Happy with the Champions League draw, little less happy about squad depth

Winning the Champions League is hard. We’ve never done it and we’re a club who has won almost anything you can win in football, often multiple times, so whilst it’s always interesting to see who we’ll get in the Group Stages of the Champions League, it didn’t really bother me too much.

The truth is, we’ve got a decent pedigree in the initial phases and with Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos making up the other teams aside from Bayern Munich, you’d still fancy us to progress. It’s pretty irrelevant which Pot 1 team we’d have got. We’ve finished first and second in our groups before and still been knocked out in the round of 16 or quarter finals.

I’m not being defeatist. If we get a decent result at home against Bayern,  you’d hope we can get wins home and away against the other two teams and be in the running for topping the group, giving us the better chance of progressing in the next round. But the belief has to be there regardless, if we ever want to get to the final again.

That belief starts by putting a run together domestically and there’s no better time to start the aforementioned confidence building than by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park. It won’t be easy and I’ll have a bit of a match preview for you tomorrow, but Arsène was quizzed in his pre-game presser and he spoke of how tight and fought the games always are up there. It’s true; we may have had three wins on the bounce, but each of them have been by just a goal margin and there have always been scary moments in which I’ve looked at The Management with my hands over my mouth and a worried glance.

The manager also spoke about the importance about managing abroad and how that will Schtand Schteve in good stead. I agree. He’ll be able to conflab with Wijnaldum in his mother tongue and tone, so we’ll need to be careful of the Dutchman getting proper instructions and actually doing us some damage on Saturday.

As for us, we need to improve our end product, which is also something Arsène picked up on. He’s right in his assertion that teams sit deeper at home, but sometimes that can also be true away and I suspect we’ll see Newcastle trying to remain solid for the start of the game tomorrow and grow in confidence. It’s probably also why we haven’t seen that much of Theo, because when teams defend deeper his primary asset – raw and explosive pace – is often negated. I suspect we’ll get the same tomorrow too.

What we won’t get is a new face announced, which I’m fine with to be honest, because we have football to distract us from the salvia thing and foaming at the mouth of many people. I prefer to concentrate on the real thing rather than the speculation. Life’s too short don’t you know. But I am starting to get a little bit more apprehensive about whether or not we can compete. I’ve been so resolute all summer about how we don’t really need an engine overhaul, just a fine tune, but having seen our stuttering start I’ve started to waiver in my own belief. It’s sad, I know, but I can’t help it. It’s probably partially driven by Moneychester City’s brilliant start, as well as the lacklustre finishing on our part, but I am starting to get worried every time Coquelin goes down holding a part of his body. I still believe that Arteta is a good player and will be valuable to us, but when that thought process gets immediately countered in my head by “yeah. but sure only when we are a couple of goals up early on against Swansea or Stoke at home?”, I get flashes of doubt that grow bigger. I do think we need a destroyer. The return of Welbeck will at least mean we have another option alongside Theo if Giroud isn’t working, so numbers-wise we’re fine, but that centre midfield anchor is still missing. None of us want a prolonged period of games where Flamini is attempting to relive his previous Arsenal life, so let’s hope Arsene is looking at that position more than a striker.

Maybe it’s a bit of a reverse of what he’s done in the past. You know, like when we all cried out for another striker, so Arsene went out and bought Monreal. Or when we all wanted another defender and up pops Andre Arshavin. Maybe whilst everyone is screaming for a Benzema, Wanyama can sneak in through the back door at Colney and then jump out of a bike cake for us on September 2nd? We shall see.

Anyway, I’m off to prep for my sojourn up north, so I’ll catch thee in the morrow for a pre-match musing from Morpeth.

Coquelin’s chance, Bayern await (again)?

The two bits of news that will invariably dominate the Arsenal-related headlines today are the Champions League foregone conclusion of Arsenal vs Bayern Munich or Madrid (also known as the ‘Round of 16 draw’), as well as the perpetual treatment table merry-go-round that is our injury list of players.

It’s The Ox who is the latest player to be struck down with the plague and almost inevitably it feels like we’ll lose him for next weekend’s game against Liverpool. It’s a Liverpool team who appear to have been tonked by United, so whilst you’d hope that we can profiteer from their lack of confidence at the moment, this is The Arsenal and I’d expect nothing less than the Scousers to buck their poor form this season and play as if they were getting relegated in the morning if they don’t win. But more of that in he count down to that game later in the week.

For now, let’s try and play a fun game of ‘who the bloody hell do we have left?’, shall we? Because let’s face it, after The Ox, Arteta, Ramsey, Özil and Wilshere, we really do run quite short on first teamers in midfield. It’s why Francis Coquelin must be wondering why he didn’t buy a Euromillions ticket last weekend I’ll wager. After all, he’ll have gone from Charlton midfielder to first choice Arsenal ball winner in the middle of the park within the space of a week. It goes to show you that a week is a long time in football I guess! But also, that things can change quickly. Picture this: Le Coq starts at Anfield. Has a blinder. We win the game. He’s given another shot in midfield and plays another stormer against QPR. He goes to West Ham full of confidence and continues his form. When you take into account his superb performance at full back against Southampton in the Capital One Cup, it goes to show you how quickly life moves in the football world. Especially at this time of year. A player only needs to see a couple of colleagues unavailable for two weeks at the end of December, then suddenly he can find himself having strung together four or five games and may even be able to retain his place.

Now, I appreciate that this is all very hopeful speculation on my part, but I’ve always rated Coquelin. I’ve always felt that he was never really given his opportunity on an extended basis and, when you consider how long Denilson was afforded to prove that he wasn’t toilet (which he didn’t even manage), it is perhaps surprising that Arsène didn’t give Francis his chances earlier on in his career.

Still, water under the bridge, as well as an opportunity for a player to show the manager the error of his ways, providing the Ox is of course out for next weekend’s clash. I’m sure we’ll find out later on in the week, as the players now have three days off to recharge their batteries, which is a good thing given the hectic schedule that is about to envelope their lives. Hopefully being knocked out of the COC will be good for us in the long run.

The only other thing to contemplate is this Champions League draw. We’ve once again made it tough for ourselves, so I don’t expect us to be given any kind of easy ride by the footballing gods. After all, we’ve played the best teams in the competition at the earliest knockout stage for the last five years I think, so why buck the trend now?

I don’t really care who we play, if I’m honest, because we are unlikely to win the competition based on our play this season. I don’t want to be too much of a ‘neg’ about this draw, but there are oil-whoring clubs, the mega-rich spenders like Madrid and Barcelona, plus a Bayern side that will pass us all to death, so we’re going to come up against one of those teams at some stage anyway. We might as well do it earlier. What I will want to see though, is a fight to the death, when we do play one of those big teams. I want them to realise we’re not totally a spent force in Europe and to give somebody a real fun for their money.

Sigh…look at how things have changed, eh? We’ve gone from footballing powerhouse to plucky underdogs. I hate being ‘plucky’. I prefer arrogance and victory. It’s much more enjoyable I find. You?

Anyway, that’s pretty much all there is at the moment, particularly with no players around to talk up the Christmas period and how we’re going to get maximum points! They’re probably all nursing a hangover right now.

Anyway, you have a good’un and I’ll go and do some work. Peace out.

Munich: glorious equality?

If pride comes before a fall, then Arjen Robben must be the most delusional person on the planet, because if he’s proud of his efforts in falling to the floor every time he is touched then he’s going to get labelled and receive nothing from referees. Let’s hope that happens because yesterday was a shining example of what nobody wants to see in football.

I thought the penalty awarded was softer than a new-born babies hind and the decision not to book him when there was the most obvious dive inside our box was farcical. But then again, we can hardly expect anything else from European referees, can we?

As for The Arsenal, well, I think we can certainly use the word ‘proud’ to define our performance. Up against the best club side in the world, two-down from the first leg, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a dead rubber and mentally the players might treat it as such. But far from it, I thought we put on a solid and impressive defensive display against a team who’s form has more ‘W’s in it than Porkie Pig trying to say “Well Why Won’t We Win When We Want to?”.

Perhaps there was an element of Bayern trying to keep us at arms length and ensure safer passage to the next round, which inevitably led to a more cautious approach than the battering they gave Wolfsburg at the weekend, but I like to think that’s because they gave us respect because they know what a threat this team can be. After all, we’ve scared them before, so they were always going to fear the second striking of lightning.

As for the side that lined up, Thomas Vermaelen coming in at left back performed admirably I thought, whilst Podolski on the left was an interesting one given that it had seemed as if Arsene was beginning to freeze him out of the side before an inevitable departure in the summer. Thankfully he hasn’t and it was our clinical German that gave us hope on the night with a fine finish at the near post. I don’t buy the ‘Lahm was fouled’ quotes I’ve heard, because I’m pretty sick of seeing players feel even the tiniest bit of contact and falling to their feet. Martinez was a master of that yesterday, yet the emperor of all that is ‘divey’ was of course Robben.

I thought the gameplan was pretty well executed by Arsenal actually. We clearly wanted to keep it right until half time and see if we could nick one to put the frighteners on Munich. A sort of ‘European Anfield 89’ if you like which, up until Schweinsteiger wasn’t tracked by the central midfield duo and chipped over Fabianski, we had executed well as a defensive unit. Having watched the replays again you do wonder if a Flamster in the side would have seen that runner and tracked him, but let’s not be too harsh, given that Bayern have quality all over the pitch that can hurt you.

Specifically, the Ox was immense yesterday, as he weaved in between and through Bayern player after Bayern player and on a number of occasions was cynically brought down. He is starting to put together a run of games that are making for a very impressive footballing CV of late and the importance of him to our team dynamic and the success of this season can’t be underestimated. He has a fabulous engine, he’s a very good runner at defenders and he has pace. He’s shown an eye for goal and at a time when we seem to be losing players left, right and centre to injury – Özil being the latest with a hamstring injury – if he can replicate performances like last night on a regular basis it will go a long way to demonstrating that this squad is not as week as many would have you believe.

How about our injury problems though, eh? It’s as if Arsene walked into a house of mirrors in the summer armed with nothing but a machete and a twitch. There were some people that we’re arguing once again that this was, in some way or other, the medical teams fault that we keep picking up injuries like this. I don’t see how personally, given that Ramsey, Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Özil injuries have all been picked up this season through game time. Sure, you can question the overplaying of players leading to them eventually breaking down, which has some legs to it as an argument (no pun intended). But some of the longer-standing injuries that were picked up were at the beginning of the season. Theo’s first injury was at the beginning of the season and he wasn’t long back before he was injured again, so you can hardly call that overplaying.

I just wonder if the football gods just don’t like us very much. Either that or toiling away and seeing the despair of Gooners amuses them more than fans of other clubs, particularly Chelski who seem to get more fortune than a factory of Chinese cookies.

Anyway, I digress, so I’ll redirect my route back to the game last night. Defensively we were sound, but where we were lacking – yet again – was undoubtedly in the attacking positions. Against a team like Bayern you’re never going to get lots of chances and so it’s hard to be too harsh on the forwards, but I thought Giroud struggled all night. He had trouble holding the ball up and when he did, there was so much space between him and the next yellow shirt that he was on a hiding to nothing for most of the game. Having said that, in the latter stages of the second half he did get a couple of chances, but never really looked like scoring. Games like yesterday aren’t designed for big target men like Olivier, they are designed for pacey forwards who can expose defenders on the counter. Just look at the opening minutes when The Ox found himself running at Dante, only for the funny haired bloke to chop him down in a ‘take one for the team ‘ yellow. Even after that yellow, you suspected that he wouldn’t be tested that much by a pacey attacker for the rest of the game, which is exactly how it transpired.

We’re all disappointed today because we’re out again in the second round, but what these two legs have shown us is the fine margins that separate teams in knock out competition. We were undone at home by a harsh sending off and it was effectively the end of the tie from the moment Szczesny was sent off.

So that’s European football done for the year, to which we turn our attention to purely domestic matters, the smallest of which begin this weekend with a trip along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch you tomorrow.

This ones a freebie in my eyes

Hopefully I can approach today’s match preview blog in a slightly different manner to that of my online Gooner counterparts when I say:

We’ve already won tonight.

The victory may not be tangible, it may not see us into the quarter finals of the Champions League, but after the whole world and most of Goonerdom has written the team off, anything else other than a 6-0 thrashing will be a moral victory of sorts I believe. Nobody expects us to turn over a two goal deficit against a Bayern Munich team who appear to have found a glitch in the game, a quick FIFA style cheat if you will, that has seen them absolutely rip apart the German league like it was the Scottish Premier. So if defeat does indeed hit us tonight, then the whole world will just shrug and say ‘move along’ as if it would be expected. If it happens, hopefully the Arsenal players will be able to do the same, because there are still a plethora of massive games in the coming weeks that they can make amends for any cup exit tonight.

There’s no doubt the FA Cup victory at the weekend has also totted up some goodwill points amongst Arsenal fans as well. Exit at the weekend, followed by defeat over two legs and exit tonight, would have left us all in a pretty gloomy place. But knowing that silverware is still in our grasp whatever the consequences of defeat tonight should be used as an instant confidence adrenalin shot should we drop out to the reigning European Champions.

So I’m approaching today’s game as a ‘freebie’. The damage was done at the Emirates with a sending off that really shouldn’t have happened and as a fickle football fan, I’m using that ‘get-out’ to shrug off any exit. We were shafted by referees again dontcha know?

As for the team, there was some good news and some bad news delivered by Le Boss yesterday. I’d have loved him to have delivered it in that fashion, asking the assembled hacks which one they wanted first, but the upshot was that whilst Koscienly is fighting fit again, Gibbs unfortunately has succumbed to an ankle injury. Again, in the spirit of my nonchalant nature towards this game, I offer a simple ‘meh’, but where the ‘meh’ becomes an ‘oh no’ is whether or not he makes it back for Sunday’s trip to Spudland. We will need a fully fledged left back available for the trip to ‘them’ and with Nacho still not close to fitness, I’m going to be doing all kinds of voodoo shizzle in the hope that he can make it at the weekend.

The question for tonight remains which of the current square pegs has the most rounded edges for Arsene to pick at left back? Does he opt for left footed Vermaelen, who clearly has more experience than putting Jenkinson at right back and telling the versatile Sagna to give it a go at left back? Last season Jenkinson played in the Munich game I believe and he performed well. Given Vermaelen is clearly a bit rusty and has shown he’s uncomfortable at left back, it’s hardly a ‘no-brainer’ to put him in, although if we do need a bit more experience and strength in defending set pieces and corners, you’d think his role in the team could come in handy.

It’s a dilemma that is Arsene’s to ponder, but, I guess that is why he’s paid the VERY big bucks.

The rest of the team will probably line up as a full strength unit. With the Spuds playing Benfica on Thursday, I’d be surprised if Tim ‘the Gooner’ Sherwood didn’t pick his strongest team, which means that Arsene could probably do the same knowing they’ll be just as fatigued at the weekend as our players are. So I’d expect to see a midfield of Flamini, Arteta and Özil, with Cazorla, Giroud and the Ox taking the attacking and flanked positions. Perhaps he’ll opt for Gnabry as that unknown factor and a player who’ll want to show what he’s made of in the attacking positions, but I think the form of the Ox and Cazorla carried over from Saturday warrants their inclusion.

If some sort of miracle is to be achieved, we’ll need to see another performance where there are four or five options for man-of-the-match tonight. Against arguably the best team in the world, you wouldn’t have thought it would happen, but stranger things have.

As for Bayern, well, take your pick from the array of world class talent they have. Ribery is now fit to play and so I’d expect he’ll get a start, so with Robben on the other flank, Guardiola just needs to decide who in midfield should play out of Garcia, Goetze, Kroos, Muller, Alcantara, etc, etc, the list goes on…suffice to say he’s spoilt for choices!

Anyway, wherever you are, however you watch the game, try to enjoy it. It’s why we want to be in competitions like this and not lining up against FC Dnieghausgdindbavxgskakxbsjskdb of Haifbrhskxnslsndi like them other lot along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Bayern – What a game of football

On Wednesday night last week Ben and Chris frequented the Emirates to watch the Bayern Munich game. Ben said he wanted to write a blog on the evening, but didn’t bank on Chris and his ‘scheduling’, so we’ve had to wait until now to give it to you. Anyway, less chitter-chatter and more Ben. Take it away boyo.

The Bayern fans had great humour and wit. Signing ‘footballs coming home’ after the second goal, did make me chuckle. But a huge thanks and congratulations has to go out to Red Action for the marvellous card display. Proves hard work and endeavour can work wonders – well done.

I’d been excited for this game since the draw but I had my ‘dark thoughts’ about an absolute N5 murdering, who wouldn’t? I wondered how the night might pan out and I’d thought about every possible scenario in my head – How we’d track runners? The dribbling ability of Gotze and Thiago? Lahm in midfield? Martinez at centre back? Funnily enough, I forgot to incorporate ‘football magic’ into my thoughts. A red card and two penalties later, the game was well and truly dead and buried. Not what I hope for at all – I didn’t expect a win but I hoped for a valiant draw.

I have to be honest, I felt frustrated how the loss occurred rather than the loss itself. From an Arsenal perspective, the first 20 minutes went very well and we created a few very dangerous chances and exposed Bayern’s high-line.

Unfortunately for us that quickly changed and as soon as Szczesny saw red, the tie was over. It must be remembered, yes we lost, but it was deservedly so. Bayern are the best possession footballing side on the planet and demonstrated their superiority. That said, I enjoyed to see Guardiola’s take on possession football – He’s bloody good.

After our initial pressure, Bayern regained possession. We almost lined up with a 4-4-1-1. Özil kept drifting to the left and right to try and expose the full backs. At times, Bayern lined up in a 3-5-2 with Robben tucking in next to Mandukic and Martinez becoming a third centre back. This is where Mesut found a lot of joy creating all the early chances. We showed a lot of pace and physicality which is something we’ve missed in recent weeks and the Bayern midfield didn’t know how to cope.

The first 20 minute saw Mesut Özil at his best. Our catalyst, running with the ball, fast flowing possession and variety, simply keep Bayern guessing. The penalty miss threw him completely, and he seemed to become very nervous. He tried to take charge, but Munich completely blocked out our attacking zones of play. Mesut (AND OTHERS) were getting isolated when in possession and Bayern strangled out the tie like a python. We couldn’t even muster an attack, that’s how good Bayern were. You try and put out a chip pan fire with a bucket of water.

Also a side note – Özil was switched to the left because Santi wasn’t tracking Lahm efficiently enough and Pep switched the focus of play. Brought on Rafinha (Who was Dani Alves advanced) to put pressure on Mesut and Monreal. Pep was vindicated in his decision.

As expected, Bayern simply controlled the game and possession. I enjoyed to see Peps take on possession football. They didn’t press as hard to get the ball back as Heynckes Bayern did, but, as Arsene says about Özil, we saw Bayern demonstrate ‘shear quality of passes that just wear the opposition down’, and it did.

Bayern penned us back working the ball in triangles on either wing trying to slide either ‘winger’ to get in and behind our defence. The quality and precision on each pass was magnificent. Bayern really came into their own in the second half as we began to tire. Gotze who was on the left (He started on the right – Part of the switch of focus) tucked in, which encouraged Alaba to get round him. Thiago and Kroos worked the space for Robben and Gotze to try and break us down and It seems Pep sees Gotze as his Iniesta card. It would have been interesting to see how much damage Ribery would have done to us – scary stuff.


With Bayern camped out in our half, they lined up with an almost 2-1-3-4. We simply couldn’t cope with the number of players Bayern had in advanced positions. Kroos and Thiago had acres of space and time. Late on, Guardiola brought on Pizarro to try and nick another goal. Muller and Pizarro were taking turns dropping between the ‘4’ and the ‘3’leaving Koscienly and Mertesacker guessing which eventually led to a goal. The German forward darted into the huge void of space that was meant to be our defence and killed the game. Another tactically brilliant move.

Lahm and Kroos

Your’re going to have to listen to me wax lyrical about Lahm and Kroos. They were magnificent and to think Bayern haven’t offered the latter a new deal (yet) seems like utter madness. Two technically perfect players. I was utterly in awe of their vision and their ‘football common sense’ – let alone they’re quality on the ball. It’s strange to see a player(s) provide that much penetration but be as equally as efficient. They are both steps ahead of everyone and the epitome of what we all think a German footballer should be.

I think it was very fitting that Lahm set up Kroos for his phenomenal goal. It was so good, It was heading towards Highbury before eventually bending in and behind Fabianski. I could honestly watch it on a loop.

Martinez – a lesson should be learnt Arsene

I found myself staring at the Javi Martinez the entire time. He dictated the tempo of play and made it a Bayern paced affair. His positioning was out of this world and perfectly placed himself between the attack and midfield. He is a piece of the puzzle who has taken Bayern to that uber level.

I was reading Four Four Two on the train on the way to the game. They had an in-depth and very fascinating article on all things Bayern Munich, and a little snippet that caught my eye which was they’re decision to sign Javi Martinez.

The Bayern board (who consist of ex German stars) sat and debated the transfer for what seemed like an eternity. They all deemed Martinez ‘too expensive and overpriced’. But they asked themselves, ‘Would Martinez add that little bit of quality needed?’ and they all agreed he would, so they decided to pushed the transfer through.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the Martinez transfer was fully vindicated for Bayern. The Spaniard played a starring role in their run to Champions League glory – Especially against Barcelona. Top level football is all about small margins and if you can try and help swing those in your favour, football can be made a lot easier.

I really hope Arsene backs his judgment this summer and gets the players he feels can move this Arsenal from a team in transition (Transition maybe a little harsh, slightly further forward that transition I’d say) to the uber force we can be.

I’m very excited for the second leg and hope the football gods sprinkle their ‘Football magic’ on Bayern, instead of our beloved Arsenal. Keep the dream alive…Stranger things have happened…

Up the Arsenal!

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,


Things change so quickly

What a difference a week makes. From having a mental block against the so called big teams, mentioned as some sort of inferiority complex, we’ve beaten a in-form Liverpool side, where tactics, formations, get chucked completely out of the window, then supposedly gone back to square one if you believe the British tabloids. Nah, me either, actually.

What’s interesting about this Arsenal side is that we only seem to evolve when we become confronted with adversity and the so called problem is pushed to one side. Considering Bayern last year was out trigger point, I wonder how the mainstay of the team will see this milestone, or millstone across their neck, if you will. Will they grasp this opportunity with two hands in the face of defeat to Munich?

I love a good football debate. It’s interesting to watch social media and watch people, babble, ramble on about an issue (which I might add, I enjoy) of a so called conventional problem. It then circulates, and funnily enough, usually isn’t the actual problem at all. I think we saw that case and point at the weekend. Giroud has been a talking point in recent weeks. In steps, the young,unproven Yaya Sanogo. In the grand scheme of things, was his performance that much different to what Giroud actually offers? Obviously technical differences are there for all to see, but the role, effort, work rate was very similar. It’s kind of a mute point really, but the issue has been and had always been the midfield. If the service is correct and the midfield functions, we will have success. ‘Feed the goat and he will score’. Or Ox, or sheep, or small gerbil. That last one probably didn’t work.

Midfield issue…

The midfield axis of Flamini and Arteta against Liverpool made for interesting viewing, and food thought. Flamini was deployed as more of the last line of defence, which left Arteta the freedom and ability to press high and very aggressively. I can’t quite remember if that’s what they’ve done in previous games together. Even so, It definitely helped Arteta feel a lot more comfortable and that was evident in his performance. One of his better performances this season as he’s been under par in my opinion. I don’t think Mikel has been as good as he used to be. Whether it’s due to age, injuries or his midfield partners, the Spaniard seems to be less influential than when he first arrived with his perfectly manicured barnet.

More importantly for the team, that cog in the midfield helped it work much better, well, better than in recent weeks, anyway.

With our current environment, well, midfield options, would you continue with it, just for stability reasons, against Sunderland? The first choice in my midfield would be Aaron Ramsey. His development has been simply remarkable. But, as we all know, he isn’t available. You’ve got Jack, he’s had the weight of expectation on his shoulders and arguably struggled since our shift in formation, then before that we had Alex Song and Fabregas, who have now departed. Considering we now have a winning formula, I’d say, stick with it. Jack played against Munich and unfortunately for him and most of the team he never really got the chance to prove himself after the sending off, so it’s difficult to work out the best course of action this weekend. I hope Jack can keep his head straight, and just play the game, if he is selected above Arteta. He needs to stamp his personality on the game. Just not let the opportunity stamp on him.

If we go back to the United game, Arsene wasn’t comfortable with us controlling the midfield. Our passing was off. Hence the hesitant attacking play.

Thinking long term, Arsene needs to find a partnership that’s solid and tactically astute, but doesn’t sacrifice any penetration in attack. Whether that’s Jack, Aaron or Alex in some sort of combination or a new addition (Which I would like) something needs to be done in the summer.

Drastic Özil improvement.. No doubt he’s our number 10

Özil was unplayable at the weekend. I was delighted to see his form slowly but surely return, but again, he struggled in midweek. Again, like Jack, he never really had the chance to shine against the German champions and he suffered on Wednesday by being crowded out every time he picked the ball up I their half. Let’s focus on the positives. The way he reads the game, the opponent, is just sublime. He waits for exactly the correct moment before attempting the daring, yet correct option. His understanding for what the team needs, is hard to explain, he can just feel it. You watch other playmakers in the league just attempt the tricky through ball when the time isn’t right. A lot of the time, the ball is just given away and the opposition regains possession. Thank god for Mesut Özil.

What to do with Lukas Podolski?

I think we can all agree something is going down with Podolski, and as I write this, it seems the writing is on the wall for the German goal scoring machine. We saw glimpses against Liverpool (and as we mentioned on the podcast) of what he should be doing on a regular basis – One-touch passing. Lukas is one of the best we have and up their in the league as one of the best in that skill set. His goal against Liverpool was very reminiscent to his goal against Montpellier – In terms of his sudden burst of pace. The way he goes through the gears, it’s pure brute strength. I hope he gets more opportunities, but more importantly, he grasps the chances he gets.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,


Pride, passion and confidence in defeat

The moment that Wojciech Szczesny trudged towards the home dressing room on 37 minutes – having been sent off after a foul from Robben – let’s all be honest with ourselves and say that we all knew what the inevitable conclusion to yesterday’s match was going to be. When you give a team who are probably the best at retaining possession in the whole of Europe an extra man, you’re holding out more hope than expectation, so it was the same yesterday evening.

We can probably argue whether or not Szczesny deserved to be sent off for his challenge on Robben, but I think few would argue that it was a penalty, although I personally felt that had it been up the other end we’d have been livid had the opposition ‘keeper not been sent off.

It was a shame to effectively kill the game off in the first half, which both managers admitting it did, but at least we were offered a brief respite with Bayern missing the penalty. It was also a shame to see such a turning point because, until that moment, we were absolutely magnificent and I am convinced Bayern were there for the taking had we remained level in terms of players on the pitch.

Prior to the sending off, Bayern had been undone by The Ox’s direct running, a bright start from Mesut and an even brighter start from the surprise inclusion of the evening: Yaya Sanogo. There was plenty of pre-match deliberation of a jar or two of Peroni, but when Sanogo pulled off a fine header only to be thwarted by a finer save from Neuer, I’m not sure how many Gooners were lambasting Arsene’s team selection. That’s two big games in a row the big Frenchman has been preferred to Giroud and he’s looked comfortable in that first team. Whether or not the decision by Le Boss to leave out Giroud was because of his off-field discretions I’m not so sure. Yes, it was a gamble by Arsene, but last season he made a similar gamble with Szczesny who responded in kind by fighting for his place and eventually winning it back. Perhaps this is what Olivier has to do. Arsene rarely worries about what’s happening away from the football pitch, so that’s why I wonder if it’s a motivational ploy for our French centre forward.

He definitely brings some freshness to the team. His mobility is noticeable after only a couple of games and, much like when the Ox arrived and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on those broad shoulders, although I don’t want to be seem to be judging after a couple of (big) games he looks like he could be a real asset as we come to the end of the season.

It was all going so well, wasn’t it? Every player was up for the game last night and we looked like we could cause Bayern some serious damage, we even had a chance to put ourselves ahead through an Özil penalty. That’s two in two that the German’s missed now, so I’d politely suggest we get Flamini to Julian Dicks the next one if Arteta isn’t on the field.

I thought Özil was looking good until we were row to ten men, so to see Arsenal fans on my Twitter Timeline make comments like “get him out of my club” both shocks and dismays me in equal measure. My question to the person who made such a comment would be simply this: How on God’s Green do you expect any of our players to function at their optimum when they are spending half their time in our own half? When we’re chasing a goal and our centre backs are pushing up in the opposition half to score, you don’t chastise them if they can’t beat four men and rocket it in the corner, do you? It’s the same principle for Mesut. Yes he couldn’t retain the ball for any length of time, but it’s difficult to do that when you’re surrounded by three or four players, as he was on two or three occasions at my corner of the pitch.

I thought yesterday’s performance was certainly one to be proud of. I mean, when you look at the fabulous strike it took for Kroos to execute right in the top corner, it shows that our defence did a magnificent job throughout, whilst under intense scrutiny from Bayern. We can all take solace in a performance like that and I certainly felt proud of the Arsenal players. Perhaps the players can’t take pleasure in defeat, but I for one hope their spirits and resolve are strengthened as a result of what happened yesterday. There was effective pressing, some crisp passing and then when we needed to stay firm in defence, for the large part we were.

There was a couple more sour points though. Firstly, an injury to Kieran Gibbs was a real shame, because he was looking good up until that point. Hopefully it’s nothing too lengthy, but let’s be honest, we are The Arsenal and we’re used to receiving bad news about players. Secondly, that Spanish ref, eh? Again I stress that he got both penalty decisions right, but he massively bottled a couple of decisions in the middle of the park yesterday. Phillip Lahm is a great player, but that doesn’t make him impervious to a booking, so to seem him get away with a poor challenge on Jack, then the ref to book Rosicky 15 minutes later for a cynical hack, was a real source of frustration for this here Gooner. I do wonder about refereeing standards in general, but because Bayern are the fashionable team of the moment, they do tend to get the majority of the decisions, just like Barca.

But let’s not end on a sour note, eh? How about I finish by saying that the atmosphere throughout the game was amazing from The Arsenal fans and I genuinely believe that it gave the team that extra 10%. Imagine if the whole stadium could replicate that between now and the end of the season? Imagine how much impetus it would have to try and push along with the team to that finishing line and a title in May. We all need to do our bit to see if we can get that atmosphere inside the ground this weekend and every weekend from now on, because we were fantastic.

Anyway, that’s enough from me, I shall bid you adieu until tomorrow.


No fear, just excitement

These are the kinds of evenings that we all look forward to as Arsenal fans. Home ties against the cream of the crop. Big European nights where we put our wits against the best. And tonight, we probably are putting them against the very best.

I don’t need to tell you who’s coming to town, nor do I need to impress upon you the gravity of the situation tonight, but what I do need to tell you is how I feel about the game at The Emirates this eve.

I’m excited.

I’m not nervous. I’m not fearful of what a heavy defeat will do for team morale. I’m not pondering what life outside of the Champions League will feel like if, as most of the world is telling us Arsenal fans, we go out to a Bayern Munich team that have won 19 out of 21 league games and drawn the other two. Nope, it’s just happiness and excitement that courses through my veins, which is a new and fabulous pre-game feeling that I haven’t felt in years.

You see, I’m a worrier, I’m afraid. I’d really love to be able to ‘enjoy the moment’ in each game, but the only time that seems to happen for me is when we have a three goal margin and there’s about ten minutes to go in a match. Yes, I know it’s irrational – especially when you look at our fantastic defensive record at home in the league throughout the season – but it’s a feeling that has built from strong foundations of collapses over the seasons, so I think it will be a while before I could get my mind adjusted to feeling ‘comfortable’ whilst we’re one or two goals up – irrespective of the opposition.

Anyway, that’s just me and my own psychological footballing issues, which seemed to have taken a temporary leave of absence. Even now, as I type this on the Met Line hurtling towards the City for a day of work first thing in the morning, I am excited to see how we get on this evening. Much like Flamini alluded to in his comments on the official site, I don’t fear Bayern, perhaps naively, but I don’t care because ignorance is bliss and what I have sitting adjacent to ignorance as a result, is confidence. I don’t think we’ll lose tonight. I think the team know the importance the Bayern game played in our rehabilitation this year, plus I think they’ll be acutely aware that it took us a game to recover confidence post Anfield, which is why I think we’ll see a cautious approach building up to a second half crescendo against the. German (and European) Champions.

Of course, the first fifteen minutes of tonight’s game will set the tone of the evening, so that’s where we need to get it right initially. Last year Bayern blew us away quickly and stunned us. At Anfield Liverpool struck hard and fast and we never recovered. So the blueprint for this tie needs to be a solid back line able to repel the threat of Robben, Goetze, Muller, et al and then build on composure and ball retention.

In a way, I think last year’s win at the Allianz Arena might help us for today’s game. I am not sure that Bayern will be as aggressive as they were last year, because they’ll know we have the ability to sucker punch. This Arsenal team has shown it’s ability to absorb pressure and then deliver killer blows as a result, to which I’m sure Dortmund could testify to their German counterparts.

As for our team, I suspect that we’ll see our settled back four with returns to the side for Szczesny, Sagna and Gibbs, whilst in midfield the suspension of Arteta guarantees Flamini’s inclusion. Who will partner him in that deeper lying midfield role is a difficult one to call, but I personally would opt for Rosicky. He moves the ball quickly from front to back and was rested completely from the Liverpool cup tie, so I expect him to be his usual effervescent self if he does make the first eleven. In front I would hope to see a trio of Podolski, Özil and The Ox, but with the clear reservations that the manager has for our loveable German, I think Santi will get the nod, with a rested Olivier Giroud completing the line up.

Whoever plays in those attacking positions, I hope they are fit and able-bodied runners in behind Özil and Giroud, because it was that lack of penetration that cost us our best chance in an age to turn over Man United at The Emirates last week. Both players will perform at their optimum if they can see players looking to be more direct in their attacking runs and so the hope is that Arsene spotted this deficiency against United and eradicates the ponderous nature of that draw.

Having said that, a 0-0 draw against Bayern would feel a lot different from the 0-0 draw against United.

So whether you’re going or watching tonight, I hope you can enjoy the game as I am hoping to, as well as singing until your lungs get sore.

Up the Arsenal.

Robben to be ‘Flaminiarised’? Let’s hope so.

Matthieu Flamini is ace. He’s like an angry little hobbit-type character that would happily bite at your ankles if it got him what he needed.

This week, he needs to take a scalp and he’s hankering for Bayern, so watch out Robben, that’s all I’m gonna say. The Dutchman is one of those players that everyone wants to see ‘Flaminarised’ and I fancy he’ll be one of the first to find himself on the deck with his arms above his prematurely bald head in frustration.

Flamini has been speaking about the confidence of the side at the moment, the belief and the ‘self-help’ that is being administered amongst the players. He’s been talking up the unity and it’s an interesting angle to take actually, because we heard a lot of talk of that ilk at the start of the season, but it’s all gone a little quieter since then. Perhaps that’s because the focus is more on the fact that we’re at the business end of the season and talk is cheap, for the currency we’re all dealing in now is victories.

Arsene will take to the stage of microphones today to give his view on Bayern, much like Ben, Steve and Kris (our guest for the evening) did on last nights pod (use the menu bar at the top and hit the ‘SG Podcast’ page for download instructions) and I suspect they’ll be one or two of the regular gutter press who will be keen to Stoke the fires of Mourhino and Arsene’s current public exchange. Mercifully, there will be other European Journalists and so the tabloid drivel can be cut short and we can focus on the football. In that respect, the timing of a big Champions League night is probably quite welcome and hopefully by the time the Sunderland game comes around, we can ignore Mourhino. He’s a bit like Superman you see, only he doesn’t get his power from the sun, he gets it from The Sun, The Mirror and other organisations that will pander to his enormously large ego.

Back on more important topics, in other words The Arsenal, and The Ox has hilariously stoked some of the post-Liverpool fire by stating that he ‘wasn’t worried’ about the penalty call. Well, you could have fooled us Alex, but it’s fun to be on the right side of a player digging the knife in. For so many years we’ve had opposition players – Evra is particularly irksome in that respect – talking down at our players after a game and rubbing some sodium into the wound and, although The Ox’s comments aren’t a barb aimed at the scousers, those that read it will be quite irritated given their bleating on Sunday night. So that can only be a good thing.

More to come tomorrow with a pre-game blog, but I think I’ll clock off for the day to leave you to enjoy yours.

Peace out.

Munich: the hyper-mega-ultra-super positive blog you want to read

What’s all the fussin’ and the worry ’bout folks? Y’all ain’t scared of a little ol’ team from Bavaria now, are ya? Why I cain’t say what the praablem is, for we already gots ourselves form with this here Munich team, ain’t we? Don’t be frettin’ yer cotton-pickin’ socks young’uns.

Seriously folks, it seems I’m one of the few people that doesn’t seem to be concerned about the fact that we got drawn against the reigning Champion of Europe in yesterday’s Champions League second round competition. It seems like the Goonerverse was in mourning when I checked my Twitter feed yesterday afternoon, but I really don’t see why, because I firmly believe that this current Arsenal team has the beating of the German champions. Yes, you can think me crazy if you like, but my hope is that I can dazzle and blind you with my optimism, because I think we’re making the quarter finals this yer at least. And here’s why.

We’ve already beaten them
Yes, it can be said that Bayern had already prepared for life in the next round, which opened up a chink in their armour. But before The Arsenal boys rocked up at the Allianz Arena, Munich had swept aside every team they had played at home, regardless of who is was and in what competition. They had a record to maintain and still came at us strong in that first half and parts of the second. But our defence stood firm, we took our chances and restored enough pride and adrenalin to carry us through to the end of the season on a fantastic winning run. That victory last year has proven to be a foundation laid to what was an excellent finish and what has been an excellent start to this season. We’ve beaten them once, why can’t we do it again?

This Arsenal team is better than last year’s
I don’t think there’s many that would argue that. We’ve built on last seasons successful season end by adding a world class creative midfielder and a superb defensive minded midfielder that has helped to screen the back four and snuff out any danger as it occurred. We must all touch wood with this, but providing we aren’t hampered by more injuries come February, we are better equipped to smite those Bayern boys.

Let’s also not forget that some of our players are a year older and wiser in an Arsenal shirt. Poldi may be injured, but he’s now fully bedded in to the Arsenal squad and will be raring to go against his former team. Giroud is a better player too. I haven’t even mentioned the further strides that Mertesacker has made at the heart of the defence. People are talking about the return to consistency for Bac and on the other side of the defence Gibbs has been immense. The arrival of Viviano may seem like a mystery, but the form of Szczesny has picked up so much that he looks like a whole new player compared to this time last year.

But most of all: Rambo. Glorious, glorious Rambo who has stunned the footballing world by adding a plethora of goals to his all-action style. We have the weapons that are potent enough people.

This is a team that is brimming with confidence; you can see it in the way they pop the ball around. They look more solid as a unit and that’s why we’ve led an early charge in the league.

We’re all licking our wounds since the defeat to the oil mercs on Saturday and there was a time not so long ago when I would have feared an Andre Villas-Boas ‘negative spiral’ (as a quick aside, look where that got him), but this season we’ve already shown that we don’t take defeats as hard as previous incarnations of Wenger sides. A couple of years ago it became a parody phrase of Arsene’s to talk about ‘mental strength’, but as Paul from Invinciblog pointed out on the Podcast yesterday, there’s something different about this team. They don’t seem to have the same ‘FRAGILE – HANDLE WITH CARE’ labels attached to them.

It’s for that reason that I think the players will be relishing this challenge and, rather than be apprehensive, will smell the blood of revenge in February.

We were terrible at home against them. Will that happen again?
No. Quite simply. We will be stronger, more confident in victory and will know where their threats come from and what we need to do to neutralise them.

Moneychester City have shown us they’re not unbeatable this season
Yes, there may have been mitigating circumstances behind the City win – Bayern were already through – but that victory last week showed that this team are not invincible. They can be got at and perhaps there was a little chink of mental fragility that City have started for us. For example, do you think Bayern will be as gung-ho in both legs against Arsenal, knowing what the English teams have done to them already in this calendar year?

There’s no doubt that we’re underdogs. I’ve got no problem with that. We’ve been underdogs in the league all season and that’s suited us just fine and dandy thank ye’ very much. The pressure is on Bayern to win and win well and if there are some rays of mental instability light at the end of the tunnel, I firmly believe we could capitalise on them.

So there you have it, folks. Reasons to be cheerful.

Catch you tomorrow.