Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

Options in the squad, but still a very tough time with tough decisions

Arsene’s presser started with the bad news about Gabriel being out for three weeks, but injuries in an Arsenal squad – especially the infamous ‘three weeks’ ones – are as par of the course as an Arsenal player, as the new inductee song in front of the playing staff.

It’s a shame for Gabriel because he would probably have loved to have started to build a run in the side and having played two games in a row he probably would have fancied his chances for a third on Monday night against United. But that’s life at Arsenal, I guess, so he’ll have to recover, then hope his chance comes around again, which you’d have to think will only happen if there are plenty of games left to play. In other words, we’re still in the FA Cup, possibly still in the Champions League (although we know that fire is all but extinguished).

Monreal is in a similar situation too actually, having worked so hard to establish himself as the number one left back, he finds himself unsure of whether he can wrestle the starter jersey from Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs has had two good games against Everton and QPR and contributed heavily in both, so a follow up performance by him against United might probably mean that Nacho is back to square one when it comes to fighting hard to retain his place. Such is life in the modern game; squads have to be big and players lose out when competition is high, but at least we have that competition to give Arsene the lovely headache that we’d all prefer. Remember the dark days where the headache was “how do we avoid seeing Silvestre or Denilson today, given our injuries”? Depressing times back then, I can tell thee.

But we have options now and the squad goes to Old Trafford with a strong team to take on an average United side that have the psychological edge over us, if not the technical one, that they might have had in seasons past. Arsene talks about our own recent confidence in the league and the importance it will have, which is great and I think he’s right to emphasise it, but to suggest that history plays no part in this fixture I think is folly on his part. Of course history will have an impact. The players may not have all played in the many defeats stretching back to 2006, but they will know full well of the record, they will have seen the media talking about it and they will know that it will have an impact should they go one down at Old Trafford. I’m not going to suggest that they’ll simply shrugh their shoulders and say “oh well, we’re screwed again” and give up, but I do think when you have a mentality in a club and a record like we have – similar with Chelski and us I think – the thought that goes through people’s heads is “how do we beat this lot?”. It’s worse when the team isn’t as good as it used to be or, as the game at the Emirates showed in November, gets themselves a fair old slice of luck in their victories too. I’ve been joking all week to United fans that they’ll probably only have three shots on goal and win the game with a deflected goal off Phil Jones face and a four-man ricochet that ends up scrambling over the line off Valencia’s arse. That’s just what it feels like with United.

Anyway enough of my negativity, let’s start to build up to the game with a little more positive vibes, eh? Like how Danny Welbeck will want to shove the lack of appreciation he had from Louis van Gaal right down his robot sounding throat. More on who I think will play on Monday, but initial thoughts are that we simply must go for pace, which Welbeck, Alexis and Walcott offer. That will complement Giroud and so whoever does start has to have a big game.

Ozil will also play I’m sure and it was good to see Arsene Wenger dismiss the criticism from media attention-seeker Paul Scholes. I read Scholes’ article yesterday in the London Evening Standard and I have to say I haven’t read such a clear attempt at trotting out populist cliches as Scholes did yesterday. It was like he’d had a look at some of the articles floating around historically, then decided he wanted to carve himself out a career as an ‘edgy’ pundit. But the biggest irony of his article was that the very same ‘laziness’ that Ozil gets labelled with, was used with Scholes’ article. He might as well have said “can Arsenal do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke”, or “they don’t like it up ‘em”. It had no real insight, just a bit of click whoring/paper reading. I guess that’s what he’s paid for, but it’s still annoying to read such research-lite reading from a player who’s football career was clearly more relevant than his current attempt at punditry.

Right, that should probably do me for today, so I’ll take my leave and catch thee in morrow.

Gritty three points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, bring on Monaco…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow.

Santi the quarterback dominates Boro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laters.

Mood Swings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Happy,

Ben.