Belief lacking, game plan found wanting

Well we didn’t get spanked like last year, did we? So that’s a plus point. Am I right?

That’s all I’ve got today, because yesterday you like I, will have sat through a performance that was both ‘un-Arsenal’ like and ‘very Arsenal’ like. In the way that we contented ourselves to have the least amount of possession and passing stats it was not like The Arsenal that we’re used to seeing. But the way in which we capitulated at the end of the match with a man advantage was so like modern day Arsenal it’s crippling beyond belief.

Heh, ‘belief’, feels wrong even saying that word today because, let’s face it, this team doesn’t look like it believes in itself. Yesterday was a classic case of a superior Arsenal team on paper, being outplayed by one of the most beatable Liverpool teams in a generation. Heck, we scored two goals with our first two chances on target, but that was more to do with a shocking Liverpool defence than anything else.

In November we ripped apart a United team and lost. Yesterday Liverpool ripped us apart yet, for all of Wenger’s assertions on the belief of this squad and their mental strength, we have once again showed that we are incapable of seeing out a game. Let’s also not forget that this was a Liverpool team so profligate up top that they missed guilt edge chance after guilt edge chance yesterday. They were playing with Sterling up top and until he was moved out wide later in the game, it looked like the same as when we were forced to play Arshavin up top because there was nobody else available. Yet we still managed to gift Liverpool two goals.

The first was a neat finish from Coutinho, but the fact it game because Giroud was trying to be too clever with a first touch in our half is hardly surprising. We all know the pro-Liverpool commentary in this country seem to get mesmerised by the ‘history’ of that club, but when Martin Tyler said they deserved their goal, I doubt there was a Gooner alive that couldn’t disagree.

Thankfully our response was swift and, for as shocking a game Flamini had (I’ll come to that in a second), it was a good leap and head back into a dangerous position for Debuchy to equalise on the stroke of half time.

So, to Flamini, who has deteriorated quicker than I’d ever thought possible. We’ve always known his limitations, but the guy looks like the epitome of a headless chicken in football terms. Gary Neville had called it in commentary, but the amount of times he was out of position and leaving an acre of space in front of our back four, that was really criminal. He’s supposed to be our man protecting our back four, yet he looks increasingly like a player who has no idea what his primary role is in the team. Yesterday I tweeted that I thought defensive midfielder was one of the easiest roles to perform if you have a few basic ingredients. 1) Be able to win a tackle, 2) be disciplined in your positioning, and 3) be ready to distribute the ball instantly to a nearby teammate. It really isn’t rocket science. Yet Flamini seems to be struggling. I have no idea why. Is he operating differently because of instructions from the bench? Which leads me to my next gripe I’m afraid…

Arsène Wenger. I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his actions with any kind of logic I’m afraid. He is a great man. He has given us great highs. He should be respected and appreciated. But what we have seen this season has the hallmarks of a star whose brightness is fading. Yesterday morning I wrote about how Liverpool will look to exploit us by getting players like Sterling and Coutinho on the ball and feed in to Lambert up top. I got the personnel wrong, but the game plan was not and we saw time and time again, Coutinho and Markovic pick the ball up deep and run at our defence. I have never managed a game in my life, I am nowhere near as qualified as Arsène to lead a football team, but if I can see what Liverpool are going to do, why can’t he?

Because he is incapable? I don’t know, but what I do know is we saw a team that were outplayed, out thought and out fought. And it was painful at times. I don’t know if The Ox was too injured to play, but he was terrible, given the ball away, travelling with it too long without passing it (I call it ‘non-injured Diaby syndrome’) before losing it and generally looking out of sorts. Santi faired slightly better, but he was too quiet to be really affective for any length of time. I’ve mentioned Flamini, so all in all that makes a three man midfield that at times, might as well not have been there.

Why do we have these problems in midfield? Is it the managers fault that we have so many injuries? Of course not, but he is the one that should be setting those up who are available, in a way that negates the opposition and plays to our strengths. Did any of us see that yesterday? I certainly didn’t. For that, you have to look at the manager and I’m afraid not for the first time this season, he was found wanting.

Defensively too, we were terrible, with poor old Calum Chambers looking like he was running through treacle at times. He had a torrid afternoon at right back and, whilst I can see Arsène’s logic playing the quicker Debuchy at centre half with Sterling up top, it meant Chambers suffered in a position that looks like it is increasingly more difficult for him to be a success at. Let’s not forget we’ve got Carl Jenkinson out on loan to fourth placed West Ham right now. Hopefully that decision to play Debuchy as a centre half and Chambers on the right is a short term issue and we’ll see the two swap for QPR at home on Boxing Day. But again, we go back to the fact that a lack of depth in the squad – bought on by the managers own inaction in the summer – is forcing square pegs into round holes and we look like we are suffering as a result.

I can’t believe we’re not actually beyond sight of the top four spots. For that we can at least be grateful and look, if we win all of our games over the Christmas and New Year period, we’ll be sat in a good position coming in to 2015. But despite this, does anybody really feel confident we can go into games – especially away games – and get a result? Yesterday I used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the Arsenal players. It’s an extreme word and I did think to myself whether I would regret using it come the next morning. I am a passionate fan and prone to ‘heat of the moment’ style outbursts like we all are, but I’d like to think that my friends recognise I’m not a person who can’t consider any football situation with a bit of reflective logic. So do I still think my phrase ‘cowards’ is relevant? Yes. I saw a group of players yesterday who ‘wanted it’ more and they played in red. That annoys me. It annoys me because it seems to happen too much with Arsenal. Too often we are the technically gifted side who feel we need to turn up to win games, too often we come out of these games with egg on our faces, yesterday was no exception.

I haven’t even mentioned our front three. Probably that’s because we saw little of any of them all afternoon, although I must acknowledge a fine goal from Giroud which should have seen us pick up all of the points. It’s because of that though, and the manner of the last minute goal, that this feels like a defeat and not a draw. Had it been the reverse, that we’d have scored in injury time, I certainly would have more relief this morning, but I would not be able to take any comfort in the performance.

What also really cheeses me off too, is that yesterday we could have gone some way to remove this weight around our necks of not being able to win ‘big’ games away from home. Not only are we failing to do that, again, but we haven’t even been winning at home this season.

Oh, let’s also through some petrol on this sh*t bonfire by finding out The Ox will be out until the New Year too, shouldn’t we?

What a way to start a week of Christmas over indulgence. Still, at least I’ve got enough booze to drown my sorrows over the next few days, I recommend drinking to forget. Then we can pretend we’re not in dire straights right now.

Return of double pivot today? Depends on The Ox

It’s been a long week without The Arsenal, but we’ve finally arrived at match day and it’s a trip up to Scouseland for Arsène and whoever is left in the team not currently hovering around the medical centre at London Colney like its some sort of overcrowded NHS A&E. We’ll soon find out if The Ox, Theo and Nacho are on the team bus and in the squad and whilst I think we can afford to be cautious with Theo and Nacho, The Ox simply must play if he’s even remotely fit enough.

We simply don’t have the players in midfield, you see, although I appreciate that technically we do because Coquelin can fit in. But the way that Arsène likes to play, with a stopper (normally Flamini/Arteta), a creative number 10/forward lying midfielder (Santi/Özil) and a box-to-boxer (The Ox/Rambo), having Coquelin would change it up a bit because there would be two more defensive minded players holding that midfield together.

Arsène has tried this before though, which we saw on numerous occasions last season with the famous double pivot of Flamini and Arteta. It worked at times last season, like Napoli at home, but then it failed on occasion too. If Arsène is forced in to it today, it might just work though. With Liverpool sure to play Lambert up top, there will be runners like Sterling and Coutinho who will look to catch our centre halves out with their pace, so having an extra body to screen the back four might help to isolate Lambert and cause the runners to drop deeper looking for the ball.

Of course, Rodgers could continue with Sterling up top and if that is the case then he will certainly look to play off the shoulders of the last man, so if the amount of green grass he gets to run in to today is reduced, then it might negate his threat. One things for sure, we don’t want to be playing a high line, because that’s how we always get done over.

At the sharp end of our team there is a notable difference between last season’s drubbing at Anfield and today’s game. The team that got spanked earlier this year was lacking pace in it with Giroud and Podolski accompanied by Özil and Santi. Liverpool knew this and as a result were able to play a high pressing game which kept us on the back foot as they blew us away in the first 20 minutes. If, as we’re all assuming we play Welbeck, Giroud and Alexis as our front three, we have two willing runners to play off of our big Frenchman. That should mean he won’t cut a lone figure up top. Hopefully it will mean that Liverpool can’t play as higher line against us and therefore we won’t be caught out as often as we were in February.

That’s the theory, anyway, but as we all know you have no idea what Arsenal will do in these games. You wouldn’t look at the two respective teams at the Britannia and expect Stoke to smash us to pieces in a first half, but we had about as much consistency to us as a bowl of custard that day. So I wouldn’t put it past us to wobble in yellow away today too.

I hope not. I hope we can do to Liverpool what they did to us. But I suspect that this afternoon will be a cagey affair and that both teams would probably settle for a point if you offered it to the respective managers right now. A point is no good to us though. We’ve had too many draws this season and given that West Ham seem to be stretching their lead in fourth, we need to keep pace with them because they will start to drop points. We also need to win a ‘big game’ this season. We’ve had only draws or defeats in what I would call a ‘big game’, and we never seem to be able to win away from home against the traditional ‘top four contenders’, so if ever we’re going to break that hoodoo, you’d say an ailing Liverpool team would be the time to do it.

Famous last words, I know.

Fingers crossed. Come on Arsenal!

Problems placing Poldi

Today I want to say some words on Lukas Podolski, because after the game on Wednesday night, it appears as though a fire has been lit under many for his inclusion from the start on a more regular basis.

First and foremost, we must all admit that he gave a much improved performance against Galatasaray, notching up another two goals and putting a little bit more effort than perhaps he has been seen to be doing previously. It’s that kind of hunger to impress that you want to see from the players that don’t get regular matches and I for one was pleased to see some of the rotational players step up.

However, to the doubters in Podolski, I too must admit I have a side of me that is with you. Whilst his performance on Wednesday was markedly improved, there were still times when his movement looked static to me and as much as he comes alive in the final third, when he has the ball in the middle of the park it is usually to quickly redistribute it to somebody else.

He’s certainly a conundrum of a player. Not quite technically brilliant enough for Arsène to keep him in the team, but so lethal in front of goal, that it makes Arsène look silly that he doesn’t play more often. I maintain the opinion that if he was another four inches taller and could hold the ball up, I don’t think we’d have seen as much of Olivier Giroud, as we have done over the last couple of years. I know Giroud brings more than just a tall target man and that his touch and interlinking play with others around him is far better, but having a Podolski with those stronger centre forward attributes would definitely give us a more direct and ‘end product’ type of striker.

But of course he isn’t. Which is why he has been operating out on the left for the most part of his career for Germany and for Arsenal. But the problem he has now, is that his position is being occupied by the Rolls Royce that is Alexis, which means his chances at the club will inevitably be few and far between. Alexis may not necessarily operate in the same zones as Poldi, but that wide left position which has been moulded into a number 10 hybrid at times with Alexis, means that Poldi’s old spot is evolving. Without him.

I think more than anything though, the technical ability of the player is what has cost him his place in the team, especially when you look at someone like Santi. At the start of the season, a few people thought he would be the player that is used less and less, as Özil occupies the number ten role and Alexis operates out wide on the left. But we’re now coming to the midway point in the season and I think I’m right in saying that Cazorla has played more than almost everyone else in the squad. It’s true he may have benefitted from injuries to players like Özil, but his regular inclusion in the side supports the arguments that for Arsène, technique trumps any other kind of attribute that his players must have.

I’ve said it a million times: with Podolski you know exactly what you are getting: end product. Nothing more, nothing less. He is the specialist ‘field goal kicker’ that American Football teams have just to get those field goal points. If you could make rotational subs like in 5-a-side, he’d be an awesome player to bring on every time we get a throw in or corner in the opposition box, then drag off the second a move breaks down, because his end product starts and finishes with his goalscoring.

Which is why I can understand the argument for him being an impact sub. If we need a goal with 20 minutes to go, then we need Podolski, because as long as he gets the space in our around the box, he’ll hit the target. Perhaps this is where I don’t understand Wenger’s thinking, because five, six or seven minutes at the end of a game is hardly enough time for someone like Podolski to make an impact as a sub. If we are all in acknowledgement that we’d be best served with him on the bench coming on in the second half, why isn’t Arsène more ruthless by hooking off any ineffective attacking players sooner? If, after an hour of football, we’re seeing Giroud having ‘one of those days’, then shift Welbeck up top, Alexis out wide right and Poldi on the left, no? Likewise if Welbeck is ineffective, or even the wonder boy Alexis. These guys are all human beings and everyone has an off day, so there’s no shame in admitting it hasn’t worked and trying someone different. That’s where I don’t understand Wenger sometimes.

It has been mentioned to me that perhaps Poldi is a ‘square peg with no round holes’ i.e. He doesn’t have a position that suits him in this Arsenal side. I’m not sure I subscribe to that thinking. Mainly because, as I’ve mentioned, he’s such a specialist player (end product) that he doesn’t specifically need a position I don’t think. Instead, he needs to occupy areas of the final third where he is within range and has space to fashion himself a shot. There’s nobody that can’t argue that had the same chance (the first goal against Galatasaray) fallen to him on the right hand side of the goal, that he wouldn’t have hammered it home, albeit would have been slightly more difficult as he probably would have taken it on his left and so not allowed the ball to roll across his body before striking.

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a specific position, just a skill, that he isn’t getting more games. Actually, re-reading the thinking above, I suppose that is a square peg, but it’s not that there is no round holes, it’s just that there all filled up. And anyway, his peg is so small it would just fall through and not fit anyway. Or something similar like that.

I suppose this is just one long monologue which ultimately comes to the conclusion that if I had the reigns at Arsenal, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with Poldi either, because I’d want him in my team but I’d have nowhere to put him on a permanent basis. The only conclusion I can draw is that we should be using him more. Who knows, perhaps the busy Christmas schedule will see him get more games for the club, I’m looking specifically at that QPR game and thinking that it could be tailor-made for him to start from the beginning.

What’s your view on Poldi?

Happy, but feeling a ‘little bit out of jail’

I spent most of yesterday evening – both pre, during and post match, lamenting the poor form of this Arsenal team. So whilst I’m obviously overjoyed that we beat a stubborn Southampton team, I still harbour serious concerns about the capability of Arsenal, version 2014/15.

That the goal came from Alexis was hardly a surprise, but that we had to wait until the last two minutes of what the yanks call ‘regulation time’, perhaps was. There’s no doubt in my mind that we deserved the victory, but there’s always something about a last-gasp victory that always feels a little forged to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing because 99% of the time the opposition doesn’t have a chance to respond, but in my warped mind it feels a bit fraudulent. It’s weird, because had we scored in the first minute or two then I’d probably be telling a different narrative, but such is the manner of timings on goals that it feels like we got a ‘little bit out of jail’.

The reality is that we deserved three points. Southampton rarely threatened and, whilst we were hardly the cutting edge champions elect you’d hope we’d be, we still deserved all the points. Fraser Forster was in particularly inspired form, tipping over a Welbeck header in the first half, plus saving from both Ramsey and Giroud in the second. Perhaps it is such that ‘keepers with lots to do always look better (a topic of discussion with a few Gooners I met before the match and chatted to over a pint), but those were the types of saves that we haven’t seen Szczesny make of late. His replacement however, looks like he is growing with every game he gets in the first team, and I have to be honest and say that with the way he commands his box, you couldn’t be too surprised if Arséne opts to keep him in the team. After all, it was a similar situation that saw Szczesny usurp both Almunia and Fabianski about five years ago, so why not the young Argentine?

I still think Wojciech will return to the team as soon as he is fit, but at least it will give something for Arsène to think about, and I’m all for the ‘thinking’ about stuff you know.

So what about the rest of the team then? Well, like I said, I’m really not sure at the moment. On the one hand we’ve managed to string together back-to-back-to-back victories. But on the other hand, we’ve laboured to two out of three, so should we be worried? Again, I guess it is all down to the narrative. For example, if that result had happened this time last season, you and I would probably be talking about the resolute defence, ‘never-say-die’ attitude and winning mentality. But because we’ve stuttered all season, we all feel a bit sheepish about the team right now, not really able to make comments like “they’re up and running finally” for fear that we’ll only trip ourselves up in the next game. Which, incidentally, is that horrible annual schlep into Mordor of Stoke at the weekend.

I think I’ve said it before on this blog, but life is not so linear. X plus Y doesn’t always equal Z and our performance this evening doesn’t mean we’ll roll over and have our bellies tickled against Stoke on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting us to swat aside a team with whom we’ve traditionally suffered at on account of their general unpleasentness, but likewise am I thinking that the performance of last nights game will mean a guaranteed loss for us.

The only real thing we should take from tonight’s game is that we’re three points richer come this morning. Plus, the arrival of Olivier Giroud appears to be having a definite impact. As both Billy and I remarked very shortly after his introduction, it’s the impact Giroud has on other players that is so surprising. Ramsey, for example, instantly looked happier and was involved in the build up to our scrappy goal with his cut back to Alexis. It’s fair to say that up until that point it had looked like ‘another one of those days’ for the Welshman, but he has still ended the game with an assist and for that we can all be grateful and appreciate his contribution. Just a few less of those Hollywood balls would be grand Aaron, thanks.

As for the rest of the midfield, it’s hard what to exactly make, again. Flamini did ok, but was never really tested, but then again I’d prefer to always say that he wasn’t tested. Cazorla looked decent enough, whilst never really threatening with any of his attacking play.

Going forward we had The Ox, who was good in patches but surprisingly to Billy and I, Arsène was booed for taking off. He had a few stray passes and as Bilbo pointed out, doesn’t get his head up often enough, so to see him come off for a more direct Giroud was no real surprise to me. And it was the right move from Arsène, with the benefit of hindsight, to back up the argument.

Defensively was probably where we can take most heart. Kos was brilliant and Per looked more assured. Chambers did well enough defensively and actually put in some really good balls in both halves, except there was hardly ever an Arsenal player getting on to the end of them. Monreal looked obviously more comfortable at left back and with that back four having picked up the confidence of three clean sheets, we’re in the best possible position going into a game at The Brittania.

So onwards we plough further into December with another three points tucked under our wings, with the chance to make it four in four on Saturday. If we can beat Stoke, I might even start to believe there is some momentum building.

Catch you tomorrow.

My mental mindset for Southampton

It’s Southampton at home for us today and I for one am going to change my mental approach to this game. All season, for all of the games against supposed inferior opposition, I have been a little bit blasé in my expectation levels. Pre match I’ve talked about the potential for slip ups, for defeats or draws, but I’ve not properly believed my own rhetoric. Not really. I’ve deep down just been waiting to see the three points fall on our laps like a gift from Dennis.

Well not any more. From the weekend I changed my mindset and actually expected us to slip up and yes, had the Berahino header been lower or an incorrect offside decision to our way, perhaps my mindset would have meant the square root of naff all. After all, what influence do I have on a game happening over a hundred miles away?

But as a superstitious fan, I always believe my little rituals make something of a small difference, so tonight I’m heading over to The Emirates knowing that the Saints could easily leave us feeling morose once again.

To say our form this season was ‘patchy’ would pretty much nail the head square on. It’s the one word that keeps reverberating in my mind every time we have a game to play. We’ve suffered the worst start to the season in a generation and you have to go back to the dark old Bruce Rioch days to remember what life was like when we were this poor.

There is a bit of cause for optimism tonight though. After all, we’ve picked up back-to-back wins, with another victory tonight being the first time we’ve managed three on the trot. It seems weird that we’re in December and this same team that came so close last year in the league (I know it’s not EXACTLY the same as last year, injuries etc, but the squad isn’t wholly different) has been so markedly different. But what it shows you is that form and confidence means so much in a game which is defined with such short margins.

So what of tonight? What will befall us? Well, the good news is that having already been kicked in the nuts by an almost full strength Southampton team in the Capital One Cup, we know exactly how they will line up. They will be with Schneiderlin – a big blow as their Talisman – but I’m Wanyama they have a ball winning midfielder who can protect the leagues most miserly defence. And they will be miserly tonight. I’m not expecting us to get many goals at all. The front three of Welbeck, Giroud and Sanchez was exciting in its mobility, but you could see that they just weren’t clicking. It will probably take another three or four games for that to happen so we should all be expecting a tough team to break down and not a front three of ours that will have a field day.

There are some that are saying that the seal has been broken; that the 0-3 home defeat to Moneychester City was an example of how Southampton can’t compete with the bigger teams. I say that’s poppycock. Southampton aren’t looking at Moneychester City and Chelski as their rivals, they’re looking at us and the top three and four spots as their end game. And they will be expecting to come to the Emirates and demonstrate why they’d only conceded six goals all season before Sunday’s loss.

If the game does look like it could be decided by a goal, it will be important for us to get the first I think. A Southampton counter, or sloppy bit of defending (I know! When have we seen that happen, right?) that leads us to being behind yet again, will be no good for the flow of the game. It will turn it into a match of defence versus attack and as we saw against United and Hull this season, that situation rarely works out in our favour. Usually with the defending team catching us on the break to finish off the game with a minute or two to spare (United this season, Villa the season before, Swansea the season before that).

Defensive stability will therefore be everything. Per and Kos at the heart of the defence gives cause for optimism, but there’s more to our defensive solidity than having the first choice centre halves fit. Chambers and will need to ensure that the high pressing of Clyne and Co will not be able to get in behind our back four and Flamini needs to repeat what he did against West Brom i.e. don’t venture over the halfway line. If he can keep his defensive composure then we can concentrate on letting the Ramsey’s, Cazorla’s et al try and unpick a stubborn Southampton reserve.

I don’t buy the comments that Southampton will be mentally fragile after their defeat to City. Everyone keeps forgetting that this is a team tipped for relegation, yet they keep defying the odds each week and they will continue to do so, because the pressure is completely off them. That’s what Ronald Koeman will be saying to his players tonight. He’ll tell them that a draw is ok, but to see if they can nip in with a goal against an Arsenal team that can look as wobbly as a freshly made piece of trifle.

We have to make sure that the trifle has been made with cement and not Robinson’s. Or some similar metaphorical description that involves us not conceding any goals.

See you tomorrow, hopefully with a nice positive blog, which talks about Arsenal back on form.

But I’m not expecting it. Honest.

Santi turns lead vocalist at West Brom

It’s a real shame that what was essentially a gritty, hard-fought away win against a dogged West Brom side, was overshadowed somewhat by a banner unfurled at the game by a selection of supporters with an agenda to remove Arsène Wenger as manager.

I believe people are entitled to their opinion and I understand that opinions are divided over the managers’ future, but it’s just a shame that all the papers will focus on today is that banner. Which we’ve all seen before has been in existence for a number of years, but has never really managed to get any of the coverage that the owners would have liked. Until now that is.

I too, find myself questioning whether Arsène is the right man for the job, and one win against the Baggies won’t change that at this stage just yet. But I am a firm believer that you keep your opinions outside the stadium and rely on adrenalin of supporting your team to override any thoughts of the future of the club. Whenever I take my place at whatever ground to watch The Arsenal, the only future I’m ever bothered with is the subsequent 90 minutes. No more, no less.

So what about our 90 minutes yesterday? Well, perhaps it’s a measure of the first half that the banner has been given so much coverage, because it was a pretty turgid affair. We started with a trio of Giroud, Welbeck and Alexis up top which gave us an interesting compilation of target man and pacey wide men, but very quickly it showed that rotational positioning was the Soupe du Jour, as Welbeck found himself both central and wide right, as did Giroud and Alexis at times. And we seemed to pop the ball around nicely after the first 15 minutes or so, keeping possession well and testing Foster with a few pot shots, most of which were down his throat. It all felt very ‘Unitedy’ in that respect, which makes for uncomfortable viewing when you know that the Premier League quite often punishes you for not taking your chances.

But we had the return of a familiar face in Koscienly and you could tell that Big Per felt a little more at ease as a result. In some respects perhaps this was the perfect game for him to get back in to the swing of the Premier League, because West Brom played with Berahino up top who never really troubled us too much in the first half. He could have done, had a poor non-offside decision been given, but we got the run of the green for a change and at halftime West Brom hadn’t even racked up a shot on target.

The second half felt very similar to the first actually. As the clock ticked on you wondered where our goal was coming from. Step forward Santi Cazorla. He’d been good all game, but that dinked ball from the byline on to Welbeck’s head was perfectly placed and helped to secure him the man-of-the-match award in a game where quality was at a premium.

I have to say, I was really pleased that it was him that stepped forward and bossed the game, because we haven’t seen enough of that from him over the last year and a half. We know the talent is there, I don’t know about you, but it feels like he’s happy playing second fiddle to some of the other big name players in the team. Two years ago he was the lead vocalist, but it’s almost as if the band got a few more singers and he volunteered backing vocals as a result.

The thing is, he showed yesterday that he can still step up and run a game. So I’m hoping that this gives him the confidence boost he needs to start influencing and dictating the play more. Let’s have more acapella’s Santi, we know you’ve got the pipes for it, so just come out of the shadows and do it man.

It’s also good that a different player shows that he can be an influencer. It always feels a little uncomfortable when you look to one person to drive the team on, so sharing that burden around will give all of us fans a little bit less worry if the rest of the team does put in shifts like that, as opposed to Alexis all the time.

Plus, Welbeck got himself another goal and after going four or five without scoring, it was good to see him on the scoresheet. Arsène has hinted that he will play more on the flanks to accommodate Giroud, but I hope that yesterday’s flexible approach to rotating will give Welbeck more cause for optimism than concern. We don’t play with as natural wingers as he was asked to with United, so hopefully we see more of him popping up all over the pitch.

If that is to be our front three for the foreseeable future, it’s going to take them time to function as a cohesive unit, but I saw signs yesterday that it might just work. We shall see on Wednesday night when Southampton come to town.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Ox in the box and Jack the quarterback

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

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

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

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

Cross everything, will you? I certainly am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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