Villa: victory, belief, strength and depth

Apologies if today’s blog seems a little light on the detail, but I must confess that due to circumstances beyond my control – The Management’s celebration of her birth – I regrettably wasn’t able to watch the match, so had to rely on various football websites and the occasional scroll of my Twitter feed to find out the score. The lack of visual information for ones brain to take in, as opposed to actually watching the game itself either on TV or in the ground, is a terrifying thing for me to testify to.

Frantically scrolling through your timeline to find out that six minutes had been added to injury time also contributed to my increased heartbeat towards the end of the evening. The people I follow on my timeline don’t exactly help either, as the occasional fact-based Tweet is punctuated by ‘oh f*ck’ or ‘p*ss off’ with no other explanation.

So if you’ve come to get some analysis on last lights game, I’m afraid you’re at the wrong inn, patron. Although I suspect you probably knew that already. What I can do, however, is tell you some thoughts and feelings now that the points are in the bag. Firstly, it sounded like this was a classic clichéd ‘game of two halves’, with us getting a nice cushion after controlling the play and looking comfortable after the first 45, to then fall victim to the old ‘little bit too comfortable’ mentality in the second. I imagine it was as if the team had spent all morning working hard to prepare a Sunday Roast, only for them to have said roast and just settle down to an afternoon of sleep, rather than finishing the job and cleaning the dishes. And the longer you leave the dishes, the worse it gets. That’s probably the best analogy I can muster on a packed South West Trains (who suck as a company, by the way) journey this morning, because come the second half we sounded quite sleepy and content to see the game out rather than finish off Aston Villa in the second.

Jack continues his improvement in regaining his pre-injury form and bagged himself what seemed to be a well worked goal, whilst it was good to hear that Giroud better another away strike. He’s a confidence player and that, along with his header against Newcastle during the festive break, will have done him the power of good. He’s had his mini enforced break and now hopefully we’ll see the benefits with a return to his early season form.

Do you know what I also got from last nights win? More belief. This victory was forged from reenforced tungsten. It was the epitome of what is most commonly described in football as ‘grit and determination’ as the team clung on for dear life at the end. But here’s the thing; the very fact they were able to cling on and see out the victory has wonderful implications for us all. It shows yet again us that we can grind out wins away from home and under pressure. It sends a message to the other teams at the top of the division: we’re not going quietly into that dark night. Plus, with every passing week another gooner changes his or her stance on us winning the league. I’m still teetering on the edge of unwavering confidence, but when I see results like last night, there’s a little bit more of me that believes. I’ve said all along that I see this period now as a crucial one and the first of four important hurdles has been leapt by the team. Fulham, Southampton and Crystal Palace are the next three. Win all of those and we’re top of the league with 13 games to go. Yes, they’re 13 tough ones but we have the minerals to do it, I’m starting to believe.

Some sour notes on last night, which included yet more injuries, sustained to Monreal and Rosicky. I haven’t seen the incidents, but have seen a still of Rosicky’s nose, which I’m assuming will have to have a Home Alone 2 style crack back into shape today. Monreal’s sounded more worrying, with rumours of a broken metatarsal doing the rounds after the game. If true, it’s an awful shame for a player who had managed to start the last few games, looked good and was showing that he’s ready to fight Gibbs for his starting position. It will also be a shame for his international hopes, because if it is a broken foot, then you’re looking at most of the rest of the season out and not much time to play enough games to a) get back into match fitness, and b) play enough games for your international manager to consider you for selection.

It’s also yet more bad luck for us on the injury front. When you look at where we are in the league, you can’t not be impressed with the testicular fortitude of this team, because we’ve been carrying walking wounded all season. I don’t know the exact figures, but I’d wager we’ve had double the number of injuries that both Chelski and Moneychester City have had all season, yet they’re the ones with the blank chequebook that can replace players! I’m not looking at the ‘we’re so unlucky’ element of it, yet more the misnomer that is that Arsenal don’t have the strength in depth as a side, because you and I know that’s baloney. Although I must confess I don’t actually know what baloney is exactly. I think it’s some kind of meat of sausage, but anyway, I digress. What we all know is that in almost all positions, we do have strength in depth, but where we are week the whole world knows about it i.e. another striker. When you look almost everywhere else on the pitch, we have options.

The upside of playing on Monday night is that we’re one day closer to more Arsenal at the weekend. Thankfully, the players have time to rest, re-set certain facial features and have plenty of rest time for the weekend. When we take on hurdle number two and hopefully, gracefully glide over it with consummate ease.

See you tomorrow, but before I go, here’s a wee plug for this weeks SG Pod, in which Steve and Ben talk to FootieWriter about Arsenal, transfers and all in between.

Villa Preview: a victory to resume normal position

It may have been a pain going the whole weekend without The Arsenal, but we’ve certainly be rewarded with a decent start to this week, haven’t we? It’s Monday night football and it’s a trip to the Midlands for the team to line up against Aston Villa.

It was always going to be too much to ask one of Swansea, Hull, Crystal Palace, Newcastle or Stoke to pick up a single point though, wasn’t it? It almost feels as though they’ve done it on purpose just to wind us Arsenal fans up, the inconsiderate bar stewards, so we find ourselves lining up today with not the slightest hint of an opportunity to get more daylight between our rivals.

I guess that’s the trouble with playing last in a weekend of action; it almost feels as if we’re on a hiding to nothing. If we win, it will be nothing short of normal position resumed, but if we draw, or lose, then the weekend has been a disappointment.

The team news was revealed at the back end of last week and Arsene has some decisions to make as to whether or not Gibbs and Rambo can take any part at all. Personally I’d give Monreal another game, as I think he deserves it, but Ramsey will be an interesting one, because Rosicky’s form is such that it would be tough to drop him. I know that quality players can slot into positions if they are good enough, but with the way that we’re playing at the moment, if you’ve got like-for-like players you can interchange with there’s no need to put square pegs in round holes. So our midfield will probably need the Flamster to sit in front of the back four, an energetic box-to-boxer alongside him (Rambo or Rosicky) and Mesut Özil as the creative playmaker in front of them. So I don’t think we’ll see Ramsey start tonight.

Up front I would think we’ll be welcoming back Olivier Giroud, which is a welcome boost, but I’m sure I’m not alone in fearing what might come to pass should he fall heavily or become victim to a dodgy ‘tackle’ that sees him endure another spell on the touch line. With Bendtner and Walcott out of action for the foreseeable and long-term future, we don’t have many options to lead the line, so I’ll be holding my breath tonight and every other night until we either a) sign a new striker, or b) get a striker back from injury. Giroud it is then tonight, and I’m hoping that he can get another away goal, because he’s hardly been prolific away from home. If he can make it back-to-back away performances whilst hitting the onion bag, I think it will do him the world of confidence, so let’s hope he’s on the scoresheet tonight.

It will be interesting to see what Arsene does either side of Giroud. On the right he could start Gnabry or even Cazorla, with Podolski on the left, so I think it will be two from three in those positions. The Ox has admitted himself that he’s not ready fitness-wise, so whilst Arsene says he’d have no trouble fitting him in, I’d be surprised if he gets anything more than 20 minutes at the end. I mentioned yesterday that he could be a great asset in Theo’s absence and I still see that as being the case, but we need to temper our expectations that he’ll be a saviour, preferring to ease him in hopefully without the pressure of having to come on to try and win games.

The rest of the team – defence and in goal – picks itself.

As for Villa, their last home game was a defeat to League One Sheffield United, whilst their home form is pretty disastrous whilst Paul Lambert’s been in charge. So of course it means they’ll all end up having the games of their lives tonight, won’t they? I expect to hear comments such as ‘if Villa played like this every week, they’d be in the top half of the table’ and ‘what an amazing performance from an under pressure Villa team’. They’ve got form in that regard; just ask Moneychester City, who succumbed to defeat a couple of months back.

In the reversal of this fixture on the opening game of the season, Villa relied on possibly the worst refereeing decisions I’ve seen from Antony Taylor, but we weren’t good either if we’re honest with ourselves. Agbonlahor cut through our team like a hot knife through Lurpak for their first penalty and he does love playing out of his skin against us. He’s scored plenty of goals down the year against us and so we’ll have to keep him quiet, as well as Benteke, who whilst having a bit of a barren run in the goal scoring charts at the moment, is still a handful and strong presence for Big Per and Kos to deal with.

As always, it will be how we start and try to dominate this game that will set the tone of the match I feel, as keeping the home crowd quiet as early as possible, always allows for a better evening. On paper this should be an away win, but this is the Premier League and not La Liga, where 95% of outcomes are already known before Barca, Real Madrid or this season Athletic Madrid take to the field. So we need to get the job done, and done well tonight.

It’s The Management’s birthday today, so I’ll be catching up with the game through Twitter and various live blogs. It won’t make it any easy, as I’ll still be very nervous, but hopefully we can do it. Up The Arsenal!

A timely Ox return and Arsene’s eggs

He’s a cheeky little scamp, isn’t he, old Arsene? After all, just when you think there’s a pattern developing, he throws in his patented ‘Arsene curveball’ and confuses you. Just take a look at his rotation for the Spuds game. We all thought he’d play our best team, that there wouldn’t be much rotation (even if it was in the FA Cup), yet he decides to go against his natural instinct and ‘mix it up a bit’. And now that we’re used to the information he normally releases on a Thursday being about who’s fit, he’s throwing us some extra comments about Theo, transfers and alike. Good ole’ Arsene. Makes my Friday blog a little bit more interesting to write, anyway, so I’m a happy chappy.

First up, the injury news, which appears to be looking positive. Forget West Ham, Demolition Man style cryogenic freezing, all The Arsenal needed was a slap of Iodine on the sores to get our lads ship-shape. The Arsenal Gent will approve.

It seems we have Giroud and Özil both fighting fit and ready to rock, which is great to hear, because their absence – whilst not detrimental to the team in picking up points and a place in the next round of the FA Cup – would still have been felt in the team nonetheless. Both have, in fact, had something of a winter break, with Giroud not having played for over two weeks by the time the Villa game comes on Monday, Özil making just a short cameo towards the end of the Spuds game. It will hopefully mean they are fresh and suitably recharged for the rest of the season, so I’m hoping for big performances on Monday night, maybe even an assist or goal too.

Speaking of players returning fresh, whilst we are all sad to see Theo out for the rest of the season, Le Boss has at least been boosted by the return of The Ox. He went down at the Villa game on Matchday one of the season, ne’er to be seen on the green turf since, so it is perhaps fitting that he’s in the squad and will return against Villa to complete his rehab. I don’t know how he got on last night against a Chelski under 21 team, but providing he came through that without any major fitness issues, let’s hope he’s at least good for half an hour on Monday night. Judging by the fact that Arsene started him at the beginning of the season (let’s not forget there were other options Le Boss could have gone for on that opening day, yet The Ox started really brightly), I think Arsene had Chambo to play a greater part in the season before that injury, so let’s hope we can start to see what he’s made of between now and May.

His return will be welcome competition on the right hand side of our attacking trio and I think with both The Ox and Gnabry both now given the opportunity to show what they can do, we might see a brilliant tussle over the coming months that can only be beneficial for The Arsenal. Let’s be honest, if Arsenal continue the form from the first half of the season, both The Ox and Gnabry could be in with shouts to play a bigger role at the World Cup. Gnabry maybe further down the pecking order in the national team, having not yet broken through, but if he gets a solid run of games and continues in the same form that we saw from the Swansea and Spuds game, he’ll fancy his chances methinks.

The other injury news is around Rambo, Gibbs and Vermaelen, the latter of which picked up a knock against ‘them’. Arsene has said they have an outside chance of being available against the Villains, but with the squad we have and the options available to him at the moment, not to mention the form we’re in, I suspect he’ll not want to gamble on any players. Perhaps there might be a spot on the bench for them, but I think Vermaelen will be saved for the FA Cup game and we’ll probably see Monreal keep his place.

The only other real stuff to talk about revolves around our central striking options. Having laid his cards on the table about the number of options we have on the flanks, Arsene made the clearest indication yet that he’s looking for a central striker to deputise to Giroud. With Bendtner out for three weeks, he’s clearly looking at how short we could be if ether Bendtner or Giroud pick up a Walcott-style injury, so stated that it was an area we were looking at as a club. It’s good news because, as much as we love Poldi, his best position is on that left hand side and we need to make sure we keep him there because that’s where he’ll get us goals and give us the biggest impact. Sanogo may be back in training, but it looks like Arsene has realised that he’s bought himself an injury-prone player that putting your striking eggs in his basket could end up with a number of broken ones when you’re ready to use your, erm, eggs.

So whilst we have to endure another weekend without The Arsenal, there are plenty of reasons to be upbeat today, except the fact I haven’t won the lottery yet and so have to go to work.

Catch ya on tha flip side, homeboys and girls.

Convincing Arsene: rotation; perfect timing for another mini break

Happy first Monday of the New Year Gooners. Many of you will be returning to your posts with dread and quiet distain for the fact you have to work at all/go to school/Uni, although if your Uni experience was anything like mine you won’t be nearly as upset as some of us are, so whilst I love you dudes, I can’t have much sympathy for you. You’ll soon be joining the monotony that is the world of work, longing for a day or two when you were a student, only to realise afterwards that life could not have been much easier.

But anyway, enough of my bitterness that I didn’t appreciate a life long since past, and on to The Arsenal. The glorious Arsenal who have already seen fit to ensure that we’ve had plenty to be cheery for this season and throughout 2013, already making 2014 a pretty good start with two wins out of two. We’ve now got a full week with which to have the players recharging their batteries, nursing any knocks and bruises sustained, whilst still trying to keep momentum going despite having a bit of a break. I have to be honest and say that I’m quite glad we’ve got this break. Not from a fan watching point of view, obviously, but from a fatigue and injury point of view. When Theo was stretchered off after Vermaelen had come off at half time against the Spuds, I counted us well into double figures in terms of both short and long-term injuries, but with a full week for the medical team and army of masseurs to do their stuff, we should be fully recharged and ready to go against an Aston Villa side that will be hurting after a home defeat to Sheffield United.

I’m sure we’ll get some more news about Theo and Thomas over the next day or two, but hopefully it’s nothing serious because if both players are available for the next game, it will hopefully give Arsene a real headache on who his best team is. Serge Ganbry will have fired a bright red signal flare of intent into Le Boss’ line of sight and so Walcott will not want to cede possession of that right-sided forward slot easily. Likewise for Tomas Rosicky too, who whilst having been treated with kid gloves because of previous brittleness, after two impressive displays will surely be a shoe-in for the trip to Villa Park.

What’s really positive about the form of the squad players is that it will give belief to Arsene that rotation can work. We know it can, as do the likes of Chelski and Moneychesity City, fighting on multiple fronts. But Arsene’s reluctance to use more than a core 13 or 14 players, has been evident in the first half of the season and in seasons past, with the net result probably being what we’ve seen in December with a plethora of players going down with strains and alike. Now he knows he can play Monreal, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Gnabry et al as and when he needs them, so I hope he does use his squad effectively to allow us to compete on multiple fronts.

In a way, I think the Monday night game against Chelski and the Monday night game against Villa have been well placed for us. We had a hectic schedule before Christmas and so the mini break worked well, whilst now we’ve hit the other side of Christmas we have another little break. Whilst players like Mesut will not have experienced the intensity of a festive period like this, at least we have been able to ease him into it in our first season, so personally I’m not as worried about burn out for him as many of us were at the beginning of the Christmas game-fest.

As for the fallout from our dispatching from the Spuds, well hello Coventry City of League One, let’s do battle. A home tie ensures I get a decent return on my cup game ticket allocation for my season ticket, whilst a League One opposition means that we should feel confident about progression to the fifth round of the competition. Not too over-confident mind, after Blackburn and Bradford we should have learned some valuable lessons, but confident enough to know that a good performance is a must regardless of who plays. The big glamour ties at home in the cup are nice, but when you look at our fixtures in February, I’m glad that we’ve got a game in which Arsene can potentially rotate. It’s going to be a nasty little month for us as far as opposition goes, so providing the strongest 11 are fit and raring to go come that first tough one against Liverpool, we’ll give ourselves the best possible chance of remaining top. Before all that however, we’ll need to be looking to try and take maximum points in January which will start with Villa, then include home matches against Fulham and Crystal Palace with a game against Southampton thrown in for good measure. They are all games that we should have the minerals with which to win, but we still have to put in the performances.

Finally from me for today, I’d like to thank Swansea for their victory against United at Old Trafford yesterday, which unfortunately caused a little boy inside someone to throw a tantrum and ask for ‘Sir’ to come back. Well done to the Swans.

Oh, and just before I go, it would be remiss of me not to point out the latest SG Pod that was recorded last night with me, Steve, Ben and Paul from Invinciblog. We talk Spuds, shinpads, disappearing acts during Birthdays and some transfer drivel. You can stream the Pod here, or search for us in iTunes. There’s also a YouTube link somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it this early in the morning on my iPhone. If the latest Pod isn’t live just yet, blame Steve, as that’s his bag and he doesn’t get up for work until 9, so hopefully it will all be there at some stage today.

Catch you tomorrow, you fabulous person, you.

Apathy reigns as Arsenal enthusiasm crumbles

I don’t even know where to start this morning. I don’t even know which part of the shambolic day that was provided for us at The Emirates to look at. And more to the point, put of me can’t even be arsed to write a blog today. But I’m looking at it as an opportunity to get some thoughts down on the proverbial paper, then I think I’ll switch my laptop off and avoid anything sports related until the next game that we have. There’s no point looking at Twitter, there’s no point watching Sunday Supplement, there’s no point flicking over to Sky Sports News and there certainly won’t be any point to flicking on to TalkShite tomorrow when I get back from work and need to make a Monday night chilli.

Perhaps I’ll start with how I’m feeling, rather than the game itself, because that in itself, is worrying me. I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel bitter or morose. I didn’t find myself struggling to get off to sleep like I usually do after Arsenal suffer a defeat. I don’t really feel anything. There is a degree of ambivalence to when I think about The Arsenal. A reluctant acceptance of what happened yesterday as a sign of an inevitable failing of the club to live up to its self proclaimed mantra of moving ‘FORWARD’. And when you look at the former motto of the club – Victoria Concordia Crescit – or ‘Victory through harmony’, you can see that even that has been cast asunder right now.

There is no harmony at the club. The relationship between the fans and the club is at its lowest ebb since Arsene became manager, built up after Groundhog Day like seasons in which we have seen the gradual decline of the quality of the team without the needed replenishment of ‘super super quality’ players, but still resulting in the excitement of managing to get a top four spot by scrambling over the line by the time May comes around. Never more so was this distance emphasized than the toxic atmosphere that greeted the manager when the third Villa goal went in. I’ve heard the ‘spend some fucking money’ chants before, but it has never been sung with such passion, by so many, from throughout the ground. Where I stand in Block 5, you can always hear singing and we’re always involved in it, but that chant yesterday sounded like it came from the whole stadium.

Do I agree with it? Will it have helped the players? Yes and No. Yes I agree with the sentiment (who doesn’t?), and no it wouldn’t have helped the players, but the man charged with getting those players motivated and firing on all cylinders is at the heart of all that went wrong yesterday. Arsene Wenger is not the Arsene Wenger we all know. He is a relic of a Premier League that is long since forgotten. A time before the hyperinflation of billionaires changed the way football works. He is an old-school manager that thinks everything should be run through him and he has restructured the club so that he and he alone has the power to influence anything. And that just doesn’t work in today’s footballing world. You can’t head off to Asia and think ‘it’s fine, we’ll sort something out with players when we get back’. Other teams don’t. Other teams are working whilst they’re on their tours. Much like how we don’t seem to understand today’s big transfers and how to deal with them, it wouldn’t surprise me to know we didn’t really even know how to deal with heading off on a tour, preferring to send the whole staff and not have some people also working on bringing players in.

This is also what has led to my general apathy I’m afraid. I’ve spent half the blog talking about stuff which has nothing to do with the match yesterday. I’m not watching any replays, I don’t want to go through the pain again, but shocking refereeing aside, we looked very familiar to the side that rocked up at The Emirates a couple of seasons ago on the first home game of the season against Liverpool and lost 2-0. That team was managed by Kenny Dalgleish and it set the tone for the early part of the season. That LIverpool team was bang average and yet because of the Nasri and Fabregas situation that had happened during the summer, we were in turmoil. Koscienly went off injured early on leaving us – with a threadbare squad already due to injury (sound familiar?) – with a mountain to climb. Which was made more difficult by a Frimpong sending off with 20 minutes to go (sound familiar?) that made the chance of winning the game very difficult. The game included a Nasri that clearly didn’t want to be there and we looked all over the place. Arsene knew we were light in a few areas and so, after an 8-2 thrashing just before the deadline to Manchester United – who we saw as our rivals – he went out and bolstered the squad with Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos and Park. Fast forward two seasons and we’ve lost the first game of the season to a bang average team, we’ve suffered more injuries to a threadbare squad, plus we have the added bonus of playing our local rivals just before the transfer window shuts. Sounds like thee script has already been written, doesn’t it?

And yet I still haven’t been able to go into the detail of the match. Maybe that’s because part of me is thinking ‘what’s the point? They’ve read it all before. hell, they could probably go back into your archives and read similar blogs that have been written already’ – like I say, very Groundhog Day-like.

But let’s try to find something to talk about, shall we? Giroud’s first goal was well taken and we all hoped it would set the tone for the day. But unfortunately the casual way in which Agbonlahor sauntered into the penalty blogs through the Arsenal midfield and defence as if they weren’t there set the tone. Szczesny’s comical clearance from outside the box and then scrambling back to his goal to prevent being lobbed set the tone. Kieran Gibbs coming off with an injury forcing Sagna to play at left back for most of the match set the tone. Antony Taylor giving a second penalty for a good tackle from Koscienly and then moments later sending him off for a soft second bookable offence, whilst allow Rosicky shortly afterwards to be scythed down by Vlaar, who had already been booked, set the tone. You really couldn’t make it up – every that could possible go wrong went wrong yesterday.

Against a backdrop of serious mismanagement that has happened over the summer, it made for a cauldron of anger in N5 yesterday, except for this blogger, for some reason. I went along to the game with Ben and afterwards I was actually laughing about how farcical our situation has now become. Ben told me it was either that or cry, but I’m just not sure I could even muster the effort for that right now. I feel numb. Empty. Devoid of any kind of hope for the season and as a result apathy reigns in my head. I don’t want to be like this. I want to feel the excitement. I want to feel like we’re going to challenge. I want Arsenal to at least show that they care and they have the same ambitions we all do for the club. But I just don’t feel like that’s the case. The club want too keep going with their stockpiling mission. They want to continue to accumulate the already bulging wealth that they have. As a microcosm example of this, I see that the club have decided to add another 50p to the price of the matchday programmes. Hey, what’s 50p, we won’t notice, right? And besides, we all get a sticker album and stickers in each programme that we can collect throughout the season and make sure we buy every single programme, so that’s alright, isn’t it? Football isn’t really that expensive anyway with the football shirts, price of food and drink in the stadium or most expensive season tickets in the country. But hey, I’m sure the owner is looking closely at his toy and thinking about ways in which he can improve the football….

That’s it from me. Save, publish, switch off, avoid all sporting media channels for 24 hours. Back tomorrow with something else to talk about.

This is it: Villa at home

This is it. This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is why we first decided that football was to be our obsession of choice. This is why we choose The Arsenal.

The first game of the season.

It feels like so long ago I was heading up to Newcastle for my final dose of squeaky bum time for the 2012/13 season, yet it was only three months that I was there celebrating, full of the expectation of summer and what might lie ahead. We did what we set out to do, so all that was needed was to strengthen in the summer and make ourselves title contenders come 17th August.

This is not the time to be delving into the why’s and wherefore’s of missed opportunity, for opportunity lays in front of us in the shape of a brand-spanking, fresh-out-of-the-box, new-car-style season.

This is where the team get to alleviate our worries, or compound our concerns. Games exactly like today are what will define how this team can cope. We all know we’re a ‘little bit thin’ to go the whole season, but right now we have just one goal: victory against Aston Villa at home and three points.

This is when we find out who will be our chosen champions for the foreseeable future. I suspect Arsene will choose an unsurprisingly familiar line-up – it’s not like he’s given himself any other option – of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Gibbs, Arteta and Ramsey as the first names on the list (working back to front). But who will occupy the creative three positions will be interesting to see. Mitigating circumstances need to be factored in; Jack has come back from a few injuries and may just need easing in, Santi has travelled halfway across the world from a meaningless friendly, Poldi’s pre season hasn’t been the best of form, The Ox has done ok but not a lot more. The only players I think alas can definitely say should start today would be Walcott – his form surely dictates so after a good display for Eng-Ger-Land on Wednesday, and Giroud – the new and improved leaner, meaner and goalscoring machine…er. Giroud may be a default choice, but I suspect that even if he wasn’t, he’d be given the nod. There’s something about him that I’ve seen so far that I think will show he has the potential to be the main man at the club. Suarez or nay, Giroud will want to have a say.

My personal preference would be to play Jack in the top of the midfield trio, with Poldi on the left and Cazorla with a place on the bench. It’s nothing against Cazorla, in fact if he hadn’t had to jet across the world then he’d be in my starting eleven all day long, but the fact remains that he has (Update: I’ve just seen that Poldi and Per were jet setting over the other side of the world, so i have no idea now!!). Cazorla will have played on Wednesday night, probably stayed overnight in a hotel in Ecuador, flown back on Thursday (God knows how long the flight is from there), arrived Thursday evening as Arsene said (maybe with a bit of jet lag? Or at least sleep depravation. I’ve been on a Business Class long-haul flight and you may get the space and flat bed, but it doesn’t help you sleep in my experience), had Friday off to recover and be rocking up at The Emirates today. It’s not ideal preparation and I suspect Le Boss will know this and keep him in reserve to be called upon in the second half. If that’s the case, Poldi has the chance to show his value in the first team by impacting the game against the Villains. Assume he isn’t equally knackered.

All of this uncertainty just goes to show you how unwelcome those international friendlies were and how difficult it will be for Wenger to pick from a fully fit squad.

Our opponents today are a little bit of an unknown quantity as far as I’m concerned. Last season they were too strong to be relegated, but they were a young and inexperienced team, that could be taken to the sword on certain days. Has the experience of a relegation dog fight towards the end of the season impacted them? Made them stronger? I don’t know.

I do know that if we’re going to win today then we’ll need to keep the Aston Villa strikers Benteke and Weimann quiet and to do that we’ll need to be at our defensive best. The kind of best that we saw last season towards the end of season run. The kind of assured performances that could see us put together a run that sees transfer speculation sagas as a mere footnote in a successful season. That’s what we want. That’s what we all dream about.

They have some decent players at Villa and Lambert is trying to build a squad that grows up together. Time will tell whether he falls victim to the same ideologies as Arsene when he tried to do the same (I suspect that he probably will if unless Villa match players’ inflating wage packets if they have a good season) with our ‘Project Youth’, but despite Villa’s threat as an unknown quantity, and despite the fact they’ve done quite well at The Emirates over the years, I’m hoping that we will have far too much for them today. We need to show the same unity and team ethic that has been prevalent this pre-season and has been the only positive you can take from the summer of discontent so far. We need to get our season off to the best possible start.

And it starts with Villa at home.

Signing ‘Bircham’ and plotting victory

Well, it may not be the arrival of , but at least there is plenty of Arsenal related stuff for us to chew over this morning – what with the announcement of the fixtures for next season coming out at 9am yesterday. I’ll take a brief look at what’s in store and give some initial thoughts, but before I do that, I think it’s worth just pausing for a second and rewinding 18 years today to remember exactly where you were when it happened….Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal.

I was out the front o the house playing with my brother and my next door neighbour – that classic childhood game of headers and volleys – when my Dad popped his head out the front of our townhouse and told me that Arsenal had signed a player called ‘Bircham’. Confused but excited, I scurried in to the lounge and switched on to Teletext to read the announcement – we’d parted with £7.5million to sign Inter Milan’s Dennis Bergkamp. I think I grew an extra couple of inches taller just after reading that, such was the excitement, as well as the clear indication of intent laid down by the club. And without wanting to sound too old here, but £7.5million back then was akin to a £25-30million signing today, so it shows you what a big name can do for the club. And I don’t think there are many Gooners out there that wouldn’t agree that it wasn’t money well spent. Happy anniversary of your arrival Dennis.

Anyway, some thoughts on present day Arsenal, and it’s a start at home against Aston Villa that will greet us for the new season. Personally, I’m just glad it’s a home game. For me saving up for a house, away days are not the most frequent and whilst I try to get to three or four a season, it’s tough when you’re rolling up travel, accommodation and food into the overall price. So I don’t often go to the first away game of the season. What it means is that the season doesn’t really start until the first home game, so from my perspective, I always hope that we’re up first at home.

Villa at home will be an interesting one. They gave us a frustrating afternoon both home and away last year, even if we did still manage to pull off a victory at The Emirates anyway. They’ll be a bit of bedding in for their newer players, so the hope is that it takes them a few games to do that, just like it did for our new signings last year. More on that game closer to the time.

For me there are two key parts in the season that I think will determine how far we’ve come and where we’ll finish: the first four or five games, and the March period of games that see us play the Spuds, Chelski and Moneychester City in quick succession.

We’ve all seen what getting off to a good start can lead you to. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; one of the bet seasons we’ve had since that ‘barren spell’ we’ve had over the last eight years was where we won seven of our first ten games in 2007/8 which set us up for an assault on the league which only halted when Eduardo had an assault on his leg in Birmingham. Up until that point we had ridden the crest of a confidence wave that could have seen us pick up the title. All of Arsene’s teams have that swagger about them when they’re winning multiple games and putting runs together, but it’s the bouncing back from defeat that we’ve never always been able to master, which has cost us in the past. Our first three games are Villa at home, Fulham away and the Spuds at home. If you pick up maximum points from those three games you’re looking at a really positive start to the season and a springboard to look up at the top rather than down below you.

The second crucial part in the season is March. We have a run of tough games against Chelski, the Spuds and Moneychester City at a time where you’re either running for the title or you’re an also ran. When we hit March, we need to be in a position where we’re fighting for a top spot and ideally, you’ve got a few points as a buffer in case you drop some. All “ifs”, “buts” and “maybes” I know, but that is the beauty of the announcement of the fixture lists, because as a fan you get to dream of success and you still have the whole summer to hope for those stellar signings and plot how many points you need to bit your ideal aim for the season. For us Gooners, it’s 95 points and the Premier League in the bag with room to spare.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got time for today because TFL, being the wonderful people they are, have buggered up all of the Met Line trains into London. It all means I get to spend 15minutes in the armpits of a smelly commuter with a heavy breathing problem.

Until tomorrow.