Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

Drinking in success and the different styles in which we adopt now

These are the blogs that I started this site to write. It’s victories like today that make the daily musings and nonsensical ramblings feel glorious in the extreme. Sometimes there’s nothing better than savouring victory against a highly ranked opponent on their own turf. Sometimes you just have to drink it in, savour every drop and let it linger on your tongue like a single Skip from a bag of the prawn cocktail flavoured crisps.

Sure, it wasn’t a cup final and sure, we still have a lot of work to do if we want to win ourselves ‘old big ears’ again for successive seasons, but by jove, if you can’t enjoy a night like last night (once the final whistle has gone, of course), then I pity you.

I enjoyed it. I was down on my knees on the floor in my lounge with my fists clenched in front of me making a half-relieved, half-elated fist rocking movement. The Management, sat behind me wondering how on earth the fortunes of 11 fully grown men could over 250 miles away could have such an impact, simply stared with a smile on her face. She has become a surrogate Gooner and so is also happy for the win, but probably more amused at the clear joy it brought me personally.

This, in some way, has made up for the travesty that took place at The Emirates earlier in the season. United had been dominated that day but gave us two sucker-punches to nick the points when they really shouldn’t have. You cannot say we didn’t deserve to go through last night in the same way in which United didn’t deserve the points from us in November, but the most important thing for me is that we went through.

It feels like the spell has been broken. The curse has been lifted, banished to the deepest, darkest recesses of the corners of the world. It may not have. We may now go on another painful run against big teams, but for now we can all look at last nights game – as well as the one at the Etihad earlier this year – and realise that this team can go away from home and get a result.

And what a result. Victory against United has opened the way for a Wembley semi final against either Bradford or Reading and whilst Arsene rightly pointed out the difficulty of the Wigan game last season, you’d have to be a fool not to fancy our chances of progressing to the finals at this moment in time. We have momentum you see. We’re on a good run of form and are combining different styles of play depending on the team we are up against. We’ve played swashbuckling domination against the likes of Villa, we’ve played gritty and ‘dug in’ in games against Palace and QPR, we’ve been patient in facing a decent Everton side in which we needed to leave it late to secure the points and we’ve soaked up pressure and hit on the counter in games like Moneychester City and Man United last night. Suggestions thata this Arsenal team don’t have different tactics are clearly wide of the mark (and I appreciate that I too have been guilty of suggesting it on this blog a couple of times, I hasten to add).

The manager’s team selection showed that he now feels more confident than ever to rotate his team according to circumstance. Giroud dropping to the bench had us all stunned, but as Arsene admitted after the win, it was a psychological decision based on Welbeck’s desire to make a statement, rather than injury or form. That must also be the case for the goalkeeping situation. On a day in which we must applaud the victorious and pay tribute to the players for breaking their collective duck, i’ll keep any negativity to a minimum, but Szczesny looked a bit wobbly to me. His distribution nearly led to two very promising chances of scoring and his handling didn’t strike me as that of somebody who was on the verge of reclaiming the starting jersey in goal. Ospina certainly won’t be afraid of losing his place against West Ham on Saturday.

But, like I said, I’ll keep the negativity to a minimum. Now is the time for positivity and the back four certainly provided that. Both Koscienly and Big Per were resolute in dealing with the aerial threat of Fellaini and although Rooney got in between them for the United goal, in the main the back two were solid.

Likewise I thought Bellerin did well, although he was probably lucky to stay on the pitch with a slightly rash tackle having been booked by Michael Olivier early on in the game. In those opening stages I did wonder if we’d get a trigger-happy referee with the cards he would show, but the performance of the man in yellow turned out to be another pleasant surprise. Rather than bow to the significant home support for every decision, he stayed firm and got two big calls right – sending off Di Maria for a shirt grab on him and booking Januzaj for a clear dive. Di Maria’s dive was also noted and rightly booked and as I tweeted yesterday, it feels like the veil of injustice appears to have been lifted at Old Trafford finally. Thank heavens for that. Perhaps, like the players who say they no longer fear going to Old Trafford, the referees have the same mindset too? Won’t that make for some good games, if they are reffed equally between two teams? What must Howard Webb be thinking?

In midfield Coquelin picked up yet another man-of-the-match performance but beside him Santi was also pulling the strings. When you have a team that try and press every man as quickly as United tried to do in the first half and in patches in the second, how important is it to have a player like Santi who can retain the ball through his ability to dribble around players and distribute it? It takes a heck of a lot of pressure off the defence and his contribution cannot be overlooked in our return to form since just before Christmas. Play on little Spanish maestro, play on.

Mesut Ozil too had a different type of game. He was less involved in the build up play, but more involved in overall play and won three separate tackles yesterday evening. Those that accuse him of a lack of work rate will have been left scratching their heads at yesterday’s performance and our mercurial German has only done himself more favours with another good display. He’s putting together a string of performances that are showing his quality, regardless of the tired clichés trotted out from Danny Murphy on the BBC that Ozil hasn’t done enough since returning from injury. I’d wager that Danny hasn’t seen much of Ozil in the last few weeks. I have. You have. We know that his performances have been good for a few weeks now.

Up top Welbeck got his reward – nay, his revenge – from Louis van Gaal and the celebration when he scored was majestic. All too often returning players play the ‘respect’ card. Do the fans want it? Not that I know. If you don’t play for Arsenal and you score against Arsenal I don’t really care what you do. You’re the enemy and I look more at why my own team gave you the opportunity to score in the first place. So to see Welbeck celebrate was brilliant. It was clear joy at possibly securing a semi-final place for his new team. And he did. He is progressing and will be walking out at Wembley in a few weeks time. His former teammates, will not.

The Ox was also good in the first half, which is why his hamstring injury was clearly a big blow in the second, but whilst he will be sad waking up today facing the prospect of a few weeks out (hopefully not longer), at least he can be happy in the knowledge that his valuable contribution has directly led to our progression, through his slalom-like run that tee’d up the excellent Nacho in the first half.

What a great day. A fabulous win, a semi-final to look forward to and a hoo-doo undone.

Thank you Arsenal.

Options in the squad, but still a very tough time with tough decisions

Arsene’s presser started with the bad news about Gabriel being out for three weeks, but injuries in an Arsenal squad – especially the infamous ‘three weeks’ ones – are as par of the course as an Arsenal player, as the new inductee song in front of the playing staff.

It’s a shame for Gabriel because he would probably have loved to have started to build a run in the side and having played two games in a row he probably would have fancied his chances for a third on Monday night against United. But that’s life at Arsenal, I guess, so he’ll have to recover, then hope his chance comes around again, which you’d have to think will only happen if there are plenty of games left to play. In other words, we’re still in the FA Cup, possibly still in the Champions League (although we know that fire is all but extinguished).

Monreal is in a similar situation too actually, having worked so hard to establish himself as the number one left back, he finds himself unsure of whether he can wrestle the starter jersey from Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs has had two good games against Everton and QPR and contributed heavily in both, so a follow up performance by him against United might probably mean that Nacho is back to square one when it comes to fighting hard to retain his place. Such is life in the modern game; squads have to be big and players lose out when competition is high, but at least we have that competition to give Arsene the lovely headache that we’d all prefer. Remember the dark days where the headache was “how do we avoid seeing Silvestre or Denilson today, given our injuries”? Depressing times back then, I can tell thee.

But we have options now and the squad goes to Old Trafford with a strong team to take on an average United side that have the psychological edge over us, if not the technical one, that they might have had in seasons past. Arsene talks about our own recent confidence in the league and the importance it will have, which is great and I think he’s right to emphasise it, but to suggest that history plays no part in this fixture I think is folly on his part. Of course history will have an impact. The players may not have all played in the many defeats stretching back to 2006, but they will know full well of the record, they will have seen the media talking about it and they will know that it will have an impact should they go one down at Old Trafford. I’m not going to suggest that they’ll simply shrugh their shoulders and say “oh well, we’re screwed again” and give up, but I do think when you have a mentality in a club and a record like we have – similar with Chelski and us I think – the thought that goes through people’s heads is “how do we beat this lot?”. It’s worse when the team isn’t as good as it used to be or, as the game at the Emirates showed in November, gets themselves a fair old slice of luck in their victories too. I’ve been joking all week to United fans that they’ll probably only have three shots on goal and win the game with a deflected goal off Phil Jones face and a four-man ricochet that ends up scrambling over the line off Valencia’s arse. That’s just what it feels like with United.

Anyway enough of my negativity, let’s start to build up to the game with a little more positive vibes, eh? Like how Danny Welbeck will want to shove the lack of appreciation he had from Louis van Gaal right down his robot sounding throat. More on who I think will play on Monday, but initial thoughts are that we simply must go for pace, which Welbeck, Alexis and Walcott offer. That will complement Giroud and so whoever does start has to have a big game.

Ozil will also play I’m sure and it was good to see Arsene Wenger dismiss the criticism from media attention-seeker Paul Scholes. I read Scholes’ article yesterday in the London Evening Standard and I have to say I haven’t read such a clear attempt at trotting out populist cliches as Scholes did yesterday. It was like he’d had a look at some of the articles floating around historically, then decided he wanted to carve himself out a career as an ‘edgy’ pundit. But the biggest irony of his article was that the very same ‘laziness’ that Ozil gets labelled with, was used with Scholes’ article. He might as well have said “can Arsenal do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke”, or “they don’t like it up ‘em”. It had no real insight, just a bit of click whoring/paper reading. I guess that’s what he’s paid for, but it’s still annoying to read such research-lite reading from a player who’s football career was clearly more relevant than his current attempt at punditry.

Right, that should probably do me for today, so I’ll take my leave and catch thee in morrow.

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.