Patiently waiting for Walcott…and Mesut…

Hooray! A long term injured player returns to the squad, as opposed to being omitted, due to a long-term injury! What a novel feeling it is to be pleased to see players like Theo Walcott back in the fold and taking part in full first team training.

He was a massive blow to have missing for most of 2013/14 due to two long-term injuries, so to have him back in the squad and available for selection is a timely boost, like being given a bottle of Lucozade after running a 10k. He will add yet more depth to our attack and his direct running and finishing will mean we have another option to try. Hopefully he can stay fit and we can finally ditch the whole ‘Mesut Özil out wide’ experiment that everyone is still a little bit baffled about.

Whether Theo will be able to start and have a serious impact for the next month will be debatable though. After all, Jack has spoken about his own recovery from long-term injury and he’s only now finding his form after some quarters of the footballing world questioned whether he’d ever get back to his best. So to expect anything from Theo for the next two to three games would be folly I think.

Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact and get himself off the mark coming on from the bench now, does it?

One question I saw on Twitter yesterday that I thought was very pertinent indeed, was posed in relation to Theo’s pace, whether or not he’d have the same level of pace as he did before the injury and whether anybody at the club has tested him. Now he’s back into full training I’m sure the fitness and medical team are monitoring closely, but with a player who has had plenty of historical injury worries, I suspect they’ll be über careful with everything Theo does for a while. At least I hope they are. I mean, they have bodged a few players’ returns by over playing them as soon as the return, or not properly resting them. So we’ll have to wait and see how sparingly he’s used.

It’s a shame that with Walcott back, Özil has now disappeared from the team for the immediate future, because upon the German’s arrival over a year ago, Theo was one of the players that profited the most from Mesut’s vision. We have pace in Welbeck and Alexis already to feed from Özil, but Walcott as a wide man loves to play very high up the pitch and look for runs in behind the back four, more so than any other player at the club I think. So I would have love to have seen those two link up upon Walcott’s rerun. Hopefully he can stay fit and when our playmaker returns they can rekindle that understanding that existed when Mesut made his debut at Sunderland last season, when he put enough balls on a plate for Walcott, that he could have dined out on them for a month.

Speaking of Mesut, he’s got a clever little PR team, eh? After the frankly ludicrous rumours of a return to the Bundesliga under Pep surfaced, he took to Twitter to thank the Arsenal fans for the messages and dismiss the Bayern Munich rumour with all the subtlety of a hashtag, using the Bavarian phrase ‘Mia San Mia’ (we are who we are) to message ‘#miasanarsenal’. In this world of reading too much into everything, I think that will do nicely to dispel any rumour and even the faintest chance that Mesut will ever leave Arsenal other than to retire when he’s 38 and having played 350 games for the club and got a bazillion assists. Simples.

Of course in the summer if Bayern were to actually come knocking in a Barcelona-esque fashion, who knows what the reaction of the player might be, but I’d like to think he’s happy and only wants to improve at The Arsenal. And he will.

We’re still waiting for the tedium of the International Break to subside, so there’s not really a lot going on, other than the relief that Welbeck should be fine for Saturday. But then again, is an ‘everything is ok’ alarm (see The Simpsons for reference) really that necessary in this instance? Probably not.

Adios amigos!

Can Arsène ever win us a league again?

Hello there. Isn’t it just marvellous to be alive and supporting The Arsenal. Imagine how much duller our lives would be if we all took up sewing instead, eh? Yes, we’d all be well stocked for jumpers in good time for winter, but how would we be able to vent our frustration?

“Mike, that cross stitch is appalling. What are you playing at?”

It’s the preamble before the inevitably pointless international break I’m afraid, so when you’ve got Spielbergian storytellers like James Milner as the main news talking about winning his fiftieth cap for England, you know that content is thin on the ground. Unless you’re a cricket fan that is.

Plus, I can’t even Google things on my iPhone, on account of my current data roaming blackout. So you’ll just have to contend with whatever rubbish I can pull out of my cranium right…about…now…

Arsène Wenger. The first words popping into my head are about Le Boss and, having seen a few Whatsapp exchanges yesterday, as well as read a few blogs, the general theme I’m hearing is a questioning of whether or not he’s actually capable of winning us a league title any more. We’re now over ten years since the last league title and, having been so effective last season up until the dying months, I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that he can.

Now before your pitchforks all come out with accusatory expletives of my heresy for questioning the manager, let me say that I am immensely thankful for how he has played his part in making us one of the elite clubs in Europe. He’s won trophies, he’s operated under financial constraints, all whilst doing it with a dignity that can be commended in my opinion. Regardless of when he leaves and how he leaves, I don’t think his legacy at the club can be tarnished by modern day Arsenal and the success or not that we have.

Having said that, I want to treat my question without any prejudice one way or another, positive or negative in favour of the manager. That question – is he capable of winning us another league title – is one that warrants debate I feel.

This isn’t the time to say “who else then?” or “he’s a better manager than you could ever be” or even flippant responses like “technically yes. He has the rest of this season and two more afterwards on his contract”. Flippant remarks like that don’t really advance any sort of debate in my opinion. You could say that Newcastle United could still win the league, if they won every single one of their remaining games this season, but it’s extremely unlikely at this stage.

Treat the question in isolation. Deal with facts. That’s the mantra I’m going to try to adopt in my thinking on this subject. Is Arsène Wenger capable of winning us another league?

Tactically
I’m not so sure. There has certainly been more of a visible change in Arsène’s approach to games, tinkering with player positions and trying different styles depending on the opposition. But at seven games into the season and with four draws and a defeat, it’s difficult to argue that he’s adapted to suit the scenario with a degree of success. No doubt we’ve seen improvement on this front, but I still don’t see him as being able to affect a game as much as some of his more irritating counterparts at other clubs.

His substitutions certainly leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to what his though process is. That is one of the most visible influencers on a game that a manager can have and at the weekend the surprise hooking of Cazorla left many scratching their heads. It’s become a bit of a running joke in Block 5 where I sit that the chatter turns to who he will bring on in the 75th minute, such is the predictable nature, so you can hardly say he nails his subs each time. However, one can’t overlook the number of injuries we’ve sustained in games this season and recognised that he has on occasions, had his hand forced like against the Spuds.

Depth
There’s nothing that can be done about it at this very moment in time, but the fact that Arsène is the chief protagonist in the failure to secure enough defensive cover that has left us so woefully short this season, cannot be overlooked. We seem to be perpetually one injury away from a crisis. And this is not a season alone in this issue. Last year it was the finger-crossing of keeping Giroud for that was at the forefront of our worry. This year we also have that defensive midfield enforcer/ball-winner that we are lacking in sufficient quality. We seem to go into every season a little bit short in some areas and I have lost count of the number of times that friends have said Arsenal are just “two or thee short” of a title challenge. To have that happen once is unfortunate, for that to be the case for four or five seasons is a question for the football management at the club.

The thing is, Arsène has actually built a decent squad this season. We’ve got depth the likes I don’t think we’ve ever had. Our quality from one to 11 may not be near the standard of The Invincbles, but I’ve previously looked (and blogged) about the squad for the Invincible’s and when you get beyond the first 14, the quality was nowhere near as good as it is now. We have all the attributes of a really good – almost title winning – large squad. We just don’t have the attributes of a title winning first 14.

Fitness
The teams ability for key players to remain fit for long periods is a question that no Arsenal fan can get away from. It’s been said by so many that the numbers of injuries we get season-after-season cannot be put down to ‘bad luck’ when it happens with such frequency. There are plenty of theories about why it happens, with style of play one school of thought, but if that truly is the case then why haven’t we changed our philosophy? People will say you can win the league with that ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy, but I wonder which league, maybe the Spanish where contact is less prevalent?

If that is true, and that our style of play in our league means we pick up lots of injuries, then the manager must surely consider changing it if my original question (can Arsène still win us a league?) is to be answered with a resounding ‘yes’.

The other school of thought is that greater rotation of players will allow more players to be fresher and therefore less susceptible to injury. But we all know that Arsène is an advocate for continuity in his first eleven. We’ve certainly seen more rotation in the team this year, but it has been enforced to an extent so far this season, because of the volume of injuries we have.

Whatever your opinion of whether Arsène can win us a league title again or not, it’s hard not to argue that this is an area to which you can’t not lead yourself towards thinking “no he cannot” I’m afraid.

Competition
Is the competition so overly bloated with megastars as a result of the financial doping of the oil whores, that a time in which any club not spunking the GDP of a small country on player acquisition, is effectively left with an impossible task to win a league title?

Thankfully on this topic there is a chink of light. Fergie, for all of his faults (being an irksome individual his primary one), was able to carve out a championship winning side amongst the Petro-dollar period a few times. That gives us hope that the right formula can be achieved in amongst the evil that permeates through the elite of our national game. And hey, had we had a Welbeck or a fit Walcott at the end of last season, perhaps Arsène could have continued the trend?

Whatever side you fall on in relation to my original question of Wenger’s capability to win a league, even the most ardent Wenger apologist or Arsène Outist will agree that there are a number of variables that make the league the single most difficult trophy to acquire. I can see both sides, but as most football fans I come across in real life, I flit between the two depending on recent results, mood, etc. perhaps inevitably after the weekends result and subsequent dejection I find myself thinking that perhaps his time has been and gone. Perhaps the game has evolved and Arsène isn’t capable of delivering a modern day Premier League trophy? Perhaps the game is no longer about finding the best 11 and playing them for every match in the season?

I’m fickle. I’ll admit it. I’ll have changed my tune at Christmas if we’ve embarked on a 10 game unbeaten run and are a few points off top spot. But that’s a fans prerogative I guess.

See you tomorrow.

The boring predictability

How boring and predictable yesterday’s result was. The same old story for the same old match up which saw a Chelski team once again collect their three points from Arsenal like a child flipping open a PEZ dispenser and emptying the contents in to their palms.

I know I was overly negative yesterday, more than I’ve been before on this blog, but despite that facade of pessimism you always hope that you are proven wrong. When that doesn’t happen it still hurts to see your side succumb to yet another defeat against a team who, on the day, weren’t lightning years ahead. I’m sure the media will tell you otherwise today though. I won’t know. Mercifully, the Ryder Cup has helps me to avoid both Twitter and the media for the next four days, because I used up all of my data on my phone streaming it live last weekend. It means I can only check my feeds and look at websites when either at home of at work. Thankfully I can do enough other things in my life to avoid football for the next few days. Might take a few off from blogging too actually, as most of what will be said will most likely be in the fallout to the defeat.

I’m not even mad, angry or disappointed at the performance of the players, so it’s hard to critique where it all went wrong. I’m more disappointed at the Geoundhog Day that we consistently come up against when it comes to that scabby lot each season. I wish I’d have tweeted what I was thinking before the game: “we are either going to get battered or lose, or be the better team and lose, or it will be a really tight game. But we’ll lose”. Like I said: boring and predictable.

Mesut Özil was taking most of the flak in the immediate aftermath of the game, but once again Le Boss persisted with his stubborn belief that starting him out wide is a sensible option to see if we can make the system work. We’ve won four games all season and none of them have seen Özil be successful on the left. Arsène should surely be seeing this, so how long is this experiment going to go on for until he settles us back in to last years style and we start to win games again?

The finger pointing at Özil needs to stop though. Was he responsible for the penalty? Was he the one who let the ball drift over the top of the defenders in the 86th minute for Costa to flick the ball home? Of course he wasn’t. We were undone by magic from Fabregas, Hazard and Costa. Yes, Özil contributed to the toothlessness that was the Arsenal attack yesterday. And yes, he looked off colour when in possession of the ball, but none of our forward players were able to effectively stamp their authority of the game so concentrating our irritation towards one player is folly in my opinion.

As for Arsène’s spat with Jose, the only people who should really care about that are the journos, because it gives them a story to write their gutter-trash reports. It affords them licence to wheel out phrases like ‘Wenger’s lost it’, ‘Arsène lashes out’ and other hyperbolic statements designed for papers to be sold and clicks to be clicked. I don’t give a monkeys what went on or what was said. I only care about what happened on the green stuff yesterday and what happened saw us all realise that when all is said and done, we’re probably not going to get close to either of the oil whoring clubs this season, not with the way we’re playing at the moment in the league.

There are ten ‘big games’ that you’d probably say we have a season (Chelski, Moneychester City, Spuds, Liverpool and Man Utd) and so far we’ve picked up two out of a possible nine. You can win the league without beating all of these sides home and away, but you do need to pick up at least some victories against these sides, which is something that we unfortunately seem incapable of.

As for Arsène’s comments yesterday, it was another master art of deflection from our manager. It would help if the media asked better questions than ‘do you think you set a good example doing that (pushing someone)?’, but still, Arsène probably wouldn’t have answered properly if he’d have been given a decent enough question anyway. For example, did anybody post match bother to ask: Given that Jose deployed Fabregas – his playmaker – centrally, who contributed through an assist for the second goal, do you feel in hindsight that you should have deployed yours in a similar fashion?

Nope. They’re more interested in the soap opera drama stuff than tactical analysis of our team’s repetitive failure against a Chelski side who have the psychological ‘hoo-doo’ over us.

Post match comments from Le Boss about the ‘financial power’ of the Chelski team are again another attempt at deflection. It is true that the players that made the difference yesterday were all £30million+ in value, but when you have a £42million and a £35million player in your team, you can’t cry financial foul play and use it as a reason for the difference between the two sides. It makes you look like you’re clutching at straws. And those particular straws (the financial muscle of the oil whoring clubs) have been sitting in the cupboard for the best part of a decade, so it’s not as if we haven’t seen them before.

I don’t want to be too much doom and gloom though. I thought Wilshere and Cazorla looked on their games yesterday and it’s good to see Jack getting back to his best. There’s an international break too, so we can all look forward to seeing him damage his cruciate knee ligament in a pointless challenge in a pointless match that will rob us of another player for half a season or more. Oh, sorry, I said I wouldn’t go doom and gloom….oh well…

Perhaps this international break has come at a good time. It gives us all a chance to slump back into our comfy chairs and scowl a bit, before realising how much we miss Arsenal when it’s not around, before all getting excited again before the Hull game in just under two weeks time.

Try to have a good day. Avoid all the smirking Chelski ‘fans’ who didn’t even know who Chelski were eight years ago, but are now more happy to remind you now.

See you tomorrow. Maybe.

Galatasaray: eventful

Well that evening was certainly not without event, was it?

In terms of activity it was certainly a hum-dinger of a European night, with goals galore (thankfully almost all for The Arsenal) as well as a sending off and for those of us who didn’t manage to catch the Southampton Capital One Cup game, even a first sight of the Colombian stopper Ospina. Who has a very fitting surname that works well with a slow build up of noise before he takes a free kick or corner. I must say that I approve.

The night started off with trepidation, if I’m honest, because so far this season we’ve seen a lot of huff and puff from the team but the blowing down of the house hasn’t quite happened frequently enough for our liking as fans, wouldn’t you say? The nerves pre-game seemed to be more around whether or not Arsène would persist with what could be called ‘Project 4141′ (although I’m still yet to be convinced there is a massive difference other than personnel to last season), or whether or not he would recognise the impact of a centrally located Mesut Özil or not.

Thankfully for us all, the starting line-up seemed to be pleasing enough for the masses in the Tollington, as Le Boss’ decision to field a midfield of Flamini, Cazorla and Özil had craft, guile and an attacking set up to it to warrant the early domination our play deserved. With the Ox and Sanchez sitting either side of Welbeck we added directness and pace to our side that, right from the off, troubled a clearly inferior Galatasaray team.

Before the game I’d pondered with http://www.twitter.com/educatedgooner whether or not we should really be worried about a Galatasary side notoriously travel sick on their Champions League jaunts; I needed have worried, because the only spark that the Turkish side had came from their vociferous away support, who had decided that Guy Fawkes night would be just over a month early by lobbing flares into the amassed Arsenal fans standing in the beer garden outside.

We had the last laugh though. Or rather, Danny Welbeck had the last laugh on our behalf, as he noticed up his second, third and fourth goals of the season to claim to match ball and possibly the man-of-the-match award to boot. I say ‘possibly’ based purely on the fact that there were so many good performances:

The Ox
Direct running, pace, trickery and vision, perfectly exemplified by his superb nutmeg for Welbeck’s hat trick.

Alexis Samchez
Tireless running and pace that troubled the Turks all sending. A well taken goal that brings him up to five for the season and all of those media eyebrows after two games without a goal need to be lowered considerably. And slammed into a humble pie for consumption.

Mesut Özil
Another strong display. That’s three in a row people. But you won’t hear that from any of the hacks out there, because that doesn’t fit the media rhetoric, so expect him to be omitted from any commentary. But he was efficient in distribution, busy throughout and just does not lose the ball when he’s on form like that. Like, ever.

Lauren Koscienly
Strong in the air, pacey, composed and, for someone supposedly carrying a knock, is as robust as you’re going to get.

I could go through the whole team, because there wasn’t a single performance that was less than seven out of ten in my book. If you want to be harsh and criticise Szczesny for the sending off, then be my guest, but his replacement looked more than adequate and based on the short showing I saw it will be good for him to get some game time in Europe.

I hope Arsène sticks with what he’s got right now. He may have had it enforced upon him due to injury, but it worked, so I hope he sticks with it. We need all the help we can get with the game at the weekend, so to have the players in buoyant mood leading up to this game can only be a good thing, so let’s hope that the comprehensive victory does wonders for the confidence. Lord knows we’re going to need it on Sunday.

See thee in the morgen.

Pressures on, but enforced changes may be a blessing

Big game today boys and girls, big game indeed. Not least because a consecutive defeat in the Champions League will make qualification from the group stages look very precarious. It seems quite amazing that at Matchday 2 out of six in the competition we are already worrying about an early exit, but such is the importance of getting yourself up and running on Matchday 1, that it immediately puts pressure on you to win your next game.

Arsène knows this, saying as much when he spoke to the press yesterday about tonight’s game, in which he effectively set out his blueprint for advancement to the next stages: win all of your home games and pick up at least one point away from home. Ten points is usually enough to see sides navigate these early parts of the competition and his – and our – experience of managing, watching or playing in this competition tells us that he speaketh the truth.

But a defeat, or even draw tonight, means that you have to win one and draw one of your two remaining away games in this stage. It doesn’t really afford much margin for error. Which is why we’ve usually been alright and already won our first game of the group stages by now. It takes the pressure off. But no matter, we have the chance to get up and running against Galatasaray, plus we can all be under no illusions that on paper the hardest group game came first with the away trip to Dortmund.

In terms of team news it’s as expected really. No Arteta and Ramsey, but Wilshere makes the squad having trained yesterday. With Jack’s record and Arsène’s gambling ability akin to Paul Merson’s skills at the bookies, I’d be inclined to save Jack for the bench in today’s game. In Dortmund he picked up a knock to his ankle which he looked to have exacerbated in the NLD, but thankfully he seems to have recovered well enough, but I’d still be inclined not to risk him if a few more extra days training and rest will help.

Whether Arsène adopts the same mindset is anybody’s guess. If he doesn’t, I’d expect to either see Rosicky slot in to that box-to-box role instead of Jack/Rambo, or Santi come in to play wide left. That would move Mesut into the centre, Alexis on the right and The Ox in the middle of the park. I didn’t watch the game against Southampton last week, but by the sounds of it Tomas had an evening to forget, so on that basis I wonder if Arsène will look to see if The Ox can replicate his excellent performances of last season against Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich, in which he played in the centre of the park and was arguably the man-of-the-match in both.

At least Arsène has choices in the middle of the park that won’t have us cursing our injury record, because let’s face it, defensively we have enough to worry about. Rumours are rife that Koscienly is carrying a knock and has done for a few weeks, but Le Boss’ failings to strengthen are putting him under pressure to remain fit whilst both Debuchy and Monreal are sidelined. It also puts a lot of pressure on Chambers to be consistent at right back and, with still only a handful of first team appearances under his belt, it does seem quite unfair to place such a burden on a 19-year-old. But that is that path that we have chosen as a club and we have to hope that all remaining defenders can remain ready, willing and able to fight for the cause. Starting tonight.

The Galatasaray threat will invariably come from the trickery of Wesley Sneijder who, despite my own assumptions that he was clearly past it having toodled off to Turkey for an extended holiday for a few years, has shown for the Dutch national team that he still remains a very good player. I don’t know Galatasaray very well – well, apart from what Champions League games I’ve watched of them – but I do know that the old stereotype of Turkish teams not travelling too well is still in existence. Their vocal away support will be at it’s raucous best, but we have to quieten them down by asserting our dominance early. That means we have to start like we did against City and also the Spuds, albeit getting a better result, but we need to put them on the back foot early.

How do we do that? Hopefully by reverting to 2013/14 Arsenal and playing Mesut through the middle. He doesn’t have to stay there, but it gives him licence to roam as he sees fit and there’s something that feels a bit more balanced about having a player with a free role in the middle of the park. I’m no tactical expert, so can’t really tell you why (perhaps it just looks better and easier to explain when you look at a formation, a la Championship Manager), but it just feels like it makes sense to have Özil dictating play from behind Welbeck.

Who knows, maybe the forced change Arsène would have to make through injuries would be a blessing in disguise, with Wenger realising that last seasons Arsenal was a more successful blueprint for him to work from. But then again, we do all know he’s a stubborn old mule at the best of times, so let’s not hold our breath.

Having missed the Besiktas game, I’ll be at The Emirates tonight and it’ll be exciting to get our Champions League campaign underway in my eyes, so I hope the performance matches my hopes and expectations for the evenings frivolities.

Up The Arsenal.

Get back to last year’s success story Arsene

What did I say yesterday? When everyone tips The Arsenal to steamroller a top seven side, fates invariably conspire against us to ensure that we don’t pick up maximum points.

It’s hard to be pleased about a home draw to what has been the poorest Spuds team that we’ve played in quite a while. Tottenham came to The Emirates with one goal – not to be defeated – and the Mushroom Man Pochettino ended the day yesterday the happier of the two managers after the 1-1 draw. His was a plan better executed than Arsene’s, as the Spuds were content to sit deeper than we’ve ever seen them before and try to catch Arsenal on the counter attack. And why not? If anyone has watched Arsenal this season they will have seen that we are susceptible to the sucker punch, as this game proved in the second half when the Spuds scored against the run of play. It was a goal entirely of our own making as Flamini was caught out easier than a John Terry testimony.

I don’t know if I am the only one here, but I’m starting to get a little bit concerned with the propensity with which we seem to be conceding first. Not only does it give our opponents something to hold on to, but it puts us in a position where we need to take risks and that isn’t something that’s good for my health. Arsene and Bouldy need to have a think about how we are set up, because it was much more fun last season when we were winning every game 2-0 and being defensively solid. But once again, almost as if to prove some kind of belligerent point, Arsene reverted to the style that we’ve adopted all season and played Ozil on the left. We saw with devastating effect the success of Mesut through the middle, but not only that, we also saw last week how Ramsey was more effective whilst sitting deeper and breaking forward from a deeper lying position. Yesterday was back to the old Ramsey, trying little flicks that didn’t come off and then capping off a torrid day by getting himself injured through a busted hammy in the first half. That problem was also compounded by Arteta who went down with a calf strain and the two will now not be available for next weekends loss to Chelski.

Tactically, Arsene needs to go back to basics too. The most basic principle being winning games. Three all season in all competitions is mid-table mediocrity form and we’ve already dropped far too many points this season with draws. Unbeaten runs may sound good out loud, but if you draw every game in the season you get 38 points and probably avoid relegation by a point or two, so should be taken with an extreme pinch of salt. To be honest, from the Gooners I talk to and follow, none are particularly over the moon with the fact we’re unbeaten, especially when you consider that the record will be dead and buried by next Sunday evening. I’m treating it as a forgone conclusion because, unlike Arsenal, when pundits tell the world that Chelski will roll over us, that is what usually happens.

Arsene needs to recognise who his best players are and play them in their best positions. Alexis’ best position – last time I checked – wasn’t sitting on the bench patiently waiting for the 75th minute to come when Arsene makes his customary substitution. Why on earth he didn’t start yesterday is a mystery. Actually, I don’t think it is a mystery at all. I think that Arsene is trying frantically to have a formation that affords Wilshere a space in the team. To Jack’s credit, he did ok yesterday, but with Rambo and Arteta having established the hierarchy last season of being on the teamsheets first and foremost, Arsene won’t drop them or Ozil, which is why Mesut is being shunted out wide. The hamstring injury to Rambo will allow Wilshere to sit alongside Flamini in the coming weeks and give Jack licence to be that box-to-boxer that we all want. It will also force Arsene into playing Ozil centrally, something that I’m pretty sure would have come to a parliamentary petition by all Arsenal fans at Ten Downing Street, had Arsene pressed ahead with his ‘Ozil out wide’ experiment. Ozil actually had a good game I thought, but he will only be so effective out wide, so needs to be sitting in that hole so he can feed Welbeck those killer balls we’re all craving.

When Santi came on I thought he was really good. He gave a bit more purpose to our attacking play and having him on the left with Ozil through the middle and Ox on the right instantly changed us into more of a threat. We should have had more than the one goal we had to show for our performance yesterday, but for some smart Lloris saves and a deep-sitting Spuds defence.

I really hope this doesn’t end up being a season of draws. Last year I don’t think we picked one up until late November and, when you go on long winning streaks it effectively sets you up for a title charge when you reach the halfway point. At this point now, with the tinkering Arsene is doing to the team, it’s hard to think we’ll be doing anything else than staring down the fourth place trophy. Sadly, just before the Ox scored his goal, I was starting to ponder whether or not a defeat today would at least give us the reality check that would be needed to know that it will be another season where fourth place is the target rather than lulling us into the false sense of hope that we’re good enough to win the league. I immediately hated myself for thinking that in the midst of the game and whilst we could still feasibly pick up two goals and win the game, but I can’t shake the feeling that come December our expectations will have been decidedly altered.

Le Boss has some work to do now. He needs to find his best team, not have them injured, get them back to playing what they did last season, plus get us on a winning streak that builds momentum and confidence. The good news is that after we lose to Chelski, we’ve got a run of winnable games until we then play Man United at home towards the end of November. We have to start clicking and clicking now.

Catch you tomorrow.

The return of Mesut: Villa review

I remember when I was a wee nipper, Arsenal were away to Liverpool and we hadn’t lost to the scousers for our four years. I was at football training on the Saturday morning and I spent the whole time gloating, so much so he got a bit wound up and left training early to cry. When it came to game time, Robbie Fowler scored a four minute hat-trick and it was me that was the cryer, so when listening to yesterday’s three-goals-in-three-minutes-a-thon at Villa Park made me happy but reflective of the feeling that the Fowler hat-trick did to me that day.

Thankfully I can talk about yesterday’s events safe in the knowledge that a tricky away trip to Villa went exactly to plan for The Arsenal. Three goals, three points, players picking up morale-boosting performances.

Arsène finally listened to his own heart and decided to play Özil through the middle, to wonderful effect, as the German had by far the best game he’s had all season. He dictated play, he got a well taken goal (still had a lot to do when he slotted the ball home, so he should get credit for that), managed to get himself a decent assist and generally looked like the player of this time last year. It’s exactly the type of performance he needed and I’m sure when the final whistle went he was one of the happiest on the pitch. The belief this will give him is important, very much so given our opponents next weekend, so there isn’t a Gooner around that isn’t waking up with a smile this morn.

Arsène too will feel vindicated, because there was a certain air of surprise that he hadn’t benched his Turko-German playmaker, given his recent form. But whilst Arsène changed the line up yesterday – partially to freshen and partially because he had no choice through injuries – he also changed the style slightly with Özil being asked to play through the middle. I’m not sure why being given the role in the middle made a difference, because Wenger has said that he has licence to roam the whole pitch (which heat maps have shown over the last couple of games), but perhaps there’s a psychological element to being in the middle that allows Özil to feel more comfortable.

Whatever the theory behind it, the practice worked, so whilst I/we all chastise Arsène when he gets things wrong, you can’t say anything else other than he got things very right yesterday. So I tip my cap to Le Boss.

Welbeck too popped up with a very well taken strikers goal and, with some important games coming up, it’s important that he is off the mark, because the longer a new striker goes without a goal the more the monkey on his back grows. Let’s hope for more of the same next Saturday.

The game itself was won and lost in the space of five minutes which makes most of the match review element of this blog largely irrelevant, but there should be a shout out to Szczesny, because the Arsenal ‘keeper made a very good save from a Clark header before we scored our quick-fire goals, so we must be thankful for his intervention on the goal-bound effort. Villa had started brightly and they’ve already proven that they can hold on to leads by sitting deep when one up this season, so had that have gone in then today’s narrative might have been quite different.

What else is there to say? We did what was needed and picked up three points at a tricky place to go. We now have Southampton in the COC and then an NLD to stir the passions even more on Saturday evening.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.