Maintaining momentum before the season definer

And that’s yer lot for another season. 38 games in which we’ve seen highs, as well as experienced some pretty lows, drew to a close yesterday as our league campaign finished with a final three points of 2013/14 against a Norwich team that had clearly had just about all the emotional stuffing knocked out of them when Sunderland were all but mathematically confirmed to have survived the drop by beating West Brom in midweek.

As for us, our season does not quite end just yet as we all know, so the importance of victory and maintaining momentum should probably be recognised, despite my dismissive pre-match blog yesterday. The team showed us that there was no way they were going to be delivering anything else but a professional and controlled game and by all accounts managed to restrict Norwich to a couple of chances throughout the match.

That it was Fabianski who received the nod ahead of Szczesny, who stood in between the sticks to receive the couple of Norwich chances, was just one of a number of debates we had last night with the Goonerholic on the penultimate SG Pod of the season. With much social media whisperings of disappointment that Szczesny didn’t receive the chance to win the Golden Glove (as ‘holic pointed out – most probably hadn’t heard of before yesterday), the same people began murmurings that it would mean the younger of the two Pole’s would get the nod next weekend. Personally I don’t think the appearance of Fabianski will equate to a dead certainty that Szcz will start – life, and certainly Arsene’s thinking, is not that linear – but I do think it was Arsene’s way of giving a Premier League send off to Fabianski. He’s won a lot of people over with his performances this season (when he’s played) and even last season when he came in for Wojciech, but that injury he had which effectively gave Szczesny the chance to regain his place last season, probably spelt the beginning of the end for his time as an Arsenal player.

With the news coming from Camp Sagna (no, he’s not decided to come out of the closet in the most mincing of fashions) that he will most likely not be at the club next season, it was also the Frenchman’s opportunity to call time on his Premier League Arsenal career with a good performance, to which he certainly seemed to do so with an assured display at centre half. There’s no doubt we’ll miss him and his ability to win headers against guys that sometimes seem a foot taller than him. It’s a shame the two parties couldn’t come to agreement but it’s hard not to wish both him and Fabianski all the best in their future careers. Unless they sign for Premier League clubs. Then I want nothing but misery for them.

But the real superlatives of today’s blog have to be reserved for that Welshman Ramsey who scored arguably one of the goals of the season. His right foot rocket hit first time on the volley was a thing of beauty from a player that finishes off his season in exactly the same way that he started it. He has been both the most improved and overall best player of the seasons for me and you can’t help but wonder what might have been if he’d have stayed fit. I mean, think about it: a stonking first half of the season and then missing a third of the season through injury, before returning to the team in the same form as when he left. It’s hard not to think he’d have broken the 20 league goal point if he’d have managed to avoid a spell on the sidelines. If you fancy a cheeky pound on a first goalscorer next weekend, with his form at the moment, you’d be hard pressed to get better value than Rambo right now.

There was even the opportunity for Carl Jenkinson to write a little bit of his own history by popping up with his first ever Arsenal goal and, if you ever want to know what your face would look like if you were to score a goal to Arsenal, just Google or search for a Vine of The Corporal’s yesterday. Great stuff.

Just before I wrap up for the day and start to look towards the FA Cup final, a quick word on Giroud, who also had a good game yesterday by all accounts. He’s a real confidence player if ever there was one and so after another good display against the Canaries, it’s good to know we’ll have a central striker feeling pretty darn good about himself going in to what has essentially become the decider on whether or not our season ticks the ‘met expectations’ or the ‘exceeded expectations’ box on the end of year report. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

That’s it from me today. I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Oh and congrats to City for ‘winning’ the league. Maybe.

Financial Farce Play

Howdy y’all.

Welcome to Saturday, a day in which there’s yet again no Arsenal of which to speak of, but there was a press conference for the manager yesterday. He spoke of a few issues, including who’s fit for tomorrow, the impact of too many managers changing their jobs and of course, Financial Fair Play (FFP). You’ll have to forgive me for today’s blog, because i’m going to go a little bit ranty because it’s that final topic that I want to focus on.

It should be renamed to Financial Farce Play. But I suspect we all knew that anyway. This week UEFA engaged with nine clubs that they have stated have effectively broken FFP and have put the sanctions to these clubs before publicly making announcements next week.

So next week we will essentially find out how effective FFP is to control the excessive overspending of money that football teams do not generate themselves. That this list of nine clubs has been whittled down from the original 76 UEFA had previously announced should raise some eyebrows. I for one would be very interested to find out what the criteria is for the 67 clubs that were originally being investigated to be dropped, but transparency in football governing bodies is like asking for the cats around where I live to stop dropping their fecal matter on my black and white graveled front garden. You can shout all you like, they either don’t understand you, or won’t listen to you anyway.

The likelihood is that we’ll never really know what type of investigation was conducted.

The second issue that must have the football world scratching their head is why UEFA have deciding to negotiate with these clubs as part of this process. Supposedly, UEFA have spent this week talking to the clubs in question asking them to accept their punishment, or appeal. I can understand this. It’s a little like the plea before the trial – guilty or not guilty – will need to be the response of the clubs and UEFA will know whether or not it will need to get together the evidence for a trial or whether the admission of guilt from the clubs will allow UEFA to dish out it’s ‘sanctions’ without fear of a long and drawn out contesting period. I understand the process and it seems logical, but why the secretive nature of the discussions? If UEFA have identified the clubs, engaged with these clubs to find out their ‘plea’ this week, do the clubs deserve anonymity?

Is it UEFA covering their own arses in case they’ve got a Club Financial Control Body that have trouble counting? I know i’m being slightly facetious here, but if a club is about to be charged with breaking the rules in some way, why do UEFA have to negotiate with them first? Surely the most transparent way of conducting this exercise is to announce who the clubs are, give them an opportunity to respond to state if they are innocent and present the evidence. By keeping it so secretive it merely adds fuel to the cynicism of the footballing world in my opinion.

This is where the cynic in me also comes to the fore, winning over any other part of my cerebrum and immediately telling me there’s something fishy going on. I suspect the only ‘negotiation’ is to decide how much money it is going to take to get these Sugar Daddy reliant clubs to Carry On Camping, so to speak. UEFA are as corrupt as FIFA and if their only intention of FFP is to impose fines on clubs where money is no object, they make a mockery of the entire system. You might as well tax a Saharan Desert Nomad by taking some of his sand from him.

Arsene was asked his stance on this yesterday and whilst I can be as brazen as possible in my opinions, he must be more measured in his approach. His response was to say that if FFP is not regulated effectively then the club would feel let down. He also intimated that there were a number of other clubs and a kind of ‘union’ of the big clubs that have come together – naming Bayern Chief Exec Karl Heinz Rummenige as somebody also involved – to support the concept of FFP that would also feel let down. It was an interesting comment from Le Boss and it was a subtle message to the public that, should FFP be seen as a bit of a sham, there will be some powerful clubs that might have something to say about it.

What some of these clubs can do is very difficult to work out. After all, they can hardly break away and form their own tournament can they? What would Arsenal do, for example, play the Emirates Cup during the season? We seemed to have hung our hat on FFP when it was first announced a few years ago, with Ivan Gazidis telling the world that we were supportive on it and that other clubs would need to fall in to line or fall out of European competition (as was being suggested at the time). However, the clubs position appears to have shifted to that of skepticism in recent past, as was pointed out to me in a quick Twitter exchange yesterday with Tim Stillman. So have the club always been of this mind, or did they ever really believe that FFP would be effectively implemented. That’s a question to which none of us will ever really know, but what we do know is that there seems to be very little anyone can really do should FFP be shown up as the farce that many suspect it will be.

What can the clubs do? Protest? Get a few bedsheets and stand outside the UEFA HQ in Nyon saying ‘Platini Out’? Start a new league? Publicly chastise UEFA? That would simply give them another opportunity to syphon money out of the clubs through fines. Non of the above is even remotely feasible. Which is why it gets people like me in such a vexatious mood, because I start to suspect that the net effect of the implementation of FFP will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the way in which finances in football are regulated. If a billionaire wants to take over a club as his or her plaything, and they know that at worst they will face some fines, all they’ll need to do is give the club a pot of cash labelled ‘for fines, sanctions or any other taxes from UEFA’ and carry on with the spunking of their cash on their new toy.

If all that becomes of FFP when announcements are made next week is that we see clubs with sugar daddies racking up some fines, then it will all become too clear exactly what FFP is: a tax on the rich clubs. It would be like the UK Government’s handy little trick of putting on a speeding camera on a road where there has been no real safety issues, so in effect it becomes a great way to generate a bit of cash from people without having to whack their income tax or any other tax up. FFP could end up nothing more than a stealth tax on clubs that can afford it.

But worse than that, it will be the most obvious indication that UEFA are a club that just fancies a little bit more cash for it’s coffers. They are corrupt already, they might as well profit from it.

Arsenal – and many clubs like ours – operate the correct way to run clubs to ensure their long-term sustainability. But unfortunately that means the square root of naff all when money is involved. Hoping that UEFA would put the kibosh on a worrying trend in football for unrestrained financial excess was always a bit of a long shot for most fans eyes, but it appears that we’re finally having the veil lifted from our peepers to see it for what it is.

That’ll do from me for one day. Back tomorrow with a match preview guys.

Have a good ‘un.

absence makes the heart grow fonder

Happy Saturday to you fellow Goonerite. It’s an interesting one because as we hit the last few dregs of the season, Sky and BT Sport have their grubby mits all over the most important fixtures, which means the chances of seeing Arsenal play a Saturday 3pm kick off is about as likely as Miley Cyrus admitting that she is actually a clone of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But with clear deficiencies in the cloning process obviously.

There was some interesting news as the working week drew to a close, which included Aaron Ramsey being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the year. It’s great to see his early season exploits have been regarded so highly and, had he stayed fit throughout the season and continued his form, one expects the end of season ceremony would have been more a case of ‘what time do you want me to collect the trophy?’ rather than ‘will I win it’ for the Welshman. His nomination also brings into stark contrast the challenges the team has faced missing in-form and key players for varying periods of time this season.

For example, I have seen a few Gooners (thankfully in the minority) bemoaning the form of Ozil before he was injured, yet some of those very same people are now overjoyed that he is returning to the first team fray, which certainly shows that the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder a true one. As Gooners we’ve become accustomed to saying to ourselves “yeah but, what if he was fit? Where would we be now?” and whilst it’s a path that is both pointless and maddening, it’s still something we should all be aware of.

Thankfully we have plenty of players returning for this final push on the league and on Thursday Arsene confirmed what he had already said post West Ham: Ozil is fit and raring to go for tomorrow and we appear to miss just Gibbs, Walcott and the eventual return to fitness (albeit most likely to be fleeting) of Abou Diaby. Had there been some magic cream to rub on the wounds of the returning players a month ago we might still be clinging on to a league title aspiration, but such is life and we must accept where we are and what is in front of us.

Kim Kallstrom has had his say on his experience and after some shaky misplaced passes in the first half on Tuesday, I thought he grew into the game well, showing some good upper body strength and above all with Arsene Wenger teams retaining possession is important. He certainly seemed capable in that regard. He thinks his experience will prove important in the next month and whilst I’m inclined to agree with him, I’m not sure how many chances on the field he’ll get to actually play. With Flamini back from suspension I think Arsene has his hierarchy of more defensive minded midfielders and I think Kallstrom is certainly in at number three there. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season. I don’t know if Kallstrom is available on a free transfer or not, but I’d be surprised if Wenger had the interest in making a 31-year-old a permanent offer, so perhaps this is just an opportunity for Kallstrom to market himself in the Premier League as much as possible and try to get a club. Perhaps the fact that he’s playing at Arsenal might be enough to convince a Premier League manager that he’s worth a punt next season, but I’d be surprised if he’s gracing the Emirates in a red jersey come August.Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Arsene has also talked up (as you’d expect) the importance of Giroud recovering his….ahem….mental strength in overcoming his recent transgressions both on and off the field and appeared to be back to his form of earlier in the season against West Ham. He also made an interesting observation about the number of headers Giroud wins from out wide in crossing positions, compared to the number of headers he wins when the ball comes from deep. He’s right of course; it’s interesting to see a player that is so good in the air in one type position not be as good in another. I guess you could say that you have to be a lot more accurate when heading towards a specific part of the goal rather than just winning the ball for it to ping off in any direction. You can’t say it’s a difference between how aggressive he is when he attacks the ball, as to win any header in the first place you have to be aggressive. It’s something I’m sure Giroud is conscious of too.

Personally, I just think that Giroud’s form has been linked to who we are playing as much as his fatigue this season. Every Gooner I meet accepts that he’s a player with limited abilities, so sure it must only be rational to assume that he is therefore a player that we are only likely to see score goals against teams who are also limited in their technical capabilities? If you want to make the difference in big games, you need ‘special’ players. Giroud tries hard, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal player that agrees he’s ‘special’. So whilst we can all bemoan a missed chance against Chelski or Liverpool, perhaps we should just accept that from a striking position we’ve got what we essentially paid for, so it’s difficult to be too frustrated with the Frenchman in that regard.

The positive of this, however, is that if this is true, then we can expect Giroud to have a better end to the season than the last month. The next few games include matches from teams that are all in the bottom 10 in the league, where Giroud – like Arsenal this season – is a bit of a flat track bully and has been scoring goals. Providing he stays fit I’d expect him to play all of the remaining five games, with Sanogo only being used if the chips are down. Putting aside the sobering thought that we have a raw 19-year-old as our ‘go-to-guy’, if Giroud can hit some form then at least we could see him get to perhaps 23 or 24 goals.

Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of me for one day, so I’ll take my leave and request that you have a lovely Saturday.

Back with a match preview tomorrow.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts 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.

A3 posters with fluorescent markers to emphasize focus – Marseille Preview

Happy Game Day Gooners, how goes it? For me, it’s a welcome day, possibly more so than some, because it’s been a fully 24 days since I last frequented The Emirates, what with the United away game, plus the Interlull, plus the fact I gave away my tickets for Saturday to secure the future of a young Gooner from being indoctrinated into the horrible world of being a Surrey Manc. I’m pleased to report that the operation was a complete success, the kid is now hooked – so says his Pa.

Liverpool was the last game I was at and I’ve been getting the shakes it’s been so long. It will be a welcome sight to see the stadium rise from among the concrete world of North London as the boys take to the field against a Marseille team that, although in theory they have nothing to play for, we all know they have something to play for: Pride.

Let’s not forget where too much pride gets you – a fall – so it’s important that we’re not too over-confident of victory tonight. The Germans we lined up against last season felt the game was done and dusted at our place at the beginning of this year and look where they ended up; running the ball into the corners playing for time against an Arsenal team that, unbeknownst to us on that evening, have been in the finest of forms since then. We’ve carried some amazing form from that day and it is performances like we have seen at the back-end of last season or the beginning of this season have put us in a fabulous position in both domestic and European competition. But that most tired of clichés – you don’t win anything in November – needs to be unfurled in big A3 sheets of paper in the dressing room before kick off tonight. And for good measure big Per should circle the permanent marker ink with fluorescent blue and yellow ink with arrows pointing at the words just to make sure.

It will be an interesting one to see what Arsene does tonight in terms of team selection. We’re getting into a heavy volume of games in the run up to the Christmas period so an element of rotation is inevitable. But when does he rotate and whom? Does Monreal get the nod tonight with Gibbs in mind for Cardiff away? Should Vermaelen be given a chance against what has statistically been proven to be the weakest team in the Champions League group stages? Is it time for Jack to rest so he is ready, willing and more importantly able to perform to his highest standards at a tricky away trip into Wales on Saturday? There are lots of questions to which I have no idea. And I’ve given up second-guessing Le Boss because I’m normally wrong. What we do know however, is that Marseille will not sit back and let us have the ball for the whole game. They still have players that can cause us damage and in Valbuena they have tricky little midget that dictates the play if he get’s enough time on the ball. Andre Ayew will not play due to injury, and the unfortunately named Rod Fanni will not be available too.

As for our lads, I suspect we might see one or two rotated from Saturday, but no more than that. Given Theo has been out for so long, I’m not sure that he’ll start, but I do think he will make an appearance and can certainly cause damage to Marseille. Champions League teams tend not to sit as deep as domestic teams, so they will I am sure provide plenty of green grass for Walcott to run into. In a way it’s a shame that this game and the game against Cardiff aren’t further spaced apart, because I’d earmark those two games for Walcott to start given the fact that both teams will probably be pressing more forward than Hull and Everton at The Emirates, but hey-ho. I think we’ll see Tomas Rosicky given the nod after a quiet game from Cazorla at the weekend and, despite the news that Arteta is fit and available, I wonder if Arsene will be tempted to do a bit of rotation between Flamini and Mikel. We’ve seen the ‘double pivot’ work against Napoli but it was reliant on an early goal to settle the nerves, yet at Manchester United I’m not sure it was deployed to the greatest effect. If you rest Arteta today it gives an opportunity for him to be ready against Cardiff, so that would be my preferred option.

The back four practically picks itself. We need to get the points on the board as quickly as possible and, if Napoli do us a favor tonight against Dortmund, providing we get the win at home then we will be through and it will give Le Boss the chance to rotate a little in the last game of the group stages. I also think that Arsene will be looking at the Hull game as an opportunity for rotation rather than this one, so I think the only major changes we’ll see are Rosicky for Cazorla and Flamini for Arteta.

Focus and concentration are the name of the game tonight. We need to be on it and make sure that we have the determination to get to that 12 point marker which, I’m still convinced should see us through into the next round. I’m taking The Management along tonight in the hope that her continual ability to watch games at the Emirates that usually finish with Arsenal winning by three goals becomes another reality. If we do win tonight by that margin, give her a shout out on Twitter with thanks – Nichola_Howard

That’s it from me tonight – Up the Arsenal!

Theo’s chance should come in a different team dynamic

I wonder if Theo Walcott is rubbing his hands together with glee? After all, he is the one that suggested that he was a central striker, which is the reason he was holding off his contract. Of course, the games where he did get given the nod last season were very much a bag of mixed results. Explosive off the shoulder of the last man, the Capital One Cup match against Reading had us all musing to one another that he could potentially step up, but less fruitful results against better opponents also highlighted some clear deficiencies in his game.

Yesterday Arsene spoke of Giroud’s need to have a late fitness test, contrary to the reassurance the Frenchman gave us through social media channels on Saturday night. He may think that ‘everything’s ok guys’ but Arsene clearly has concerns. Perhaps it is indicative of the successful pre season and goalscoring start to this season that on Saturday we all held a collective breath and looked anxiously at one another up in the North East when he went down, and subsequently off through a late substitution. No Arsenal fan is foolhardy enough to say that his importance to the team is akin to That Dutch Bloke (TDB – I think I’ll shorten any description of him from now on. He’s not worthy of additional letters and the few milliseconds it takes to type them), but it is a massive compliment that those anxious looks have been seen before. His replacement Akpom made his debut for Arsenal, but at 17 it’s hard to see him rocking up at Marseille’s home turf and starting, let alone banging in goals.

So whilst we wait patiently to find out if Ollie G can make it to Marseille, I am left pondering about Theo. there is no doubt his pace troubles defences and there is no doubt that playing off the shoulder of the last man could have benefits for the team as well as Walcott on Wednesday night, especially if Özil is playing, as it will create more space if it results in the Marseille back four dropping deeper. This would in turn create bigger gaps in between their defence and attack and give more room for players like Özil, Rambo and Jack to do their stuff. But I am left wondering how effective Walcott can be, especially in our current formation.

Personally, I think he’s made for a ‘two up top’ formation. The ability to anticipate knock ons from the big centre forward, whilst playing off the last man, would probably see him notch at least 25 goals this season – especially when you add Özil’s through balls.But we all know we don’t play that way. Our formation is such that playing a smaller, nippy forward at the apex with two wide attackers, simply results in us conceding possession every time we are forced to push the ball long. That’s why Giroud has been so perfect this season. He’s not just banging in goals, he’s allowing others to run off him by holding the ball up and winning headers. If you replace Walcott for Giroud and ask him to do the same job, then we’ll see a repeat of four or five seasons ago when Arshavin played as the lone front man due to injury. It became a joke in Block Five at The Emirates to talk about how Almunia was playing the long ball to our big, strong centre forward, so much so that I think even the team stopped looking for the front man because they knew the ball was coming straight back at them.

But if Giroud is not fit, what choice do we have? Ultimately, none in terms of personnel (don’t worry, I’m not delving any further into the ‘should have signed a striker’ debate), but perhaps we do in terms of the way we are set up and the way we play football. With Özil likely to be fit, he can play just behind Walcott and we look to adopt a 4-4-1-1 formation, perhaps with a hybrid of the classic ‘two banks of four’ and instead having Flamini and Vermaelen sitting with Ramsey and Wilshire given more licence to roam forward. It’s not something we’ve seen before, but having a squad this threadbare is quite unusual – even for The Arsenal.

If Le Boss is considering this as an option, he’ll have to think hard about asking the team to adapt it’s ‘Plan B’ slightly. Our ‘Plan A’ is short, quick passing in neat triangles to build up the play, but if we are under pressure then there is always Giroud as an option to send the ball long. With no Giroud to target, the team would need to either stick rigorously to ‘Plan A’ or find a new ‘Plan B’. Unfortunately I can’t give any insight into what that might be I’m afraid.

I’m sure we’ll hear more from Le Boss today about his options, plus we’ve got the good news of Per’s return to ensure that defensively we have options, so whilst it’s a little worry about the pointy end of the team, at least we know we’ll have the strongest back five available come tomorrow night.

More by way of a match preview then, so I shall bid you ‘Adieu‘ until then.

Catch you tomorrow Gooners.

Flamster, Baggies, CL Draw and more

Right, bloody loads to talk about today, so let’s crack on.

We’ve got West Brom in the Capital One Cup
Tough draw away from home, but I suspect we’ll also see Steve Clarke resting some of the regular first team West Brom players as well as Arsene, so I’d expect us to be evenly matched. The Baggies have the advantage of home soil, but we’ll field some of the squad players rather than an entire team of youngsters, so I suspect we’ll have a decent enough chance to get through. Good to see the status quo of Chelski getting lower league opponents in the opening rounds (allowing them to completely rotate) has been maintained there.

It’s one of the competitions we’ve got to be looking at as a chance of, if nothing else, shutting up those ‘eight years and counting’ journos. Although if we did win the competition it would be turned into ‘eight years and only a Capital One Cup to show for it’.

The games will be played in between a home game against Stoke and away to Swansea, so by no means easy ties and if Arsene’s players get a physical battering against the cave men in red and white stripes, I’d expect to see a full squad rotation. It will be good to get a glimpse of Miyachi, Zelalem, Gnabry and who knows, maybe even Sanogo might prove himself to be half decent if he’s got more than twenty minutes to impose himself on a game? I say ‘see’ them, but knowing our luck this will be one of the few games that isn’t televised and there are no highlights for until you watch Sky Sports News three days later. And they’ll probably only show the goals. So let’s hope all the youngsters score and we win 6-0.

Looks like Flamini has actually signed
Strong news/rumours coming out yesterday via that ever so reliable source known as Twitter stating that Flamini and Arsenal had come to an agreement over a deal to bring him back to the club. I said a few weeks back that I thought we could do worse than the Flamster and, provided he’s not the only player being bought in, I think it’s a pretty okay deal. Notice my general lack of excitement at this stage, because we are effectively papering over the cracks with that signing, and only a big international world class arrival will provide the Pollyfiller that will mend some of the broken cracks that have appeared in the relationship between the club and the fans.

To to my mind, paper over that crack all you like Arsenal, as long as you buy some Pollyfiller for underneath the paper too.

Flamini will be a good addition to bolster the squad. He knows the Premier League, he’s experienced in top flight football and he’ll get stuck in. And with the team already dropping like flies when it comes to injuries, I see it as good for both parties, a ‘marriage of convenience’ if you will.

Ozil adds to list of players that supposedly don’t want to come
I think it’s probably the biggest indication of how far down the European super-powers The Arsenal have fallen that we have players actively turning their noses up at joining Arsenal. Ozil is the latest one to say he wants to stay at Madrid. I understand; Madrid are one of the three biggest clubs in the world and pay astronomical wages and signing on fees. Plus they win trophies ‘n that. Where as we have just the smallest of carrots to dangle in front of players in the form of Champions League football.

I know that you can get players to join you by paying them megabucks, like Moneychester City did when they first won the footballing lottery, but we all know by now that’s not us. So because of that, we’re stuck in this halfway house between the mega-rich and/or mega-successful, and the next tier down. It’s why we’re after players that will strengthen the squad rather than the first team, a la Cabaye. I still have the tiniest slither of hope that a ‘wow’ signing is but a mere few days away, but that hope is like a flickering candle in a drafty room I’m afraid.

We want to eat at the top table in terms of transfers, but I do wonder if we’re still turning up with colourful plastic cutlery with dinosaurs on it, rather than the sterling silver stuff that will attract the best players. They need to see the ambition and by bringing in Flamini and bidding for Cabaye, we’re still showing we’re not quite ready yet in my opinion. Which is crazy, because we do have all of the silver we need, hell – even some platinum cutlery. But we prefer to be that person that keeps it in a glass cabinet to get dusty and never be used.

My ideal Champions League Group
We see who we’re up against in the Champions League draw later today and having looked at how our group could end up, we could have a real tough challenge on our hands. We’re in Pot 1, which helps, but the fact that we could see Dortmund and Napoli in our group really wouldn’t fill me with the greatest of confidence. Having said that, a group containing Marseille, FC Basel and FC Kobenhavn would be just the ticket. We all love to see the big games, but my personal preference is to navigate the group stages and take our chances in knockout competition, so I’m hoping that those little black balls are kind to us come 4.45pm.

Theo thinks we’re still Number 1
…In North London at least. Some fighting talk ahead of the NLD is always good and shows that the players are up for the fight. But I’d personally rather see a media lockdown if I’m honest. Remember that whole Robbie Keane ‘we’ve got a better team than them’ a few years back? Certainly bit him on the gluteals and was hilarious to see our team respond by smashing the Spuds 3-0. But this time it’s Theo talking us up, so lets hope we have the minerals to see off the Spuds on our own turf. The confidence should have been rebuilt slightly after three wins, so the hope is that the players have that bit of swagger about them that will see us pick up three points on Sunday.

Right, that’s yer lot for today. Until tomorrow peeps.

Rambo: now with added ‘goalability’

On a balmy and thoroughly relaxing Tuesday night, Champions League football was once again secured by Arsene’s men, at the expense of Fenerbahce from Turkey.

There’s not really much else to say apart from that, because after the first twenty minutes it was pretty clear that there wouldn’t be much fight from the Turkish side. Well, excluding their away fans, who admirably enough were in fine song all evening. At one stage towards the end of the match, we were even treated to some Poznan-style backs against the play, whilst being shirtless too I might add.

That colour bought by the away fans was certainly not replicated on the pitch and, an Emenike shot well saved by Szczesny against the near post aside, Fenerbahce rarely troubled us in the first half. Indeed, it was Arsenal that showed the greater attacking emphasis, with that man Aaron Ramsey once again showing how important he is becoming to the way that we play. He was his usual self last night, but with added ‘goalability’ thrown in for good measure, the second of which being mighty fine in its execution. Volleying in from about twelve yards and to the left hand side of the box is quite a feat in the manner he did, but it was the fact that he was in that position in the first place that got me grinning like a Cheshire Cat amongst anything else.

The confidence is coursing through the Welshman’s veins and he’s showing everybody exactly what he brings to the table right now. He’s out shining even the exuberant Jack Wilshire right now with his displays, and with a North London Derby looming on the horizon, it couldn’t be a better time for him to find form.

So it’s almost inevitable that he picked up a knock tonight and is an uncertainty for this weekend. Honestly, it’s almost as if Arsene ran across a black cats path whilst trying not to step on three drains and smashing head first into a mirror, stumbling slightly to fall underneath a ladder. Our luck with injuries seems to border the farcical, and with confirmation from Le Boss that Podolski is out for three weeks and Ramsey has taken a kick, you wonder if we’ll see an ad in the Islington Gazette for some footballers come this weekend.

The good news is that, despite taking a few cynical fouls – as seems the norm for him these days – Jack came away with just a few bruises to his name. He had a solid game last night and looked comfortable enough all over the park. He’s starting to finally look like he’s back to his old ways and I’m sure you’ll join me in a collective sigh of relief for that.

I have to say I’m impressed with the teams higher pressing that they’ve exhibited over the last few games. I’ve always said it’s the easiest thing to do in football, providing you have the fitness, so to see our players chasing and hassling opponents into forced errors is great. It bodes well for the confidence, the North London Derby at the weekend, as well as our season overall. I suspect the form of Rambo has a lot to do with it. Much like how Cesc was a captain that led by example rather than barking, Rambo is setting the tone for our intense pressing by his ‘all-action’ mentality, even if he isn’t technically the captain. When players see how hard he is working, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that some of those in red shirts around him also give that extra 10% of effort.

A quick word on our opponents yesterday: pants.

So we are now at the sharp end of the transfer window, days away from a NLD and despite quite an injury problem mounting, confidence is high. Yes, we know that the lack of squad depth is of our own making, and yes, we all hope for some reinforcements, but it’s a discussion for another day. Right now, we just have to be pleased that we’re into the lot for the Champions League group proper.

Over and out.

United: overriding disappointment, but it could be a valuable point

At the beginning of this season if you’d have run your finger down the fixture list and tapped lightly on the weekend of 27/28 April, I probably would have said to you I’d settle for a draw that week. Manchester United coming to town is always a tough fixture, especially for The Arsenal and our really poor recent run against them, but it’s one of those that you’d hope we could get something from the game.

Indeed, as the fixture approached and it looked like they might win the league on our home turf, the possibility of a draw didn’t seem so unappealing. When coupled with the draw that the Spuds got away to Wigan at the weekend, a draw on the face of it seems an ok result, as we still have a two point cushion over that lot and the hope that three wins out of three should see us into the Champions League spots.

So why is it that I feel a bit dejected this morning? Why do I feel like yesterday we saw two points dropped?

Probably because we did.

Before the game all the talk was about THAT person returning and a guard of honour. I couldn’t really give a monkeys about either and so my hope was that all of the distraction in the build up would allow us to catch our newly crowned opponents off guard. And I think it’s fair to say we did. The first 40 minutes was all Arsenal and within the first five we were one up. Theo got in behind Evra to slot the ball beyond De Gea and send my section of the crowd into delirium. It was exactly what we needed. In the media hyperbole that had been whipped up before the game most pundits and journos alike seemed to have forgotten there was a game to play. The team reminded them of that instantly.

The first half was Arsenal’s. Cazorla forced a good save, Gibbs had a shot over the bar and we were rarely troubled in defence, save for Szczesny’s face taking a knock from a header from that guy. We controlled and bossed the game for the most of that first half.

But Bacary, oh Bacary, what hath become of thee? As Arsenal fans we never underestimate the ability of this team to press the self destruct button. But on this occasion it wasn’t the collective switching off that cost us – just one – Sagna. I have no idea what his pass to that person was about, nor do I have any idea why he felt it necessary to lunge at the player whilst inside the box, but he did and it cost us. I think it’s fair to say that Sagna is no longer that consistent player he made his name on in seasons past. Yesterday he stunk the place out so bad it made my eyes water. And unfortunately it’s not the first time this season that he’s gifted goals to opponents through some comedy defending. At the beginning of the season he made comments about players leaving and that he wasn’t sure about a new deal. Well son, you’ve done a bang tidy job of increasing apathy levels amongst Arsenal fans this season with some of your performances, so don’t expect an uproar if you don’t get your new deal and are moved on. We often said that Arsene knows when a player has hit their peek and has historically been good at moving them on at the right time, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the failure to offer a new deal is of no coincidence at all. With Jenkinson waiting in the wings for his chance, Bacary’s number might just be up at the club, perhaps even having to settle for a squad position if he’s not moved on in the summer. I know this sounds very reactionist after a poor game, but his stock has declined after a series of poor games – just like Vermaelen – whilst Jenkinson’s has increased, so to me this doesn’t sound too extreme an opinion to share.

The second half was a little bit cagier from Arsenal and we failed to assert the same dominance as the first. We looked like we could get caught on the counter on a couple of occasions but you have to say that – right back apart – the defence by and large coped very well. THAT player didn’t really have much of a sniff and Rooney was also kept marshalled for most of the match.

Up the other end Rosicky went close and Santi forced a smart save from De Gea, but we were unable to breach the United defence. Without the benefit of any replays I can only give you my real-time view that Gibbs should had had a penalty, but when you’ve got big-fat-Phil-Dowd officiating, don’t expect any favours. Supposedly he personally went to Rio Ferdinand to apologise about the Walcott goal when it was shown that he was slightly offside. I wonder if the same personal touch was afforded to Arsene Wenger two seasons ago when he gave a second penalty up at St James’ Park for an invisible foul on Mike Williamson? I suspect not.

Many will see this as a point gained, and hopefully in hindsight I will too come the end of the season, but right now I can only see it as two points dropped. From what I saw yesterday, this wasn’t a United team at 100%, but probably at more like 70%. You could see that they were playing within themselves and were there for the taking, yet we could not muster enough composure – both offensively and defensively – to get those vital three points that could have provided a massive platform to complete the job before the last game of the season. That’s why I’m frustrated. That’s why I’m a little dejected. Because it shows me how far we’ve fallen that getting a draw against a half-trying United team is seen as a good result.

But we must carry on. We play a relegated QPR on Saturday and we simply must pick up three points. Our rivals for Champions League places probably won’t drop many more, so nothing except three wins from our next three games can be considered acceptable.

Come on Arsenal, one final push to get us over the line.