The best results-based weekend we could hope for

I’m in a surprisingly good mood for a Monday, don’t you know, and let’s not pretend it’s not anything else than one of the greatest ‘during the season’ Premier League weekends that any Arsenal fan could have.

Why? Well not only did The Arsenal emphatically put away an in-form Villa team, but every single other team that will most likely finish in the top seven, dropped points of some regard. Liverpool went down to Wessstahhhhhm, the Spuds were defeated at home to West Brom, United were torn apart by Leicester (as quickly as they were ‘back’, they’ve gone ‘back’ on being ‘back’), Everton lost at home to Palace and then Chelski and Moneychester City shared an oil-whoring point between themselves.

I have this weird thing that I’m only truly happen with an Arsenal win if I know that at least one ‘rival’ has dropped points during the weekend. It means we’ve put a little bit of distance between an opponent each time. So when you have weekend’s like this, under my weird logic, it almost feels like we’ve been granted six points this weekend.

To top it all off, we get to be positive about performances like Mesut Özil’s, or Santi Cazorla, or Danny Welbeck. Heck, even Arteta was steady and assured enough at Villa Park, such was the comfort afforded to the team through a quick-fire round of three goals in four minutes. The questions that exist about his ability to boss the bigger games will still remain, but for matches such as this weekend we have a more than capable captain.

Such is the manner and fast-paced nature of football at the moment – with the games coming thick and fast – there is little time to bask in the reflective glow of our awesomeness and everyone else’s inferiority, as the gazes will already be cast towards a Capital One Cup game at home to Southampton. There will be more over the coming days regarding who we might play, but I did have a bit of a chat with a fellow Gooner follower on Twitter yesterday about wholesale changes to the team, as I am most certainly in favour. In fact, with the NLD at home on Saturday, I am hoping that there isn’t one player that will play in that game that rocks up on Saturday early evening. We need a clean and fit bill of health for that match up, so changes to give some of the other players a place in the side will be essential to us having a proper go at the Spuds.

Plus, let’s not forget that the squad is big enough now that we could feasibly see a team made of first team players rather than youth prospects, so it’s even more reason to push for a major reshuffle.

I think there’s almost an inevitability that Welbeck and Özil will be rested, which is just as well given Le Boss talked up their combination play with Mesut playing through the centre. The first goal at the weekend was somewhat of a role reversal for both players against Villa, with Welbeck providing the ball in behind the defenders for Özil to slot home, showing that the fluidity of the team is paramount for the system that Arsène wants his team to play to work.

It is interesting that Arsène has talked up that link play and hasn’t spoken yet of the link up play between Alexis and Özil. Perhaps it is because they haven’t been deployed as a traditional number ten and a striker as yet, or perhaps it is because Alexis is still finding his feet in terms of making those runs in behind defenders, but I suspect we’ll see a bit more between all of that three attacking players as the season wears on. What you can say about all three players is that they are very good at bringing other players into play. They move the ball well, keep retention of the ball well too, which allows for more fluidity and movement of runners in beyond the person that might have dropped deeper to receive the ball like Welbeck did for the first goal.

Welbeck himself has spoken about how he feels there is more to come from him now that he is off the mark and you suspect he’s right. As with Alexis, getting that all important first goal means everything for the confidence and so let’s hope that it means he’ll be slotting home a few chances on Saturday evening against the old enemy too.

That’s all there is from me today. You stay super.

The return of Mesut: Villa review

I remember when I was a wee nipper, Arsenal were away to Liverpool and we hadn’t lost to the scousers for our four years. I was at football training on the Saturday morning and I spent the whole time gloating, so much so he got a bit wound up and left training early to cry. When it came to game time, Robbie Fowler scored a four minute hat-trick and it was me that was the cryer, so when listening to yesterday’s three-goals-in-three-minutes-a-thon at Villa Park made me happy but reflective of the feeling that the Fowler hat-trick did to me that day.

Thankfully I can talk about yesterday’s events safe in the knowledge that a tricky away trip to Villa went exactly to plan for The Arsenal. Three goals, three points, players picking up morale-boosting performances.

Arsène finally listened to his own heart and decided to play Özil through the middle, to wonderful effect, as the German had by far the best game he’s had all season. He dictated play, he got a well taken goal (still had a lot to do when he slotted the ball home, so he should get credit for that), managed to get himself a decent assist and generally looked like the player of this time last year. It’s exactly the type of performance he needed and I’m sure when the final whistle went he was one of the happiest on the pitch. The belief this will give him is important, very much so given our opponents next weekend, so there isn’t a Gooner around that isn’t waking up with a smile this morn.

Arsène too will feel vindicated, because there was a certain air of surprise that he hadn’t benched his Turko-German playmaker, given his recent form. But whilst Arsène changed the line up yesterday – partially to freshen and partially because he had no choice through injuries – he also changed the style slightly with Özil being asked to play through the middle. I’m not sure why being given the role in the middle made a difference, because Wenger has said that he has licence to roam the whole pitch (which heat maps have shown over the last couple of games), but perhaps there’s a psychological element to being in the middle that allows Özil to feel more comfortable.

Whatever the theory behind it, the practice worked, so whilst I/we all chastise Arsène when he gets things wrong, you can’t say anything else other than he got things very right yesterday. So I tip my cap to Le Boss.

Welbeck too popped up with a very well taken strikers goal and, with some important games coming up, it’s important that he is off the mark, because the longer a new striker goes without a goal the more the monkey on his back grows. Let’s hope for more of the same next Saturday.

The game itself was won and lost in the space of five minutes which makes most of the match review element of this blog largely irrelevant, but there should be a shout out to Szczesny, because the Arsenal ‘keeper made a very good save from a Clark header before we scored our quick-fire goals, so we must be thankful for his intervention on the goal-bound effort. Villa had started brightly and they’ve already proven that they can hold on to leads by sitting deep when one up this season, so had that have gone in then today’s narrative might have been quite different.

What else is there to say? We did what was needed and picked up three points at a tricky place to go. We now have Southampton in the COC and then an NLD to stir the passions even more on Saturday evening.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

Arsène and his cassette, they won’t countenance freebies

I wonder why Arsène hasn’t had his pre-match presser yet? He normally does these things on a Spursday when we’re away from home at the weekend, so to leave it all until the last minute, is a bit strange.

Mind you, given his love for a last minute deal – see any of the last four or five transfer windows for an example of that – perhaps he’s developed a penchant for leaving everything in his world to the last minute. When he needs to go the the loo (the one where you have to take a paper or your 5110 to play snakes on), I bet he waits until he is touching cloth before he heads to the throne room.

Perhaps he’s waiting for some good news on Jack and Debuchy. Maybe he thinks that if he waits a little longer he’ll be told that Debuchy will be out for two weeks whilst Jack will be ready for the weekend, but come on now Arsène, we are Arsenal. We’re masters of the worlds longest ‘three-weeks away’ injuries and unlike Chelski, who I’m convinced also sold their souls to the devil every time I see them get away with something (like the Costa lengthy injury that turned out to be a week), we aren’t afforded any kind of good fortune when it comes to injuries.

Maybe he’s just decided that he can’t be arsed with the journos any more. That would be funny. Seeing them all eagerly waiting for his arrival and which words they can seize and re-shape to their own agenda, only to be greeted with one of the PR team quietly walking in with a life-size cardboard cut out of Le Boss and a tape player – a full on old fashioned one that you have to put a cassette into – to which they hit play and all they here on a continuous loop for ten minutes is Arsène saying “congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!” and so on and so forth.

All this is to say that there really isn’t much to say about The Arsenal today. The players have been speaking to the site about how they must learn from their mistakes, not be naive, yada-yada-yada, but we’ve all heard it before. And besides, none of us like reading or talking about the spoken response from poor performances on the official site, we like talking about how they went away from home after a tough midweek game and gave Aston Villa a right old tonking.

Obviously that’s highly unlikely, but I’d be over the moon with any result that can get us three points come 5pm on Saturday. Villa has always been a tough place for us to go, so I’m not expecting anything less that a really close game, but more on that tomorrow with a match preview I think.

There’s nowt really else going on I’m afraid. Unless you countenance the rumour that Arsenal are in for Lassana Diarra, a free agent after leaving Russia, but I’m not really buying that one I’m afraid. Firstly, he left in slightly acrimonious circumstances, bemoaning Arsène and the lack of game time he got. Secondly, he would probably represent a very Flaminiesque-style signing, to which we already have Flamini so one would have to wonder what the point would be. Thirdly, like it or not, Arsène loves Arteta and he’s his captain so I don’t think he’ll be benching him regularly this season. Do you?

So I suspect that those of you who are wondering about the free transfer market, should probably cast your gaze elsewhere, because this is the squad we have for the next three and a bit months and we need to hope that Arsène finds a solution from within to the shoddy start to the season we’ve had.

As for me, I’m going to go to work, look forward to the weekend and put up some curtains. That’s not metaphorical, I literally am putting up curtains tomorrow, I’m that rock and roll.

Catch you tomorrow.

Formations aren’t the problem, form is

Hello fellow Arsenal supporting friend. I am glad you made it. Shall we converse about the only real team in London worth talking about? Why not, eh? But before we do, I must say, I’m looking forward to the pasting that Chelski receive today from the media after they could muster only a 1-1 draw at home to a Schalke team that are currently languishing towards the bottom of the Bundesliga.

Or how about Moneychester City, whose opponents Bayern managed just three shots less than Dortmund, but who ultimately came away with the same amount of points as us from Germany? I’ve already seen the Metro today, who talk about how City put in a gutsy performance. It would be interesting to see what the response had been had City conceded in first half stoppage time. Media narratives and all that jazz…

That’s not to excuse The Arsenal. We were dreadful and there needs to be a reaction this weekend when we rock up against The Villans in Birmingham. The players have already come out with their apologies, but it’s not that which we seek, it’s victories.

But two wins from seven is hardly title contending form, so Arsenal fan amongst Arsenal fan is currently trying to dissect why we have started so poorly. Injuries? Perhaps. But we have a squad and players with quality enough to put on better displays than we’ve seen. Injuries are part and parcel of the modern game, regardless of the frequency with which they seem to happen to our beloved team. Mathieu Debuchy took to social media yesterday to tell his public that he will find out tomorrow if he needs ankle ligament surgery. One suspects the answer, given the side that he plays for, is almost certainly going to be ‘yes’. That will most likely keep him out until November and the exact problem we didn’t want when the window slammed shut has befallen us earlier than expected. But expected nonetheless.

But I’ve spoken enough over the weeks about the injury curse. Lord knows, you’ve probably read enough from everyone who has something to say about Arsenal, so you don’t need me rabbiting on about it. Instead, I wanted to talk briefly about this change of formation we’re supposed to have had this season.

Now I’m no expert, able to tactically dissect each Arsenal game and offer insight and intelligence that will make you say out loud ‘huh, interesting’, so I can only comment on what I see. There seems to be a general consensus that Arsène has changed the formation of the side this season from last year’s 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation. This is, according to some, having a detrimental effect on the way in which we play our football. We are being overrun in defensive midfield and we are not looking as fluid as we did this time last year. So this widely held view is that we should ditch 4-1-4-1 and return to the 4-2-3-1 formation.

As I said, I’m no tactical genius, but I don’t really see that our formation has changed at all from last season. Last season we had one player at least dropping deep to cover defensive space (usually Arteta), with one player operating in that all action ‘box-to-box’ role (usually Ramsey) and the creative playmaker in front of them (usually Özil). Then in front of those there was your two wide men and a forward.

Given that Özil is afford licence to roam the pitch as he pleases, that Arteta is still sitting at the base of the midfield and that Ramsey’s role he’s been asked to perform, how has our set up in the middle of the park changed at all? Even the front three hasn’t really changed that much in style, just in personnel, with Alexis out wide and Welbeck up top. Özil’s free role has been shifted further forward to accommodate Wilshere, but that hasn’t really changed us that much, has it?

I’m no Arsène apologist – he frustrates the hell out of me with his actions sometimes – but this perception that he is failing tactically because of the change in formation is a misnomer to me. It’s a convenient school of thought for those that want to use the ‘Arsène doesn’t do tactics, that’s why he should go’ brigade, because I don’t think much has changed tactically from last season. Besides, the players who are asked to do the attacking part of the team are given licence to be fluid in their positioning anyway, so saying that we have defined players for each part of the pitch is a fallacy anyway. It’s the fluidity of the side that made us so successful in the first half of last season, to which I remember blogging about at the time, so I’m certainly not going to suggest Arsène goes all Mourinho on us (shuddering at the thought) and asks his players to be very precise in their role in the team. That is not conducive to the attacking and exciting football we can produce.

So if we have a strong squad (except defence), and the formation and style hasn’t changed, then what has goner wrong that has stopped us from clicking just yet? In my opinion, it’s something as simple as form. Mesut is out of it, Ramsey is failing to replicate it from last season and the back two aren’t showing it (we’re conceding at set pieces again and Dortmund’s two goals were preceded by some very laboured defending I must say). Too many players haven’t clicked in to gear and we have to hope they can. And quick.

You can’t train form. You have to play your way through the bad stuff. That’s what turned Rambo into last seasons world beater and is looking like it’s starting to have the desire effect with Wilshere. We just need a few more players to show form and I think we’ll be back on track.

Anyway, that’s just my uninformed opinion, but what’s yours?

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!