Making life hard, but doing the job. Just.

Well we don’t half make life hard for ourselves, don’t we? I mean this was a Reading team who were 18th in the Championship, with a season of inconsistent performances, but very little to play for other than this game and so I suppose this was always going to be a little bit more difficult than we’d all hoped it would be. After the game I went for a curry with some of the lads I went to the game with and one Reading fan said to a member of my party that if Reading played with that much effort every week, they’d be chasing down a promotion spot, which pretty much shows how beyond their usual level our opponents were. 

As for us, I think it’s fair to say we were a little below our normal level, as we struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Perhaps that was down to squad selection, as Arsène decided he was going to opt for a wee bit of rotation for the game, replacing Bellerin and Monreal with Debuchy and Gibbs, as well as Welbeck up top. But that was it really, so I don’t think that level of rotation should have affected our fluidity as much as it did. Perhaps it did have an impact though. Take Gibbs for example. I’m always of the opinion that players need a string of games to be able to play at their optimum. We’ve seen that with Monreal and a consequence is that whilst Monreal is getting better and better, Gibbs looks to be suffering on the basis of this display. He looked a bit cumbersome in possession, was a bit better going forward, but was out of position for the Reading goal. 

Perhaps too the same can be said of Szczesny and the fact he isn’t playing, because it was his howler that bought Reading back into the game and he has hardly done his campaign for re-election into the first team on a regular basis any good. 

Up top I thought Welbeck had a tough afternoon. He’s a willing runner, but the way in which Reading sat deep at times suggested to me at half time that he was going to endure further frustration after the break. So it would come to pass in abundance after Reading equalised. They say deeper, content to let us have the ball and say ‘come on then, break us down, if you can’. We couldn’t do it enough in regulation time, but we had plenty of chances towards the end. Ramsey danced around the ‘keeper and hit the post, Gabriel saw a header saved onto the bar by Federici and Reading held on to take us to extra time.

The nerves inside the ground were palpable. The atmosphere was one of singing, but apprehensive singing, so it was all kinds of awesome when Alexis scored his second of the day. When you are finding it difficult to overcome a stubborn opponent, you need to have a special player that is the difference and Alexis was that yesterday. He megged Federici in the first half and not to be undone by Szczesny’s shocker in the second half, the Reading ‘Keeper was on hand to let Alexis’ shot slip through his grasp and into the net in extra time. So often cup competitions are ones in which goalies are made heroes. Yesterday was clearly not one of those days. We saw the match out after that, as Reading were clearly mentally and physically shattered by that point, so it ended with the result that we wanted, if not the way in which we wanted it. I’ll take it. I’m sure you’re feeling the same too.

And right now, that’s all that matters. Oh, and I got on the tele too in my yellow Invincibles shirt, so that matters too! 

See y’all tomorrow!

Arsenal cup keyword tagging: concentration and non-complacency

If I was to try to to do the keyword tagging and search engine optmisation of the Arsenal team manifested in physical form today, the one word I would lace throughout any team talk or mindset or thoughts going through each players mind would be: concentration, non-complacency. These are the two things that we must see for the duration of today’s FA Cup semi final against Reading. 

We are the overwhelming favourites today, there can be no doubting that, but we have all experienced the loss of seeing this Arsenal team believing it’s own hype and as a result imploding on a catastrophic scale. When they believe all that is needed is attendance in order to taste the sweetness of victory, we almost always seem to come unstuck, so I hope every player has a mantra in their mind of:

Be professional, treat the opposition with respect, but show why we are a league and 37 places above them.

The key to today’s game has to be to not get beaten by our mentality. I mean no disrespect to Reading, but with Arsenal in the form they are in and Reading in the form they are in, there should only be one result really. But we can roll out as many cup cliches as is needed to ensure that we still do the business this evening, because we’ve seen it before, in the Champions League this season (Monaco), the FA Cup last season (Wigan – although I know ultimately we went through) and against Birmingham in 2011. That was a horrible day because the odds seemed just as stacked against Birmingham as they have been for Reading today. 

Don’t bottle it Arsenal, please, because it feels like two victories in this competition and a continuation of our league form over the next month and a bit will see the entire Arsenal fanbase go in to the summer more excited to see what we can achieve the following season than for a long time.

Last year, we all believed that the winning of the cup was the breaching of the trophy dam that had starved us from trophy watery goodness (I’m sorry for the terrible metaphor, but I’m getting excited now, so I’m obviously all over the place), so another FA Cup trophy this season will have us truly believing this team can kick on. But we still have a lot to do. It starts now and finishes at the end of May. 

Now that the apprehensiveness and caution has been articulated, let’s move on to the fun part, because WE’RE ONE VICTORY AWAY FROM A CUP FINAL!! This is awesome people. This is what we live for and the highs of seeing the Arsenal players lift trophies is exactly what we all tune in or turn up to see. The game this afternoon will not be easy, but we can lay down another important marker and maintain our momentum going into the Chelski game next week with a good win today.

Arsène’s choices are numerous and you have to feel for those that don’t make the squad this afternoon, because there will be some very good players who will have to make do with being suited and booted and that will make them gutted. But for us it shows the enormous level of quality we had and competition that will ensure those that do play are on their toes for every game. The back four will probably remain the same (Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal), with only a change to the ‘keepers confirmed to take place. Hey, that’s fine by me because right now the difference between Szczesny and Ospina is negligible.

Midfield will no doubt see Coquelin breaking up the play with his “I love to tackle. Come at me bro” mentality being exactly what we need in a battle, but after that six it becomes a little harder to guess what the manager will do, because he could rotate a number of players. For example, would any of you be surprised to see Welbeck replace Giroud up top? Arsène did it in the game against United and last season’s match up against Wigan saw Sanogo ahead of the Frenchman. I know the circumstances were different on these two occasions – Welbeck having something to prove on his old stomping ground, as well as Giroud suffering on field last season as a result of off field shenanigans, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see that change. Likewise, I don’t know why, but I have a weird feeling he might start Walcott. I can’t really explain why and it feels like the England international has been frozen out since he returned from injuries, but he’s played in all of the cup games bar United and I wonder if Arsène will give him another crack. Especially as he was on the official site talking him up this week, plus the fact the papers have been awash with rumours of him wanting to sign a new deal. Stranger things have happened, you know?

Alexis will play wide left, but if Walcott is wide right, it means one of Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil miss out. Two of the three are FA Cup final goalscorers and the other one is a club record signing. Care to have a stab at who would miss out? I would guess Ramsey. Cazorla has been the most form player of those three and Özil will be perfect at finding pockets of space in between the Reading defence and midfield on that massive Wembley pitch. It would be harsh son the Welshman but that would be my prediction. Which if Rambo was reading this right now he’d probably be delighted with, because everything I predict usually ends up with the opposite happening!

As for Reading, from what I’ve read and heard, they will look to get the ball out wide and play with pace on the wings with McCleary and Robson-Kanu looking to get in behind our full backs and whip balls in to the giant Russian Pogrebniak. It’s why with the pace of Bellerin I would have thought we’ll see him instead of Debuchy, but perhaps there is a recall for the clearly more rapid Kieren Gibbs on the left? It’s an option the manager needs to ponder today.

The other fella to watch out for will be the on loan Chalabah, which sounds more like an Arabian war cry than a professional League footballer, but having spoken to my Burnley mate last weekend (he was on loan from Chelski to Burnley last season), I know that he is apparently a bit of a beast in the defensive midfield role and so might have something to say in this game.

We need to be up for this from the off. If we establish a high tempo possession based game within the first 15 minutes like we did against Liverpool, then I think we’ll be alright. Reading played an almost full strength team in midweek whilst our boys had the week free, so the can be no excuses for any kind of lethargy. Do the business in the first half Arsenal, then let’s finish it off in the second, please.

What did she wear?

Confidence, concentration and waiting

It’s nearly here folks, time is almost upon us and although it’s not the FA Cup final but the seminar Wembley, I’m still mega excited. Imagine what I’ll be like tomorrow when it actually comes around to kick off?

We have already had the prologue from Arsène; possibly eager to cocoon the players in a hotel today so that they safe prepared well with him observing, so the pre match presser was bought forward to Thursday just like a normal away game. The good news from yesterday’s media briefing is that – Arteta and The Ox aside – the squad is fully fit, healthy and able ahead of the clash against Reading tomorrow evening. The headache – one I think I’ll ponder more on tomorrow than today – is who will start and what will be the key challenges we face. That’s one Arsène has admitted he hasn’t decided yet, other than Szczesny, but I suspect he’s scribbled down some of his options already despite what he’s been saying to the media. 

Arsène was at pains to stress that he has two competitive goalkeepers and that Wojciech had trained hard and needs to be kept fresh by playing in the cup games. I can see what he’s saying and he’s certainly staying consistent to his policy of ‘keepers in cup competitions (bar the Championd League,  of course), but it’s fairly obvious how much Szczesny’s stock has fallen since Southampton. Talk of his exit may have been fuel for the fan discussion online, but it’s not something Arsène would entertain and right it’s probably best if it’s parked until the season ends.

Right now the squad needs to prepare for Reading in a way that will see us get through. Again, Arsène was asked about how his team would approach the tie and sensibly enough, he spoke of needing focus, not understimating a Reading side with nothing else to play for and ensuring that they stay focused. The talk is right, the action needs to mirror it, because we have recent history of underperformance in the cup against lower league teams. You only have to look at last season’s FA Cup semi to see a case in point.

But we’re in a better shape mentally this season, in terms of league standing, confidence and playing staff. Arsène will have the pick of the litter tomorrow and he has admitted that it will be tough choosing, talking about the confidence and ‘luxury’ that a winning run gives all of the players, with that the hardest thing in football to maintain. He’s right and he’s also right when he says how quickly that can be broken. Defeat tomorrow – not beyond the realms of possibility – and the season may just feel like a laughing gas balloon full has just popped. I don’t even want to countenance that just yet. I’d rather focus on the hope of an Arsenal win, Villa win, then Arsenal cup final win. Yep, I’ll have that thanks, if you’ll please.

I was also hoping to read on the official site, a tactical breakdown of Reading from Le Coq, who played against them for Charlton during his loan spell. Unfortunately, like most footballers who have had all personality media-trained out of them, we got little else but a few generic sound bites (“in the FA Cup you never know”, etc etc), so there’s not really much more to gleam from what’s on the official site at the moment. Now we just have to play the waiting game…

…Are we there yet?

…now?

Football life is too short. Enjoy the now.

If ever you needed an example of how unfortunately, some Arsenal fans are more concerned with off the field matters than on, you only  needed to see some of the ridiculous comments on social media yesterday after it was announced that Klopp would be leaving Dortmund at the end of the season.

Rather than express surprise and then a shrug of the shoulders, the announcement was greeted by some corners of the fanbase (admittedly a small one) as an excuse to say that Arsenal should look to replace Arsène Wenger immediately, with Klopp installed as the main man. Now, I’m no Arsène Wenger lovechild, with fear of what life is like after he has gone – I’ve seen life before Wenger and I know there were good times too – but given where we are at right now, why on earth would ousting Arsène be something worth considering? What would that achieve? He’s built himself a squad in which the general consensus amongst Arsenal fans I speak to, is that it doesn’t really need that much tinkering with. We’re a different team to the one that started the season, with some unexpected gems unearthed and if we started the season again tomorrow, do you not think we’d be within touching distance of winning the league in nine months time? I do.

To those that wish his hasty exit from the club: are you not happy now? Do you not enjoy the run that we are on? If – and I realise that speculating on the future is often folly – we were to win the FA Cup and finish second, would you not be pleased that progress has been made?

I know I would. But then again, I only have one agenda, which is to see Arsenal winning football matches and eventually trophies. If that is with Arsène Wenger then great, if it is with another manager then fine, but I don’t even want to think about ousting a manager when the going is good. We are The Arsenal, not Real Madrid. 

There’s just no point. Where we are right now as a football club there should be genuine optimism for the future. The only real concern we have going in to this summer is whether one of our English squad players is going to sign a new deal. What would those people say if – again I’m hypothesising here – Klopp joined Arsenal in the summer and finished second and won the FA Cup. Successful first season? You betcha. So if Arsène does the same this season, I’m assuming those same fans would want Klopp gone immediately too, right? 

Doubtful.

People are stubborn. We all know that. I have my things in life that make me stubborn, but maintaining a course of ‘sack the manager’ when there is a possibility that the club appear to be turning a corner and potentially at the start of something special with the current crop of players, doesn’t sound very prudent to me. But for some people they have had enough. They want new blood. They don’t really like the idea that Arsenal and Arsène could potentially do it again. So they continue to perpetuate a line of thinking that would see life without him. I try not to th no of it like that. I’m starting to realise that the joys in life, as far as football is concerned, are so fleeting that you need to appreciate the here and now and worry less about the ‘what if’ in five years time. So if you’re spending all of your time annoyed that Klopp is probably going to get snaffled up by another big club (I know he won’t be available – in theory – for another year, but Arsène’s contract is three years and I don’t think he or the club will break it), I’d say to you that you should forget your worries and enjoy the here and now. Enjoy the run we’re on, love the positivity going around at the moment, hopefully we’ll celebrate getting in to a cup final by Saturday night. 

When the time is right, we will have that new manager that the ‘Wenger Out’s demand and if there really is a manager out there who is a perfect fit and wants to manage Arsenal, we’ll get them. I hope. But I’m not worried about that just yet. 

Besides, Guardiola will be bored of Bayern winning everything in two years time anyway, so we’ll just get him instead.

(Clearly that was a joke).

Reading, Milner and Walcott

It’s the waiting that kills ya, I’ll tell ya that much, because this working week has already dragged and it’s only Wednesday.

With no Arsenal on during midweek, the footballing options were limited to listening in on how the Championship is going, versus enduring the Champions League. With no Arsenal representation there, there’s no way I’d want to watch Juve/Monaco, so I opted for a programme about calorie counting. See what no football midweek does to me???

The Reading game was interesting yesterday though. With not a lot to play for in the league, up against what looks like Champions Elect Bournemouth, I was expecting Steve Clarke to field a weakened Reading team yesterday. Instead he appears – although I couldn’t name the usual Reading first XI so perhaps I’m not the best point of reference for this particular set of assumptions – to have opted for a full strength team bar Pavel Pogrebniak. Reading have played plenty of games already this season (given the nature of the Championship) so to see their team playing whilst our boys would have been rested up ahead of this Saturday’s game, is certainly a plus point for me. Hopefully we benefit from a bit of fatigue from the Royals on Saturday. I know that even with a fully fit and rested squad we should still beat a Reading side who aren’t exactly pulling up trees form-wise, but as I’ve explained on this here blog before, I like to take comfort in any small advantage our team is afforded. Psychological or not.

As for what else is going on in the world, it all appears to be very transfer-heavy at the moment. I guess we’d all kind of expect it really. We’re in mid April, the season is winding down for some teams and as the number of games reduces for most of the top-flight teams, the papers need to fill their column inches. So stories of Milner to Arsenal and Walcott new deals to fend off Liverpool begin to take a more central stage. The Milner deal is a strange one. He’s a good player and has operated across a number of positions in Moneychester City’s team, but I’m not sure if he’s the type of midfielder we’re looking for, is he? After all, he has operated in a more forward-lying midfielder role every time I have seen him – where we are plenty stocked – where as what we are surely looking for is a longer term successor for Arteta and Flamini, to compete with Coquelin at the base of the midfield. I’m happy to be corrected, but I didn’t think that was a position that Milner occupied for City, especially given the signings of Fernando and Fernandinho. Perhaps Arsène will look to shift Milner’s recognised position to that like he did Arteta? Stranger things have happened and Milner does have that combative and snappy nature, so it’s not something that would be unheard of.

As for Theo, well your guess is as good as mine, because talk of new deals are almost irrelevant from a fans perspective if he doesn’t get on the pitch. With each passing game it feels more and more like Theo’s Arsenal career is a dwindling flame, a candle with very little wick left and unless something drastic happens and Arsène starts playing him more often after Walcott changes his game to become more of an all-round influence in matches, he’s not going to be part of the club’s long-term future. If he were to sign a new deal now, it really would be to ensure he’s still got plenty of spare change in his pockets, because it certainly won’t be for the position on the bench he’s occupying!

I hope it does get sorted out and I hope Theo does sign a deal. He may not command the regular starting spot he would have done 18 months ago, but when you have a player with the pace and ability to finish as he does, it is always an asset. The squad is looking strong all over the pitch at the moment and with the summer looking like the least disruptive to squad harmony in over a decade, this contract saga just feels like a bit of a blot on what should otherwise be a good period in Arsenal’s history.

Loanees show how fortunes change quickly in football

There’s still another three days before Matchday is upon us and, perhaps unsurprisingly, all is quiet. So quiet, that talk about Cazorla wanting to return to Spain has seen a ripple of interest across the tinternet. Santi grew up near Real Oviedo and has said he’d like to go back there one day before he retires. 

OUTRAGEOUS! ‘CAZORLA WANTS ARSENAL EXIT’ is the story headline I could fire across the blog to see if I can scoop myself a few thousand extra clicks. But we both know that what Cazorla said – he’d like to play for his boyhood club, but it will be difficult to do so in the short term – is something that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. If anything, it’s nice to see a player have an affection for a local team and express a desire to go back and appreciate his roots. I couldn’t imagine something like that being said by a mercenary like…oh, I don’t know…Samir Nasri or somebody like that. 

So let’s have Santi for another three years and then when his star is fading somewhat, but he can still light up his local club, let’s grant him his wish and let him go in peace. That’s my hope anyway. He’s got a few more trophies to try to help us win yet. Hopefully starting with this season.

So yeah, pretty quiet at the moment, so much so that I scrolled into the news archives on the official site this morning, to check out what’s happening with our loanees. The younger players appear to all be getting minutes under their belt, which is always useful from a development perspective, but some of the more senior players out on loan appear to be stagnating somewhat it seems. You know how people say a year is a long time in football? Well nine months is just as long it appears, as you only have to look at both Podolski and Campbell to see how rapidly your stock can fall. Poldi arrived in Italy with a big reputation for goal scoring and a fanfare from the Inter faithful. They had bagged an international champion with a loan deal from another top European team and he would help to steer them towards greater victory. Fast forward from January this year and Poldi is an unused sub against Hellas Verona. 

Poor old Stevie Gooner Oaf, he who so resolutely stood by a player with a fantastic goal scoring record and clear eye for goal, but with little else to warrant his inclusion in the Arsenal or Inter team, is surely on the verge of a return back to Germany in the summer. I’d be surprised if Arsène even sent him a plane ticket as far as London if I’m honest. It’s clear – as the Arsenal team goes from strength to strength – he will not see action in a red and white London shirt ever again. Unless he fancies rocking up at Brentford or Charlton.  It may have seemed a strange move at the time, but it’s hard to argue Arsène’s very sound logic right now. 

We all loved him for his personality and ability to connect with the Arsenal fans, but with each passing match week it appears Lukas is looking more and more like a busted flush.

So too, it appears, does Joel Campbell. Remember how he was the saviour of our offensive problems in the first couple of months of the season? Much gnashing of teeth and exasperated hand gestures were thrown Arsène’s way when he refused to give more game time to the Costa Rican – a player who had excelled during the World Cup – yet he too finds himself an unused sub for Villareal and is at a stage now in which each passing week looks like he’ll probably be moved on permanently. And will there be any return of the gnashing teeth? Doubtful. That new deal he signed was clearly one designed to ensure maximum return on investment from a revenue generation point of view from Arsenal, but once again I doubt you’ll find too many Arsenal fans tutting in the direction of Le Boss methinks, because as Arsenal (actually top flight football fans in general, but we’re only concerned with ourselves so, y’know, what-evs) fans we’re all amateur accountants and a bit of cash for a player out on loan whilst the team is doing fine without him is fine by us.

That’s what victories and success affords you I suppose. Rather than the very convenient “well there’s an option on loan that we’re not even taking advantage of” being used as a sharp stick to beat the manager with, talk turns to how much cash we might get from players out on loan and how that might be invested in the team.

Football is very much a creature of the ‘here and now’ and the old cliches of ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ just serve to emphasise how quickly things change. It’s why the rewards are so high, as are the risks, I suppose. You only have to look at the seemingly inevitable departure of Pelligrini at Moneychester City to see that. So predicting the next generation of talent, of when a player has fulfilled his potential and is ready to become a first team success, is so hard. It’s easy for me, with my ability to forget what I have said six months ago and to seem like the managers decisions are baffling, but for Arsène everything is on record and his mistakes are recorded and replayed by a million eyes. The rise of Francis Coquelin seems obvious now to me (perhaps you too), but if you’d have asked me at the beginning of the season who would make a bigger impact on the first team – Coquelin, Campbell or Podolski – even I with my affection for Le Coq, couldn’t have placed him top of the list. He might not even have made the top two.

Still, at least I’m not the Arsenal manager, eh? Otherwise we’d all probably be in trouble!

That’s enough from me for one day. I have a beautiful sunny day ahead of me that I won’t bother taking advantage of thanks to my role as an office desk jockey. 

Cheerio for now.

Sick sense of football gods humour; fitting the most confident players in

With all the hubbub surrounding our win against Burnley, followed by the hope killed by another Chelski scabbing of three points at the hands of a goalkeeper, I haven’t even thought about the defeat of the Spuds to an Aston Villa team managed by Mr Gilet and all-round footballing genius Tim Sherwood. Super Timmy’s charges have – with that victory – bought us to within two wins and a draw of St Totteringham’s Day. It would be nice to celebrate it with a few games to go this year. 

I am of course trying to be positive in light of the fact that Chelski will almost certainly be winning the league now. That’s two weekend’s in a row in which they’ve been gifted points and you just have to accept that sometimes the footballing gods smile down on teams. I can understand it. After all, this is a team that has worked so hard to get in to the position they are in over the years, being self sufficient, having good and honest players, as well as a very likeable manager who everyone appreciates. Oh, no, wait a second, they are none of those things, they are in fact the antithesis of a team who should be granted fortune. Ever. They should have had all of their fortune quota used up when they skanked their way all the way to the Champions League trophy. Thank you very much footballing gods. Thanks a bunch. 

Anyway, it’s probably best if I pretend that the whole ‘Chelski winning the league’ thing isn’t happening, just focusing on our form. Our form in which I hope is being prepared as a prologue to an amazing 2015/16 season. That’s what happened in 2002/3 after the league title had gone. It felt like we had to start again from scratch and rebuild confidence and momentum and it was those games towards the end of that season that begun our fantastic 49 unbeaten game run. I am hoping that this rich vein of form we’re in at the moment is our precursor to glorious things next season. 

It feels that way at the moment, anyway, especially when you look at the squad. Arsène feels it too, you can tell from some of his words. After he was interviewed post-Burnley, he spoke about having to leaving players like Arteta at home and Debuchy not even being given a try yet, so as we draw to the end of this season he must be looking at his squad and thinking that we’re almost there. A few tightening of a couple of loose screws and we’ll be purring like a V8. 

Everything is working well at the moment, even the stuff that people have questioned the manager on historically, like Rambo in the attacking positions. I mentioned it yesterday, but nobody is batting an eyelid at the fact that he is in a position in which Arsène has been chastised for playing him in. I am guilty of said criticism too, so I certainly can’t hold myself exempt from any tutting and shaking of heads, but what it does show is that it doesn’t really matter if some players are played in a position which is not regarded their optimum. There just needs to be enough confidence in the team to play their swaggerific best. Longer term it may not be ideal, but you do get the feeling that Arsène is playing players who are in the purplest of purple patches, in the shape of Cazorla, Özil and Ramsey. None of them deserve any time on the bench and as a result, Arsène is finding a way to accommodate which to be fair, as long as their confidence is as sky high as it is at the moment, I don’t think anyone has a problem with, so I do think he’ll continue with this same XI next weekend. It’s too early to be getting excited about that just yet, so I’ll hold fire on pre-FA Cup semi tickets until later in the week.

So that’ll be it for now. Have at a good Monday.