An arm around the shoulder or slap around the chops?

Arsene faced the media yesterday and, probably as you’d expect, he was reasonably defiant after an appalling game in midweek. He didn’t rule us out of a ‘miracle’ as Big Per has put it, but equally he didn’t retract some of the criticism for the team from Wednesday. It’s the right thing to do, because they all need to know and be reminded of how poor we were, if nothing else than to fuel the fire in their bellies to pick up more wins over the coming weeks and months.

I really hope we do get a response. I hope we get a response of anger, rage and destruction over an inconsistent Everton team, but one that will be riding high after going through in the Europa League. Is it still called that? Or have they reverted back to calling it what it should always have been called, the UEFA Cup? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just want Arsenal to pick up three points tomorrow.

Hopefully we can do that and with the news that we have no fresh injury concerns to speak of, it seems as though Arsene has a choice of players that he can pick for his starting eleven. In his presser yesterday he did say that we will have to rotate, certainly with a game against QPR to come in midweek, so I think there might be one or two players given some bench time. You’d like to think it was because of their poor performance, but he can’t drop the whole team, so who should he opt for?

This is a mini debate I had on Twitter and a couple of people made some really good points. You could take the hard line against the players and completely rotate. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud all had particularly poor games and could in theory be replaced by Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Rosicky, Walcott and Akpom, but I doubt we’ll see that many changes. For one thing large-scale changes usually lead to a disjointed approach to a game. Players may train with each other a lot, but they haven’t all got the actual live game experience of playing together under their belts, so it’s usually too much to ask. This is especially the case against a decent Premier League Team like Everton. If we’re lining up in the cup against a team like Brighton, or Walsall for example, you can afford to rotate on a larger basis and expect the quality of the squad to shine through. But Everton are too good to take that chance.

So who gets dropped? This is where you have to put your trust in the manager, because I think it becomes about assessing who needs the motivation, and who needs the arm around the shoulder. For example, I would think a player like Alexis would just be more pumped to prove a manager wrong if he was dropped. But I suspect dropping Giroud could see a fragile confidence fall even lower if he isn’t asked to play himself in to form. So I think he’ll be given another chance for a reprieve. I know that sounds a little bit like we’d be mollycoddling a professional athlete who should be able to motivate himself rather than need a kiss and a cuddle every time he has a bad game, but football is as much about winning psychological battles as much as anything else sometimes, so the best managers in the world are the ones that know when an arm round the shoulder is better than a slap around the chops.

Incidentally, I’d be surprised if Alexis was dropped, because he’s been one of the stand-out performers this season. But I do wonder if Big Per could be given a temporary Spanish Archer from the starting eleven. Perhaps Ozil too will be given time on the naughty step to think about what he’s done, with the Ox in prime position to take up his spot in the middle of the park.

It’s tough making the right decisions in professional football, but that’s why you’re paid more than I will earn in my lifetime in just a year, so hopefully Le Boss makes the right ones and we win tomorrow. Motivation is  massive part of professional football and knowing when to ‘hairdryer’ it, or when to talk up your team, is what makes the best managers the most successful. It’s not just about picking the team and dropping or playing players, Arsene needs to get them fired up in the right way with his pre-match talk too. Does he leave them to say it and trust they are hurting enough, or does he give them a Churchillian war-cry and send them out to battle? We’ll never know. We’ll only know if what his choice was, actually worked, by the way they perform tomorrow.

The injury news seems quite good too, actually, as Rambo and Flamini start training again and I’d expect with a week under their belts they should be back again for the United game. The Wilshere ‘setback’ is only temporary – so says Arsene – so if it’s just a case of removing some pins from his ankle you’d expect him to be out for a week as the cut they use to get to the pins re-heels. Don’t hold me to that though, as my medical knowledge goes as far as watching Doogie Howser in the earlier nineties with my mum and dad. So probably as much as our medical team then! I kid, I kid…

That’s pretty much all there is for today. I don’t really want to go into an exact line up for tomorrow, as I’ll have nothing to talk about then, so I’ll take my leave and see thee in the ‘morrow.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laters.

Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

The horizon of hope (and less injuries)

Well what have we hear? Good news and returning players from injury? Is that cause for optimism I see galloping over the horizon, heading towards us at a rate of miles per hour? Sort of, I guess, because until we win some back-to-back games, which seems as likely as a Ched Evans apology right now, I don’t think that Black Beauty will neigh its way past us for a few weeks. We have a game against Stoke tomorrow with which you’d hope we can pick up a victory, but the following week see’s us go to the Etihad to pick up yet another loss to continue our dreadful away form against the big teams.

But stop this, Chris, because you’re being positive today so get back on track for today’s blog. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts…..3-2-1 you’re back in the room…

So we have the return of Mesut Ozil to all get excited about. Missing since October, his patchy form of the beginning of the season belied his natural ability and I think – as does Arsene if you believe his presser yesterday – that we’re going to see the best of our German for the second half of this season. Arsene spoke about the ‘hunger’ that he has back in his belly and that’s a-ok for me. He’s a man who see’s things that nobody else in our team can do. We may have bemoaned the lack of Cescyness in our team this season, but you only have to look at the sheer volume of assists he made for us last season, as well as for a number of year’s with Ronaldo, to know what we’ll get in our team.

This is the thing you see. Ozil has never had someone at Arsenal with the pace and the ability to get in behind defenders. Ronaldo may be one of the most skilful players on the planet, but he is also a pacey one, getting in behind defenders and relying on his teammates as much as he relies on his own ability. Mesut spent the first half of this season either injured or shunted out wide, with only a handful of games in the middle. Arsene has already admitted that he saw his World Cup players look like they had a bit of what he called ‘artificial hunger’, but with Alexis out wide on the left, Giroud through the middle and one of Welbeck/Ox/Walcott occupying the other position, if Arsene is going to get Ozil in this team it will be in that number 10 role that we’re all craving him to play in.

It will however, mean the end of Santi’s spell in that position and as a result you have to feel for the Spaniard. There are plenty that will – rightly – call for Ozil not to come in until he has earned his place or until Santi’s form has dipped, but I reckon we’ll see Ozil slowly drafted in to the team regardless of how well Cazorla played. That’s just the way he is. He has his favourites. Always has, always will. But hey, at least we now have enough options to be genuinely having a discussion about who has earned the right to play, eh? Much better than looking at a squad and repeatedly reciting the word ‘deadwood’, right?

With Ozil’s arrival we also find more positive news on the injury front, as both Ramsey and Flamini have been declared fit, so it means we finally have more options for the manager to choose from. Competition is important to at the top of professional football, as we’ve seen with Szczesny, so to have Flamini and Le Coq now fighting it out, as well as Ramsey, Ox, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky all vying for a starting slot, it augurs well for the players’ desire in the latter part of this season.

That’s why I don’t think Szczesny should be dropped right now, actually, because I think the knowledge that his position is under threat might just spark the kind of hunger we want to see from him. I have always been a fan of his, but with Ospina now fit and the press even questioning whether or not he should start along with some Arsenal fans, you do wonder if that is exactly what the Pole needs to recapture his form on amore consistent basis. Just think about what happened to him when the very real threat of Fabianski suddenly materialised after a few years of him clearly not challenging Wojciech for the gloves? It made him a better player and he even admitted it.

So I’d be inclined to make a public statement if I was the manager and start him tomorrow, but with a private sentiment that he’s a game or two away from losing his place on a longer term basis.

By the sounds of it Arsene was in fine form yesterday, making the odd joke and even being slightly coy with his response about the whole smoking thing and there being someone who leaked information into the dressing room. I bet Stevie Bould is shifting a bit awkwardly in his seat today, because John Jensen did him up like a kipper by leaking the info about the smoking a few weeks back. Anyway, water under the bridge, or water out of the showers and onto a Benson & Hedges, I guess you could say. Everyone will move on and hopefully we’ll do the business tomorrow.

I could talk a little bit about the transfer stuff, but I really can’t be bothered if I’m honest with you. There will be plenty of time to be looking at that sort of stuff when the football isn’t on, so let’s just be happy in our Saturday activities, safe in the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a squad that is looking more impressive week-by-week.

So long, you wonderful lemon flavoured popsicle sticks.

Three items of Arsenal silliness

Wow, we’re full of exciting and wonderful Arsenal news today, aren’t we? Item one on the agenda is that any player caught smoking is apparently being given the punishment of having to train with the youth team by Arsene Wenger.

Woah….hold on there AW, are you sure you want to do that? After all, when I had to play with kids younger than me, I used to love it. My brother is four years younger than me and so when I was in the Under-13s and he was in the Under-9s (the team my uncle managed), I used to have a great time running around the smaller kids with the ball and leathering it into the top corner of the goal (which, incidentally, none of them could reach because they were too small enough).

Seriously though, does anybody really care about this other than the “we’re-holier-than-thou-and-we’ll-be-outraged-about-the-fact-that-somebody-with-influence-can-have-such-bad-behaviour. Oh, by the way, what’s your answerphone pin? I wouldn’t mind having a listen in later” media? People smoke in all walks of life and although I hate the stuff (it’s the smell you see. Makes me gag), it doesn’t really bother me that other people do it. I think the reason that this is a ‘thing’ is because of the personality involved, the position Arsenal are currently in and the fact that the media loves a pantomime villain. In this instance, Wojciech has to step forward because his form has been patchy at times this season (I’m not saying ‘bad’ because I think this storm-in-a-teacup has been created off the back of one game. He was very good against West Ham) and so it’s an opportunity for said media to get itself in on the ‘rile up already riled Arsenal fans’ bandwagon. They love that wagon. It’s their favourite mode of transportation don’t you know?

I would suggest that if we were four points clear at the top of the league and looking like we might finally recapture that Premier League crown after all these years, the noise would be less so from the media, or some selections of the Arsenal fanbase too actually.

Linked to item of silliness number 1 is item number 2, which is poor old Wojciech’s Papi, who, probably against his sons wishes, has decided to offload a couple of rounds in the direction of Big Per. The bit about him being like a rhinoceros is particularly humorous, but doesn’t really help anyone except Papi and his media career. Szczesny will probably be going into the training ground today mouthing “sorry” to the vice captain and when you’re trying to get yourself together as a defensive unit, it’s hardly great to know that one of your teammates’ dad is giving you a bit of a pasting. What if that’s how Per is talked about by Szczesny junior all of the time? I’m sure he probably doesn’t, especially given the propensity for his father to run to the nearest Polish media source, but it still might play on the big German’s mind. It’s hardly what we need before an important game at the club, but I guess it fits the old ‘broken cannons’ icon that the red tops love to trot out every once in a while.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to item 3 on our agenda, which is Lukas Podolski “SLAMMING” Arsene Wenger. Again, I’m not going to presume for a second that a red-top tabloid is indulging in a smidge of hyperbole, but it strikes me as odd that a player who has clearly shown that he’s pretty good with his PR and will probably set himself up with a nice little agency when he does retire, would try and burn bridges with the manager so easily. The red top in question will no doubt point to the fact that they have quoted directly from the German saying about respect from Arsene, etc, etc, but I do wonder if it has been a little bit massaged to fit a narrative. For all we know Lukas spent 20 minutes telling the journo in question that he loved the club, the fans (which to be fair they referenced) and that he had experienced a mostly good relationship with Arsene Wenger. But if they have received a minute or two of what they perceive as a ‘gem’ of a quote, they’ll be latching on to it, you just know.

Or perhaps I, for some reason to which I can’t really put my finger on – am I being a bit defensive of the German because he has ridden the tube and London buses, so is therefore more ‘in touch’ with the fans (a ridiculous notion I know)? Or am I just so disillusioned with the media and their click whoring that I am automatically very cynical about anything they say? Probably a little of both I suppose. But I just find it a little odd when you see the old ‘parting shot’. Football is so incestuous and quick to change that it wouldn’t surprise me to see Poldi back in training at Arsenal after his Inter Milan loan deal fell through and we get a bit of a Bendtner situation because we can’t offload him. Why burn your bridges when there’s still a chance you might need to cross back over the river?

Heck, this is all way too much thinking for me for one day. I think I’ll leave that to Arsene to do, so will wait patiently for his pre-match presser at some stage today.

Catch you tomorrow peeps.

Heartless display that the manager must take responsibility for

Where do you even start with a performance like yesterday? How do you dissect something that was so turgid, it doesn’t matter which way you look at it, you’re not going to like what you see?

What I saw yesterday, the first day of 2015, was an old familiar sight that I’d hoped could be banished with the heralding of the new year. In my pre-match thoughts before the game is spoken about how good 2013 was from a league perspective, but how horrible it 2014 was in consequence. I had hoped that we’d start 2015 as we mean to go on by beating a Southampton team that haven’t yet tasted defeat to us at St Mary’s.

Blimey, got that one wrong, didn’t I?

I got it very wrong indeed, because what we were subjected to yesterday was one of the most gutless performances of the season, and I’m not just basing this on the result I hasten to add. It was gutless because the whole game was played at a walking pace and we showed absolutely no conviction to try and outdo a pretty average Southampton side. From the first few minutes we had a warning as Pelle headed just wide, but we never really looked like that bothered us. Far be it for us to take heed to warning signals, because teams never ever punish us when we give them even the slightest sniff of a chance, do they?

But we’re Arsenal, so we can’t be content to let teams think they have a chance, oh no, we have to wrap it up, tie a bow on it and wait patiently for them to open their presents, don’t we?

Step forward Wojciech Szczesny, who decided that he would be in a generous mood by having a hand in both Southampton goals. The first was a standard crazy venture to the edge of his box on the left, whilst the second was a bit of hesitation and misunderstanding and a beauty that Tadic probably couldn’t believe had fallen at his feet. We make dreams come true at Arsenal. For opponents.

There was still half an hour to mount a comeback though, even after two atrocious bits of defending, but do you think we could muster any kind of spirited resolve? Could we heck. Lots of possession, very little penetration, a team that looked like it couldn’t really be arsed. Maybe they all had late nights. I know I did. I played ‘Million Pound Drop: The Board game’ until 4am. But then again, I didn’t have to work the next day and my work certainly don’t pay me the types of cash that these players get paid.

I can handle a bad day at the office you see. It happens. I can understand if things don’t click and we lose. I’ve seen it plenty of times. But what I can’t stomach, what really yanks my chain, is when I see some players not really looking like they are trying. Because I felt like I saw plenty of that yesterday. Players just not wanting to win the ball as much as Southampton players. Players bottling challenges, or not chasing back misplaced passes. That has nothing to do with technical ability, but everything to do with effort and application.

And I’m afraid, that is where all attention needs to be pointed towards Arsène Wenger, because he is the man charged with ensuring his players are up for a fight. Yesterday it didn’t look like it. In the good old days of Wenger’s reign, even after the first couple of years of trophies drying up, Arsène’s teams would come out fighting in the second half if we were behind. We were behind and terrible in the first half, so the last thing you’d expect to see is a mirror image in the second half yesterday. Yet that is exactly what we got.

We are unfortunate with injuries, we all know that, to which you cannot really blame the manager with at the moment, certainly not some of them. But when the team is not mentally prepared, or doesn’t look like it really wants to fight for the points, you have to look at the manager and question his ability to motivate the team. Yes, you can look at fatigue as an excuse if you want, but every team is fatigued at this point in the year. You can also look at the fact that Koscienly and Debuchy have not played that much football recently, nor Coquelin, so that argument is negated for those players. Players with a legitimate excuse to be tired, like Alexis, are still running their guts out. So what’s the excuse for the rest of the team?

I don’t know. I do know that it feels like we are the very definition of the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” and it feels like we’re as likely to string three league wins together as I am of starring in a Broadway Musical right now.

I spoke to my brother yesterday about top four chances. He’s a West Ham fan and doesn’t think they are anywhere near, but did agree with me that the only way we are getting into those hallowed positions that Wenger loves, is by having other teams around us implode. Notice how I use the term ‘Wenger loves’, because do you and I really care about it much any more? Aside from the fact that not being in the Champions League will potentially harm our chances of attracting big players (ha!), I find an increasing amount of apathy when it comes to playing out this particular dance. It’s the same song and the same moves, so what difference would sitting one out be? I don’t know.

What a cheery way to start the year, eh?

rotation, transers and pining for a Saint at Christmas

All this Christmas stuff has thrown time and dates completely out of whack for me at the moment. I wake up at 11am and find that Arsene Wenger has already had his presser and I think “hold on a second, we only played West Ham yesterday. Or was that the day before?”, then realise the actual date and that it’s an away game, so Arsene is facing the press a day earlier than normal. It’s probably also because it’s New Year’s Eve and he wants to make sure he’s got enough time to go to Sainsbury’s to pick up some more champagne/prosecco/cava (insert your own jokes about his spending if you like).

Of course, it is a day early to run the presser because he’ll probably be taking the team to the South Coast tomorrow morning, so there’s no big surprise, but there is yet again more of a sense of apprehension about yet another crucial game and how we are going to manage to pull another three points from deep within the red zone. I say that of course because, whilst Arsene has spoken this morning about rotating ‘intelligently’, he doesn’t exactly have the manpower around to effectively do it. With news from Le Boss today that Welbeck is struggling with a thigh injury, it looks for all the world to me like we are literally running out of all options. One would assume that, if Welbeck is not fit and Giroud is obviously suspended still, it would mean a place up top for Alexis. He is looking more and more knackered and if ever there was a player who should probably be afforded some rest it would be him, but we simply don’t have the bodies. So our little Chilean superstar will no doubt be run into the ground and knackered by the end of January. Unless we can start getting some bodies back.

Thankfully, Arsene has said that Walcott is now completely fit and can play. If Welbeck is a doubt you’d expect to see Theo in the team – probably on the right with The Ox on the left – because Wenger loves his pecking orders and there is no chance that Poldi or even Campbell will. With talk of both Campbell and Sanogo potentially going on loan and Wenger describing Inter’s approaches for Lukas as a ‘joke’, you do wonder what the next couple of weeks might hold for our forward line. We may be over stocked with players for those front three positions at the moment, but as our midfield crisis has shown, it is not completely unfeasible to see a catalogue of different injuries suddenly occur for players who all play in the same or similar positions. We’ve got Koscienly back, which is a real positive and I’m taking the lack of mention of him by rsene means that ‘no news is good news’. It’s obvious that we need more cover in the team and defence is certainly one of them that Arsene has mentioned, but interestingly today, he talked about the fact we’re ‘short’ in midfield. That was perhaps the most interesting comment for me because when he’s been asked previously he’s always hinted about it being a central defender we need, but it seems as though his gaze is also being angled towards a midfielder too. We have plenty of creative midfielders, so one would hope that on the defensive and ball-winning side, he is finally going to look into buying a decent defensive midfielder. Don’t get your hopes us there though folks…

The fact that Arsene is talking up Francis Coquelin and saying that he has the potential to have a future at the club and make a good career at Arsenal has to be a complete confidence-building smokescreen, right? Here is a guy that was clearly taking the well trodden path of being sent out on loan to demonstrate his worth to potential buyers, so we could get a half decent fee. Yet now we find him being thrust into the first team. Thankfully he performed admirably but, unless he gets another five or six games in a row in which he performs like he did against West Ham, Arsene will soon have him shunted down the pecking order I think. It would be great to see Coquelin emerge as the defensive midfielder, the ball winner, that we all crave. But let’s be realistic here; Ramsey and Arteta will both be back within two weeks I believe and when that happens, Coquelin isn’t keeping them out of the side, is he? Unless Flamini is injured for a prolonged period and Arteta suffers a ‘little bit setback’, I suspect we’ll get to see Le Coq for another game or two (if you factor in the Hull FA Cup match), then I think we’ll see things return to normal again and he’ll be offski in the summer.

In his place I’d like to publicly pine for Morgan Schneiderlin, because he’s been brilliant and a chief talisman for Southampton this season. He’s suspended for Southampton on Thursday when we play them, so Le Boss won’t get the same look he did for Calum Chambers last season, but one hopes that he’s had plenty of other people looking at him for us!!

Arsene also spoke about 2014 as a whole and described 2014 as a positive year. Of course he has to put a spin on it, but to me it has been both extremely exhilarating and extremely disappointing, as we fell away in the league last season and have never got into any kind of momentum this season. I think I’ll do more of a ‘2014 in my view’ blog piece tomorrow on that though, so will park those thoughts for now.

Catch you tomorrow.