Permutations, as St Totteringham’s draws ever nearer

So it appears that it’s not just football in which there are some ‘boring boring’ tactics used, as Floyd Mayweather decided that yesterday he’d rather celebrate the equivalent of a 0-0 to beat Manny Pacquiao by winning on points in what I am reading from people on social media, was more of a snugglefest from the American. I’m sure John Terry was somewhere in his kit to walk around with Mayweather’s belts afterwards.

As for real football, there isn’t really much to get excited about today and I’m certainly not going to even dream of talking about that team eventually lifting the trophy this afternoon. It’s painful enough having to watch them play us twice a season, so that’s one lunchtime kick off Sky Sports can keep to themselves.

The 4pm kick off however, presents an interesting match up, because someone of the Spuds or Moneychester City will be dropping points this afternoon. That’s a good thing. If the Spuds lose today then only a draw on Monday night means that mathematically it will be St Totteringham’s Day celebrations for us all. A defeat will probably mean we’re on the brink of it anyway, because we have a +25 goal difference over that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. Just think about that for a second. 25 Goals. We have a better ratio of goals than them of 25. That’s like quarter of a season’s worth or something.

If the Spuds do win, however, St Totteringham’s Day will have to wait, but it should take us on the verge of securing a top four spot at the very least. That’s also good. Moneychester City will have played two games more than us and any kind of defeat takes the goal tally even closer; they’ve got +34 to our +31 at the moment.

A draw might even be the best result. It would mean that with three matches to play for both Liverpool and the Spuds, we would effectively need a Monday night win to be nine clear of Liverpool and another hefty swing of goal difference in our favour.

But we’re not looking down, we’re only looking up and we should be going for as close to top as possible. Man United did us a favour – well, I suppose it was West Brom that did us the favour – by losing to West Brom and that defeat means second place is well within our grasp. I know you get no prizes for second, but for a change, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about qualifying via a double-header in August? Also, I’m pretty sure that finishing second will have a massive bearing on us being in Pot 2, in which we’ll most likely get a slightly easier group stage (in theory). So whilst there will be no pleasure in being runners-up in a season in which Chelski win the league, that might prove some consolation.

With Aston Villa also picking up wins left, right and centre, we need to maintain our momentum, because they’ll go into the FA Cup final with a spring in their step. I’m hoping that they can win a couple more games, get safe in the Premier League and then take their foot off the gas a little bit, because I don’t want to be facing a Villa team who have got a bit of swagger about them. When they knocked Liverpool out of the last round I was genuinely over the moon because I thought we should be able to cut down a Villa side with whom we’ve already picked up six points and eight goals, but as I see them picking up win after win under Timmy ‘The Gilet’ Sherwood, I worry that they will sweep into Wembley riding high on a wave of confidence that will have us looking a bit worried. Reading managed to contain and at times out play us and there’s no doubt Villa have a better side for this game to be much more difficult, more nervy and more worrisome than even last year’s cup final. Weve got a recent history of being outdone by Villa – especially at home, so I’d probably be more confident if the game was being played at Villa Park!

Still, let’s just be happy that we’re reaching the end of the season and we still have plenty to play for. Prior to last season we were in a cycle which seemed to be forever accepting a battle for fourth, so to have an actual trophy to play for two seasons running is a wonderful thing.

And on that note of positivity, I am going to say my goodbyes to you all. Have a happy Sunday and whatever you do, don’t put yourselves through the torture of watching events in West London unfold this lunchtime. Read a book, or do some chores, it will be much more fulfilling.

desert of arsenal nothingness and ‘keeper speculation

So here we are folks, standing in the middle of metaphorical desert of football nothingness, with the oasis of Arsenal delight miles and miles away in the distance. It’ll take us at least until Monday to get to it, so I hope everyone has bough provisions?

I have, thanks to Arsène, who spoke at his pre-match press conference and in doing so has allowed me to feast on some content with which to read, review and think about.

On Thursday we got the team news, but yesterday Arsène was asked a range of questions from signing new goalkeepers, to Jose’s jibes, as well as Nigel Pearson’s madness. As usual the old pro answered them with little controversy, but I did like his response to the Pearson metal breakdown, as Arsène showed a bit of solidarity with the Leicester manager. Yes, what Pearson said was bizarre, but some journalists are sensationalist seekers and will only look to poke the hornets nest to see if they get a reaction. I was listening to the radio and the presenters were talking about that particular story and how Pearson’s behaviour was a disgrace, but when you have some journalists goding managers so they can get a soundbite, I do find it a bit rich that the media can then pretend to own the moral high ground. Perhaps such journos that pose the boring questions – ones like “do you need a new ‘keeper?” or “what do you think of Jose’s comments about Arsenal not winning the league and that being ‘boring’?” – should take a look at themselves if they are going to get a bit offended when a manager bites back?

Arsène is clever though. After he was asked what he thought about Jose’s comments, rather than fuel the fire further, he gave a quite perfect response which wasn’t directed at Jose enough as a soundbite but was disguised enough so that everyone knew he thought the Portuguese is disrespectful. Which he is. 

The question on the ‘keepers may have been batted away well enough, but I do wonder if Arsène is considering his summer options, because whilst Ospina has done ok he hasn’t exactly set the world alight. He just hasn’t done anything wrong, rather than make any worldie saves that make us think “yep, there’s a real gem there”. I don’t have anything against the guy and I certainly don’t want to be categorising himself in a class of ‘keeper he is clearly better than, but he feels a bit Almuniaresque to me. When Manuel first started displacing Jens as the number one, he was ‘okay’ in goal. At first many of us had no real problem with him, but he never made those world class saves that you don’t expect somebody to get to. Those are the ‘keepers that are the best; the ones in which you say out loud “how did he get to that?”. That’s what it feels like with Ospina to me. So I wonder if Arsène will decide to stick or twist in the summer? I guess we can worry about that in June after all the proper business has been concluded.

Speaking of which, you’d have thought we had a week off by the official sites reckoning, because there are no real comments from Arsène about our Monday night opponents. Le Boss must surely have spike. About them but I haven’t watched the video yet and so can’t really be sure, but maybe because the game is taking place on Momday he’s thought ‘hey, it’s fine, I’ll do my research on Sunday’. Come on, we’ve all been there with our homework, haven’t we, so let’s let Arsène scribble down his tactics on lined paper on Sunday evening and be done with it. We are in form and maybe he’s earned a weekend of relaxation (although we all know he won’t ), so let’s let him have it, then hopefully go and win on Monday. 

We need a win. We need to finish strongly this season and that is important to ensure momentum going in to next season. Arsène spoke of that yesterday too, as well as the poor start to the season this time around. He’ll be acutely aware that we need to hit the ground running in August if we want to win the league, so finishing strongly this time around will mean more than just a good points tally and potentially automatic qualification. 

Anyway, I’m off to find something to do for the next two days, so I’ll see you soon.

The joke of a Monday trip to Hull; the joke of Arsène having ‘mellowed’

The only positive that exists about an away trip to Hull on a Monday night, is that it gives a Bank Holiday Monday the opportunity to have some excitement in its life, rather than be a day of catching up with chores and the like.

That is it, because for those that are going to the game it’s an absolute pigs ear to be spending most of your bank holiday travelling to. I haven’t been to Hull, but I don’t think I’d be spending my precious time off heading in its direction, let alone to do it at a time in which I’d probably not be getting home until well after midnight. I certainly feel for those of you who are heading that way. May the good Lord Bergkamp grant you swift return with happy memories of three points well won.

Team wise we had Arsène deliver an update via the official site and where as he could easily rattle off 500 words of copy about all of the injuries within the team earlier in the season, yesterday evening’s page was gloriously succinct. 

Essentially, what he said was:

“Everyone’s fit from last weekend. Except Debuchy”

But hey, that’s ok, because in Hector Bellerin we have a player who is even being considered for the bigger games when the Frenchman is fit, so as far as we’re all concerned, it’s all gravy. The fact that Bellerin kept Hazard quiet on that side, as well as mopping up a certain goal, shows how important he and the other rotational squad players have become. We’ve always wanted to be able to say “gosh darn it, another injury but oh well, we have more in stock of that type of player so yay!”, so whilst out more senior right back suffers another frustrating week or two on the sidelines, hopefully our overall performance is not too adversely affected.

There’s a bit of fluff one official site about Arsène mellowing in games in terms of the way he expresses himself, referencing his more vocal approach to games when he was a coach in the French principality. I do find it amusing when I see the old pictures of him smoking on the touch line, or the idea that he would be all Jurgen Klopp shouty and ranty. It’s just not been anything we’ve seen and perhaps we should be thankful that Monaco helped to smooth the edges of the rough diamond that was to become one of our most successful managers. He talks about being mellowed with age, but that’s not really the Arsène Wenger I see on the touch line, do you? If anything, when you compare his demeanour over the last couple of seasons to when he first arrived, he certainly seems like he has got more vocal on the sidelines. I rarely remember seeing him pushing somebody like he did with Mourinho at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. It’s true that the Portuguese – being possibly the most irritating man that has ever set foot on these British Isles – probably deserved it, but I just don’t think an Arsène of 2002 would have bothered with such histrionics. Mind you, an Arsène of 2002 at this time 13 years ago was about to guide his team to a league and cup double, so I suppose didn’t have too much to worry about because he had by far the best team in the league. When you know you’re the best you can brush off the attempted mind games or stupidity of other managers.

I quite like that Arsène gets frustrated sometimes. He is representing our interests from a management of on-field activities perspective and so I want to see him articulating his displeasure against incorrect decisions or jumped up little Portuguese scumbags. Keep it up Arsène!

Anyway, my trains about to go underground so you have yourself a merry little Friday. 

Evil shall not overcome the Arsenal, momentum must prevail

After Chelski’s win yesterday all but confirmed them as Champions, I’m preferring to look on the positive side of life, rather than accept that evil has prevailed this Premier League season.

For example, when Chelski beat Crystal Palace this weekend (and we know they will with Palace safely tucked away in mid table), there will still be three weeks before the end of the season. Nobody will care by then that the axis of evil that is petro dollar, the world’s most annoying Portuguese (came close with Ronaldo), as well as a team led by a racist tosser of a human, has picked up silverware. In fact, we’ll all have forgotten that the most dislikable team in history are champions.

Secondly, this Chelski team will go down as champions, but nobody will remember anything about this season in five years time. I can live with that.

Thirdly, once the weekend’s results are completed and the plastic chavs have had their crowing in workplaces across London, all eyes will focus on the FA Cup final and the remaining Champions League places. That’ll do for me.

So all-in-all, there are many reasons to be cheerful at the moment. Theo certainly thinks so too. He’s labelled us the best team in the world in 2015. As much as I love the sentiment from him and as much as it’s true we are one of the best teams, if you look at that Monaco result as well as the fact that Barcelona have picked up more points in winning their league, we have to concede that we’re playing second fiddle to the catalan’s at the moment. 

Having said that, we are still the team in form in England, which certainly bodes well for next season if we can maintain our momentum. That’s why the next five league games and one cup final are so important. They are important for the context of morale and the belief that progress has been made – finishing second in the league would certainly suggest that – but also in terms to taking momentum in to next season. Remember 20112/13? We had a brilliant end to the season which secured Champions League football over that lot down the road, but what it also did was build a platform for us to start the following season strongly, which we most certainly did. That’s what we need to do next season and I feel the only way we can carry that momentum into it will be victories over Hull, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom. If we get that we could even afford a loss at Old Trafford and still finish second. Then we have an FA Cup final to play and if we win that then you have to say he season has been a success.

But we simply must maintain our form. The players all seem up for it. As Theo alluded to, the competition in the squad is strong at the moment, which means the players are fighting hard to win a place and harder to retain it. That’s the blueprint for a successful modern Premier League squad. Players have to know that the other guy is taking their jersey and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an Arsenal team that has had that in such abundance before. The Invincibles didn’t. They had eleven of the best players in the world in their position with a few class players in rotation, but we’re able to stay fit, in the main. Today’s game does seem to allow for that as much and so a modern Arsenal team needs to be a squad of 18 or 19 first team outfield players at least. By my reckoning we’ve got more than that. So I’m happy right now.

I think that’s pretty much it from me today. Stay positive in the wake of some dark Premier League times gooners, we can all stick together – us and the fans of 18 other clubs in solidarity – and not let the evil overcome us.

Hull touch, Welbeck settled and more balance needed

I didn’t watch the game between Hull and Liverpool last night, only checking in this morning to find that the scousers end of season collapse is now in full swing, but that was a bit of a touch for us wasn’t it? 

In more ways than one, actually, because victory over Liverpool gives Hull a wee bit of a cushion over the chasing pack, as well as defeat for the Reds leaving them eight points away from us having played a game more. It means that winning our game in hand against Sunderland will almost certainly secure top four for The Arsenal next season and, almost like the teams at the bottom where survival is there bare minimum requirement, ours will have been met for this season. In fact, if results go our way this coming weekend, then victory over Hull away on Monday night could secure us both top four and St Totteringham’s Day too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I don’t know if you’re feeling the same, but I’m not going to bother watching tonight, because no result is positive. Not really. A win for Chelski means they secure the title at the weekend. A draw means they have to wait a little longer but are essentially there. A defeat will excite the media, but they should still pick up victories against Palace and Liverpool and so it would only serve to extend the beautiful delusion that we could actually win the league.

We can’t. Winning at the weekend might even have had me saying ‘what if?’, but ten points with four to go is not realistically possible I’m afraid. Mathematically yes, but realistically, no.

So we move on with our lives. We still have plenty to play for and occupy our thoughts until May, including the cup final, in which tickets went on sale yesterday. This is the first time we’ve been at the other end of the ground since I’ve been making my way to Wembley. I’m happy to report though, it’s not like it’s been fully successful and therefore this is a bad omen to be in a different part of the ground: we lost to Birmingham whilst in the Northern part of the ground. Maybe the south side will be a positive for us, because we haven’t really played great football in any Wembley match that I’ve watched, so perhaps locating us in the other part of the stadium will mean we can smash Villa 6-0?

No, I don’t believe that either, but as we draw nearer to the game you’ll find me looking out for all kinds of good luck charms or ‘signs’ that is will be a glorious day in Wembley for Arsenal fans. 

Elsewhere in the Arsenal world, Danny Welbeck has been talking to the official site – an interview in which I also read the Evenig Standard’s article on – about how he is settling in and is not 100% happy with his goal contribution. It’s funny actually, because as fans we have – I think, after many years – come around to he idea that it takes a foreign player a season to fully adjust to the style of the Premier League, but also the new team in which they are playing in. But for an English player, the expectation is to hit the ground running and be an instant success. 

There is probably very few of us that take into account the need for an English player to also ‘bed in’ to a new team. Welbeck admits himself that he’s moved from a smaller city in which he knows his way around, his friends, family and the like all close by, to a bigger city witha new environment and new teammates to get to know. At United he’d been there so long, that when Rooney picked up the ball deeper, he probably knew exactly where he was going to make the pass if Welbeck could get in behind. He probably knew the way in which players in the United team passed the ball, the angle of their bodies which gave a ‘tell’ and afforded him an extra half a second to make a move. At Arsenal he has to learn all of these little tricks all over again and he’s probably spent the best part of the season working that out.

Could he have scored more goals? Of course. But his contribution and versatility has meant that he has most certainly been valuable and when you consider that we got the same deal as Liverpool got for Balotelli, you have to be happy that we’ve got ourselves someone like Danny.

I’d like to see him play more before the end of the season. But not as a central striker, out wide right, because I’m not sure Aaron is working out there. I actually don’t think he’s playing badly, but his natural instinct to move in field hinders our ability to break with pace and we saw that at the weekend. If Wenger is reluctant to use Theo, I’d like to see Welbeck be given more time, although I’m not sure at who’s expense that should be. Maybe that’s why Arsène is playing Ramsey there; he can’t figure out who to drop and so is not dropping anybody at the moment. It would be strange though, as somebody who is so concerned with the balance of the team, to be playing players who don’t offer the balance on the flanks that we need.

But ours is not to judge, as long as Arsenal are winning football matches, I suppose. 

Just keep winning Arsène!

Context more frustrating than the result

On the face of it, with the other results which all went in our favour this weekend barring Moneychester City, a draw against the eventual champions isn’t the worst result in the world. However, as I find myself composing my thoughts the morning after the game, I can’t help but be somewhat frustrated with the result.

It’s the context you see, rather than the result which on the balance of play over the 90 minutes, neither side probably deserved to win. But as I’d said in my blog yesterday, beating Chelski would have been more symbolic of progress at the club, rather than open any doors of a potential title win.

That mother-funkin’ context is what is driving my frustration this morning.

The game itself had just the one surprise thrust upon it in terms of team news, with Bellerin coming in for Debuchy which again, you probably have to say was the right call as the Spaniard was able to get forward more. Who knows, perhaps Debuchy wouldn’t have had the pace to get back from Oscar’s lobbed effort in the first half, so ultimately and with hindsight firmly in mind, Arsène made the right call with team selection.

And so, you’d have to begrudgingly say, did Chelski. They set up not to concede and they got exactly what they came for. They had a spell in the second half where they came on to us a bit more, but you could tell that there was less desire to put too many bodies forward, something I couldn’t really understand given our lack of pace in the counter. There were a few instances yesterday that I thought we didn’t capitalise on. They happened mainly in the second half and it was only really when Chelski were drawn out. But we couldn’t find that final ball and on a couple of occasions it was wasteful and not even resulting in any kind of chance. I know Theo has hardly played and when he did he has looked distinctly anonymous, but somebody like that could have been perfect for yesterday’s game when Chelski started to push more bodies forward. He occupies wide positions and as good as Rambo was yesterday – and I do think he had a good game – he does have a tendency to drift in field and that does leave us narrow at times. Özil had a decent game but on a couple of occasions he cropped up on our right hand side and you could tell he was looking for that forward wide man to slip the ball in to, but Rambo had come in field and so the German had to check and then come in field. It’s the little things that make the difference in these games, you know? Those fine margins and yesterday it felt like both teams were playing the percentages, not wanting to expose themselves too much, which probably resulted in the bitty game that we got.

I thought Alexis struggled a bit yesterday. His turnovers in possession are well documented, but for some reason it felt to my eyes as if this was enhanced because chances were always going to be at a premium, so when he did get the ball in a promising position, when the move broke down it was frustrating. 

Frustration. That was the overriding word of the day, wasn’t it, but mainly because we have another season in which we’ve failed to beat that disgusting excuse for a football club. The record we have against that lot is one you’d expect to see from a team yo-yoing between the Premier League and the Championship, not one that has consistently finished in the top positions since Chelski hit ‘reboot’ on their own history 11 years ago. It does feel like this record is going to go on forever. That’s what makes this all the more annoying. 

But hey, let’s end this blog on a high, because we’re still on course for an improved league position and the chance of picking up an FA Cup. If we were to finish second and win the cup then you’d have to say it puts us in a great position to have a proper go next year. And guess what? You only have to play Chelski twice a season, so we can still win the league next year without having to score against those scummers anyway!

Catch you tomorrow.

Last monkey off the back please

After a pretty decent set of results yesterday, seeing both Spuds and Saints duke out a draw and Liverpool fail to score against West Brom away, we come to some proper football today and an opportunity to almost certainly confirm Champions League status against the eventual champions of this season in Chelski.

I think first and foremost we need to make sure the top four is secured. Aspirations on finishing second are all fine and dandy, but we need to make sure we hit our bare minimum target first, then look to win the FA Cup and go into the summer on a high. 

We can’t catch Chelski, but we can lay down a marker for next season, as well as get that Mourinho monkey that is hanging over Arsène’s neck. And no matter what he says about it not being between them, he will be as frustrated as anybody with this record of no victory in 13 attempts. What probably annoys him the most – and it annoys us Arsenal fans too – is that it’s used as the tactical stick to beat Arsène with. For every game that Mourinho has not been defeated against Arsenal with, another aspersion is cast over Le Boss and his ability to counter the ways of the Portuguese one, so a victory today will give everybody more belief that Arsène and Arsenal can go into next season looking to make it a great one.

We know how Chelski will set up today. They will have their standard back five defenders, then Matic in front and probably the same tactic as last weekend, with Zouma also sitting deep. Mourinho will look to be solid defensively and frustrate Arsenal. He will want to give us the ball like he gave United last weekend, then use his creative players to counter or sucker punch us if we commit too many men forward.

That’s what we had to avoid: falling into his trap and playing the game he wants to play. We need to be as defensively resolute as possible and minimise the impact of Hazard in particular. Fabregas will be booed but he won’t be dissuaded and I fully expect Costa to have slurped down some elixir of life and suddenly be 100% fit from the start. 

Our game plan has to be to utilise our skilful players to unlock a stubborn Chelski back line. Giroud will cut a loan figure up top if Alexis and probably Ramsey don’t get closer to him and if ever you need his little flicks and ’round the corner’s to come off, I think it’s a game like today.

I think this will be a very tight match up and when you have games that are probably decided by one goal, you need players with he vision of Mesut Özil to be able to see that eye of a needle pass, just like he did last weekend. Last time he was up against Chelski he was playing through injury and at he time was accused of playing poorly. I hope today he has a point to prove, because I think he and Santi can impact the game possibly more than anybody. When you’ve got players who can operate well in confined spaces and thread quick interchangeable passes in between opponents, you need them to be on song to taste victory, so I hope we see the best of the Spaniard and the German this afternoon.

Defensively I’ve seen talk of a recall for Bellerin, but I don’t think that’s something that Arsène will countenance, as he’ll want the experience of our French full back over the raw pace and enthusiasm of Hector. On the opposite flank there’ll no doubt be a return for Nacho and likewise in goal for Ospina. If Big Per is fit he’ll play but I wouldn’t risk it if there’s any chance he could exacerbate his ankle problem at all. Gabriel is more than capable of doing a decent job and with Le Coq in front and Kos behind him, I’d be happy enough that we’ve got a strong enough team to cope.

I’m never confident going in to games against Chelski, so why break the habit of a lifetime, but I am as desperate as you to see us win. It’s not an impossible feat. They are flawed like every team in the league, it’s just not often that those flaws seem to be exposed, so when we get our chances we simply must take advantage of them.

Come on Arsenal, let’s destroy the last bit of hoodoo that remains over the team, let’s win.