylor would have been left scratching his head at the Giroud caution. Maybe.

Personally, I think Mike Riley needs to sweep the board clean and start again with referees, because this is becoming a weekly occurrence. And not just for Arsenal games.

From an individual perspective, I thought we again had a few concerns, not least defensively. Ospina – so calm and assured since grabbing his opportunity to start – seemed a bit flappy last night. He made a mini hash of a cross in the first half and got a touch of the Fabianski’s about him when rushing out to punch a couple of balls in during the second half. With an FA Cup game coming up at the weekend Wojciech will probably be wondering if there is a chink of light for him at the end of this benchy-looking tunnel, because for the first time Ospina looked a little rattled.

Bellerin too, might be looking over his shoulder at Chambers, because his performance looked a little bit ropey. Hey, the kids 19 so will always have inconsistencies, but with Chambers I’m sure chomping at the bit to get back in the team, this weekend could prove an opportunity for him. Bellerin seemed to be caught out of position a number of times yesterday and after Bentaleb had put in the winning goal at the weekend from his right hand side, I wonder if we’re starting to see a bit of confidence dropping?

Monreal had another good game though. He’s stringing quite a run together.

In midfield we again failed to be as dominant as we have been and Coquelin was ok, but didn’t seem his usual feisty self. He’s been snapping into tackles since coming back from Charlton on loan, but I didn’t see so much of that yesterday, but perhaps (hopefully) it’s just an ‘off game’ that he – as well as a few players – had yesterday.

Walcott got his goal, which was a tidy finish, but by and large he was very quiet and I keep thinking back to a conversation that Arseblog had with Tim Stillman about Walcott’s overall contribution to the team a few weeks ago. Theo now has four goals in four games and whilst that is fantastic to see, it doesn’t tell the full story of his performances. Yes, he offers more than Podolski who was just all end product and little more, but we are now at the stage where we’re asking “is that enough?”. I’m not so sure any more. Competition is dictating that players have to fight tooth and nail to keep their place. Just look at Nacho or Santi. Or look at another busy performance from the ever green Tomas Rosicky. He was busy all over the park, keeping the ball ticking over and trying to up the tempo all the time. But Theo had patches where he was very quiet. And then weren’t just small patches, they we five to 10 minute windows. With Welbeck sure to return to fuller fitness this week, you wonder if he might not be a more attractive option for Arsène.

Of course the slightly worrying parts of the evening, were injuries to Ramsey and a slight knock to Alexis, who came off for Giroud. The former looks like he’s set for another spell on the sidelines, which is a shame, but the latter we all have to pray will be ok. Thankfully we have 11 days until the next league game and I suspect Arsène will rest Alexis on Sunday when Middlesborough come to town.

There’s just one more player I wanted to mention before I toddle off for the day, which is Mesut Özil, who I thought was one of our better players on the pitch. With a deep and compact Leicester team determined not to give Arsenal any space in their defensive third, the need for a player who can see that threaded ‘eye of a needle’ pass was important and there were a few examples – particularly in the first half – where he demonstrated the value he adds against teams like that. It was his shot that led to Theo’s goal and he forced Schwarzer into a couple of good saves. At a time when many in the media question his overall contribution and value to a team, it’s important for us fans who watch the same team each week, to recognise a good display when we see one. He may have been a little less effective in the first half, but so was everyone in the team, as the mindset clearly shifted from racking up a cricket score to protecting a lead.

All in all, we’ve won the first of an absolutely crucial series of games over the next month. I remain convinced that the other teams around us will drop points, so if we can win games in all competitions between now and mid March, I think we’ll find ourselves a few points clear of our rivals and chasing down a cup (or two).

Laters.

Leicester: restart that run Arsenal

No time for losing ourselves in a metaphorical cave of melancholy made by a weekend derby defeat, as it’s bottom of the league Leicester who make their way to The Emirates this evening.

It’s a game that you’d say should be the perfect type of match for us to play in such quick succession after seeing the team put on such a dismal display up the road on Saturday. Leicester seem in disarray; bottom of the league and with a manager who probably doesn’t know whether he’s coming, going or strangling.

But this is The Arsenal here. Rarely is life simple and whilst you’d think we should have enough to swat aside Leicester with consummate ease, it would not be too far fetched to see Leicester arrive with a game plan to frustrate us all evening. I’m expecting a deep-lying defensive side looking for a point and with that in mind, the manager has some decisions to make on what he does with his first XI. I’d say particularly when it comes to the attack-minded players.

It would be easy to suggest that some rotation of Giroud, Özil and Welbeck could take place, but with the promise of a campsite of Foxes on the edge of their own box I do wonder if Arsène needs to look at technical ability rather than rotating on physical grounds.

Take Theo, for example. A pacey player who can be a dynamo against a team with a high line. Give Theo plenty of grass to run into and he can punish teams by playing off the shoulders of the last defender. But when the last defender plays so deep that the ‘keeper can act as an auxiliary sweeper, his pace is negated somewhat. To some extent, Welbeck is the same, as there are technically better players in the team than the two England Internationals. That’s why I’d choose Giroud, Özil and Alexis as the key forward players. Behind them, the zip and energy of Rosicky must be considered alongside Santi, whilst Coquelin completes the midfield.

Defensively Arsène could probably afford to shuffle his pack for the first time this season and it not be through enforced changes. Leicester will not have as much going forward and I’d expect a quiet evening, so I’d be tempted to give Gabriel a go. Perhaps even Chambers at right back too, although Bellerin would be a better option in terms of getting forward. I’m not sure who would partner Gabriel, but you’d expect Monreal and Ooooooospina! to keep their places.

The first 15 minutes will effectively dictate the manner of this game. Start like we did against Brighton and Aston Villa and you’d expect it to be a rout. If it gets to halftime and we’ve seen no Arsenal goals, there will be some nerves, but even then you’d expect us to win. It just wouldn’t be a comfortable evening. That’s if Leicester don’t score, of course.

Nigel Pearson will probably want to load his team with a couple of pacey players, so I wonder if Vardy and Judd Schlupp (is that the kids name?) will be used as counter attacking outlets, because they are both quite quick players. I haven’t seen anything of this Krameric chap (again, might need to check that name, because I’m not inclined to bother wasting my data charges on him), but if he’s still acclimatising to the league there will be an element of the unknown that we’ll have to watch out for.

This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. I don’t fancy the Spuds getting a win tonight (famous last words, eh?), which means a victory on our own turf effectively renders their NLD win irrelevant, so I’m hoping for two positive results come 10pm tonight. I said it in the aftermath and I’ll reiterate again this morning; we have an opportunity to win five on the bounce in the league and, if we start tonight, then we’ll put ourselves back on track. Get yourself back on that horse and in the saddle n’all that.

But we have to do the business. We have to be professional and we have to win tonight.

Come on you reds.