Football life is too short. Enjoy the now.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(Clearly that was a joke).

Being realistic, but at least we’ve got our hope back

I know what you’re thinking. Stop it. Don’t do it to yourself. Stay realistic. You and I both know it won’t happen. It can’t happen.

Can it? 

No, definitely not, regardless of how Moneychester City keep seeming to be willing to let us get the tiniest glimmer by losing or drawing games they should be winning. The hope was always large, but the probability was always small, especially when two billionaire-backed football teams were duking it out for the league. Nope, miracles don’t happen to us Arsenal fans, they simply don’t.

But results like yesterday’s Monday Night Football victory for Palace against the sky blue oil whores, do make you dream a little bit more of something magical, don’t they? Unfortunately for us, Chelski appear to have build such an unassailable lead through their first half of a season dominance, that they look like they are going to do what we couldn’t last season and limp over the line. 

Seven points is the difference and they still have a game in hand. That game is against the worst team in the league – Leicester – so we already know that they’ve won it. That brings them to ten and as I’ve been saying to a few people over the last week and a bit, we’ve probably left our winning run charge about a month too late in the season, because wins against Southampton and the Spuds would see us just a point behind the chavs with their one game in hand and a match at The Emirates to come.

Hey, let’s look at the positives though, because whilst the league is 99.9% beyond us, a successful season is most certainly in our grasp and after yet another confidence-boosting win at the weekend and moving up to second in the league, we’re in a position where we could finish as runners up after looking like we’d get nowhere near the top four after about 15 games. To me that represents progress and right now we’re progressing in the right direction. 

We’ll see a perfect example of that when Jose and his chavs rock up at The Emirates in three weeks time, because you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be playing for a draw or scabby counter attacking goal against us. If they do, we can be happy that Jose views us as a serious enough threat, which bodes well for us when looking in to next season. I bet about a month ago you had the same thoughts as me when it came to looking at the game at The Emirates against that lot: “please don’t let them win the league on our ground”. At least thoughts appear to be turning to “if we can beat them on our ground, it narrows the gap and then…what if…”. That’s a much better feeling, eh?

Arsène is starting to sound like Arsène Wenger: The Early Years again too. I seem to recall that at the start of his Arsenal career, we’d get soundbites that were juicier the the most succulent of Spanish oranges, the kind of comments that would get you smiling and believing in the manager and his unnerving belief in his team. Post the Liverpool game he offered his usual assessment, but punctuated it with the utterance “There is something special happening here”. I haven’t heard that kind of talk from Le Boss for years. Sure, he’s always talked up his team, his belief, his trust in his players, yada-yada-yada, but those little soundbites from him are a tiny little insight into where his confidence is at.

I reckon he’s looking at next season and thinking he’s found the squad and the blueprint for success. It started with the Invincibles the season before if you can cast your minds that far back. We’d all but lost out on the league but there were still three or four games, in which we had to play and despite the season petering out, I seem to recall that we played very well in those games. Perhaps that was Arsène looking ahead to the next season. What if he’s got that feeling about this group of players this time?

Exciting prospect, isn’t it? It’s the sort of thing that makes you smile. I’ve questioned whether the fire is still alight in the old dog, yet he has recaptured a bit of life within him with this winning streak, so perhaps there’s more to come before he finally moves on from Arsenal? 

If you’re like me, then it’s never been about sacking Arsène or allowing a dictator to remain in charge, it’s always been about what will it take for Arsenal to be fighting for the league again. If we are fighting, then Arsène can crack on as long as he wants, but if we’re not then there’ll obviously be questions asked on his capability.

Right now he’s answering them. I hope he continues to do that.

Catch you tomorrow.

Moving backwards? 

Whilst trying to treadmill my consumed daily calories off yesterday lunchtime, I listened to the excellent Arsecast Extra from Monday and aside from the usual humour from the two hosts, there was one interesting question that a listener posed. It was one in which was a toughie to be asked on the spot, asking whether or not Arsenal had gone backwards this season, or words to that effect. Naturally James and Andrew discussed and debated with thoughtful musings, but the question has been going around in my head since yesterday afternoon, so I thought I’d do some ‘out loud’ thinking for you.

I suppose the question on whether we have made any progress depends on your state of mind towards the club and probably more specifically the manager. Those that feel his time has come and he should have abdicated long ago, will tell you that we have stagnated, maybe even moved backwards compared to last year because we haven’t really challenged for the title this year at all. 

In the cold light of day it’s hard not to disagree with the fact we’ve never really looked like challenging, owing in part to Chelski’s form early season and our failure to keep up, labouring to too many draws. But simply dismissing our season because we haven’t competed as closely to the oil whoring clubs is a bit too simplistic a stick with which to conveniently beat the manager with this season, I think. If you flip it around and look at the points tally, as well as the possibility of finishing second or third, there will be those staunch supporters of the manager that will argue that a finish on those grounds represents a slight climb in the league and therefore a positive season. Again, too simplistic to measure one season on a single metric or a couple of metrics based on where your allegiances lie.

Football – as Arsène has pointed out – is about unpredictabilities, emotions and the intangibles, as much as it is about the data. That’s why as a fan, I change my mind so often, veering from “I do wonder if the manager has run his race”, to “maybe Arsène should get one more crack at it”. This season alone has seen me swing from one side to another and in a way 2014/15 has been a concentrated metaphor of Arsène’s second half of his reign at the club. There has been what feels like some quite low ‘lows’, but these have been tempered with some quite high ‘highs’, particularly since Christmas. 

But what does this mean in terms of whether we’ve gone backwards or are treading water? Are we simply stagnating?

I don’t think so. Only this morning I saw a Tweet from a fellow Gooner saying they are less fussed about the upcoming transfer window than they’ve ever been before and I have to say, I am in agreement with them, because I finally feel like we have a squad strong enough for a level of rotation that even Arsène could be happy with. Sure, we’ve ballsed up this season with the pre-Christmas malaise, but the level of injuries we had at one time felt unprecedented to my untrained eyes. I look at quite a lot to see their Premier League Injury Table  (it goes some way towards feeling that common football ailment of feeling your club is more hard-done-by than others) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen us top the league so much with such a high volume of injuries as we did at the start of the season. At one point we were up to 17. SEVENTEEN! That’s like 75% of a squad!

My point here is not to argue the misfortunes of fate, but merely to point out that I feel that our level of injuries have been greater than ever before this season, or at least it feels it. Yet it could still be seen as a positive season if we win the FA Cup and finish third. As I said above, I am a fan who changes dependent on the circumstance and at this moment in time there is still hope, but it’s also hope for next season too. It’s hope for next season because through the multitude of injuries there have been players who have forced their way into the first team and have, in doing so, strengthened us greatly since that dark start to the season. Bellerin and Coquelin have added squad depth through more game time and maturity in their performances. Do you think the Coquelin from the start of this season will be the one at the end of next season? I don’t. I think that through the injury crisis the green shoots of a very strong team have emerged, so on that basis, I would say that ultimately I don’t think we have gone backwards. Even if there is no FA Cup to show for it. Even if we finish on the same points tally and get the same league position as we’ve become synonymous with. I still think we’ve made progress. 

Perhaps it’s just blind faith, hope and optimism. What do you think?

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.