What Arsenal need to win the Premier League

Howdy there and happy Friday to you. It’s the end of a working week for some and a holiday week for others, but we’re still waiting on a signing that might or might not happy and whom I’m pledging not to talk about until it does, even though I kind of already have in this opening paragraph, albeit indirectly.

So let’s move swiftly on, perhaps veering towards another supposed interested target in which the Arsenal Twitterverse has already set it’s sights on imploding because of, which is Schneiderlin to Man United. Firstly and foremostly, we don’t even know if Arsenal were truly interested in the player. If they were and have baulked at the price, then perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie. Remember when Madrid tried bending Arsenal over backwards for a massive loan deal fee for Nuri Sahin, only for Arsenal to turn away and Liverpool to snap up? Sahin turned out to be one of those that didn’t quite work out and the upshot was a single year in the Prem before moving back to Germany. Sometimes things don’t work out and after back-to-back FA Cups and a team that is showing real signs of being competitive next season, I’m willing to place a foot firmly back in the ‘Arsene knows what he’s doing here folks’ camp. It’s only one foot though, mind.

This talk of Schnedierlin and how we’ve ‘missed out’ gets you to thinking though. What do we actually need to win the league? Is it a new ‘keeper, another centre half, another defensive midfielder, a striker and perhaps another winger? Or is that just Champ Man speak? Is that the budding gamer in you telling you that new players on the horizon is what we need? Whenever I start to get a little bit worried that we’re not as strong as other clubs who seem to be mobilising their squads quicker than we do, I only have to think back over the last two seasons to realise that sometimes winning the league is more about everything else other than transfers. The Spuds tried a bit of Football Manager style approach to the 2013/14 season and spent £100million on new players. Didn’t work out. The Scousers had a go last season too. Didn’t work out. So what do we need to win the Premier League?

Not a wealth of new signings. In fact I’ve said a few times that we need just one or two and we’re all set. But we do need to do things differently to last season to win the league and make good on the 13 point difference on Chelski.

We need to keep a greater number of players match-fit.

When Carl Jenkinson came into the Arsenal team two and a bit seasons ago, he managed a sustained period of games and so was given the opportunity to show that he’s a good footballer. Last season he proved that with game time he can improve. Last season Nacho Monreal found himself with a series of games – albeit some in central defence but it still did his confidence good – in which he was able to get the rhythm, feel and flow of the league and so the comments from some sections of the fan base about how he wasn’t good enough the season before, soon subsided and he will in all probability start the season as first choice number one. But Unless Gibbs is given more game time, unless he’s afforded an opportunity to get a run in the team, let’s not expect him to challenge Nacho for the starting jersey. That’s why I’m a fan of playing the best players for a specific type of game. If we’re playing a pacey wide man, like Raheem Sterling, for example, wouldn’t you feel more confident if a match-fit Gibbs could get as close to matching him on the left? I know I would.

It’s the same across the park. We need to make sure that in each position the manager needs to try different types of player and rotate his team based on not only their own attributes, but also on ensuring that we counter any of the oppositions strengths and in defence we target their weaknesses. Should we place Giroud up top against the likes of Terry and Cahill? Or should we try to neutralise them by playing a trio of pacey players who will make runs in behind?

Start the season better

It’s a fairly obvious statement to make, but we simply must be better in the opening couple of months. The excessive number of draws we had at the start of the season is what cost us last year. We laboured in games against Everton, Leicester, the Spuds and Hull and it stuttered our momentum. Never underestimate the value of momentum in football. It was the 2007/8 season in which we got so close to the title and that season success was a snowball effect in which we started brilliantly. In 2013/14 we had an initial blip at home to Villa, but shoddy refereeing was more to blame there than anything else, the result of our momentum after that game meant we led the league right up until March. If we can win at least six of our first eight games, I’d fancy that we stand a very good chance of building momentum, confidence and belief that we can challenge for the title.

Be better placed to deal with injuries

Again, it sounds obvious, but it is what helps teams win leagues if they stay fit. In 2007/8 we were derailed by the Eduardo leg break. In 2013/14 it was our reliance on a core of players and when one or two of those players broke down due to over use in February and March, we got in to a run of games in which we fell apart. You can’t legislate for all injuries, but you can mitigate some, by not overplaying players and therefore reducing their probability of injury. That, in turn, leads to more players playing more game time and so when called upon as I mention in my first point above, they will perform better for the team as a whole.

I think we’re excellently placed to achieve all of the above with success given our team. Think about your first team line up for that West Ham game. Got it? Now start to think about an alternative eleven that could play. Got that? Now think of some of the spares that you have left over. For me I have Ospina, Jenkinson (although I know he’ll go out on loan) Flamini, Rosicky, Podolski (again, most likely to leave but for now is still an Arsenal player), Gnabry – showed great promise before injury in 2013/14, Bielik (haven’t seen him play but the signs seem promising by all accounts), Campbell (again, hasn’t really done it yet but is still a full international) and Zelalem. Those names are the ‘third squad’ effectively. When you can boast the kind of talent we have to name two full squads and still have some decent players waiting for their chance, it tells me that your opportunity for success should be quite high. The challenge will be to keep the balance of the squad and keep all of the players fresh enough so they can play well when called upon.

Would I like us to sign a ball winning central defensive midfielder? Sure. Will I lose sleep over no signing in that position or up top? No way.

Big Brother household – Cech saga style; upsetting the harmony isn’t something Arsene will do

Day (what feels like) 72 in the Big Petr Cech House and, much like the social experiment TV programme that nobody bothers watching any more because everyone’s realised that the inhabitants do absolutely nothing at all, there’s nothing going on in the Petr Cech Saga. No new spins. No fresh angles. Just a quick article on Sky Sports explaining why Arsenal need Petr Cech and why he would be good for Arsenal. Stop…the..presses… In other news, the sky is blue, the grass in my garden is green and putting your head in an oven when it’s on full blast might just cause you some discomfort.

Cech will be good for us. He is better than what we have. That’s pretty much all we need to know. He’ll most likely make saves other ‘keepers in our current squad would struggle to get to, he’d be a more commanding presence in the box than the others and he comes with a big reputation. It ticks all the boxes. Now we just need to tick Chelski’s, with probably an extra nought added on if Jose has anything to do with the deal.

The non-Arsenal transfer news of the day is Kondogbia to Inter Milan. Yep, Ben warned me about declaring my hand and desires so early in the summer, and it seems I should have heeded his advice because my expressions of desire for him to play in an Arsenal shirt have clearly led to the footballing fates deciding that I cannot have what I want. Or, to put it another way, Arsene is not sure that he’s the type of player we need. Sure, he was a beast against us in the Champions League at the Emirates, but one swallow does not a summer make, eh? But what about if it’s a really really hot day? No? Ok then.

It is a testimony to the evolution of Francis Coquelin that the Arsenal Twitterverse hasn’t exploded into a ball of molten fury, ready to unleash all of its social angst and outrage on the wider world. But as it is the masses appear to be by and large abated, perhaps still revelling from the FA Cup win, satisfied with a season rescued by the form in 2015, coupled with the distraction of the Cech deal. I too feel that we need more depth in that ‘ball winning’ part of our team, but it is not as simple as ‘buy player x’, because the club need to move players on too. With so many of us that lamented the ‘deadwood’ of four years ago, isn’t it prudent of the club to ensure it balances the squad in a way in which the irons are in the fire being shuffled to make room? I think so. One of Flamini and Arteta surely do not have a future at the club and I would imagine the transfer negotiation team are working as hard on the ‘outs’ as they are on the ‘ins’.

There is a balance to be struck because spunking £25million on a player who may not even start based on Coquelin’s form is a tough one. Yet there needs to be a decent enough calibre of player who can rival the young Frenchman. That’s why I have a feeling that despite all of the noises about Schneiderlin, we aren’t after him, or any player in that ‘elite’ price tag. I have a feeling Arsene will try to go under the radar to pick up an understudy to Coquelin. I have no real basis for that inclination, nor can I offer you any kind of action from the club that suggests it, I can only give you what I have seen happen over many years of supporting Arsenal and knowing that Arsene spends a lot of time worrying about harmony and balance of his squad. Throwing in a £25million player in defensive midfield might be something we’re all keen on, but it will upset the apple cart with regards to our Spanish Captain, Coquelin and probably Flamini. You’d be right in exclaiming “tough. We need better players and it’s a cold world out there”, but whilst Arsene appears to be doing that with the ‘keepers, I just don’t see it happening in two positions this summer. It’s why I’m also not convinced we’ll land a megabucks striker. Arsene has plenty of players in those positions and if Walcott signs on for another three to four years, Wenger will feel he has enough to have a go with what he’s got.

And do you know what? With a world class ‘keeper in between the sticks, I think we’ve got a very strong squad that can compete. Ideally I’d love another ball winning defensive midfielder, but I think we’re good enough to compete.

Ticking the boxes in Cech saga; rolling back the transfer clock

A Quick mosey around the online football world and what do you know? More ‘angles’ on the Cech deal. Surely it’s all reaching its inevitable conclusion now, right? I mean we’ve had the discussions between the clubs over a fee already poured over to the nth degree, the wages have been laid out bare for everyone to see and the whole world seems to know that Cech is on his way, but we were still waiting on former player mistakenly tweets something.

Thankfully we’ve now ticked that box, with former Arsenal full back (Ralph) Lauren telling the world that Cech was signing and it was a good move. Well that’s it now, right? Right? After all, Ralph has spoken and we all know that he’s Arsene’s right hand man, who regularly speaks to Le Boss and plays the role of confidante on the most intimate of Arsene’s Arsenal thoughts.

Or, to put it another way, he’s an ex-Arsenal player who knows about as much as you and I and therefore was just tweeting a message of what he thought would be a good signing when it happens. That doesn’t stop the media from going nuts though, eh? Anything for a bit of click-baiting.

Still, it could be worse. They could be really trying to pull an Arsenal transfer rabbit out of a hat by declaring that Jack Wilshere’s future is still up in the air amid interest from Moneychester City. This despite the fact that Jack has repeatedly stated that he wanted to stay at Arsenal, was referred to by Ivan as “one of you” at a recent Q&A and has also been told be Arsene Wenger – who has also told us through the official site – that he is not for sale. Yet still these rumours persist. I wonder if Moneychester City are compiling a list of transfer enquiries of English players so they can go to the Premier League and FA and say “Look, we tried, but nobody was willing to sell, which is why we had to go out and spend £99million on Paul Pogba”. If so it’s an interesting ploy, although I don’t think it will wash with the football authorities.

What will wash will be to develop your own players and stop spunking large amounts of cash on the ‘here and now’. Micah Richards is a perfect example. People say his career has stagnated over the last couple of years, but I never saw a player whose career stagnated. I saw a player who the newly incoming manager – Pellegrini – just didn’t fancy, so he marginalised Richards and eventually went for a free transferred Bacary Sagna. How’s that working for you now, anyway, Bac? If Moneychester City want to up their home-grown quota, they should try and adopt a more pragmatic approach. Or do what we’ve done and get them so young that by the time they hit he first team they’ll be home-grown players anyway!

Then they need to get themselves a nice pre-season tournament with which to give the fans a quick glimpse of a potential player before never seeing them again until the following season. I do love the Emirates Cup. Not enough to actually buy a ticket mind, but it does allow us to see a selection of young players and wonder whether there will be any that can Bellerin their way into the first team by way of a bit of a surprise. The details are now on the official site for the tournament in which we’ll see Bendtner line up for Wolfsburg and get to have a look at Lyon. Last year I looked at the teams in it and thought it was one we’d probably win hands down, but Valencia and Monaco took it a bit more seriously than we did and we ended up finishing third I think. I wasn’t really paying that much attention if I’m honest. The important thing was to see players like Falcao look brilliant before United got their mits on him and ruined him. Now it’s Chelski’s turn so let’s hope they Schevchenko him good and proper.

We could have a bit of a talk about the rumours of Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon, but I don’t feel I have the energy or inclination. Are the media websites that devoid of anything concrete that they have to step back in time a summer or two? Will we see the re-emergence of M’Villa? Hope not. Still, it’s better to be linked with farcical players than to list all of the players who have ‘rejected’ us. Really Benedikt? Did we come calling and yet you decided that Schalke and less money (because let’s face it, like it or not, our footballers in this country are paid way more than in German by and large) is a better option than Arsenal and Champions League football? Or could it be that Arsenal made a tentative enquiry and now you’re getting all excited and telling the world you were wanted by them before choosing to stay where you are? Hmm? I thought so. Back in your box boyo.

And I shall come out of mine. For the sun is out and there is more of the Algarve to explore.

Until tomorrow.

Arsenal’s FA Cup: a new dawn

Has there ever been a more comfortable and one-sided final? Have we ever seen Arsenal do it the easy away in a big game, with such verve and vigour? Does this happen to us? Arsenal are supposed to make our lives difficult, aren’t they?

Apparently not. Apparently there is an ‘easy way’ and all we needed to do was to have a gooner managing the opposition.

My day started with the usual routine of cereal and blogging, but when I was asked the usual question from The Management of ‘are you nervous?’, much response was a surprise to both of us. ‘No’ was the simple answer. And it was the truth. I could not explain why, I just didn’t feel as nervous as I sometimes do when we play teams like Stoke, or even when we played Villa away and home in the league. 

Clearly that comfort translated itself to all the fans and the players yesterday, because the atmosphere wasn’t of nerves, but of confidence. We utterly dominated from the first minute.

Arsène’s decision to start Theo ahead of Giroud could have been a gamble, but after the West Brom game it was clear he would be confident and so it showed, as he was the one to get us on the road to victory with a fantastic precision finish. He was good all day, running the channels and switching with Alexis to cause Vlaar and Okore a headache throughout the game. 

But Theo can only be good with the support of his colleagues and to a man they all stepped up. Szczesny didn’t really have much to do, but when he was called into action to catch or punch the occasional ball clear, he did. Bellerin and Monreal dealt with the few Aston Villa forays forward, but more importantly provided plenty of width and options for Ramsey and Alexis on the overlap.

In the heart of the midfield Santi pulled all the strings and was masterful in possession, deservedly picking up the man of the match award, whilst Coquelin dealt with every attack when called upon as the holding midfielder. Ahead of those two, Mesut Özil floated about the pitch, finding pockets of space and distributing the ball perfectly each time. When you had a player like that it must be a dream for the forwards, because you know he’s going to draw players out of spaces and give you pockets to move in to. Then he’ll find you with a pass.

The front three – perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me as I thought getting Theo and Rambo into the same team would be nigh on impossible – were the epitome of movement and fluid attacking. Never stationery, always rotating and switching, Villa stood no chance. You only have to look at Theo’s goal as an example, as it was Alexis who won the header in the box and Theo arriving from the left to smash it home. For Alexis’ goal, he came from wide left and cut in field to unleash a thunderbolt, which would have probably have taken Given’s hand off if he’d have touched it.

This is two major trophies in two seasons. The players have tasted success twice and the Hull game last year has proven not to be a one-off. The team is growing. Mentally. The desire for more trophies and more success will only grow too now. The players will not accept that they can fall short and I think that will drive them on further.

It feels like this is a new dawn of success for Arsenal. Even more so than last year, because now the players will truly believe that they are winners. You can’t teach that, you have to learn it.

Today will be a soggy victory parade, but nobody in Arsenal’s world will care. We’re cup winners.

Heartbreak for Welbeck and a hint on Theo vs Giroud?

So who’da thunk that FIFA were a corrupt collection of cheating no-good-for-nothing’s, eh? Then, quelle surprise, who’da thought that Sepp would persist with the FIFA elections to ensure his dictatorship remains for another however many years, by not postponing the election process after this latest set of troubles?

Well, everybody, actually.

Even Arsene had his say yesterday and whilst he can’t exactly be as vocal in his comments about football’s governing body, he was a eloquent as ever in talking about the issues surrounding the recent spate of arrests, stating that the worst ting of all is rumours and FIFA should be more transparent and open about telling the world what the issues are and how to address them.

But of course we know they are not designed like that. Heck, they hired a high-powered lawyer to chair an ethics committee, then promptly dismissed his findings when he had serious issues with the way the organisation is run, refusing the publish the results, then glossing over them completely. So what do we expect?

Still, the moral bankruptcy of those in Switzerland who purport to have the sport’s interest at heart are but a small footnote in the most important news this week leading in to the weekend, which is all around the FA Cup, team news and Arsene’s presser, in which he confirmed Welbeck is out. It’s a shame because he had such a great impact in this cup competition by navigating us past the choppy waters of Old Trafford. He’ll be rightly gutted and you have to feel for him. Football is a short career and even if you’re at a team that is towards the top of the division, you probably only get around 10 attempts to play in cup finals if you’re lucky, so to miss out on one for this season will be a big blow.

I thought it was interesting that Arsene talked about the importance and the impact of subs in games like Saturday’s, after he was asked about Giroud and Walcott. If you read my usual ramblings, you’ll know that I’d be an advocate of them both starting, with Walcott out wide, but Le Boss’ comments yesterday suggest that he’ll go with one or the other and see one of Olivier or Theo as an impact sub. Again, my money would be on Theo to be that impact sub. It would be harsh on him given he’s just hit a hat trick, but as I’ve said before, I don’t see Theo and Rambo working in the same team. They would both occupy similar positions in and around the box, so if Rambo is preferred I’d expect Giroud to be given the nod.

As usual the questions were a bit boring and even those designed to be provocative (one guy repeatedly asked about Jose Mourinho’s comments, Arsene expectantly dismissive and moved the conversations along), but we still got a few snippets that we can over-analyse to our hearts content. Arsene talked up Benteke and the importance of him and I think keeping him quiet will probably be the secret to any success we have on Saturday evening. He’s their talisman – super Timmy Sherwood aside! – and will be a thorn in our side for sure. I do wish that the reporters would drill manager’s a bit more than they did yesterday about the opposition. Arsene gave platitudes out to Grealish yesterday and showed that he’s got good knowledge of a player with whom some of us will have only seen once or twice, which is the kind of thing I want to hear in press conferences. Ahead of the FA Cup I’m not interested in rumours about Benzema or whoever, what I want to know is whether Arsene has a clear understanding of the threats that Villa will pose and a clear understanding of what they might try to do. He doesn’t have to give up all of his plans, but if he’s probed about players, tactics of the opposition, etc, surely that makes not a lot of difference to how he will set his team up? It isn’t really going to give anybody a better insight in to who he might pick and it certainly isn’t going to make Sherwood spit out his morning mocha by saying “holy cr*ap, he knows about us. That’s it, we’re all getting in to the Anderson Shelter and not coming out until 5pm on Saturday”.

But what do I know. I’m not a professional journalist. I haven’t hacked anyone’s phone for a start.

Anyway, I think i’ll call it a day and crack on with the household chores for the day. Cheery bye!

Job done in the league and a decent season overall

Well that’s it for the Premier League for another season and what a way to finish the season. A hat trick from an unexpected source, a wonder goal for Jack that hijacks goal of the season by Arsenal fans (don’t you just love our club’s online presence?) on Match of the Day, as well as a performance that is just the tonic ahead of what will inevitably be a tough cup final against Villa, no matter how poor they have played since securing their league safety and a cup final.

For me it was the perfect confidence tonic ahead of the FA Cup final. We’d gone three home games without scoring and were starting to look a little bereft of ideas when a team sets themselves up to defend in numbers, so my hope pre-game was that we wouldn’t see West Brom do the same and if they did, then we’d have an answer. If Timmy Sherwood studied yesterday’s game, it might just have been a bit of ‘back to the drawing board’ in terms of how to catch us out, because we answered our recent profligacy in front of goal in quite some style.

Timing of goals is always important when a team sets up to defend, so the fact that Theo scored within the first three minutes probably threw Tony Pulis’ game plan out of the window quite early. Had he managed to get his charges in at half time still sitting on a 0-0, we might have seen another afternoon of goalless agony, but as it was Theo’s superb finish merely set up what was eventually a first half rout.

We were totally dominant in that first 45 and with goals from Walcott shortly after the ten minute mark, it was almost a game that was dead and buried within the opening exchanges between the two sides. You could tell that there were some players that had a point to prove and were doing the schoolyard equivalent of a “pick me! Pick me!” moment on the playground to Arsene, because we saw Theo in particular bag three goals and look dangerous for most of the afternoon. He was looking sharp and looking like he’s ready to make an impact just in time for the cup final, so it’s good news for us that his confidence will now be sky high for Villa. Whether or not he gets to play in that central striker role remains to be seen. Personally I think Arsene will still opt for Giroud, but it would be a real shame if he doesn’t get a spot out wide right. Still, there’s plenty of time for deliberation over the next few days, so back to yesterday’s performance.

I haven’t even mentioned Jack’s goal yet, which was an absolute rocket of a half volley from just to the right of the D. It was the kind of finish that we’d expect to see from somebody like Alexis, or That Dutch Bloke, but it is something that jack too has in his locker. He just has to show it more often. He had a decent game too. Picking the ball up often and driving forward at the Baggies at every opportunity. The only problem he has in terms of playing next weekend is that there are many other form players in front of him. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be involved in some part and I’d be stunned if he doesn’t have some sort of role to play at Wembley.

The only real blot on the copybook was the goal we conceded yesterday, which hardly covered David Ospina in glory, as he disappeared in amongst a group of players only for Macauley to head in a consolation goal. Sure, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things and West Brom never really looked like ‘Newcastling’ us, but that’s a couple of times in the last few matches that the Colombian has looked less than impressive in between the sticks for a few moments. In the Swansea game he probably should have saved Gomis’ header and, even though it didn’t result in a goal yesterday, there was a shot – I think from Morrison – that was straight down his throat that he misjudged and was fortunate that it hit the top of the bar. Sure, there was a bit of a dip on the ball, but you expect those kind of shots to be dealt with a little bit easier.

I feel for Ospina a little bit, because I get the impression that arsenal fans (me included, perhaps) are not entirely convinced and we’re just nervously waiting for the first rick that causes us big time in goal by the man with no neck. He hasn’t really done anything wrong as such, he just never really does anything spectacular and so looks to me for all of the world like he’s a very good number two, rather than a world class number one. We’ll see where Arsene’s head is at over the next couple of months I suppose.

For now, we can be in positive things about more things than negative about a few niggles we have with the team. I think i’ll save a fuller season review for after the cup final, as so much of our season appears to be defined by that and whether we win the FA Cup, but from a league perspective I think we can call that a decent season, given the way it started out. With a football season lasting nine months, it’s easy to forget where we were in November with our form and the numerous injuries that we had, but having corrected the early season blip with a fantastic winning run in 2015 it looks as though we’ve clicked and we can all be a little bit more hopeful about what 2015/16 might entail. Signing off your league season with a win is exactly what you need to send the fans home happy and hopeful of success and with a belief that despite over a decade of financial doping in the league, we can finally start to look at a team that is going to have a real go at the title next time around.

Sunderland preview: Breaking down a defence again

A lovely midweek game to keep us occupied tonight, how thoughtful of The Arsenal to get so far in the FA Cup and ensure this fixture was moved to a midweek, where we would have something to talk about. And that something appears to be how likely Arsene is to shuffle his deck a little bit against a Sunderland team who need a point to secure their Premier League status for 2015/16.

We need effectively just a point to secure our third place status and automatic qualification to the Champions League next season, so one could be forgiven for thinking this might be like that Champions League game about five years ago when both Porto and Arsenal needed a draw to qualify, so both teams played out one of the most drab 0-0s that ever existed.

However, I suspect Arsenal will want to get the job done today, not least to absolutely guarantee that we can qualify, but also because it helps to continue the momentum going in to the FA Cup in just over a week and a half’s time. Our last couple of games have seen patchy performances and for that reason, I think Arsene will be telling his charges that there needs to be a bit more swagger injected in to the performance tonight.

We need to see the Arsenal of three weeks ago, swashbuckling passing and sweeping movements that leave teams like Hull and Liverpool trailing in our wake, unable to respond to relentless Arsenal pressure and precision passing. We need to see the hunger and desire of the players manifest itself in more than the lacklustre game at home against Swansea just over a week ago. We need to see goals and three points for the home side.

That’s why I can understand why so many Arsenal fans are calling for a bit of rotation this evening. We’ve looked a little unconvincing in the last couple of games and whether that is due to a long season catching up with a few players, or whether it’s because tactically it has not quite worked out (i.e. Ramsey out wide right) I’m not 100% sure, but one thing I do know is that there will be plenty of players who haven’t been making the match day XI who should be chomping at the bit to put on a good show if they are chosen. Players like Wilshere, Gibbs and Walcott all spring to mind immediately and I’d be surprised if two out of those three don’t play tonight. Arsene won’t want to make wholesale changes to the side – it will disrupt the continuity of the team – but he might want to freshen things up a bit and I’m all for that.

We’ll already see Gabriel come in for Laurent Koscienly, who has the flu, so I think Arsene may not opt to rotate any more of his back four. Similarly in midfield, I think he’ll try to keep it looking and feeling like it did at Old Trafford, certainly in the last half an hour. So I wonder if Wilshere will replace Cazorla. If he wants to, he could look at Ramsey centrally with Walcott out wide, but I think he’ll keep Aaron out wide tonight. I don’t think he should, but I can see it happening because I just have a gut feel that one of Walcott or Wilshere miss out. I think Arsene wants to accommodate Rambo somehow and that’s why I don’t think we’ll see both of the England internationals starting, so we’ll either see Walcott out wide right and Rambo in the centre, or Rambo wide right and Wilshere in the centre. I’d personally rather see Ramsey centre, so that would be my preferred option.

Up top will most likely be Giroud and Alexis, particularly because with The Ox and Welbeck out, there doesn’t appear to be too many natural suitors for the role. Theo centrally doesn’t work, we all know that and with Mesut performing so much better at number 10 than out wide left, I hope that Arsene’s experiment with him playing out wide left has been put to bed long ago.

Sunderland will unlikely be going with three strikers like they did against Leicester, so I’m expecting them to flood the midfield with five and probably play Jermaine Defoe as the sole front man, hoping he can catch us on the counter with his pace. But at 32 he’s not as quick as he once was and unless isolated against Per Mertesacker, I’d hope we have enough to cope with the Mackems attack. I have seen Conor Wickham deployed in midfield before and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him operating as a midfielder-cum-striker when Sunderland do venture forward, but I suspect they’ll come looking for a point like Swansea did and I would be surprised if they didn’t look to sit deep and soak up pressure. The difference between Swansea and Sunderland however, is that Swansea are built to counter a lot better than Sunderland, but also have the confidence of having had their best ever season under Gary Monk. Sunderland are down there and scrapping for their lives – which certainly means they’ll be harder to beat – but they also have a bit more weaknesses to expose as a result and I think that providing we’re not going to fire pot-shots down the throat of Pantillimon all night, we should have enough to score goals against this side.

It’s one of two of our final home games of the season and two wins would take us to a decent points tally and third place, putting us in a good position to go in to the cup final riding high. Come on Arsenal, you can do it!