High pressing to Mesut’s advantage? Dortmund preview

So apparently the footballing gods are testing Arsène’s ‘threadbare’ rule by conspiring to see how many of our defenders can be injured at any one time, before Arsène loses it and tells Stevie Bould to warm up with a green bib ahead of tonight’s trip to Dortmund.

Our first Champions League group stages appear to have coincided with a bout of plague that is ravaging our back line. Symptoms are varied in each case, but the upshot is that we are looking at definite absences of Debuchy and Monreal, whilst Chambers has picked up a knock but should be ok to play. With Arsène having gambled on having only six first team defenders for four positions, it appears as though normal service has been resumed with regards to his gambles falling flat on their faces.

Of course, the reality of the situation the team has tonight is that there is still a strong enough defence to call upon, with Gibbs returning to action and Chambers slotting in at right back. With Szczesny in the sticks behind them, it’s not as if we are short of first team experience, so my apparent serious concern above is a ‘little bit tongue in cheek’. I just hope we don’t pick up any more bumps or bruises this evening, because we can ill afford any more absences as the games come thick and fast.

As for our midfield, one would assume that Arteta will come in for Flamini, with Ramsey and Wilshere once again playing through the middle behind a front three of Özil, Sanchez and Welbeck. The latter two of that three performed well on Saturday, so I’m hoping that the former – a German international with quite some reputation – can draw on some German inspiration in his home nation. Mesut has been shunted wide in recent weeks and, whilst Arsène has been leaping to the defence of his most expensive bit of shopping, there must be part of him that realises that we need to get Özil into the centre as soon as possible. But with Walcott still a few weeks away and Wilshere having Messi’d the game at the weekend, it’s fairly obvious that he will start through the middle.

Our opponents this evening have their own injury worries too, so perhaps it is not just us that has the curse of the footballing gods to agonise over, as a number of first team players won’t be rocking up in yellow come 7.45pm. Reus, Hummels, Sahin, Gundogan and Blaszczykowski are all out, so it’s up to Shinji Kagawa to provide the creativity after returning to Dortmund from United in the summer. I remember seeing him against us the first time we were drawn against Dortmund; he was a handful throughout and one of the better players in both games. The question will be whether or not he has bedded back into his new-old team quickly enough, but I think he’s already scored for Dortmund, so I suspect we’ll see a decent performance from him tonight.

We know what test Dortmund will provide to us tonight, having played them for what feels like every season since their sustained return to the Champions League a few years ago. They will look to press us high and reduce the space we have to conduct our short tiki-taka passing style out from the back. But this is a different Arsenal team now. If you press us high up the pitch, it’s not just Theo Walcott or bust for us, so Dortmund will surely be wary of the lightning counter attack that we possess with Welbeck and Alexis. A high line would be delightful to see from my perspective, but surely that would be suicidal from Dortmund, so something has to give. For if they press high from the front, they will need to push their back four high too. Otherwise the space in between the back four and defence would be far too much.

If that does happen, that the back four of Dortmund sit deeper whilst the front players push higher, Mesut Özil has to be ready and up for it tonight. If he’s allowed to roam in that no-mans land between defence and midfield, it will afford him time rarely granted in the Premier League, so he’ll need to capitalise after a poor display against Moneychester City.

So the good news is that, in theory, we have different options to beat Dortmund, either through the pace against a high line, or the space of Özil and Rambo to operate in between the yellow and black defence and midfield. But one things for sure, however we look to overcome Dortmund, tactics alone won’t see us pick up all three points in the Westfalenstadion. We need good performances from nearly all of our players if we want to overcome the German runners up, which means no passengers like there were on Saturday. If we start well, take confidence from our unbeaten run so far, then catch Dortmund on the counter, I fancy some three pointage come 10pm this evening. The team is starting to gel and hopefully the positives from the weekend can be emphasised.

Come on you reds!

The evolution of Jack (but maybe not this weekend)

Halfway through the week and we close down on the international break, casting our attention (thankfully) to the Premier League once again, as well as the build up to a massive game at The Emirates against Moneychester City.

Of course, none of us really believed that our squad was capable of going through an international group of matches without somebody important picking up a knock, did we? So it was that Aaron Ramsey limped off against Andorra during Wales’ pointless group stage game against a team that looked more reminiscent of the Vatican Swiss Guard than a football team. I’m sure David Seaman once wore an England jersey that looked like a rainbow had been regurgitated onto his shirt that looked a little like that travesty.

I didn’t watch the game, but have seen some of the still images of the incident and despite what Chris Coleman said about him being ok for the weekend, you can’t help but think that Arsenal are in a better position to judge when Rambo reports back today or tomorrow with them. It feels like it’s almost built in as part of their remit as international managers when players come back to The Arsenal broken and battered around the edges, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Coleman is downplaying a knock that could see Ramsey out of this weekend’s clash. And to be honest, if there’s any element of doubt, we need to be playing caution with players that have picked up knocks, because over the next three weeks we play a host of football matches (six or seven I seem to remember seeing) so we should not be risking players.

If Rambo isn’t risked, it will be interesting to see Jack once again step into that box-to-box role that Aaron has made his own, which will be a continuum of the position that Wilshere occupied (to a degree of success I feel) in the Besiktas game. There’s no doubt that a loss of Ramsey will be a big blow, but when you have players with the quality of Wilshere able to step in and deputise, it doesn’t fill me with the same fears as a couple of injuries to the centre halves would.

It’s perhaps also ironic that Jack, having played as a deeper lying midfielder for England on Monday, will be moved back to a more familiar midfield position if Ramsey doesn’t pass any impending fitness tests. Having spent most of the Switzerland after glow of the match talking about an adapted deeper role, going on to highlight players like Pirlo who he will start to watch videos of over the next month or so, you wonder if both Roy and Arsène have already spoken to him about changing his position in midfield.

Perhaps he is looking at his place for both club and country and seeing his options limited, or perhaps he genuinely sees himself as somebody who can improve and nail down that slot as a holding midfielder, I’m not sure. I’m reluctant to use the words ‘defensive midfielder’ because that’s not what I think he’ll ever be. Sure, he likes a tackle and sure, it’s not the most difficult position to adapt to. You just really need to have discipline and not mind the dirty parts of the game like mopping up after defenders or breaking down impending attacks. But to me that would be a waste of Jack’s talent. He’s a player that can travel with the ball, is good at quick interchanges of pace and passing and that works well in right spaces with opponents who sit deep and defend in numbers. So to give him a position as ball winner and then quickly distributing to some of the more creative talents I think would be a bit pointless.

Or perhaps Arsène is looking at a bit more fluidity in midfield, looking to mix it up a bit, asking the question “do we really need a defensive midfielder?”. When I say that, I don’t mean that there should be no cover or protection for the back four, but rather that the team should be more fluid in the roles it has in midfield. If Jack is pushing forward, for example, why should not one of the other players adapt to become the ball winner and distributor whilst he is pushing forward? Or vice versa if Ramsey is in the opposition box. Perhaps Arsène is looking for players that Championship Manager used to call the ‘complete midfielder’. A 27 year old Mikel Arteta with the ability to sit, whilst also good enough on the ball to push forward, would be a prime example of the type of player that Jack could become. Perhaps, after all of the pontificating, it is actually Jack who is being groomed as the heir apparent for that role?

Who knows. But what I do know is that the next year or two is massively important for Wilshere. He needs to nail down his place in the team and make sure that he can be as flexible and adaptable when called upon as Wenger needs him to be.

Haven’t really looked at what else is going on in The Arsenal world at the moment, but maybe we’ll get a soundbite from Arsène about Danny Welbeck.

Hope it isn’t the media microphones catching him in training at London Colney saying “shouldn’t you be back at Carrington? I thought England training was over?”

Catch you tomorrow.

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.

Lacklustre draw isn’t the end of the world

I’m not quite sure how I feel about yesterday’s 0-0 away draw to Besiktas in Istanbul last night. I mean, it’s good that we don’t have any kind of deficit to overcome in the second leg at home last night, but at the same time there are a couple of things that are nagging at me at the moment about the performance.

Obviously we didn’t play well. You and I both watched the game and we both know that. At the start of the season and with a few new players in the team it’s always going to take time to slip into a rhythm. But there were just a few additional warning bells that sounded with me, so I thought I’d pick them out for you, then perhaps round off with a bit of perspective, because ultimately it’s not doom and gloom and with a decent performance at The Emirates we should be able to progress to the group stages of The Champions League.

So, some of the elements of yesterday’s game that worry me: Olivier Giroud. Now, you won’t get me shouting from the rooftops that he’s a terrible player and we should slap £80millon down for Falcao, because it’s not a realistic option and quite frankly would be a waste of hot air if I did. Giroud is a decent £15million striker who will get us around 20 goals a season if he plays most of the games. But what he does need to bring to the team is that ability to bring others into play. That strength to receive the ball, hold off a defender and bring others into play. We’ve seen him do it last season and I’m sure he’ll be doing it this season. Having said that, yesterday was clearly not one of those nights that he was effective, because he offered very little throughout the duration of the game. His hold up play was poor, his pass completion in finding teammates was woeful, and his finishing was wayward. We know that he fluffs his lines occasionally on the finishing, which I’ve come to accept as one of his limitations, but the hold up play and ability to find a teammate like Ramsey, or either of his wide men, is something that just wasn’t there.

There will be people calling for Alexis through the centre, or for a new signing like Cavani, but to my mind that simply shifts the longer term issue. Arsene has clearly decided – and I’m happy to be proved wrong here and am open to opinions – that he wants a strong striker who can bring the pacey wide men and midfielders into play. It’s one of the reasons why Ramsey can be given more licence to get in the box to bang in the goals. So whilst I’d love another striker to come in, I just don’t think it will happen, because Arsene likes keeping harmony in the team and he won’t replace Giroud with an upgraded version of a target man. Not when he also has clear faith in developing Sanogo. So we have to deal with it. But what we do expect from him – if goals are not his strong point – is more link up play and that is what let him down yesterday.

Besiktas were alright, but nothing more than that. In fact, I’d probably put them more in the category of a side with the same level of ability as Crystal Palace, which gives you an idea why I think we should be disappointed. Like Palace, Besiktas pressed higher up the pitch (although as the game at the weekend wore on Palace were penned back further. I make the comparison based on a Palace side we could have played if the game was at Selhurst Park), were a little profligate in front of goal and had they had a little bit more quality about them in the final third, we’d be licking our wounds this morning and wondering how we’re going to qualify into the Champions League proper this morning. So I’m glad we don’t have that concern this morning, only the concern of a poor performance from some of the players, and the senior ones at that.

Santi Cazorla was another player whose absence in the second half was worrying. I thought he was poor against Palace and gave the ball away too easily. Yesterday he gave the ball away a couple of times. Not as many as the weekend, but it was his lack of time on the ball which was indicative of our overall performance yesterday. At one stage in the second half, I wondered if he was still on the pitch. I said as much on Twitter, to which somebody responded to say they’d just started watching the match and didn’t realise he was playing for ten minutes.

I know his natural position is not out wide left, but he has played there on a number of occasions last season, so I wouldn’t expect him to be be so lacklustre in a position he knows so well. One of the frustration I’ve laid at Wenger’s door before, is his unwavering belief in hierarchies within teams, but also his favourites. He does like to continue playing out of form players some times and, you have to say that another performance like last nights for the diminutive Spaniard at Everton, and you’d expect him to be dropped. However, I suspect he’ll be given more leeway than someone like Poldi would be given. I hope Santi can turn in a grand performance against the Toffees on Saturday, because he’s a fantastic player who has given us so much joy over the last two years, that I’d love to see him continue to weave his way through defences again. So let’s chalk this last week down to a bit of early season rustiness and move on, shall we?

There might be one or two that have a bit of a finger-wagging session in the direction of Jack today, but actually I thought he did ok. He wind some tackles, got stuck in to the opposition and showed that he wasn’t afraid to through his short but stocky frame about, as well as try to bring something to the attack. I’d certainly like to see more from him. What I’d like to see less of is the silliness of Rambo’s sending off. Yes, it was a very soft second yellow to receive, but with a crowd on his back – not to mention the Ice Road Trucker wannabe Slaven Bilic yelling at him every thirty seconds – it was a foul Rambo didn’t need to make. I guess it pretty much summer up an evening in which we were laboured and unconvincing.

He’ll serve a ban now for the return leg, which will be a massive blow, but we have cover in that part of the pitch thankfully. Well, we do right now, but if we keep picking up injuries like Arteta’s yesterday then we’re going to find ourselves patching up Ray Parlour to get back into the side. I sincerely hope that Arteta is not out for a prolonged period of time, because whilst Flamini can slot in to the role of marshalling the space in front of our defence, after that we’re getting into Coquelin territory who, whilst I rated highly before he went on loan last season, is clearly not in the managers plans and will most like be sold on within the next couple of weeks.

The injury list is already mounting. Gibbs, Arteta and Ospina are out, Koscienly is being patched up to play, Mertesacker, Özil and Poldi won’t be match fit and Giroud still doesn’t look match fit. It’s hardly the amazing start to the season that we all wanted, but hey, remember how I said I would try to shove in some perspective? We’re only two games in and we haven’t suffered any confidence sapping defeats yet. In fact, quite to the contrary, we have two wins (if you count the Community Shield) and a draw and whilst everyone is salivating over Chelski at the moment, let’s not forget that they played a newly promoted team who I think we’re a bit over-awed by the occasion and will also most likely be one of the teams that is down the bottom of the league at the end of the season.

Also, let’s be positive about the contributions of our newbies. Calum Chambers, ladies and gentlemen, Calum Chambers. To quote a Championship Manager phrase, I am simply ‘running out of superlatives to describe his performances’. He’s such a talent and once again showed what a purchase Arsene has made by bringing in this kid. I can totally see why Southampton fans were more disappointed to lose Chambers than Shaw. Per still comes straight into the side for me, but Chambers will push him all the way for a starting spot, which is great to see.

Debuchy was, well, Debuchy. He was good going forward, look decent defensively and gave another seven out of 10 performance. As did Monreal. He does get caught out once or twice and there will be times against better opposition that he’ll need more support from whoever plays in front of him, but he performed well and with Gibbs out should get more game time over the coming weeks.

Alexis was also more impressive too. He troubled the Besiktas left back with his pace, played a couple of decent balls in for the off-key Giroud, plus he was combining a little better with the midfield than I thought he did on Saturday. With each passing game you can see him improving his understanding with his teammates, which can only be a good thing.

Right, that’ll do for one day I think, because you’ve probably had enough of my rambling. I know I have. See you when I see you.

No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

I won’t labour this point too much, but Cesc Fabregas in a Chelski shirt is now 100% reality, after I spent the summer ignoring the fact, hearing that he helped to orchestrate Chelski’s victory at Burnley leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s going to be a great player for that lot and it’s going to hurt us to see it. No matter what any Arsenal fan says, it will grind our gears and pull on the emotive heart strings, especially if he keeps his assisting ways at the club.

I don’t want to dwell on that lot though – they are as worthy of attention as a Luis Suarez admission of guilt and promise not to repeat offend – so we look forward to the Champions League and to our tricky encounter this evening against Besiktas.

Arsène has been stressing the importance of this match to the media and, with our place at the top table at stake, it is essential that we get off to a good start tonight. Knockout football in the Champions League is always tough regardless of the opposition. There is a lot of pressure to perform over two legs, but if you fudge the first leg up, it leaves you with a mountain to climb in the second.

Remember when we played Bayern Munich about seven years ago? The first leg was in the Allianz Arena (not sure if it was called that back then) and we went down 3-1. The second leg was helped with a Thierry Henry goal, but we went out on goal difference, despite battering Bayern for the second game. That shows you how important the first leg is. Besiktas know that a win with a two goal margin will mean that they are in the driving seat and can pretty much do what Palace did on Saturday and barely venture outside of their half at The Emirates.

Conversely, a victory in Istanbul tonight, would put Arsenal in a very promising position for the second leg and certainly see us as overwhelming favourites to qualify.

I must admit to being a bit blasé about the qualifying round. Our consecutive successes – and seemingly always at the expense of European teams with good pedigree – has made a simple Arsenal fan like me believe that I’ll be seeing Champions League group stage football in about a months time. But that’s a very dangerous way to think, Christopher, because that kind of thinking ends with a nasty shock if what is expected doesn’t happen. It is not unconceivable that defeat tonight leads to further disappointment next week, but I have to remain positive, because in my superstitious manner that I have I believe that my own power of positive thinking has some bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game.

Thankfully, despite being a tad bit over-expectant, it doesn’t appear as if the players are taking this game lightly. Certainly not if you hear the rhetoric from Le Boss. Sure, we have some injury problems going in to the game, but the squad that is available to the manager should still be good enough to get a result. Rambo has continued his fine form with a goal at the weekend, Chambers and Debuchy have slotted in well enough, and I think we all know that we’ll get more from Sanchez as he becomes fitter.

I don’t know how the manager intends to line up the team, but with Koscienly struggling with a hammy, I suspect Big Per might just replace him in defence. Per and Chambers at the heart of the defence will be interesting. The reason Koscienly dovetails so well with either of them is that Kos is the man with the recovery pace, where as it appears from the initial look of Chambers, he does not have as much pace (even though he makes up for it in his positional play). So how those two might operate – if Kos can’t shake off his injury – will be good to see so early in the season.

They’ll be up against a familiar face in Demba Ba, who has apparently been scoring for fun since his arrival from Chelski, but perhaps more worrying is the pace that he possesses. If he is up against Per and Chambers then it will be essential that he isn’t given plenty of green grass to run in behind tonight. To do that it will mean stifling some of the midfield creativity of another familiar face in Ozyakup, who we sold to Besiktas a couple of years ago and appears to be making a decent fist of a career in Turkey. I am no expect on Turkish football, because that’s where my knowledge of the opposition ends I’m afraid, but I suspect that the least we’ll get from the game tonight is a super-charged team backed by a partisan home crowd. We need to establish ourselves early and ensure that Besiktas’ initial excitement and drive is negated by some good football from the lads.

I suspect we’ll see a midfield that is identical to the weekend, then a front three which will also include Alexis and Santi, but it’s the centre forward position that will be interesting. Sanogo was little more than a footnote on Saturday and it was obvious how much more dangerous we looked when Giroud and The Ox were on the field. So I am hoping that Arsene opts for the more experienced Frenchman. I’d like to see The Ox given the nod ahead of Cazorla – who I thought was poor on Saturday – as it provides that direct running and a bit more pace than the Spaniard. It would also be good to see what Joel Campbell can do in attack and, had there not have been knocks to Gibbs and Jack on Saturday, I wonder if Arsene would have thrown him in then, so maybe we’ll get a look in tonight.

Keep those fingers crossed and hope for a great performance tonight.

See you tomorrow.

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

It’s here! It’s finally here! The football fans equivalent of Christmas Day! Opening day of the season!

Yes folks, football is back, the void shall shortly be filled with wonderful wonderful Arsenal. After the FA Cup awesomeness, the World Cup entertainment, the pre season preparation and the belly chuckling smashing of Moneychester City, we have the real stuff. It’s Arsenal vs Crystal Palace at The Emirates.

I’m so excited I could make a high pitch noise that only dogs can here. Are you excited? Yeah, ya are.

I love everything about the first game of the season. I love the build up. I love the meet and greet of old compadre ‘s that you haven’t seen for a quarter of a year. I love the sup of that first pint in your chosen pub of choice. I love the speculation of who will start. I love the frantic refreshing of one’s Twitter account to find out the actual team news. I love the ACTUAL team news. I love the walk to the stadium. The small of hot dogs and smoke. The noises and general hustle and bustle. I love the approach to the stadium as it rises from in betwixt buildings from the distance. I love the gradual filling of the stadium. The nudging and shuffling to get inside our cathedral. We are worshippers without our weekly fix for three months. We need to fuel our addiction and I am desperate to get inside that home of The Arsenal and see our heroes trot out. I love the purchase of that first programme. Reading the captain’s notes (a fresh new one after the departure of Vermaelen) and getting some insight from Le Boss. I love the smell of that new programme as well. A freshly printed piece of history unfolding on this very day. The start of the 2014/15 season.

I love the meeting of my new season ticket partner, who this year will be a lad I used to play football with for the cub scouts, Tom. He’s a sound chap along with his brother chap and I’m pleased I get to reconnect with the guys throughout the season, as they’re almost as mad as me about The Arsenal. Almost.

And I love the beginning of it all. I love the expectation that this will, finally, be our season. Sure, every fan has that feeling right now as I type today’s blog first thing in the morning and slightly hung over, but we genuinely have cause for optimism this season. We have a squad that has, for two summers running, been unblemished in terms of key player departures. We have strengthened in the sharp end of the pitch with the excellent addition of Alexis and we have filled the void left by Sagna with a more than capable replacement in Debuchy. In defence we have the potential of Chambers to get our long-term excitement captured and whilst we are all a little worried about how lightweight we are in terms of the numbers at the back, the very fact that Arsene has openly admitted he’s still looking is music to all of our ears.

In terms of today’s game, the confirmed fitness of Koscienly is a massive relief, as it ensures that the side that lines is strong enough to avoid having any plasters stuck to it, or square pegs in round holes! The back five will essentially be the same as the players that started the Community Shield and that certainly looks strong enough from my perspective to keep Palace at bay. I suspect Arteta will sit at the base of the midfield with Rambo and Jack playing the role as box-to-box runners across the field. It’s an inverted double pivot and worked a treat on Sunday so I’m hoping the same happens today. With Mesut Ozil out of the team it’s a chance for Jack to stake a place in the team and whilst I think Mesut will eventually come in when he’s fully fit, it’s still a good chance to see what an injury free pre-season has done for the lad from near Stevenage.

In attack our front three will almost certainly include Alexis and Cazorla, but surprisingly there still remains a question mark up top with either Sanogo or Giroud the option. Personally, I’d be throwing Giroud in, because he’s the better player and will certainly be full of confidence after his excellent goal against City. However, fitness will be the key and so I wonder if Arsene might make a statement to the older of the Frenchmen by giving Sanogo the nod. Let’s face it, with the pace we have in our team, the need is there for a target man that can hold up the play and bring others in, not necessarily just score the goals. Sanogo might not do the latter, but he’s certainly big and strong enough to do the former.

Conventional wisdom should suggest that Palace are all over the place today. Managerless, rudderless and now seen as an established Premier League team, they are now longer seen as the surprise package in the Premier League. Keith Millen will be under no illusions of the difficulty of the task today, but I still expect Palace to set up the way Pulis would have set them up, difficult to beat and happy to perch on the edge of their box. Jedinak is their defensive midfield talisman and I think he’ll be pulling the back eight together as tightly as possible to deny our midfielders and attackers space. On Sunday Jack was given the freedom of Wembley by the City midfield and defence and I don’t expect he’ll get the same luxury today. So the victory will be down to our we can unpick the lock that will be the Palace defence. One suspects that patience will be the biggest virtue of the day.

If we need it, we have the quality on the bench with The Ox, Rosicky, of perhaps even Joel Campbell to try something different, but I’m hoping that we have a goal in the first half to make sure we have a more comfortable afternoon.

Up the Arsenal. You love it. I love it. We love it. Enjoy it today.

Embracing every advantage

Happy Friday you sexy Gooners!

Well, where to start today, eh? How about last nights breaking news that the most irritating tracksuit-wearing, baseball-cap loving, rugby-football adopting manager has thrown a diva-strop and walked out of Crystal Palace?

If I’m completely honest here, the only reason I am even penning half a thought towards that irksome individual, is due to the close proximity of a certain opening game of the season in which The Eagles visit our home turf on Saturday. Otherwise, it’s fair to say his name wouldn’t even be a footnote in today’s blog, especially as I have no idea how to create footnotes in WordPress.

Quite what his departure – oddly not actually official yet but effectively true what with every media outlet reporting it as such – will do to the Crystal Palace team I’m not sure. It’s quite easy to make an assumption that Palace will throw down their weapons tomorrow evening, but football is never an easy linear equation, so I’m still not expecting anything but a difficult game in which the opponents are extremely tough to break down.

Perhaps their Chairman Steve Parish is secretly an Arsenal fan, because I seem to remember a similar scenario with Ian Holloway just before we visited Selhurst Park last season, so maybe Parish is looking to hand any psychological advantage to The Arsenal that he can?

If I sound a little but too gleeful at the prospect of Palace potentially being rudderless, then I apologise, but in many ways I’m a petty, petty man, and any advantage that the team I support can gain is a-ok with me. It’s why I secretly fist-pump when a player gets sent off when we are playing that team a week of two weeks behind. And although you never wish injury on any person playing the game (well, maybe), there are times where an injury to a rivals key player has been greeted with a comment of “that’s a bit of a touch” from yours truly.

I am somebody who will embrace an advantage for Arsenal like a comforting hug from a parent after you’ve opened up your knees because you we’re slide tackling on gravel that time.

We should have enough to beat Palace without the circus that is now engulfing their club, but this little bonus for us is always handy, so I’ll take it.

What we all really need now is for Arsène to give us an update this morning which includes the words ‘Koscienly’ and ‘fit’ or ‘available for selection’, because he’s the one doubt from last weekend that we really could do with having back. With Chambers performing admirably in place of the German party animal Mertesacker, we looked assured enough, but despite the apparent limitations of the opponents tomorrow, we could really do without the worry that our back four will be fullbacktastic in it’s composition.

An almost inevitable section of the press conference will be dedicated to the prospect of transfers, for which we will get the inevitable “we are not close to signing anybody” commentary from Le Boss which will infuriate some, worry others and cause a bit of shoulder-shrugginess from the most of us. The important thing is that we have enough about us this season to be very excited for the nine months ahead and anything else is just added bonus to the good business already secured. I concede we do need another centre half though, so pull you’re finger out Arsène!

There’s some mutterings of Edison Cavani that appear to be doing the rounds, but I see that as nothing but paper talk, because he’s not looking for another striker and I fully expect the door to be closed on that line of questioning should the hacks decide to go down that route.

There really doesn’t seem to be that much more happening at the moment, other than the Ox’s 21st birthday, so I’ll wish him well wherever he is at the time of me writing this, and do the same to you.

Adios amigos.