Arsenal’s FA Cup: a new dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cup final. Your cup final. Arsenal’s cup final. Make history.

This is it people. Cup final day.

It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.

First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.

But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.

Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.

It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.

But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.

Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.

Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.

However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.

That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?

So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.

It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.

Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal  – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?

I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.

Come on you rip roaring reds.

Up the Arsenal.

FA Cup countdown begins – an analysis of Arsenal’s key decisions

It’s Friday, the week has nearly met its maker, but more importantly we’re less than 24 hours until FA Cup final Matchday.

Much like when Arsène said that he still gets the same buzz as last year and every other time we’ve won a trophy under his tenure, the cup tomorrow feels as exciting and new as it did last year. I feel as nervous as I did last year and I didn’t get much sleep last night so I expect it’ll be the same again.

You know how when you’re a kid the prospect of Christmas is so exciting you can’t get to sleep? Then, as you get older, it becomes less exciting to wake up early in the morning to scramble downstairs? Well I don’t know if you feel the same as me, but as I’ve gotten older the reverse has happened with The Arsenal. Each time we get to the eve of an event like tomorrow’s, I feel more excited than I did last time. Christmas has well and truly been usurped by The Arsenal. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday I did ‘The Arsenal Discussion’ with Giles and Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV, and it’s pleasing to see so many other people who have the same experiences as me. I’m not alone in the week-long run up to the cup and that is somewhat comforting. However, as Tim Stillman said in his excellent blog that I read yesterday about cup highs and lows (sorry, on the iPhone typing this so no link. Just visit Arseblog and have a look), by the time I’m walking up Wembley Way it will feel like I’m the only person going through this, so I’ll become insular and sullen until a five goal advantage has been established, or the whistle blows and we’ve been declared victorious. Of course defeat will merely continue my melancholy for the following week at least.

One of the key themes for yesterday’s discussion was on how Villa would set up, with the congregation of assembled Gooners not quite 100% sure how Tim will approach the game. Does he go with a style to frustrate and counter like Swansea? Or does he opt for a more expansive style by looking to have a go at Arsenal with more creative players pressing higher up the pitch?

Both will have merits as well as drawbacks. A defensive style with bodies behind the ball and looking to counter quickly will work only if Aston Villa’s back line hold firm. It will mean reliance on the pace of N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor to quickly counter with Benteke from deep in their own half, like Montero and Gomis a couple of weeks ago.

Alternatively, Sherwood could – and has suggested he would – play a more attacking brand of football like he did against Liverpool. In that game, Aston Villa concentrated their efforts predominantly on Liverpool’s right hand side, giving Grealish, Delph and Benteke the freedom to drift into that area of the pitch. If Theo starts tomorrow (and I don’t think he will for this reason), then Bellerin won’t get that same level of cover as Ramsey, so Arsène has a decision to make there. I can’t see a way Theo and Rambo get in to the same line up, not with Santi and Mesut fit, so I suspect it will be the Welshman who will be granted the starting journey.

Another interesting point flagged yesterday was the goalkeeping situation, in which again everyone was divided, but I stand firmly in the Szczesny camp. I don’t know if he’s the long-term solution any more, but Ospina continues to raise doubts in my mind, regardless of the fact he’s been playing regularly and has done ok for us.

I just think Szcseny is the better ‘keeper overall. I think he can be more commanding in the box and yes, whilst he does have a rick or two in his game, I also think he’s more likely to have an outstanding performance than the Colombian. And as I said yesterday on the debate, if Villa are going to look to take advantage of Benteke’s obvious aerial threat, who do you think is best positioned to snuff out any danger by repeatedly coming to collect balls placed deep in to the back post? Wojciech did that all day long against West Ham back in December, but I haven’t seen Ospina from image his area as much as yet, so for me it’s difficult to argue a case for him.

Anyway, why not have a listen for yourself before the game (again, apologies for no link), by having a virtual wander over to Arsenal Fan TV on YouTube and searching for ‘The Arsenal Discussion’.

I’ll see you tomorrow!

Heartbreak for Welbeck and a hint on Theo vs Giroud?

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

Well, everybody, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Googling for hope, lucky pants and the FA Cup final: a Gooners strife

We football fans are a curious breed, aren’t we? 

I find myself today thinking about superstition. I’m not a superstitious person myself. I have no problem walking over three drains, I’ll never salute a magpie, nor will stepping underneath a window cleaners ladder straddling a path cause me to deviate. Yet when it comes to football, I seem to ignore the rational part of my brain and engage what Dr Steve Peters would call my ‘inner chimp’. Last night, for example, upon examining my FA Cup final ticket, I saw that Arsenal supporters are to be situated in the East Side of Wembley, a side for which I have never actually watched Arsenal at. I wasn’t at the Community Shield game against City at the start of the season, so I can’t comment on where we were situated for that match, but all I know of Wembley since I got my season ticket in 2010 is that I’ve watched all cup games in the West Side.

A mild panic set in. I started Googling ‘which side is the lucky side at Wembley?’, hoping not to find that my suspicions were correct and no team in the history of any cup game played at Wembley had ever won with their supporters in the East Side. That of course didn’t really help, as FAQs from Yahoo and other search engines merely brought up witty responses like: “The lucky side of Wembley is the winning side”.

Har-de-effin-Har Lee7294910, this is an emergency here and you’re making jokes? Can’t you see a man’s sanity is at stake here??

Googling answers to questions like the ones I posed rarely return fruitful results, merely more questions as you find other superstitions to terrify you. Like the fact there is a ‘lucky’ dressing room which is the East dressing room. 

Ahh, mild relief, as we’re in that dressing room. But wait a second, this other article from 2012 states that the ‘home’ dressing room, which is where the England players get changed, is the lucky one. Plus, there’s a psychological boost to feeling like you’re at ‘home’, isn’t there? 

This is all getting too much. Then I find out that we’re in our away kit and will play in yellow. YELLOW! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN! WHAT SORT OF SIGN IS THAT!?!?!

I’m going to have to counter all of this negative superstition with a dose of my own personal rituals. 

Lucky socks, you’re getting worn. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nice day and you’re fleeced on the inside, on you go.

Yellow Invincibles replica kit, you’re back for the final, do your stuff.

Three drains? I’ll long jump you bar stewards if I have to. 

Rabbits foot? Well there might be a pet down the street I could use. But I don’t really feel like butchering one, so does it still count if I rub it against me?

And if I see a magpie, I’ll goose step all the way home, just to be doubly sure. Heck, if I see a Newcastle fan, I’ll doff my cap. Even if I haven’t got one. I’ll borrow one from a passing old man. Unless there isn’t an old man near. Perhaps I can hire an old man with a flat cap to walk behind me a few paces until Saturday morning? Then I can borrow the cap if the need arises. Yes, that sounds like a perfectly acceptable and logical thing to do. After all, the FA Cup is at stake here.

Don’t all thank me now, just remember to thank me on Sunday, unless we lose. In which case I had nothing to do with it.

Unless I haven’t gone far enough to counter the luck…

…pants. I need to find some lucky pants.

Job done in the league and a decent season overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permutations, as St Totteringham’s draws ever nearer

So it appears that it’s not just football in which there are some ‘boring boring’ tactics used, as Floyd Mayweather decided that yesterday he’d rather celebrate the equivalent of a 0-0 to beat Manny Pacquiao by winning on points in what I am reading from people on social media, was more of a snugglefest from the American. I’m sure John Terry was somewhere in his kit to walk around with Mayweather’s belts afterwards.

As for real football, there isn’t really much to get excited about today and I’m certainly not going to even dream of talking about that team eventually lifting the trophy this afternoon. It’s painful enough having to watch them play us twice a season, so that’s one lunchtime kick off Sky Sports can keep to themselves.

The 4pm kick off however, presents an interesting match up, because someone of the Spuds or Moneychester City will be dropping points this afternoon. That’s a good thing. If the Spuds lose today then only a draw on Monday night means that mathematically it will be St Totteringham’s Day celebrations for us all. A defeat will probably mean we’re on the brink of it anyway, because we have a +25 goal difference over that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. Just think about that for a second. 25 Goals. We have a better ratio of goals than them of 25. That’s like quarter of a season’s worth or something.

If the Spuds do win, however, St Totteringham’s Day will have to wait, but it should take us on the verge of securing a top four spot at the very least. That’s also good. Moneychester City will have played two games more than us and any kind of defeat takes the goal tally even closer; they’ve got +34 to our +31 at the moment.

A draw might even be the best result. It would mean that with three matches to play for both Liverpool and the Spuds, we would effectively need a Monday night win to be nine clear of Liverpool and another hefty swing of goal difference in our favour.

But we’re not looking down, we’re only looking up and we should be going for as close to top as possible. Man United did us a favour – well, I suppose it was West Brom that did us the favour – by losing to West Brom and that defeat means second place is well within our grasp. I know you get no prizes for second, but for a change, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about qualifying via a double-header in August? Also, I’m pretty sure that finishing second will have a massive bearing on us being in Pot 2, in which we’ll most likely get a slightly easier group stage (in theory). So whilst there will be no pleasure in being runners-up in a season in which Chelski win the league, that might prove some consolation.

With Aston Villa also picking up wins left, right and centre, we need to maintain our momentum, because they’ll go into the FA Cup final with a spring in their step. I’m hoping that they can win a couple more games, get safe in the Premier League and then take their foot off the gas a little bit, because I don’t want to be facing a Villa team who have got a bit of swagger about them. When they knocked Liverpool out of the last round I was genuinely over the moon because I thought we should be able to cut down a Villa side with whom we’ve already picked up six points and eight goals, but as I see them picking up win after win under Timmy ‘The Gilet’ Sherwood, I worry that they will sweep into Wembley riding high on a wave of confidence that will have us looking a bit worried. Reading managed to contain and at times out play us and there’s no doubt Villa have a better side for this game to be much more difficult, more nervy and more worrisome than even last year’s cup final. Weve got a recent history of being outdone by Villa – especially at home, so I’d probably be more confident if the game was being played at Villa Park!

Still, let’s just be happy that we’re reaching the end of the season and we still have plenty to play for. Prior to last season we were in a cycle which seemed to be forever accepting a battle for fourth, so to have an actual trophy to play for two seasons running is a wonderful thing.

And on that note of positivity, I am going to say my goodbyes to you all. Have a happy Sunday and whatever you do, don’t put yourselves through the torture of watching events in West London unfold this lunchtime. Read a book, or do some chores, it will be much more fulfilling.

Evil shall not overcome the Arsenal, momentum must prevail

After Chelski’s win yesterday all but confirmed them as Champions, I’m preferring to look on the positive side of life, rather than accept that evil has prevailed this Premier League season.

For example, when Chelski beat Crystal Palace this weekend (and we know they will with Palace safely tucked away in mid table), there will still be three weeks before the end of the season. Nobody will care by then that the axis of evil that is petro dollar, the world’s most annoying Portuguese (came close with Ronaldo), as well as a team led by a racist tosser of a human, has picked up silverware. In fact, we’ll all have forgotten that the most dislikable team in history are champions.

Secondly, this Chelski team will go down as champions, but nobody will remember anything about this season in five years time. I can live with that.

Thirdly, once the weekend’s results are completed and the plastic chavs have had their crowing in workplaces across London, all eyes will focus on the FA Cup final and the remaining Champions League places. That’ll do for me.

So all-in-all, there are many reasons to be cheerful at the moment. Theo certainly thinks so too. He’s labelled us the best team in the world in 2015. As much as I love the sentiment from him and as much as it’s true we are one of the best teams, if you look at that Monaco result as well as the fact that Barcelona have picked up more points in winning their league, we have to concede that we’re playing second fiddle to the catalan’s at the moment. 

Having said that, we are still the team in form in England, which certainly bodes well for next season if we can maintain our momentum. That’s why the next five league games and one cup final are so important. They are important for the context of morale and the belief that progress has been made – finishing second in the league would certainly suggest that – but also in terms to taking momentum in to next season. Remember 20112/13? We had a brilliant end to the season which secured Champions League football over that lot down the road, but what it also did was build a platform for us to start the following season strongly, which we most certainly did. That’s what we need to do next season and I feel the only way we can carry that momentum into it will be victories over Hull, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom. If we get that we could even afford a loss at Old Trafford and still finish second. Then we have an FA Cup final to play and if we win that then you have to say he season has been a success.

But we simply must maintain our form. The players all seem up for it. As Theo alluded to, the competition in the squad is strong at the moment, which means the players are fighting hard to win a place and harder to retain it. That’s the blueprint for a successful modern Premier League squad. Players have to know that the other guy is taking their jersey and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an Arsenal team that has had that in such abundance before. The Invincibles didn’t. They had eleven of the best players in the world in their position with a few class players in rotation, but we’re able to stay fit, in the main. Today’s game does seem to allow for that as much and so a modern Arsenal team needs to be a squad of 18 or 19 first team outfield players at least. By my reckoning we’ve got more than that. So I’m happy right now.

I think that’s pretty much it from me today. Stay positive in the wake of some dark Premier League times gooners, we can all stick together – us and the fans of 18 other clubs in solidarity – and not let the evil overcome us.

Surprises dished out, but it doesn’t change what we need to do

So how about that then, and Arsenal/Liv….oh…

Come on now, hands up who legitimately thought that Aston Villa would be the victor in the other cup semi final yesterday? Certainly not me and certainly not the English press. That guy you always see carving the name of the team on the trophy was already at ‘pool’ if you believe what all of the pro-Liverpool hacks would believe, so for Villa to spoil the party makes this weekend all the more juicy to savour, as there’ll be no ten minute BBC montages of Steven Gerrard’s career to endure, nor comments about ‘fate’, ‘history’ or the ‘romance of the cup’. Well, maybe a little bit of the last one, but at least it won’t be Scouse directed. 

What this means for Arsenal in practice is little, however, because we’ll still have Premier League opposition to overcome and after the meal we made of the Reading game and Hull in the final last year you can’t expect anything but a tough game. Villa also have a track record of playing us away from home and getting a good result, so when the game does come around then we’ll have plenty to worry about, regardless of how Villa finish the season.

For us the attention can now firmly turn towards the league and whilst the title is, unfortunately 99.9% gone for us, we still have the opportunity to grasp the runners up spot. Hey, it’s not what we want – especially with Chelski the victors – but if it means that we can continue the momentum by keeping our good form going into next season, I think Arsène will be looking at next season as one in which we’re going to have a right to at the league.

I expect this week to be a quiet one to be honest. We’ve got seven more days before we play that horrible lot, to which the focus will surely be to remove this pesky Mourinho hoodoo he has over Wenger, then the plan will be to get as much distance between us and the chasing pack so we can spend the countdown to the cup final enjoying the inporoving weather and The Arsenal.

Quite who Arsène plays in the upcoming matches will be a tough one to work out. He said post-match that the reason he bought Debuchy back was because he wanted to protect Bellerin from suffering any injury setbacks in his ankle, having played well recently, so perhaps he will still be given a shot after a week’s rest? It’s probably doubtful, but the options Arsène now has at his disposal are scarily good, if even say ‘field two teams’ good with everyone fit at the moment. In fact, with the way things are going, you almost want us to hurry up and get daylight between the teams in third and fourth below us, just so the manager can rotate the team and have a look at everyone before the final comes around! Never thought we’d see that during the wilderness years of Denilson, Bendtner and Squillaci, did we?

Tis’ a good day to be an Arsenal fan. The sun is out, the team is in form and even this touch-tight Metropolitan line train isn’t causing me any irritation. 

Long may this continue! Well, at least until June, then if we can start all over again in August, that would be great!

Click, click, BOOM

At the weekend we managed to chalk up our fifth consecutive win, albeit against a very Pony and Trap Aston Villa side, so it would be very churlish to poo-poo your side when they score five (sexy) goals against a fellow premier league team. We’ve come up against equally poor sides and not given them that sort of a hiding. The way Villa kick a football around a football pitch is atrocious. It’s been said that a team plays in the image of their manager. Heavens, Paul Lambert must be a shit lay. “Fancy it love?”…”Nah, I’m reading the magnolia paint catalogue [sips tea]”.

The biggest difference of late, apart from the alignment of the stars, is that we’ve stopped drawing games. It’s now only one draw in the last 10 Premier League fixtures for The Arsenal. We drew half of our opening 10 fixtures. You know L-W-W > D-D-W and all that.

The start of the season Arsène set-up the side with a very different feel, shape. The 4-1-4-1 formation. It led to the side looking very disjointed and at a point where the general consensus was a warm fuzzy feeling that we might be onto something here, but we certainly weren’t playing like it. More Puke-y. I wonder if Arsène ever got caught roaming the corridors of Colney with a bottle of Neuf-de-Pape screaming “COHESION! you peasants [swigs]”. What seemed bizarre was the timing of the decision and trying to implement a brand new system without (really) trialling it during pre-season. The old system (4-2-3-1) had its benefits, but Arsène’s decision was based on making us more defensively sound in the bigger games, at which point I’d like it on record that I’m a huge fan of not conceding six at Stamford Bridge (please, never, ever again).

I think Arsène was/is trying to build a tactical flexibility into this group of players. Something we seem to misplace at the most important times. If we can go into games with the opposition trying to second guess us, it can only be a good thing for the team, make us more unpredictable and more likely to have victory through tactical outwitting. We saw against Manchester City that possession wasn’t as precious as it once was for us. It’s more about how, and where, we use the ball. Giroud, for example, seems to be less of a bumper in a pinball machine, but now more of a roaming target. He’s becoming a very all-rounded football player. I’ve always been very obsessed with skill and technique. As aesthetically pleasing as Giroud’s face is, sometimes when he’s travelling with the ball, he looks like a new born giraffe on a skateboard. Putting that glorious image to one-side, tactically, mentally, physically, he’s very astute and helps the side purr.

I’ve found it very interesting watching Mesut at the weekend. His demeanor, hunger to play football again appeared to be shining bright again. I wonder how effected he was after winning the World Cup. Per openly admitted he struggled with coming back to normality. I wonder if Özil needed a shock to his system to get him firing again. Before he went off on gardening leave, down to the potting shed, there was angst amongst fans that was born from his deployment “out wide”. I’d like to shatter some hearts and say that doesn’t make a fucking difference to Mesut Özil.

*Whispers* I think Mesut can only be on the flanks in a 4-1-4-1 (opposition dependant). I think he has to admit to himself that he has to make some ‘sacrifices’ to his game to benefit the team as a unit. He’ll have to learn, adapt his movements. When to swap flanks, when to drift. In the coming weeks, I’ll think you’ll see him become more of a ‘Nasri’; offer balance to the side out wide. He’s always calm in possession, he can carry the ball, but Özil cutting in from the wing will give him several options and opportunities to play the killer pass he’s so good at.

The other ‘1’ in the team to get a honourable mention is Francis Coquelin. He’s benefitted and impressed with his promotion. Not long ago he was sitting on the bench at The Valley for Charlton. He was not only playing for his Arsenal career, he’s was playing for his Football career (at the top level), but Coquelin’s introduction coincides with our stronger unit. A strong unit makes a holder’s job so much easier. In his first few games his decision making was very erratic and dubious, but he’s grown very quickly and if his presence means more focus on ‘unit strength’, I’m all for his inclusion.

The biggest strength of 4-1-4-1, also seems to be it’s greatest weakness. It’s great when everything clicks into place and the balance is right, but if a few things are out of place, it will go tits up.

Be happy,

Ben.