Get back to last year’s success story Arsene

What did I say yesterday? When everyone tips The Arsenal to steamroller a top seven side, fates invariably conspire against us to ensure that we don’t pick up maximum points.

It’s hard to be pleased about a home draw to what has been the poorest Spuds team that we’ve played in quite a while. Tottenham came to The Emirates with one goal – not to be defeated – and the Mushroom Man Pochettino ended the day yesterday the happier of the two managers after the 1-1 draw. His was a plan better executed than Arsene’s, as the Spuds were content to sit deeper than we’ve ever seen them before and try to catch Arsenal on the counter attack. And why not? If anyone has watched Arsenal this season they will have seen that we are susceptible to the sucker punch, as this game proved in the second half when the Spuds scored against the run of play. It was a goal entirely of our own making as Flamini was caught out easier than a John Terry testimony.

I don’t know if I am the only one here, but I’m starting to get a little bit concerned with the propensity with which we seem to be conceding first. Not only does it give our opponents something to hold on to, but it puts us in a position where we need to take risks and that isn’t something that’s good for my health. Arsene and Bouldy need to have a think about how we are set up, because it was much more fun last season when we were winning every game 2-0 and being defensively solid. But once again, almost as if to prove some kind of belligerent point, Arsene reverted to the style that we’ve adopted all season and played Ozil on the left. We saw with devastating effect the success of Mesut through the middle, but not only that, we also saw last week how Ramsey was more effective whilst sitting deeper and breaking forward from a deeper lying position. Yesterday was back to the old Ramsey, trying little flicks that didn’t come off and then capping off a torrid day by getting himself injured through a busted hammy in the first half. That problem was also compounded by Arteta who went down with a calf strain and the two will now not be available for next weekends loss to Chelski.

Tactically, Arsene needs to go back to basics too. The most basic principle being winning games. Three all season in all competitions is mid-table mediocrity form and we’ve already dropped far too many points this season with draws. Unbeaten runs may sound good out loud, but if you draw every game in the season you get 38 points and probably avoid relegation by a point or two, so should be taken with an extreme pinch of salt. To be honest, from the Gooners I talk to and follow, none are particularly over the moon with the fact we’re unbeaten, especially when you consider that the record will be dead and buried by next Sunday evening. I’m treating it as a forgone conclusion because, unlike Arsenal, when pundits tell the world that Chelski will roll over us, that is what usually happens.

Arsene needs to recognise who his best players are and play them in their best positions. Alexis’ best position – last time I checked – wasn’t sitting on the bench patiently waiting for the 75th minute to come when Arsene makes his customary substitution. Why on earth he didn’t start yesterday is a mystery. Actually, I don’t think it is a mystery at all. I think that Arsene is trying frantically to have a formation that affords Wilshere a space in the team. To Jack’s credit, he did ok yesterday, but with Rambo and Arteta having established the hierarchy last season of being on the teamsheets first and foremost, Arsene won’t drop them or Ozil, which is why Mesut is being shunted out wide. The hamstring injury to Rambo will allow Wilshere to sit alongside Flamini in the coming weeks and give Jack licence to be that box-to-boxer that we all want. It will also force Arsene into playing Ozil centrally, something that I’m pretty sure would have come to a parliamentary petition by all Arsenal fans at Ten Downing Street, had Arsene pressed ahead with his ‘Ozil out wide’ experiment. Ozil actually had a good game I thought, but he will only be so effective out wide, so needs to be sitting in that hole so he can feed Welbeck those killer balls we’re all craving.

When Santi came on I thought he was really good. He gave a bit more purpose to our attacking play and having him on the left with Ozil through the middle and Ox on the right instantly changed us into more of a threat. We should have had more than the one goal we had to show for our performance yesterday, but for some smart Lloris saves and a deep-sitting Spuds defence.

I really hope this doesn’t end up being a season of draws. Last year I don’t think we picked one up until late November and, when you go on long winning streaks it effectively sets you up for a title charge when you reach the halfway point. At this point now, with the tinkering Arsene is doing to the team, it’s hard to think we’ll be doing anything else than staring down the fourth place trophy. Sadly, just before the Ox scored his goal, I was starting to ponder whether or not a defeat today would at least give us the reality check that would be needed to know that it will be another season where fourth place is the target rather than lulling us into the false sense of hope that we’re good enough to win the league. I immediately hated myself for thinking that in the midst of the game and whilst we could still feasibly pick up two goals and win the game, but I can’t shake the feeling that come December our expectations will have been decidedly altered.

Le Boss has some work to do now. He needs to find his best team, not have them injured, get them back to playing what they did last season, plus get us on a winning streak that builds momentum and confidence. The good news is that after we lose to Chelski, we’ve got a run of winnable games until we then play Man United at home towards the end of November. We have to start clicking and clicking now.

Catch you tomorrow.

Season success for the midfield

Howdy friends, hope you are full of the happiness of summer, unless you’re in a part of the world where it’s pissing it down like me. But whilst the weather might be grim, the spirits of Arsenal fans everywhere are still high. We’re not just riding the crest of success of recent silverware, but also celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Arsenal’s famous victory against Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. For some listening pleasure, I’d suggest that you take a saunter over to the GoonerGirls Podcast, as they have run a special pod with Micky Thomas and David Hillier on that wondrous night. Or, if you prefer your Arsenal via the medium of online print, I’d recommend having a gander at Arseblog today. He’s retelling the wonderful feeling of that last-minute goal and as always makes for good reading.

As for me, I was still only a wee nine-year old nipper and so being able to properly take in the gravity of the whole situation was beyond me, so I don’t feel I could be an accurate commentator on the magic of that day that will I’m sure never be repeated by any football match. Ever.

So instead I’m going to turn my attention to the season review and look specifically at the midfield performance that we saw this season just past.

When the transfer window slammed shut at the beginning of September and we all knew what the squad would be looking like for the immediate future, I don’t think there were many that couldn’t argue that our one area of the field we weren’t quite under stocked with was our midfield. The acquisition of Flamini added a little bit more bite from a defensive midfield perspective, the ever-improving form of Ramsey was to get better and better, the purchase of Ozil added that star quality and there was to be the return from injury of Wilshere. Added to that the guile of Rosicky and the consistency of Arteta, you could hardly argue we weren’t well prepared in those roles in the centre of the park. It seems that Arsene had also developed a bit of an addiction to purchasing central midfielders, because January also saw the arrival of yet another in the Swedish shape of Championship Manager 2001/2 Kim Kallstrom legend Kim Kallstrom. Hindsight may be described as a wonderful thing, as we rarely used the tall Swede when another pacey attacking player might have helped us get closer to a league title, but let’s park that a discussion for tomorrow when I’ll give some thoughts on our striking performance over the course of the season.

To analyse the improvements made in the midfield area it’s hard not to look at the return on goalscoring investment made from that area as a very rough blueprint for whether it was a successful season. So when you consider that in 2013/14 those in Arsenal’s midfield contributed to 44 goals of the teams play, yet in 2012/13 it was 26 goals in total in all competitions, it shows you that there were definite strides made in the right direction. And what better way to see those strides than in the stand out player of the season: Aaron Ramsey. Sixteen goals in all competitions in just thirty games started represents an amazing return for a midfielder who has gone from being a hard-working, but perhaps frustrating player at times, to an integral part of the successes of this season. It was so fitting that he was the player to hand us the FA Cup because his displays have been deserving of a player who should be picking up silverware. His transformation – which started in the 2012/13 season towards the back-end but continued in last summers pre season – has been so magnificent to see and I have to say that he has been just “like a new signing” to the team. The goal against Liverpool stands out for me as the most memorable of the season, but what has quickly become his trademark has been the marauding ‘late into the box’ style goals, the type that (apologies for the reference) Frank Lampard has made a career out of scoring. No more important was his impact to the team seen than when he picked up his injury over Christmas and from January onwards we were starting to look a little bit leggy.

But it’s not just Aaron that stepped up this season I thought. Despite much criticism of him – the kind that I guess you can expect from a big money signing – Mesut Ozil has had a good season if you are asking this here blogger. Seven goals and twelve assists in a maiden season is not something to be sniffed at and whilst some moronic journalists accused the German of ‘nicking a living’ without a hint of irony in their pathetic prose, Mesut’s impact on our team has been successful. Much like Arshavin’s arrival, the Ozil capture gave a boost to the squad at the perfect time for us to drive forward our early season form, rocketing us to the top of the table and providing us with that extra creative guile that we need. Had Ozil been furnished with more pace throughout the side in attack this season we might have seen his assist numbers even greater than they are, but as it is I think we can still count this first season as a ‘job done’ from him. The Napoli goal stands out for me as his best of the season, but the performance against Everton in the FA Cup is one in which I think he showed just what he is capable of.

So far I’ve looked at the success in the sharp end of our midfield, but the success of our midfield hasn’t just come from the attacking triumphs, as defensively we’ve seen an improvement too. That’s where you have to give credit to Arteta and the Flamster. His arrival in the summer was seen as a little bit ‘meh’ from some sections of the Arsenal support, but it now looks just as shrewd a bit of business as the Ozil capture, as Matthieu has been able to take some of the burden from Arteta, providing the defence with a strong ball winner to have sat in front of them when it’s needed. Flamster’s stand out moment, unsurprisingly perhaps, has to be a booking the North London Derby in September, clattering Chadli (I think) to ensure there was not a break away. That just sums up him in a nutshell right there, as he promptly received the first of his eight Premier League yellow cards and one red. We’d cried out for a nasty piece of work ever since he left, so perhaps it’s good that we got him back, because having someone in the team that you know is going to stick up for his teammates and will happily do the dirty work is just as important as the goalscorers in any team.

Mikel Arteta probably deserves his own para too, if we’re honest, as he’s had another solid season in which he’s proven his capabilities as a decent – if not spectacular – regular contributor to the team. I do feel for Arteta some times; there have been some fans that have questioned his impact on the team ahead of Flamini, or when Flamini plays alongside him have wondered why Wilshere or Rosicky haven’t started ahead of him. But I have seen why Arsene favours the Spaniard so much. He brings balance, consistency and is an outlet for the defence to play the ball out from the back time and time again. You know exactly what you’ll get from Micky and that must be very reassuring from Arsene’s point of view. He may be a year old, he may have looked a little bit more tired towards the end of the season, but he’s been a very important player in our team and I expect he’ll continue to be so next season too.

Football is a squad game and that is why the depth of our midfield has been so important, so you can’t have a good season without the contributions of players like Rosicky, Wilshere or Cazorla. I’m in two minds to give Santi a shout out in my ‘attackers’ section because his versatility has seen him spend a good portion of the season out wide on the left of the attacking three, but he’s also performed in that Ozil role behind the striker and it’s players like that who are so important to winning competitions. When he has been asked, Rosicky has played very well I think. It’s really hard to step in and play well when you’ve not been able to get a series of games under your belt, but Rosicky has been able to do that and score important goals too. That break away goal against the Spuds stands out for me. Mainly because he had so long to think about what he was going to do when through against Lloris that he could have fudged it. But a calm head on those Czech shoulders delivered. The same can be said with Jack who, despite injuries hampering his season again, still managed to be the key contributor in the best goal of the season by a country mile against Norwich at The Emirates. Hopefully next season he can get a steady run of games and begin to recapture some of his form before he had his lengthy spell on the sidelines.

I’ve racked up over 1,500 words so far talking about the midfield and could probably go all day, so I’ll draw today’s blog to a close, but for me the midfield has been a success story like our defence. Sure, we’ve had some poor games, and sure, we’ve had our injuries, but by and large we’ve come through them and still looked a very good midfield outlet. I’d argue the best in the league.

Catch you tomorrow.

The most fun blog I’ve written – FA Cup Winners 2014

I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face. I switched on the TV this morning with a smile on my face. I am writing today’s blog with a smile on my face. I’ve been writing blogs for about three years now and I have to say, this is the one blog that I was wondering whether I’d be writing any time soon, so I am thankful that it has come. It has been worth the wait.

Arsenal are 2014 FA Cup Winners. The nine year ‘drought’ has ended. The years of media sniping can restart at zero and we can revel in what has, we can all say with relative comfort, been a successful season for The Arsenal.

Drink it in. Football is about special moments that are captured over a short period of time like yesterday and today. We as fans go through all of the lows, all of the pain, frustration and sadness just for the adrenalin highs like yesterday. To see the relief on the players faces as the final went, to see them fall to their knees and to see the visible relief etched on Arsene’s face was something that will stay with me forever.

Players play for clubs like Arsenal because the want to win trophies. It is what drives them and yesterday’s game does not just provide us with a platform for celebration on a hot May afternoon, it also gives us hope that we are that extra little bit attractive to top players. All of those players that have spoken of winning trophies at the club, all of those people who question whether Arsenal can drag themselves over the line, well now we can say that they can. They can achieve their greatness with Arsenal and much like the players we have had the taste of silverware and will become all the more hungry for more of it in future.

We are the joint most successful FA Cup team that has ever existed along with Manchester United. We like that cup and we’ve done it again for the eleventh time in our history. Savor that folks, savor that.

Shall I talk about the game a bit? I guess this is a match review of sorts, but the match itself seems slightly inconsequential compared to the gravity of what has been achieved. Because this Arsenal team weren’t just fighting Hull City, they were fighting history or more specifically, the burden of past failures and expectation for a club like Arsenal. The pressure on the fourteen players that played yesterday was immense and, although it took a superb Aaron Ramsey extra time goal to secure the victory, they were in control and outplayed Hull for about 110 of the 120 minutes in my completely biased opinion.

Unfortunately, it was in those first ten minutes that it felt at the time that a lot of damage was done. By the time we had hit the ten minute point in the game we were two down through a real bit of smash-and-grab set piece football from Hull. First it was a miss-hit Huddlestone shot that I’m convinced just ricocheted off his foot rather than what the commentators suggested that he’d cleverly steered it in. That was after four minutes and it felt like the world should just swallow our half of the stadium up when Curtis Davies slotted the ball in from another ball into the box that was knocked on to the post by one of the Hull centre backs. I didn’t think it could get any worse, so when Kieran Gibbs headed a ball off the line from a corner it really did start to feel like it wasn’t going to be our day. We were shell-shocked and on the ropes through a quick start. It’s how we’ve been undone in all the big games this season and is certainly something I think should be looked at by the team for next year.

But for all of their faults, for the ability to be caught out so early, you cannot criticise the team too much on a day like today, because the response was exactly what was needed. Having got back home and re-watched the final last night, it struck me how dominant we were in possession. Sure, there weren’t very many chances created over the ninety minutes, but when I re-watched it was clear that we deserved to get the two goals back. The first, a sumptuous free kick from Santi, was well placed and superbly struck. The fact that Hull had scored two so early left us with time to respond and so when Santi scored on 18 minutes, we knew that it left us with enough time to re-group and go again in the second half. And we did. We were the team in the ascendancy, we were making all of the forward plays and we were the most likely to score in that second half, so when Koscienly tapped in from a knock down in the box we went absolutely nuts behind the goal. The comeback was well and truly on.

The second half ended by grinding a bit to a halt, as I think both teams didn’t want to do anything silly that could lose them the game in dying embers, but Kieran Gibbs had his chance of glory but blazed the ball over from just outside the six yard box. So it was extra time, and much like the majority of the match, it was Arsenal who looked more likely to score. Olivier Giroud had a header knocked on to the crossbar in the first half of extra time. But perhaps the most fitting scorer to win us the FA Cup was destined to write his name into Arsenal history. Aaron Ramsey will feature heavily in post-season reviews and analysis, because he has rightly been the stand out performer this season, but his finish was that of a player who has elevated himself to such a lofty position this season, that it seems almost unthinkable that he won’t be our main man to spearhead us towards another title challenge in 2014/15. After the heartbreak of losing the cup final with Cardiff in 2008, after the devastation from his leg break, after an injury that has kept him out of the season, this was his reward for the hard work and effort. The fabulous first time finish after another really good lay off from Giroud was one of those goals that only when you watch again you see how good it was. It was millimeters away from the post.

I’m not surprised that there’s already talk about Bayern Munich and Pep being interested, but with the stature of Ramsey and the fact that he signed a new deal very recently, I’d be surprised if that isn’t anything other than a bit of mischievous gutter press tittle-tattle.

There was still time for a classic Arsenal ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment though, as a long punt up field was chased down by Aluko but covered by Per, until he slipped, Fabianski inexplicably came rushing out of his box and didn’t get the ball and thankfully the angle was too tight for him to touch into an empty net.

The final whistle went, Arsenal had done it and the players lifted the trophy, with them coming on to the pitch afterwards to greet the fans. I got myself a Jack Wilshere high-five and a Lukas Fabianski gloved high-five and we left the stadium in a fit of delirium.

Today the team are embarking on the trip around North London to parade the trophy and the news emanating from the club is that Arsene will announce his new deal over the next couple of days. There will be the cynical ones that will question the timing given we’re riding high on emotions right now, but after leading the league for so long, after improving on our league points total and bringing silverware back to the club, it’s hard to not think that he doesn’t deserve perhaps one more stab at seeing if he can win that Premier League and/or the Champions League. He said ‘judge me in May’ and we can judge him now. It has been a successful season and I hope we get a couple more ends to the season like this one between now and when he does eventually hang up that massive coat of his for good.

Until tomorrow. Up the Arsenal

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

Well, here we are folks, the most significant game of the season and potentially the most significant game since the last major trophy that was won back in 2005. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

There’s no getting around it: success or failure today will ultimately define whether this season has been another one that we want to confine to the history books as a ‘yeah, we did the bare minimum, but other than that it hasn’t exactly been an amazing season’ or described as a season where we ended our trophy drought and ensured that we can continue to eat at the top table for another season at least.

We all like those Champions League nights, we all enjoy the fact it enables us to buy the Mesut Ozil’s of the world, but when a day like today comes around, you realise that all of the qualification deciders in the world could not match feeling that I and you probably have in your stomach as you count down the minutes until kick off at 5pm. The devaluing of the FA Cup has been something that has been well spoken of and much column inches dedicated towards, but looking back on football history as a fan and you rarely remember the sniping, but you do remember the feeling when Arsenal won the competition. I remember the elation of coming away from Cardiff in 2003. It may have felt like we’d blown the league and so this was a consolation prize, but it was my first ever cup final and I was exhilarated of the feeling, which I’ve wanted to recapture ever since and so the potential to replicate that feeling today leaves me with butterflies in my stomach the size of my fist.

But what of the game itself? What of our opponents and the way in which they line up? Who will Arsene give the nod to, to bring home the shiny big-eared bacon? How many questions can I fit in to a paragraph??

Firstly, i’ll give you my predicted team news, because I think it will help to also explain how Hull will set up. That’s not to say that Arsene will change his style or selection process based on the opposition, but I just want to find an interesting segue between questions and I think this might work.

In goal I think he’ll opt for Sczcesny. It’s an interesting one because it’s really the first time this season that the goalkeeping position is the hardest position to work out. I think the playing of Fabianski last weekend was telling however, so I expect the younger Pole to start, which is the right thing in my opinion. He is the future, he deserves to be in the team for his performances this season and he is the best goalkeeper at the club.

I think the defence picks itself and so a back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Gibbs may leave club captain Vermaelen out along with boyhood Gooner Corporal Jenkinson, but as was discussed on last night’s GoonerGirl Podcast which I was fortunate enough to be invited on to, this is an FA Cup final and we simply must play the strongest team available. Unfortunately that means no place for either of those two players. In fact, I think with the returning Vermaelen and potential Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the team, I can’t see Jenks making the bench. After all, Wenger will more likely choose Vermaelen and Monreal as his defensive subs, using the rest of the subs for a ‘keeper and more attack-minded players to call on to the starting line up.

Midfield is where I think there will need to be decisions made and I think the right decision would be to have Arteta and Ramsey sitting just behind the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. Hull will no doubt be looking to the likes of Huddlestone and Livermore to screen in front of the back four or three and operate a little bit deeper and, if that is in fact the case, then playing someone like Matthieu Flamini is not appropriate in my opinion. The Flamster is better at screening the back four and taking up defensive duties, but going forward he lacks the craft and ability on the ball that Arteta has a little bit more of. I think it is because Arteta is technically more gifted that he gets the nod more often than Flamini for most games, but in this instance today I think it would be the right call. If Hull are sitting deeper and trying to frustrate at any time, then we need those technically better players to show their creativity to unlock the Tigers’ defence.

The rest of the choices above are based on recent games and performances and I don’t think there will be many Gooners that could argue with that. Perhaps some might say there is a space for Jack in the team, but at the moment I don’t see it and I think the balance of that predicted team – with Giroud up top instead of Sanogo, obviously – works for what we want to achieve – a real trophy instead of a fourth placed invisible one!

As for our opponents, the return of Alan McGregor in-goal will be an important boost for them, because he’s a good ‘keeper that I’ve seen keep them in games on a few occasions this season. He’ll be stood behind a back four that will probably contain Bruce, Davies and McShane with wing backs of Elmohamady and Figueroa. Those two like to get forward and punch balls into the box for Long and Jelavic but, with both cup tied today it will most likely be Aluko and Fryatt that they’ll have to contend with. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Hull’s squad, but I don’t recall there being much pace in that front two so I think Hull will look to exploit the wing backs to get forward as much as possible and get balls into the box to trouble us, rather than balls in behind our central defenders.

The midfield, as I mentioned above, will most likely contain Huddlestone and Livermore sitting with Meyler being asked to push forward and support the front two. Livermore may also provide more of an advanced threat but the key to neutralising Hull may just be to not give Huddlestone too much time on the ball to pick out players.

We should, in theory, have enough to thwart Hull City. We have beaten them twice already this season and apart from an initial fifteen minute opening spell at the KC Stadium, we have pretty much been on top in these games, but we know today will be different. Hull will be running on an adrenaline that we have not seen in previous games and they will know that with our history of implosions there is a possibility of an upset.

I don’t want to talk about any negativity today, so I’m not even going to mention the unthinkable happening come 8pm tonight, so I’m going to end today’s blog with a positive quote that I’ve just Google’d:

When people ask me what my religion is, I say it’s the Arsenal

Marcus du Sautoy

An open letter to the football gods on derby day

Dear footballing karma gods,

I am a good boy. I work hard, pay my taxes and generally try to build enough good karma in my life to make sure that it is a happy one. Yesterday whilst I was out walking I even picked up some litter in my town centre. It was a Robinson’s Fruit Shoot and somebody could have tripped on it.

Yesterday you saw fit to grant myself a small mercy in the watching of Chelski lose to Aston Villa and for that alone I was grateful, but you even thought you would deliver a couple of red cards to Chelski players too, which will ensure that both Willian and Ramirez won’t take to the field next weekend when we play them at Stamford Bridge. Thank you for that. Also, thanks to you for ensuring that Moneychester City’s best central defender won’t be playing against us in two weeks time as he serves the final game of a three match suspension, having been sent off against Hull. Again, I thank you and appreciate that you couldn’t go as far as having Hull win against the oil whores, I understand and appreciate that.

But today is a new day, a special day, a day in which I am beseeching you to grant me all of your cosmic karma powers and help to deliver Arsenal three points. I know that a lot of getting those points will be down to the eleven players on the pitch that play in red and white today, but if you can see fit to grant us any kind of luck on an important day in our season, I will express my gratitude by personally and publicly thanking you and for repenting any of my sins and curse words I have sent in your direction over the last seven months or so. I know I have cursed your hand of fate dealing us injury blow after injury blow, but if you seek to re-address the balance this afternoon I will happily ‘call it quits’ with you. How does that sound?

I’m sure Arsene will do everything in his power to set up a team that is capable of beating our nearest (geographical) rivals today, to make your job a little bit easier, so I expect to see the back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and probably Monreal at the back. In midfield I think Arsene will go with a more defensively minded two of Arteta and Flamini and the three just sitting behind Giroud will probably consist of The Ox, Santi and Poldi. You might have seen The Ox against Bayern during the week; he was superb and at times looked unplayable. What am I talking about? Of course you saw the game in midweek, because you saw fit to take Mesut Ozil away from us for the next month or so. But I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I just hope that you can see it in your heart to give us three points today.

Three points this afternoon will give us Gooners hope. If we get it, it will mean we’re four points behind Chelski with a game in hand and level on points with Moneychester City (although they have a game in hand over us), with them still needing to come to the Emirates in two weeks time. We can speak about that on another day, because I’m probably going to be sacrificing a goat or some similar hillside creature to you around that time as well. Is that what this afternoon’s fixture needs? Do you need me to sacrifice some sort of creature in order to appease you? I’d love to, in fact I have a suggestion in the form of Mike Dean who is reffing the game today, but a) I’m not really the ‘killing’ kind, and b) it would probably end up with the game being called off. Ritual human slaughter isn’t my thing I’m afraid. I will wear my newly found lucky piece of clothing for the duration of the game, in the form of the flat cap I’ve had for about five years but never taken to the football. I wore it against Everton and it seemed to work its magic, so I’m prepared to wear it again today – inside my own house and look like a bit of a wally – if The Arsenal get three points today.

The Spuds are an unpredictable lot, your footballing karma godliness, you know. They have been awful of late and some of their new manager’s (he’s a Gooner don’t you know, so actually, if you think about it, he’s in a win-win situation from his side, so you can deliver us a victory without fear of making him as sad as he was last weekend against Chelski) team selections at times have been puzzling. That makes me even more nervous though, because I fear the unknown and we don’t know what sort of Tottenham team will step out on to the field today. Whoever does play, I know they’ll be massively up for it, so if you could grant us a bit of early luck for which the Arsenal players could capitalise on, i’d be forever in your debt.

Finally, before I bid you my goodbye, I’d just like to point out that we haven’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007 and so by granting us our first win in seven years, you’d be throwing one of those curveballs you so love to deliver. Like you did yesterday when you made Mourhino look sad.

Yours faithfully and sincerely

Chris.

P.S. Come on you reds.

Stoke; The return of ‘The Feeling’ is welcome

Happy Saturday to you, my fellow Gooners. I don’t know about you, but its first thing in the morning (had to drop the Management off at the airport – working in Dubai for a week :-( ) and I’m starting this blog with a little bit of apprehension ahead of today’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I think we can win it and I hope that we will, but I have ‘the feeling’ back. I remember it well. It was the ‘feeling’ I got when we were fighting for the league against United in the first half of Arsene’s reign. It was the nervousness and apprehension ahead of every single match leading up to the last ten or 11 games in a season, knowing that we were still in the race for the title and knowing that we have our own destiny in our hands. Silverware is still most certainly in our sights.

We do have our own destiny in our own hands. If we win all remaining eleven games we will be Champions. That’s a fact. That we have a host of extremely difficult matches in order to do that, as well as the probability that we will unlikely actually be able to win all of those games, still doesn’t detract from the pure cold, hard, facts that we are masters of our own destiny.

But it starts with today’s game against Stoke. Lose or draw today and not only is it more than likely not going to be in our hands any more, but with the run of games we have coming up thereafter, it won’t exactly have Gooners shouting that ‘I believe’ from rooftops, will it? The margins when you get to this stage of the season are so fine that, if you’re going to lift that Premier League trophy at the end, you really do need to take advantage of every opportunity. Today is an opportunity to keep the pressure up on an away ground in which we’ve won once in six attempts. Stoke – aka The land of Mordor, birthplace of Orcs and Goblins – represent a very real and very difficult threat to our assault on the league. They have already dispatched United (admittedly less of a feat these days), as well as picked up draws against Chelski and Moneychester City and have always been difficult to beat. Indeed, the bookies reflect that in their assessment of the odds. Arsenal are of course seen as favorites, but I’d expect slightly shorter odds from a team that sit just three points off the relegation spaces, so clearly history has played its part in the thinking of the bookmakers.

Will history play a part in today’s game? It’s hard to tell actually. The local Stoke regional rag has certainly been doing its level best to try to mask the deficiencies of this current Stoke sides form this season. Nobody likes a Tony Pulis, but it’s hard to imagine that he would have a well-drilled Stoke side in the same position they currently occupy under Hughes. The need and requirement of the locals in Orcsville was for a more expansive style of football, which they have, but it looks at times as though that has been at the expense of what is at the core of this team – built up over a number of years – and I wonder if that straying away from what they know i.e. longer-balls, target men receiving and relying on set pieces, has been a cause for them not picking up as many points as they probably would have imagined. History too seems to have played its part in trying to rile up both Stoke and Arsenal fans, with Stoke chairman Peter Noakes talking yet again about the Ramsey incident, as well as a quite ludicrous article from Danny Higginbotham about how Arsenal have ‘no character’. I am pretty sure Arsene isn’t the type to stick up a copy of articles in the dressing room before the game, but I hope comments like that filter through to the Arsenal team, because we have character and we’ve shown it on numerous occasions this season.

Anyway, regardless of that, there’s a job that The Arsenal need to do today and if the team plays to its full potential, then we should be able to pick up the three points. The team have had a week to prepare and recharge their batteries in preparation for today’s game, so there can be no excuses on ‘tired legs’ and we have to see a pumped Arsenal team. I think we will. There might be questions about who plays at left back, but the rest of the defence should remain relatively settled. In midfield I wonder if Arsene will offer to reinforce the two anchored midfield roles with Flamini and Arteta, with a three sitting in front of them of Cazorla, Ozil and I hope Rosicky. If you read my pieces regularly, you might have come across my Rosicky ‘love-in’ during the week, so I’m advocating that we thrust our ‘Little Mozart’ into the front line and see if he can’t make music in amongst the snarling Stokies. Up top I’d expect a Giroud hopefully buoyed by his two goals against Sundrland, as well as a full week in which to recharge.

For Stoke they’ll most likely welcome back German clobbermeister Robert Huth, as well as Ireland and Etherington, but thankfully we’re spared that bloke Assaidi, who loves a wonder goal. I hate wonder goals scored against us. Not least because they get replayed in adds again and again, so I hope there is nobody in the Stoke team that pops up with one of those today.

Anyway, I shall be watching the game from a pub in Ware with my fingers crossed hoping that we don’t have to go through hell and back to collect the points we need to stay level with Chelski who, let’s face it, won’t drop points against a terrible Fulham team.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

NLD preview: nervousness with a wee dram of confidence

Hooray, hooray, it’s Derby Day!

Nothing better than the feeling of anticipation that envelopes you before a local derby. And what with today being an FA Cup affair, it seems to have a little bit more intrigue about it today, so I am an excited Gooner going into a home tie against the old enemy. Today is an opportunity to make another statement in our season. Today we can end the Spuds hope of a domestic trophy (although I realise they are still in with a chance of European success). Today we can take a hammer blow to their confidence.

But what makes the NLD more exciting – in a cack your pants kind of way – is that this fixture could go any way. Yes, we’ve got used to having the upper hand in terms of our league finishing position, yes we’ve beaten them more times than they have us, but rarely do you get an easy afternoon and that all adds to the feeling in my stomach which makes this match all the more intriguing.

It’s a game that has bought about 75 Arsenal wins, 45 draws and 54 wins for ‘them’ which, when you consider the number of trophies we have won, plus the fact we’ve finished above them for so many times particularly in the most recent couple of decades, the win ration between the two clubs seems quite close. It’s a cliché, but that stat clearly shows that anything can happen in the NLD and quite often, it does.

Are you nervous today? I am, but it’s a nervousness with excitement. It’s a nervousness with a wee dram of confidence, because we have once again found form after a mini blip the other side of Christmas and we find ourselves going into the game off the back of three victories. We might have a bit of an injury conundrum or two that need overcoming, but any player that takes to the field today will be confident, so we should too. Some have suggested that playing  a resurgent Totteringham now is possibly not the best time to be rocking up against the lilywhites, but I liked Arseblog’s comments yesterday about Theo’s response to the question about whether or not it was a good time to play them. He’s right, it was a stupid question, Theo’s right about it perhaps not being a good time to play us and Arseblog’s right about the football brain fart that seems to have clouded the journo’s memory that funnily enough, we’re actually top of the league.

But league form goes out of the window today, and unfortunately they are quite capable of getting the win or taking us back to their gaff for a replay, so hearing Arsene say this gets treated as a league game was music to my ears yesterday. We need to be on it from the start because they will want to carry on from their decent win at Old Trafford by taking another big club scalp. And of course, it would just happen to be that time of the year when Greedybayor actually decides he wants to get a few goals, having been told there could be another contract up for grabs for him. He’s still getting wages paid by Moneychester City at the moment, so if he wants the Spuds to go anywhere near half the wages he currently gets, he’s going to have to put in some shifts, which is why we’re seeing such a resurgence from the Emmanuel the Mercenary. If I sound bitter, it’s because I have a nasty feeling that he’s going to do what he seems to have done nearly every time he plays us and score. There’s no doubt he’s a handful when he wants to be, but he seems to reserve his best football for us and by the sounds of it he’s managed to recover from being stretched off in midweek to play again today. That’s why I hope Arsene keeps his normal back four and we see Big Per and Kos at the back, flanked by Sagna and Monreal (with Gibbs still injured).

In the midfield I look at the possible Spuds line up of Capoue and Dembele and think that our three should include Arteta to marshal the Belgian’s movement, plus Arteta who can push forward if Capoue is sitting deeper. If they play the same team that lined up against United, it means Erikson will want to drift across the park and not operate as a natural winger, so with both Flamini and Arteta operating in front of the defence I think that works. Just in front of them, providing he’s fit – and the pictures of him training yesterday suggest so – I think we’ll see Ozil. On the left we’ll most likely have Cazorla and on the right will be Theo, with Poldi up top. The only position I think might be up for question will be if Arsene decides to insert Rosicky into the team, because Arsene does like playing the effervescent Czech in our big games when he’s fit. Plus, Arsene did admit that Tomas and NIcklas made a very positive impact against Cardiff, so I wonder if he will look at that game and decide that perhaps Santi should be dropped to the bench with Rosicky in from the start. Actually, now that I think about it, what about Jack? He’s had a couple of really good games and in my opinion was the best player against Cardiff, so relegated to the bench seems a little harsh, but I suppose it will depend on how Arsene feels over his bowl of cornflakes this morning. The important thing is that we’ve got options. And if we need to, we can change things around a bit, so there is plenty to be cheerful going into today’s game.

I hope we’ll be able to give them lot a tonking, but I suspect this will be a close encounter under the floodlights, so strap yourselves in, and get ready for the rollercoaster ride that is The Arsenal Vs Spuds.