Everton: Counter the width from the Toffees, then use right balance in attack to win

Having started the day at 3.30am this morning with a trip to Southend airport to drop the parentals off for their trip to Portugal, there is a very real risk that come the end of the match today at around 2.30pm i’ll have peaked and to coin an Arseneism, be a ‘little bit jaded’, so I hope that a) the Arsenal players fair better than that today, and b) that those that are selected give me something to be pleased about so that I can snooze soundly on my Metropolitan line train home this afternoon.

Everton will be a tough game. We all know that. They were certainly the most expansive opponents we’ve played at The Emirates this season – and I include the Champions League ties in that too (Dortmund were pegged back and sucker punched us earlier in the season and the red card to Szczesny effectively ended any competition against Bayern) – and they will go into this game thinking that they have a really good chance of pipping us to a semi-final showdown against Man City, who I am convinced the winners of today’s tie will face. At least, Everton have picked up plenty of draws at the Emirates in recent past and whilst their record for victories is not great, their ability to give us a good game has always remained constant. If you look at the last six games against Everton in all competitions and there has been three wins for Arsenal and three draws home and away, each of them being by a one goal margin, then looking at the games at The Emirates we’ve seen similar results, with three draws and three wins, only one of which has been by more than a one goal margin.

So history surely precludes that this afternoon’s game against the Toffees will most likely be won by a goal margin, or a draw which for an Everton team who find themselves nine points from fourth, will probably be looking at the FA Cup as their chance for glory rather than sneaking in to one of the top four spots. They will set up to be solid defensively, but they’ll use the flair players of Pienaar and Mirallas to support the man mountain that is Lukaku, who has always been a thorn in our side even if he hasn’t always been on the scoresheet. He got an outing against Everton last weekend and scored from the bench and with Traore injured he will surely be given the nod to start today. The Everton strength from the wings will also be something to pay close attention to. With two very good full backs in Baines and Coleman who like to get forward and support the attacking wide midfielders, Martinez will be encouraging those players to stretch our full backs as much as possible.

It is for that reason that I hope Arsene opts for Gibbs and Sagna as his starting full backs, along with players who can track back and provide support for overlapping Everton full backs. In the last round against their Mersey rivals, I thought Poldi did a really good job in doing that role and supporting Monreal, as did The Ox on the wide right position, so I hope both players start. Yes, I know Podolski was poor – bordering on anonymous – against Stoke, but few players came out of that game with any credit and we can hardly drop the whole team, can we?

I have no problem with Fabianski starting in goal and continuing his cup place, but in central defence I hope Kos passes his fitness test and plays. It may frustrate Vermaelen, but with someone like Lukaku likely to occupy both defenders, you want the one with the best positional sense plus the best recovery pace, to be there ready in case he shrugs off one with his physical presence and power.

Midfield simply must see Flamini in the heart of the engine room and with jack now confirmed to be out, I’d like to see Rosicky pulling the strings, with Ozil sat in front of them and just behind the striker. I think those three players all add something different (defensive stability and bite; quick movement of the ball from front to back; ability to pick a pass and create opportunities for others) to the side and I think it is the strongest possible line up we could muster at the moment. Up top will be a mystery. Go for Giroud and hope he shrugs off his current funk? Or plump for the unproven kid who put himself about a bit against Skyrtel and Agger a few weeks back. Despite his obvious failings, he does like the comforts of home (on the football pitch anyway!) and is clearly our best player in that position at the moment. If he does play, he’ll need those players in and around him making those runs for his little flicks and hold up play and with Poldi able to ‘shoot on site’ and The Ox with that bit of trickery to get beyond defenders, I think that quartet including Ozil would have the right balance to it to give us the best chance of progression.

Will Arsene do that however? That’s the $64,000 question I guess. I don’t know why he wouldn’t go for his strongest team, because shooting from the halfway line hoping for a glorious three-point finish for a win is always more risky than taking the slam-dunk for two points and a draw, so if I was the man at the helm I’d be looking at throwing everything at today’s game and seeing who’s feeling freshest during the week.

This to me represents our biggest chance of silverware this season and for that reason it simply must be approached in the best possible manner, with the best possible team, to try to get the job done first time. Everton could afford a replay and they would happily take their chances back at Goodison Park too, so I don’t want to see us start tentative, I want to see us quick off the block and getting the ball to the most form creative player at the moment: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Come on Arsenal, I want to get to Wembley. Twice. And win the FA Cup. Any chance of that?

How many superstars before harmony is disrupted?

Everyone’s going a bit mental at the moment over this wonder kid Draxler, aren’t they? I mean, he’s hit the back pages of this weeks Mirror, Twitter was going crazy at the prospect of a bid and everyone’s suddenly become a football scout and are extolling his virtues.

I’ll hold my hands up. Even I’ve been sucked in. But like some sort of vortex of transfer speculation, or killer whirlpool, the current was simply too strong for me to swim against. Hence the fact I’m even talking about his potential arrival. I hate the transfer window and the hyperbole, but at the same time I’m like some kind of Puritan with an eye for a bit of flesh, peaking from behind my hands at what earthly delights are available in front of me.

Arsene has said we’re looking for a striker and on this week’s SG pod the lads spoke about Draxler, but the general consensus was ‘not this month’. The worry asserted by the gents, however, is that by the summer everyone and his wife will be sniffing around the German. I know little of his exploits, I must confess, but that’s because I’m a blinkered Arsenal fan that only really ever wants to watch The Arsenal and rarely anything more, unless there’s not anything on TV. Some would say I’m probably not a real football fan. I probably am not. I’m an Arsenal fan and it’s my club that defines me.

But anyway, enough of my faux Shakespearian Henry V style attempt at a rousing monologue, back to Draxler. Much like a lot of people in this world, I’m very much of they ‘gimmie, gimmie, gimmie’ culture that has been bred today; I hear a name, hear multiple people say he’s an amazing player, then immediately want him to bolster the ranks. When that player signs for someone else? Sometimes I’m disappointed, but as every passing day, err, passes, I think I’m learning to realise not to get too hung up about stuff. After all, for every ‘we nearly signed Hazard/Mata/Ronaldo’, there’s always the dodged bullets of players like Niang (remember we were after him, but off he went to Milan and he hasn’t got near the first team) or Ricky Alvarez (the guy that was ‘pinched’ from under our noses by Inter Milan? Haven’t seen that much of him…although I don’t watch that much Italian football), so I’m not too worried at this stage.

Like I’ve said on previous blogs, I’m more concerned with our league form and making sure we put ourselves in a great position to kick on and win the league. Thankfully, it seems the players have that mentality as well. Arseblog highlighted a great example of the togetherness in his blog yesterday in the aftermath of the Villa game, in which Mertesacker was asked about his landmark 100 games and he shrugged it off as another performance, that the win was more important than personal achievement and that it is the way the team performs that should be applauded rather than the successes of the individual. Or he said something along those lines. But it stands to emphasise my point; the team ethos at the moment is one of victory through harmony and that is what is carrying us at the moment.

Here’s a thought: how many £35million+ superstars can you have in one team before there is the potential for that harmony I’ve just spoken of dwindling a bit? It’s a provocative question designed to stimulate debate, but I do wonder what impact it could have. We’ve signed Özil who thankfully doesn’t seem to have an ego, but the reason we’ve been so successful has been because all of the players at the moment are at similar levels of ‘superstardom’ in my opinion. We were all talking about the fact that there wasn’t any single player that the team relied on any more in the summer, which meant that we were finally not living in fear of the dreaded summer-long transfer sagas of pre-seasons past, but could the acquisition of two, three or four superstars result in that harmony eroding away? After all, a superstar often will come with his own ego that needs to be massaged, just look at masseurs Ronaldo, That Dutch Bloke, Rooney, Drogba, Suarez, Ibrahimovich, etc. They all need to feel like they are number one. So how can you stock a team full of those types of players?

I don’t really have the answer here. A counter argument to the ‘too many superstars’ debate is clearly demonstrated in the sky blue Mancunian exhibit A we’re seeing on our screens every week. But that is a formula that has cost £1billion and has delivered an FA Cup and a league in four years. The phrase of throwing enough of the proverbial at a wall to watch at least some of it stick has to run through when you’re talking about that many zeros. We have plenty of zeros, but we’re the equivalent of the son of a well known surgeon; we have plenty of toys, a nice lifestyle and a beautiful house in South Kensington. Manchester City is the equivalent of the son of the Sultan of Brunei; they give their servants the toys that we play with, then ask the servants to fight to the death using only the toys they have provided, for their own viewing pleasure.

I’ve gone off piece slightly here, but my question still stands that I’d love some thoughts on from you: how many superstars do you think this Arsenal team could have before the harmony starts to be disrupted?

Let me know.

Predicting the future – results, not transfers!

It’s funny, this is the time of the year when shouty Scottish Sky Sports News presenters are at their most vocal, conducting the sports media equivalent of rutting animals in season. Yet I find myself completely nonplussed about the whole transfer window. Perhaps I’m saving it for our Sunday night SG Pod, which I’m reliably informed will be a transfer window special, or perhaps I’m looking at our league position and thinking more about what could come to pass.

Last year I spent most of my January frantically refreshing my Twitter feed for news of a striker, opening up multiple browsers to see different football media sites, clinging to the hope Arsene would do something that would spark the club into life. Yet hindsight shows us that all that was really needed was a little talk amongst players after the Totteringham game to spark our team into life with a mad dash towards the Champions League places. Yet this year, with injuries even serving to provide us all with an excuse to talk strikers, I find myself more interested in attempting to calculate how we’re going to navigate a very tough fixture schedule in a months time.

February’s going to be a doozie, isn’t it folks? Liverpool, United and Bayern all facing us to us in a short period of time, with little hope of rest and recuperation for some of our players. It’s going to be all ice baths and massages. The football betting online aficionados  may have Moneychester City as favorites – rightly if you look at the pennies they’ve pumped into assembling their team of football mercenaries – but should we navigate that choppy and cold February water, remaining in pole position come 1st March, the tide might just start to turn.

It may look scary, but January can go a long way to alleviating the strains on all of our hearts, but not because of pumping fresh blood into the team. Oh no, by consistency and victory, those are the pillars of success we need to have our house built with. Over the coming weeks of this dreadful transfer period we have a number of games that – if we really want that first title in ten years – we have to win. It starts this coming Monday with a trip to an Aston Villa who far enjoy the trimmings at somebody else’s house than their own. We were caught out with a few sucker punches on the opening game of the season (most delivered by the incompetent Anthony Taylor that day) by the West Midlanders, but with the wind of form behind us and the smell of recent back-to-back victories still fresh in the Arsenal players nasal cavities, we’re in a good position to capitalise on the natives restlessness in Birmingham.

From there we travel back home for a Friday evening jaunt against League One Coventry who will most certainly be up for dishing out a giant killing like Blackburn and Bradford last year. The hope will be that this team has learnt the hard way and will be better prepared to take apart the Sky Blues. Rotation will play a part I’m sure, as the following midweek there is the tricky away trip to Southampton to navigate before playing an inevitably inspired Dimitar Berbatov led Fulham team at home on the Saturday. Six points during that week will mean a heck of a lot I think. If we were able to pick up maximum points for the rest of January, I believe we might just be able to create a bit of a buffer between us and The mercs of Manchester and West London, which I think is going to be vital. It would mean that, much like our mini-blip in December, we could drop points against so-called rivals and still either be top or certainly within touching difference.

Don’t get me wrong; I know how important winning those big games is for confidence, but I’d sooner we got the buffer that enables us to replicate an Olivier Giroud-style Gallic shrug of the shoulders, should we come-a-cropped against the scousers. Let’s have those games as pressure-less bonus points by picking up those crumbs directly in our line of sight now, rather than look at the potentially exciting prospect of dispatching a title rival.

I’d like to see a striker, but I’m not going to be dusting off my lucky rabbits foot, or hunting the patch of grass outside the back of my house for a four-leaf clover for a new face, but rather some new points. We’ve got 45 so far and if we hit 54 by the time we play Liverpool, I reckon we need another nine wins from sixteen games (eight of which will be at home) and we’ll hit 81 points and I think that will be the league. Those home games may include the two Manchester clubs, but they also include games against West Ham, Crystal Palace, Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom and Sunderland, all of which is consider winnable at home. Yes, yes, I know I’m massively counting all of the chickens in not just our coop, but Farmer John’s next door too, but I’d much rather be doing that kind of idle speculation than hoping for a random player arriving that will make everyone giddy.

So whilst you might be tempted to take a peak at a ‘live transfer blog’ on one of the media websites that we all frequent, might I suggest a deviation to the fixtures page on Arsenal.com, followed by a five-minute daydream about how wonderful it would be to be five points clear come 1st March?

Catch you tomorrow.

A desperate shame for Theo, revealing schadenfreude of ‘them’

There’s only one place to start today, which is the sad and sobering news that last night the club announced that Theo had sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury against the Spuds this weekend, ruling him out for six months minimum and putting an end to his season and the World Cup for the player. He will be devastated.

It’s really sad news for everyone really, because his contribution to the team had been no more obvious than the last fee weeks, having scored a number of goals and shown that he would be ready to help lead The Arsenal on a title charge for the second half of the season. Five goals in five games had shown the impact he could have had for us for the rest of the 2013/14 season and given that he will have essentially have played less than a quarter of the season by the time we hit May, it is frustrating for us as fans too because we’ll be deprived of one of our biggest goal threats.

First and foremost we must all wish him a speedy recovery. Of course, comments like that were not to come from our local rivals, with whom I noted a sizeable chunk revelling in the injury of an opponent. Regardless of where you sit on the ‘gesture’ Walcott made, to take pleasure in another persons misfortune – Schadenfreude of the highest level – shows just how low some of the pond life will go to take small victories when somebody has experienced such a nasty injury. Believe it or not, I saw pictures of Spuds fans holding up their fingers to indicate six months injury, I saw pictures with captions laughing at the fact that he will miss his second World Cup, plus I saw people talking about it after he had made his ‘gesture’ at the weekend as if it was some kind of karma on the player.

If that is the case, then I wonder if those Spuds fans that threw coins and obstacles will experience some kind of retribution as well, although I doubt it. I also wonder where the karmic retribution was when Gareth Bale incited the Arsenal fans with his ‘gesture’. There will be those that point to a bit of Arsenal hypocrisy with the Adebayor incident with Moneychester City, or Henry against that lot, but personally I don’t really care about players celebrating. Many Arsenal fans said as much when That Dutch Bloke scored against us a couple of months back. However, if you do want to look at hypocrisy, how about the round of applause Capoue got when taken off injured at The Emirates in September? Or how about we use Sagna’s broken leg at White Hart Lane, where he was spat on and given a chorus of ‘let him die’ from Neanderthals in lilywhite? Yes people, I’m afraid I’ve seen far too many morons pertaining to support ‘them’ to ever feel like they are anything but a poor club. It’s a shame really. My uncle and cousins are what I call ‘reasonable’ Spurs fans, but my experience to date is that those types of fans are in the minority with that lot.

I’m starting to really question the old adage of ‘it all evens itself out’ right now and I’m sure Theo is too this morning. He, and we, have already experienced so many injuries already. I’m obviously biased – I watch Arsenal infinitely more than any other team – but I do feel like we seem to be inordinately unlucky with injuries. I’ve seen people blame the medical team at the club, or the fabled ‘red zone’, but whilst I agree that overplaying of fatigued players leads to muscular injuries, the Walcott injuries, Poldolski and Flamini (against Palace) were not down to such overuse. It was just unfortunate. In a world where Cashley Cole and John Terry seem to be able to play more than someone like Theo, it feels like what I was led to believe in all those Western’s I watched as a kid (“the good guys always win”) is a crock of horse manure.

But it is what it is, we have to now pick ourselves up from this disappointment and keep up our winning ways, for the wee man Walcott. If I can try and take any positives from this situation, you only have to look at the response from the players to see what a fantastic team dynamic we’ve got at the moment, which will be vital over the coming months. The fear from many of us has been whether this will have an ‘Eduardo 2008′ feeling to it, but I believe this team is stronger mentally than that incarnation of the side. Just look at Big Per’s response to Gallas’. He will be shouting and roaring the team on, whilst the Frenchman set the tone by sulking on the final whistle, so I am hopeful that we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

With Walcott out and still no news on Bendtner’s return, thoughts will invariably be towards getting somebody in up front in this window which I can understand, but I’m not so sure that Walcott’s injury will have Arsene searching for a replacement outside the squad just yet. After all, the emergence of Gnabry this season has shown that he is ready to play a bigger part, so I think we’ll see a bit more of the German. And if he can keep performing well for us, who knows, he might even be able to squeeze himself into the national team World Cup squad?

We still have just under a week until our next game, which means there is time for the dust to settle before we take on Villa, so I’m hopeful that we’ll have ourselves ready to maintain our top spot come Monday evening.

See you tomorrow.

Pandora had it easy, Theo wants a fight and we go once more

I really hope 2014 isn’t going to be defined as the year of pain and surface-level wounds for yours truly. Yesterday I had a post match shin bruise and cut to nurse, whilst today I woke up to find my right thumb throbbing with more vigour than a Dirk Diggler love scene. I have no idea why, how or when, just that I seem to veer from one ‘ow’ to the next.

So from my pain, to our collective pain, as the January transfer window is now well and truly wide open and as expected, the pond life from within it’s barrier have emerged. ITKs are free and easy and running about everywhere and it’s already getting tiresome. Jack Bauer ‘longest month of my life’ tiresome. And the Transfer Terror Alert situation has been raised to ‘heightened’ now, as people search high and low for the tiniest glimmer of spurious activity that they can latch on to. Just talking about this Groundhog Day feeling has literally caused me to pause for a second, take a deep breath, sigh and continuing typing. It’s like Pandoras Box, only snakes and demons and all things nasty seems like an easy afternoon in the sunshine right now. That Pandora, she had it easy, for she didn’t have to concern herself with shouty Scottish Jim from Sky Sports, or the media hyperbole that is ‘Deadline Day’. Somewhere in West London, ‘Arry just twitched.

So I sigh at the bravado. For as I opened my Twitter feed yesterday hoping to find out if there was any news on players fit for tomorrow, I see the Goonersphere awash with noises that Yaya Sanogo supposedly welcomed Berbatov to Arsenal on his Facebook page and then deleted it. Like gossip hungry salivating sheep rushing towards that first feed of the season, people flocked to gorge themselves on this speculation, as the need for ‘anybody’ seems to overrule the logic that our own eyes should have shown us over the last few months. If a player like that isn’t up for a relegation fight, what makes anyone think he’d be up for a title assault? And what happens when it doesn’t go his way? It’s Arshavin all over again.

Speaking of fighters, or at least those in the squad ready and looking forward to a battle tomorrow, Theo Walcott has spoken to the official site ahead of the NLD and has talked up his own personal excitement at facing that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. He talked about how it’s always one of those fixtures he looks for and stressed the importance of making The Emirates ‘a fortress’. That’s the spirit Theo. That’s the kind of fighting talk we want to hear about from our players and I hope the rest of the players bring that attitude tomorrow. When we faced the old enemy at the start of the season we got a good first half goal and then I felt we took a pragmatic approach to the rest of the game, preferring to keep the Spuds at arms length rather than try the tactic of Arsenal teams past and go for the jugular. It worked, at a time where some might have seen us mentally on the rocks, having lost to Villa and with the window on the verge of shutting with no marquee signing on the horizon. Tomorrow will be different I think. I suspect we’ll see more confidence, more impetus to lay down a marker and hopefully we’ll hear from Le Boss later today about the injury situation, which will give us an indication about how strong a team we can put out tomorrow.

There’s no doubt that this festive period has been one of the most gruelling for us in respect of injuries. As muscles are tired, bones are aching and therefore more susceptible to injury, we’ve had to do far more rotation than even Arsene had wanted I suspect. But we’ve coped to date and the hope has to be that tomorrow, regardless of who is for and who is not, we have a first eleven capable of winning the game.

I hope we’ve got a number of players returning for tomorrow. After the FA Cup game there is at least a week’s worth of rest that is in store for the players, so whilst I certainly don’t advocate putting bodies on the line that are potentially going to break down, for the game against Totteringham there has to be an element of ‘once more into the breach’ before we allow our charges to rest easy before Villa away a week on Monday. I guess the good news is that the early season injuries to Theo, Poldi and Cazorla mean that they are fresh, whilst the two games sat out over Christmas gave Jack plenty of rest time, which I do wonder if it helped to contribute to his vastly improved performances against Newcastle and Cardiff. So whilst we’ve been beset with injuries, it hasn’t forced us into the old ‘square peg, round hole’ situation too often, like we’ve seen over the years.

Right, well, I think that’s about all my throbbing thumb can handle for one day. Let’s see what Arsene tells us on the injury front this morning, then I’ll be back tomorrow to dissect another encounter with them lot.

Merry Christmas: what presents might Arsenal get for January?

Merry Christmas to all and as tiny Tim would say ‘gawd bless us, everyone’. As it’s the season to be jolly, exchanging gifts and all that jazz, I thought I’d take a look at some of the possible transfers dealings that we might see in the weeks to come. I know I usually don’t go for the transfer bumf at this time of the year but I thought ‘what the heck, it’s Christmas’, so where will Arsenal look in the January 2014 window for inspiration? I think there are four names considered to be gunning for Arsenal. We’re once again back on track to win the Premier League title after 10 years. And as Arsene Wenger gazes at the January 2014 transfer window, numerous names have sprung up as to who will become the newest Gunner after Mesut Ozil joined the club last September.

Gossip mills and betting houses are abuzz as to who Wenger should recruit come the January transfer window. One can find Premier League tips from Betfair suggesting that either a striker or a goalkeeper is a plausible choice who would compete with Olivier Giroud or Wojciech Szczesny, or the commentary of The Star’s football writer Ralph Ellis recommending that Wenger should make another high-rolling recruitment similar to Ozil’s record £42.5 million purchase. The following stars are considered to be top contenders to the The Emirates-based side in January.

Javier Hernandez
With strikers Wayne Rooney and “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” given priority on the Old Trafford field, 25 year-old Javier Hernandez should be seriously thinking about making a transfer to rejuvenate his otherwise promising football career. Arsenal is one team where “Chicharito” would fit best, and fans should expect Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere constantly feeding him with crosses.

Michy Batshuayi
The Gunners could boost its attacking line-up by recruiting Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi. Wenger is reportedly setting his sights on the 20 year-old Standard Ligue player, who may prove valuable to Arsenal’s Premier League campaign by taking the pressure from Giroud whose impressive performance on the field contributed 7 goals in the first 4 months of the season. Batshuayi, on the other hand, isn’t shying away from the prospect, saying that he wants to join Arsenal because “they give opportunities to young and talented players.”

Iker Casillas
Rumours have been going around about Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas possibly transferring to Arsenal or Manchester City in January. Worried about his No. 1 position both at Real Madrid and in the Spanish National Team for next summer’s FIFA World Cup, making a move to the Premier League proves to be logical for the 32 year-old goalkeeper. While his value to the team can be contested, there is no doubt that his experience as a Euro and World Cup champion would add prestige to Arsenal’s Premier League title campaign.

Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski’s transfer to Arsenal may be a long shot, but the impending expiration of his contract with Borussia Dortmund and his reported desire to play in the Premier League have opened the possibility of Arsenal enlisting Lewandowski to the squad. As one of Bundesliga’s top goal scorers, he would certainly be a great complement to Giroud and a huge asset to Arsenal if he decides to join the club this January.

So, just four names, but there’s little doubt that any of the above would improve our team. But what say you to some of these options? How many would you take? Who would be your preference, and do you think there would even be a signing in the offing in January? Let me know in the comments.

Catch y’all tomorrow, when I’ve consumed my own body weight in turkey and beer.

Merry Christmas.

Crystal balling you an offer; are we getting a Portuguese duck?

Morning Arsenalites, hopefully you’re doing well after a good weekend of fantastic flowing football from our Frenchman’s team. It may be Monday, but the post-match glow of satisfaction that I felt radiating from within me still burns brightly enough for me to ignore the fact I was kept awake all night from Diwali fireworks cracking off, as well as the fact I have an additional layer of blubber across my midriff as a result of more than a flagon or two of ale plus a birthday party and then late night Thai yesterday evening.

Yesterday we recorded our latest Podcast, which you can find on the site in the well-labeled ‘Podcast’ section, in which the lads and I posed a question to each other on whether we would swap around the Chelski and Liverpool results. Of course the answer was a resounding ‘no’, but it did get me to thinking about these upcoming two games against Dortmund and United. Nobody can see into the future, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend that you can, so this morning I am using my imagination and asking myself if I’d take two of the most boring James Milner style draws against both teams. I’d have to sit through both matches safe in the knowledge that we’d come away with a point in both games. It would feel like three hours of my life wasted, but would it be worth ‘taking one for the team’ to ensure that we navigated these tricky fixtures without loss?

I’ve never been one to gamble so I think the obvious answer is ‘yes’. Actually, the obvious answer would be ‘I’d bite your hand off for that. And your other hand. And probably have a nibble at your leg too. But only if you could promise me the same love an affection the Liverpool fans give Suarez after I’d maimed you’, but that’s a tale probably left best said by Stephen King. We’d all love to come away with three points in both games, but do we have enough in the tank to do so? I had a bit of a chat about fitness with Goonerdave66 about why every team doesn’t press more often as it’s the easiest thing in football, and I know he’s of the same opinion as I when it comes to fitness and pressing and playing three times in a week. Of course we should have enough energy to win both games with the same set of players! Let’s not forget that these players’ bodies are treated so well that their recovery time is a hell of a lot quicker than the average human. I think back to when I played football twice a week in my early twenties and I had to drive home for 45 minutes straight after a game, sometimes play some golf, or if it was a midweek match, I’d have done a full day of work beforehand. I’m pretty sure that if I was told I could have a day off after a game, plus I got a massage of muscles, ice-bath, and was treated very carefully after each match, my muscles would be able to recover pretty darn quickly. I can kind of understand towards the end of the season if the teams been playing twice a week for nine months, but not in October/December. So my thoughts are that we should be able to cope with the next few matches and there is no way that there should be any kind of psychological ‘get out’ for any player from the manager about looking ‘tired’.

Right, now I’ve stepped down from my soap box, how about the idea that we could get Pato on loan from Milan in January to replace Bendtner? Personally, I’m not sure that we need another injury-prone player to add to our impressive list, but based on the few times I’ve seen him (granted, it was a few years back, mind) he’d most definitely be a step up from Bendtner. Mind you, a wet sponge with a picture of Ian Wright smiling would be a better option right now than the ‘Not-so-Great’ Dane. The question I’d raise, having not seen much Italian football or much of Pato/Milan, would be: can he lead the line as a target man like Giroud? Also, can a lad that has spent his life in Serie A make the transition to English football and hit the ground running? I don’t really have any evidence to back this up, but off the top of my head this morning, I can’t remember the last time and Italian-based player made the leap to the Premier League and was a roaring success – I’m discounting Bergkamp because he never really settled in Italy and as far as I’m concerned they were just incubating his awesomeness until he could become one of us.

So with that in mind, do we really want a player named after the Portuguese word for duck, or should we look towards a league not too dissimilar in attributes than ours, i.e. The Bundesliga? I don’t have the answer, I just like to pose the question, so let me know your thoughts.

I should probably talk about our mounting injury list, given both Gibbs and Jack are currently expected to miss Dortmund, but right now I’m in a good mood and I don’t really want to spoil that as I prepare for a full day and a full working week in front of me. Maybe I’ll pen some thoughts on it tomorrow, but for now, I’ll just keep smiling because we’re top of the league with a bit of fresh air between us and the rest of the division and if you can’t smile when sitting at the summit looking down, when can you smile? Yes, I know, ‘May’ is the clever answer, but that’s a long way away, so I think I’ll just smile now.

NLD chat + The Jack Wilshere conundrum

Hi All, I hope all is well…

It’s Wednesday, hump day and one day closer to watching The Arsenal play again. Bliss. I do enjoy watching England, and when a tournament comes around I get excited about watching the games, but these qualifiers, friendlies during the season just have me panicking about are players getting injured.

Ppppsssssttt…*whispers* we’ve signed Mesut Özil. *very creepy happy smiley face*

I’ve had time to think, which is very dangerous as you all know – I have a question for you all. When everyone in our midfield is fully fit. Who would be your midfield ’3′. Well your ’2′ and ’1′ to be precise ?

I was at The North London Derby and experienced the two sides of our sporadic midfield. Which lead me to think Arsène has a very tough decision to make when game day arrives. I might add, a very welcome one.

The North London Derby had its usual intense rivalry, but it had been intensified ten fold due to our race for fourth place. When me and my brother arrived into the ground. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, and the best I have ever witnessed at the emirates – I wasn’t at Barcelona at home, unfortunately.

‘Where’s your Monkey gone’ rang from block 5 as everyone eagerly anticipated kick off.

The three men who sit in front of us arrived with 5 minutes to go before kick off, which is unusual. Quite shaken, yet ‘pumped’. Apparently they had been jumped by Spurs fans as they where coming out of the pub. After some brief fistycuffs. The police arrived to break it up and they ‘skatered’ and ran to make the game. After the continuous use of the word ‘See-You-Next-Tuesday’ the game started and the aggression was even more intense.

We dominated the first half and took the lead when Oliver Giroud rounded off a fantastic team goal. Our breakthrough came when, Per Mertesacker robbed Nacer Chadli from just outside the area. He stepped on the ball like an elegant giraffe – Well timed is a horribly underrated way to refer perfection of the challenge. Rosicky then released Walcott, who was clear down the right hand-side. His low cross was perfectly placed for Giroud, who exquisitely guided the ball home at the near post. Three points and the bragging rights in the bag for The Arsenal.

It was certainly a game of two halves . Well it changed from the 43 minute – When Flamini came on for Wilshere.

Tottenham were the better side at the start of the second half. Their pressure and ball retention kept us penned back in our own half. However, they lacked penetration and until they started lumping the ball into the box, they didn’t really threaten our goal until the end of the game.

With Jack on the pitch he drove us forward. Our very own metronome. We kept hold of the ball for longer periods, but we where very open at times and Townsend seemed to be getting a lot of joy cutting inside.

When Flamini came on, we where defensively very tight. But our ball retention was very poor. We seemed to change our game plan ever so slightly. When Spurs had the ball, our midfield ’3′ dropped and we made a 5 in midfield. Theo tucked in, which left Giroud very isolated. Leaving the Frenchman with only one option, to graft.

We allowed Spurs to keep the ball. Once they got over the halfway-line, they reacted our ‘trigger point’ and then we attacked them like ravaged dogs. Santi, Rosicky and Ramsey did very well and excelled. With Flamini barking orders, like he was leading his three imps to war.

The defensive side was particularly important for us and in my opinion won us the game. The Spurs midfield had great strength, and there is the obvious risk we could have been over-powered if we tried to fight fire with fire. Instead, we deployed Santi as a forth central midfielder – Steve Bould has said on numerous occasions, that we aren’t good enough to press as team and can only do it in certain areas of the field.

We didn’t dominate possession as much as usual, but we enjoyed more of the ball in advanced positions. Our ‘midfield four’ sole job was to disrupt Spurs and throw the cat amongst the pigeons (or Chicken on a basketball if you prefer).

It’s clear that Jack has such an impact on our team for many reasons, but will Jack reach the dizzying heights he seems destined for without the players he needs around him? Will he just become limited in what he can offer our football club?

Jack Wilshere is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders at Arsenal, but also key to England and amongst the best in Europe. But in my opinion, something is missing from his game and I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet.

So, we have a conundrum. I believe Jack doesn’t warrant a start in our current starting XI. He doesn’t improve the team. I think he actually hinders the team as a whole.

Jack’s breakthrough season came when we played 4-3-3. Jack made his name as a ‘Number 6′. He excelled as one of the trio in midfield. The performance that comes to mind was his world-beating game against Barcelona. He linked the play, feed Cesc, who intern feed our three strikers. He was neat, tidy, accurate, and very direct in everything he did. He was the heartbeat of the team. He just seemed to keep everything ticking over, just perfectly. At that point, we all realised Jack had talent to become whatever he wanted to be.

After the rise of our current 4–2–3–1 formation – It also seems to be everyone else’s default option. It’s said that the formation gives the best distribution of players over the pitch. Which is understandable really. The problem for the ‘two’ in midfield is that the wide men are so advanced – For attacking purposes, and defensively to pin back the opposing full-backs.

The space between them and their own full-back is huge and leaves a lot of ground for the midfield duo to cover. Granted it can be difficult space to exploit, being neither behind nor in front of a team but between two lines, it is possible to cause major damage.

As I sit and write this, (I’m watching England, and Wilshere was just tripped !! Boooo !!) my perception hasn’t changed. I still think he is absolutely fantastic. But, Arsenal’s circumstances have…

It must be remembered that, Jack was injured for a very long period of time. He returned and our starting lineup had drastically changed – more importantly that had our style. Jack is now being asked to play a different position/role which require different qualities. Granted it is a slight difference but, qualities he seems to currently lack – End product.

The issue Jack had last season was we have another excellent, scoring number 10 – Santi Cazorla. When Jack played, Cazorla was moved out wide to accommodate both and we lost all of the little spaniards effectiveness.

Could the Arrival or Mesut Özil be the catalyst to get Jack back on track to superstardom ?

Özil exploits space. He has the tactical awareness to interchange with Santi – A side note, it may leave Gibbs exposed on the left. Will he be told to hold his position at times? Özil/Santi interpret the playmaker position differently. Rather than staying central and trying to find space in between the lines, they drift to the flanks and pick the ball up there. This was how Ozil thrived last season at Real Madrid. Özil is both a playmaker and a ‘auxiliary winger’. His intelligent runs should provide the width that we’ve missed at times last season.

Please don’t think I’m just having a go at Jack. I’m a huge fan of his and in my opinion he is the future of Arsenal Football Club. He if he can develop in the same way as other starlets have, he could be a truly magnificent focal point for the team. But right now, we can’t be blind to his shortcomings. His time will come…Jack is an enormous talent and I believe he will develop accordingly with his fitness and an uninterrupted run in the team.

If everybody was fit and raring to go. My midfield three would be Özil, Arteta and Ramsey. In my opinion, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are both now fighting for one position. Positionally Ramsey offers more and on current form, Rambo is becoming a goal scoring machine. Arteta is in their on merit, because no one else in the squad can do what he can do – Stay disciplined and keep play ticking over with insightful passing. Granted Özil hasn’t played for Arsenal yet, but he is in the top 10 players in the world and is ruddy magnificent…

Lets us know your preferred midfield combination.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Is it normal to obsess about another man?

Hi all, hope you’re well…

Can I ask you a strange question. Is it ok for a 27-year-old man to be continually thinking about a 24-year-old man ? It’s a rhetorical question of course. But it proves transfer business of a gargantuan proportion, can work wonders for club and equally for the fan-base. To quote Jack Wilshere ‘Im buzzing!!’

I was strangely listening to a video of Mesut Özil in German, no I don’t speak or even understand the language. But I was very keen to see his mood, his demeanour regarding his move. He said himself he wasn’t keen on leaving Madrid. He was happy and enjoying his football. Due to a change of manager, and not being ‘in his plans’, luckily for us he wasn’t guaranteed first team football – Seems utterly ridiculous to write that paragraph. Sometimes football just doesn’t make sense…

We’ve signed Mesut Özil for almost half of what Madrid paid for Gareth Bale. *Assumes the fetal position, frantically looks for a blankey to clutch*

Jurgen Klopp “Mesut is a football grenade. No one really knows why he was sold. Maybe Real Madrid needed the money?”

“Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez wanted to have Gareth Bale, of course, and he paid 100million Euros”.

“Florentino Perez once even bought Hochtief (the German construction company). Maybe he just doesn’t know in the mornings what he is about to do with his money when the evening comes.”

Mesut Özil is a top class European player, who we’ve signed from a top class European club. It’s incredible for two reasons – We’ve signed him as he’s coming into his peak, it’s relatively unheard of. Think Cesc Fabregas, as he was getting towards his peak, he was snatched from our nurturing grasp. Also being in somewhat of a transfer abyss, we’ve completely obliterated our transfer record and also paid one of the highest British transfer fees ever – £42.5m.

Jose Mourinho “There is no copy of him – not even a bad one. He is the best number 10 in the world. He makes things very easy for me and for his team-mates with his football vision and the decisions he makes. Everyone loves him and sees a bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him”.

I’ve quickly tried to think of some transfers in recent history similar to the size of this. Possibly Fernando Torres to Liverpool. Also Sergio Augero to City ? You could even argue Carlos Teves to West Ham. If you have any other suggestions, put them on a post card and send them over to us…

I later found a version of the interview with english subtitles. Özil seemed calm, cultured and very mature. He was asked about his time at Madrid, the journalist also mentioned the Madrid fans calling for him not to be sold at the Gareth Bale presentation. He seemed slightly emotional and instantly answered the question. With a very well spoken answer. Granted the usual ‘football answer’ – Thank you, good luck etc etc. But, you could just tell how important his ex-teammates and fans meant to him.

I think it can be seen as only a good thing. firstly, he has his head screwed on and he was clearly passionate about the game and his career. I wondered if he has a ‘chip’ on his shoulder, a point to prove? He’s a exceptional football player. It’s just the ‘business’ of football that crushed his dream. I hope it can be used as a positive for us going forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo “Özil’s exit is bad news for me. He was a player who best knew my moves in front of goal,” Ronaldo is believed by AS as telling his Portugal teammates in training yesterday. I’m angry at Özil’s exit.”

We’ve had plenty of players leave our football club (I won’t mention names *Insert boos etc*) but you can’t argue the reasons why they left. They had dreams, a passion to win. Finally brining in a player with that passion is a massive step forward for the club.

I remember listening to a Paul Merson Interview regarding Dennis Bergkamp he said (apologies for the paraphrase) “When training was finished me and the boys where walking off the training pitch. We couldn’t believe why Inter Milan released him… how good must their team be ?!”. I hope that’s how our current crop are going to feel when when Mesut walks off the pitch.

During the Özil interview, the German international also mentioned our playing style was one of the major reasons behind the move. Özil is a very mobile and someone I’d describe as very ‘fluid’. He plays a creative role between the midfield and forward lines.

The knowledge and technical ability he has will be very well-suited to our system and style of football – WengerBall. He is one of The world’s leading players and he naturally only would of wanted to play for a team where his technical abilities will be allowed to shine through.

Ozil said “I chose Arsenal because they are one of the top clubs in England. The coach is a world-class manager – he’s demonstrated that for years. A lot of players have developed under his guidance in the past and that’s why I decided to join Arsenal. I want to improve myself further and I’m looking forward to the style of play”.

“Arsenal are well known for the strength of their technical game and their desire to play attacking football. I think I will fit perfectly into that. That’s why I chose to sign for the club. Arsenal are one of the technically strongest teams in the world”.

“The manager always wants to play attractive and attacking football. I think I fit into that because I enjoy playing quickly—that ’one-touch football’. I’m happy to be part of the club and I hope I can help the team”.

Playing Mesut Özil as our No.10 is a no-brainer for me. It will showcase his talent and help other players blossom. I can see the argument for Santi playing behind the striker, but Ozil has the positional awareness to drift into the flanks, which will allow Cazorla room to exploit the middle – Something Jack Wilshere doesn’t currently have in his game.

Özil is literally a dream signing, utterly outrageously good. He’s a perfect fit for our new (or old, depending how you want to look at it) style of play – Counter attacking. With Santi and Özil interchanging It will give both, especially Özil a lot of room to thread inch-perfect through balls.

Attacking-wise he is an almost perfect No.10. Technically astute. Key passes a plenty, set pieces – Hopefully he will get Theo as far away from corners as he can. Crossing the ball from wide positions – Can cross the ball Rosicky esque using the outside of his boot like a wand. He also has the ability to take players on, being deployed out wide for Madrid did the world of good for him. The only issue is his defensive play, he isn’t the sort of player that will dive into a challenge. Maybe over time he can add some grit to his game.

Olivier Giroud must be literally licking lips and rubbing his hands at the thought of playing with Özil. Considering the Frenchman’s movement, in and around the box, plus his ability to pull away from the last defender. I can only make one prediction – Goals Goals Goals.

On the other hand I’m 50:50 on the affect he’s going to have on Theo Walcott. Regarding Theo as an individual – Rather than the team as a whole. Lets go back in time. Cesc’s passes used to dictate his runs rather than vice versa. Özil can pass a ball through the eye of a needle with his eyes closed, whilst he’s eating a ice poll. Simply sublime passing range. Right now its an irrelevant point, but I will be keeping my eye on Theo and his movement.

Fabregas on Özil to Arsenal “I was really surprised by Ozil’s departure. He seemed to me the second-best player at Madrid, after Cristiano (Ronaldo). He’ll be great for Arsenal.”

On a quick side note – Assuming everyone is fit and raring to go – Who would be in your midfield thee? I’d go for Arteta, Ozil and Ramsey.

What does the Özil transfer mean for the club and our self sustaining dream? – Arsenal invested everything they had into this dream. Arsène Wenger and David Dein (+Others) made a decision for Arsenal to be regarded as a ‘Super Club’ they needed to move to a larger ground – To generate a larger income. For me, this Transfer symbolises the reality of the dream. If we continue to pay competitive wages. The world football talent pool could so become our oyster.

The signing it self shows, we are now becoming a major power again. I hope it also means we are prepared to stray from our socialist wage structure. From now on, there is no reason why we cannot attract more players of Özil’s ability for many years to come.

I think the most enjoyable factor of this whole whirlwind of excitement is the fact we stuck to our principles. We now have a world-class playmaker who could play for any team in the world and not look out of place. We can all sit back very smugly and enjoy the football.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Fan reaction from @petercwelch22

Hi all, I hope all is well…

I’ve been very kind to you this week. Treating you with some marvellous guest writers, and today will be no different. Id like to give a very warm welcome to Peter Welch. A fantastic gentleman I follow on Twitter. Very intelligent and a very rational thinker. Someone I respect massively and by the end of this, I hope you will also jump on the bandwagon. I’m absolutely delighted to have him on and I hope his first taste of Suburban Gooners is a good one…

I’ve put a link at the bottom of the page for Peters Twitter account. Follow, enjoy, and you can thank me later…He is well worth a follow. Over to you Peter..

On this summer and how I see it taking us forward.

Gazidis et al were clearly aware of us closing in on our new found financial muscle. He could have done without announcing it though. Arriving at this point has been a truly bumpy road, especially the last two seasons. The fact the team has fought to claim the much acclaimed 4th ‘Trophy’ especially the last two seasons, may well have seen us arrive earlier than expected. Who knows? But credit to them. Without that and Wenger, we’d not have Ozil.

So, after the chest beating, we all ‘expected’!

No pressure then. We all now know how the transfer window panned out. But ‘wow’ was it not laboriously tough in oh so ‘many’ ways! Pleased my lungs are once again full of clean air.

The Ozil signing has certainly repaid us with interest. For me it was like expecting a frying steak and ending up with a prime fillet! Arsenal has along with smashing their transfer record, been cute too. Pulling in a keeper on loan, plus a young striker and an ex player for free. Old habits die hard! We perhaps wanted more, greed at its finest, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, a striker would have been ideal, but one step at a time. There are plenty of goals in that team, and with the January transfer window around the corner, I’m more than happy to be patient.

Arsenal has at ‘last’ shown intent and will reap the rewards from this. For me, it’s the start of a new beginning. Ozil will act as a huge bait to lure others to the club. I’ve always maintained that a marque signing is what we’ve needed to kick start the new era. But also, I did not expect to follow the likes of Man city and Chelsea. We all see the ridiculous amounts of money and talent wasted by both. That’s just not the Arsenal way.

The players that did not fit in, and have eaten money over the years are finally gone. I would not expect Arsenal to fall in to that trap again. Although, there’s bound to be a few casualties. Adding players of Ozil quality, by one or two per year, will not only be a wise use of money, but turn us into contenders again.

The future once again looks exceedingly bright for AFC. Amazing really, given that prior to the end of the transfer window it was almost ‘meltdown’. What’s so pleasing for me is that Arsenal has finally arrived financially, and not only that, but realised the need to keep up with the changing market.

Arsenal have ‘jumped’ there’s no way back now!

Follow Peter on: @petercwelch22

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben