Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.

Champions League sorted, now the FA Cup to focus on

Don’t shoot the messenger here, but just before I woke up this morning, I was in Berlin about to watch Arsenal play in the Champions League final. We’d beaten Monaco and Basle and in the semi final we’d played Norman Booth under-11s (they were the best team in my youth league and won every game by about 12 goals) and I was with friends and family about to head into the stadium.

I don’t want to leave you on tenterhooks, but unfortunately my alarm went off so I didn’t even get to find out if we’d won the Champions League, so I can’t give you any predictions on glory or ultimate failure I’m afraid. My subconscious probably timed the dream perfectly so that wouldn’t happen anyway no doubt.

In the real world, the build up to Sunday’s showdown with Middlesborough starts in earnest today and, with Boro flying high in the Championship, as each passing day goes by I am starting to think that the manager could probably afford to rotate his strongest team less and less. There will be those of us that think lower league opposition should be relatively easy to cope with, but teams riding high in the Championship are a different kettle of fish. It’s looking like Middlesborough might get promoted by May, so this tie played in a year’s time would therefore be an all Premier League affair, something to consider.

We also need to recognise what confidence does to a side. Just look at the Spuds. They have strung together a good run of form and with a bunch of okayish-looking players they have suddenly become a bit more of a threat. All because of the confidence that their run of winning games have brought. Now compare that to Middlesborough. If they were a Premier League team near the foot of the table, they certainly wouldn’t have the levels of confidence that they have right now, riding high as the Championship league leaders. So I guess what I’m saying is for the Arsenal players – and manager – to beware of complacency and appreciate what confidence does to teams less technically gifted than our own.

I still think Arsène should rotate and I still believe that with some of our rotated players (Gibbs, Chambers, Welbeck, Rosicky) we should have enough, but there just needs to be an air of caution and concentration surrounding the team.

For what it’s worth, the players are saying the right things. Olivier Giroud is on the official site and is stressing the importance of starting off on the ‘front foot’. A replication of the last rounds excellent start by scoring within the first few minutes will be important.

Whether Olivier plays or not is a question for the manager, but I do wonder if he’ll fancy giving Akpom a shot at the Smoggies on Sunday. Probably not and he’ll probably have to contend with a place on the bench, but it’s clear Arsène feels he’s one for the future and the cameos he’s featured in so far, he’s done ok in. More to come from a player who was supposedly tracked by Dortmund and Liverpool.

I suspect he’ll go on loan eventually. I think the loan window is still open, but I’m not sure for how much longer but with Coquelin and Campbell both getting airtime on the dot com, I’d expect to see Akpom take a similar journey. Coquelin has been talking up his time in Freiburg as pivotal to his career and whilst the official website creates this content for the fans, I do wonder how much of it the players read and therefore the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this little campaign of talking up the loan players, is a little bit of propaganda to send a message – the right message I hasten to add – to Akpom.

Probably not. This is probably just a classic case of your average Arsenal fan reading waaaay too much into things. We’re pretty good at that as a fan base, by and large.

Anyway, that’s enough from me for one day, I have a game of Marvel Puzzle Quest to catch up on.

Cheery-bye.

Le boss in fine fettle and the club in form; what we all want, right?

Arsene took on the press yesterday and, as expected I suppose given our form and the announcement of a signing to talk about in the shape of Gabriel, he was in quite a jovial mood. I must say, it is much more preferable to me when everyone is a little bit more happier. I think there are some Arsenal fans out there in the world who seem to thrive on misery in some sort of footballing masochistic mindset, because some people only seem to get a thrill when we’re failing. But me, I like it when things are rosy in our garden. I like it when Arsene can have a joke with the press about giving them his address so they can send another signing his way if he is an ‘exceptional talent’.

Le Boss told the assembled hacks that Gabriel was ready, fit and will go straight into the squad, which is lovely to hear and something that will be a great boost to the squad as a whole. He may not speak enough English yet, but his fellow Spaniard’s in the team will give him enough support and I suspect that if we can get ourselves a comfortable lead on Sunday (which I don’t think will happen by the way; I suspect Villa will be hard to break down and it will be a tighter game than the pundits are suggesting, but more on that tomorrow), we might see Gabriel as a sub appearance to ease him in to the team.

The only downer that you could possibly have on the presser yesterday was the confirmation from Arsene that Alexis is unlikely to be risked. He’s picked up a knock and as a result I think Wenger will play the cautious game. It’s a sensible option and one that is made all the easier for the boss by the form of other players, as well as the fact that we have somebody like Rosicky who, in my opinion, deserves another run in the team after the Brighton game. Of course, the options are such now, that Rosicky may not even start, and with Ozil back you wonder if it will be a combination of Santi/Ozil or Santi/Rosicky for that left wing position. My preference would be Rosicky out wide left because I think the best players who are in the best form need to play and Santi is in the best form so he has to play centrally. Ozil out wide left hasn’t worked as much, but Rosicky has more experience in that position, so I’d give him the nod. But second guessing Arsene is like trying to break the Enigma machine, so I’ll not bother trying with that just yet.

Welbeck, Jack and the Ox are still out, but with the sheer volume of quality players we have at the moment – something Arsene confirmed when he spoke yesterday when replying to whether there would be any more signings – means that we have plenty of options to cater for our massive injury list. You just watch: now that we seem to have found solutions to the troubled positions that have been rocked by injury, we’ll end up having the whole squad fit and players getting unhappy because they’re not playing as much. I guess we’d all rather have that than the other end of the spectrum though, i.e. no players fit so we go back to putting square pegs in round holes!

I do wonder with the Welbeck situation, whether Arsene is being ‘ultra cautious’ because he has other players that he wants to play who are in form over recent weeks, hence why he won’t be featured this weekend. Arsene has said that in the past he’s told the press that a player is injured, or has a ‘little bit knock’ of varying degrees, but with the form post Moneychester City and Brighton, Welbeck doesn’t just walk straight in to this team. It saves his, as well as Arsene, a job of fitting players in if one is a bit ‘short’. I know I’m going all conspiracy theory-esque on you now, but it just seems convenient that Welbeck is back on Monday and, after Rosicky will have played the last few games back-to-back, Arsene might then have a get out by saying ‘look, he is 34 and he cannot play every week, so I have to be able to rest him’. I know, I know, I’m getting way to hypothetical here – especially if Rosicky doesn’t play tomorrow – but given that I saw somebody on Twitter speak about how they had met Welbeck and he’d said he is fit, it feels like Arsene is keeping players back to save their own face as he tries to fit in so many talented footballers into his matchday squad.

But hey, I’ve wanted this for so long (squad rotation) so please don’t mistake my comments as a literary bashing at the manager- they’re really not supposed to be. If you’re going to have a big squad of talented footballers, you’re also going to have a lot of bruised egos when they’re not playing, so the best thing to do is to protect them in the public eye and I’m sure they will appreciate that too. So I say ‘bravo’ to Arsene. It feels like his mindset is shifting and he’s starting to manage the fitness of the players better; rotating them on a regular basis, keeping the competition for places realistic and at the same time ensuring that the infamous ‘red zone’ is this evil thing that is way off into the distance somewhere.

We’re in good spirits right now. A win tomorrow will give us yet more momentum and with a trip to Spudsville on the horizon, it will be good to see that we are in the kind of ‘positive spiral’ that could help us to put on a show and potential collect three points at our nearest and certainly not dearest rivals.

Until tomorrow.

Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

Alexis is the difference from last season’s City games

Arsene was in fine form yesterday at the pre-match presser, wasn’t he? Laughing with the hacks, joking about their constant reminders on our form against the top teams, even giving a completely straight and direct answer to the questions about signing the young Legia Warsaw midfielder Krystian Bielik. All yes’ as far as that transfer is concerned, although I think we all knew that anyway so there was hardly any other person that really needed confirmation from Arsene that the young Pole would be joining.

Asked about the game on Sunday, I thought Wenger was quite upbeat actually, which I am hoping is a good sign. He was quick to point out the ‘special circumstances’ of last seasons battering at the Etihad, but given that we have such a shocking record against the traditional top three teams in the division, he seemed to be quite positive.

Dismissing history as a relevance to this game however, surely can’t just be the naïve belief that he has, can it? I mean, when you’re consistently turned over by the big teams there surely can be no way that it doesn’t play on the players minds. We have terrible records away from home to United, Chelski, City and I’d probably even say the Spuds over the last few years, so the idea that we’re going to turn up at Moneychester City’s ground with no real apprehensions about our inability to kill off better teams, seems a foolish notion to me.

I’ll lay my cards on the table now a day before my pre-match preview: I am not in confident mood ahead of tomorrow. I can’t see how we are going to win. A draw right now would be a dream result as far as I’m concerned. City have too much firepower and we have too much defensive fragility. Tomorrow i’ll try to put a more positive spin on my pre-match blog, but today I’m looking at the cold light of day and I can’t see – along with all of the pundits in world football, I’m afraid – how we’re going to win this game.

But Arsene has to believe differently, so he has to remain positive, so I’m glad he’s doing it more for all of us. I guess one reason that he has to be positive is that we’re a better team than we were when we played City last season. I’m not a fan of his ‘yeah, but this was why we lost’ excuses, but he had a point when asked about last year’s game. We had played in Italy on Wednesday, then were down to play on Saturday lunchtime, so it must have played some part. We were also a bit hard done by on a few decisions in the game and I remember counting persistent fouls by one City player on the day on my Twitter feed, which led to no booking whatsoever. There as also a disallowed goal too. Plus there was a penalty for City which probably should not have been. All of this sounds like very Arsenesque excuse making, which it sort of is I guess, but it’s just worth noting that the rub of the green didn’t really go for us that day. It went so far heavily in City’s favour that Pellegrini’s mum spent days cleaning the grass stains from his trouser knees.

I am also going to go out on a limb here too and suggest that we have a better team than we did last year. Certainly going forward, anyway. Although Welbeck is still injured, a front three that is likely to include Alexis in the form he is in, automatically gives us an extra 10% to our game. He was the subject of conversations in both pre-match press conferences of both manager’s ahead of Sunday’s game, with Pellegrini arguing that Alexis is the best player in the league right now. I listened to a radio station last night which had numerous City fans coming on to disagree and, whilst Aguero has the reputation and history of doing it across a number of years in this division, there’s no doubt that Alexis has done it more often, mainly because he’s been fit all season. When we played the oil whores last year, did we have a player in such a rich vein of form? I know we were in pretty good form as a collective up until that point, but even the top teams have that special player that gives them the ‘X’ factor (that phrase has been permanently ruined by Cowell and his cronies by the way, to which I’ll never forgive them), which I don’t think we had last season to the extent we have had this season in Alexis. The hope is that he sparkles tomorrow instead of having a quiet game.

Of course that will depend on his teammates also stepping up, because playing against the top team requires more than just one man to win the game. When you’re playing a Stoke or a Hull at home, you can rely on one player if you keep solid at the back and let him be the difference, but there’s no doubt City will score tomorrow, so we can’t rely on keeping a clean sheet and hoping that Alexis is the difference with the odd goal.

So we’ll need to look towards the team – the virtues of which Arsene emphasised with his clear dressing down of the Ballon D’or and it’s purpose in a game which is aimed at team success and victory as a collective – to provide the support for Alexis in winning the game. It’s going to be harder with the first choice right back out for essentially the rest of the season, but you have to hope that those that start tomorrow will give additional cover to whoever starts – Chambers or Bellerin. More on my predicted line up tomorrow methinks. For now, go and enjoy your Saturday. It looks like there’s a bit of snow coming down outside, so I’m going to make a snow angel. Then pray to it for three points for The Arsenal this weekend.

Cheerio.

The horizon of hope (and less injuries)

Well what have we hear? Good news and returning players from injury? Is that cause for optimism I see galloping over the horizon, heading towards us at a rate of miles per hour? Sort of, I guess, because until we win some back-to-back games, which seems as likely as a Ched Evans apology right now, I don’t think that Black Beauty will neigh its way past us for a few weeks. We have a game against Stoke tomorrow with which you’d hope we can pick up a victory, but the following week see’s us go to the Etihad to pick up yet another loss to continue our dreadful away form against the big teams.

But stop this, Chris, because you’re being positive today so get back on track for today’s blog. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts…..3-2-1 you’re back in the room…

So we have the return of Mesut Ozil to all get excited about. Missing since October, his patchy form of the beginning of the season belied his natural ability and I think – as does Arsene if you believe his presser yesterday – that we’re going to see the best of our German for the second half of this season. Arsene spoke about the ‘hunger’ that he has back in his belly and that’s a-ok for me. He’s a man who see’s things that nobody else in our team can do. We may have bemoaned the lack of Cescyness in our team this season, but you only have to look at the sheer volume of assists he made for us last season, as well as for a number of year’s with Ronaldo, to know what we’ll get in our team.

This is the thing you see. Ozil has never had someone at Arsenal with the pace and the ability to get in behind defenders. Ronaldo may be one of the most skilful players on the planet, but he is also a pacey one, getting in behind defenders and relying on his teammates as much as he relies on his own ability. Mesut spent the first half of this season either injured or shunted out wide, with only a handful of games in the middle. Arsene has already admitted that he saw his World Cup players look like they had a bit of what he called ‘artificial hunger’, but with Alexis out wide on the left, Giroud through the middle and one of Welbeck/Ox/Walcott occupying the other position, if Arsene is going to get Ozil in this team it will be in that number 10 role that we’re all craving him to play in.

It will however, mean the end of Santi’s spell in that position and as a result you have to feel for the Spaniard. There are plenty that will – rightly – call for Ozil not to come in until he has earned his place or until Santi’s form has dipped, but I reckon we’ll see Ozil slowly drafted in to the team regardless of how well Cazorla played. That’s just the way he is. He has his favourites. Always has, always will. But hey, at least we now have enough options to be genuinely having a discussion about who has earned the right to play, eh? Much better than looking at a squad and repeatedly reciting the word ‘deadwood’, right?

With Ozil’s arrival we also find more positive news on the injury front, as both Ramsey and Flamini have been declared fit, so it means we finally have more options for the manager to choose from. Competition is important to at the top of professional football, as we’ve seen with Szczesny, so to have Flamini and Le Coq now fighting it out, as well as Ramsey, Ox, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky all vying for a starting slot, it augurs well for the players’ desire in the latter part of this season.

That’s why I don’t think Szczesny should be dropped right now, actually, because I think the knowledge that his position is under threat might just spark the kind of hunger we want to see from him. I have always been a fan of his, but with Ospina now fit and the press even questioning whether or not he should start along with some Arsenal fans, you do wonder if that is exactly what the Pole needs to recapture his form on amore consistent basis. Just think about what happened to him when the very real threat of Fabianski suddenly materialised after a few years of him clearly not challenging Wojciech for the gloves? It made him a better player and he even admitted it.

So I’d be inclined to make a public statement if I was the manager and start him tomorrow, but with a private sentiment that he’s a game or two away from losing his place on a longer term basis.

By the sounds of it Arsene was in fine form yesterday, making the odd joke and even being slightly coy with his response about the whole smoking thing and there being someone who leaked information into the dressing room. I bet Stevie Bould is shifting a bit awkwardly in his seat today, because John Jensen did him up like a kipper by leaking the info about the smoking a few weeks back. Anyway, water under the bridge, or water out of the showers and onto a Benson & Hedges, I guess you could say. Everyone will move on and hopefully we’ll do the business tomorrow.

I could talk a little bit about the transfer stuff, but I really can’t be bothered if I’m honest with you. There will be plenty of time to be looking at that sort of stuff when the football isn’t on, so let’s just be happy in our Saturday activities, safe in the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a squad that is looking more impressive week-by-week.

So long, you wonderful lemon flavoured popsicle sticks.

All for the highs

Football is quite an addiction, I often assure people, especially those that don’t ‘get it’. It’s a puzzle of an enigma and has had me in its grasp since the first decade of my time on this earth. Like any addiction, it starts off harmless enough and indeed, had my parents (both non-football people) realised what would eventually engulf me as my obsession as I grew older – but debatable whether ‘wiser’ could be attributed to me – they probably wouldn’t have had the approach that “it’s a good opportunity to play with his friends, get exercise and have fun outdoors” and might have encouraged me a bit more to put my heart and soul into a solitary sport like golf. Which I like and play to an acceptable standard anyway, but it has never truly had me in its clutches, not like football anyway.

Football is the reason I started writing regularly. Instead of stewing about The Arsenal in bed at night, by writing any old useless ramblings (and I accept that at least 80% of what I say is probably a bit boring or not particularly insightful. But I do it as my bit of fun. My hobby. My ‘keep busy on the Met Line’), I can save my wife from thinking that I’m having those things that humans are supposed to have. You know the ones ‘feelings’, or ‘thoughts’ about stuff. I try rarely to think about anything. Well, with the exception of The Arsenal, of course.

Anyway, back to my addiction, which has dominated my life since the tender age of seven. It’s a very peculiar thing is an addiction to football. Actually no, I don’t have that, I have an addiction to Arsenal. I could quite easily avoid watching Hull play Leicester on a Sunday lunctime. But Arsenal. Well, that is an addiction. It manifests itself in the same way that any addiction does. It consumes me. It takes control of my life. It has me pursuing the highs again and again and again.

It really does control my life. I find myself rearranging things to fit in with watching The Arsenal. Even if I’m not at the game I have to ‘make arrangements’. I have cut work meetings short. I have altered the course of a day on holiday to be near a bar that is showing Arsenal. I have avoided going out for dinner because they are playing. I’ve missed the occasional birthday party too. Last season, I changed the family ‘rules’ for alternating whether we spend Christmas up in Northumberland with The Management’s family because Arsenal were away to Newcastle a few days after Christmas.

The weekend after bonfire night was my birthday weekend and my family surprised me by all arriving to have dinner and watch some fireworks. An interlude during the evenings processions had to be found just so I could watch us capitulate so poorly to Swansea City. You know how I said above that my parents would probably think twice with the benefit of hindsight in introducing me to football? That night I can assure you they were doing so. Especially as my two year old niece was in the room and heard every expletive under the sun after Gomis got Swanse’s winner.

Like any addiction it’s also expensive. I pay for a season ticket, have the boy obsession of collecting programmes, drink beer and eat food every time I go. I don’t go to all of the games – there are others that have the addiction much worse than I in that respect – but I go to three to four away ones each season which all have their additional travel prices. I do it because I want to see my team win. I have felt the highs of my addiction and that is what keeps you yearning for them again and again. Like any addiction the lows can be crushing, but hose highs, oh those highs (FA Cup Final last season, anybody?).

All for those highs. That’s why I’m in so deep. Yet like any addiction, they are so fleeting it has me wondering at times why I do it. I’ve even tried going ‘cold turkey’ for a while. It didn’t work. I avoided reading or watching Arsenal-related news for about a day, before taking sneaky glances at news channels on my phone. It’s an addiction. Not a tap. I’ve learned that you can’t just switch it on or off.

That’s what the people who say “it’s only a game” don’t ‘get’. It’s not “only a game”. It’s an addiction. You don’t find any therapists (I’d assume) saying “it’s only white powder” or “it’s only a drink. You can stop” do you? So why does that universal phrase seem so acceptable to non-football people?

I guess the key distinguisher here is that what alcoholics, drug addicts and smokers do will eventually kill them. I know with our lot it feels like the way they play will be the death of us, particularly the topsy turvy nature of our ability to self implode, but in theory whilst it might not be good for our stress levels, The Arsenal shouldn’t kill us. I hope.

I’m in too deep to stop all of this you know. It’s something I’ll inevitably take to my grave. It’s the perpetual desire to experience those highs again and again you see, that will keep me coming back, regardless of the manager, players, board, ticket prices, in-fighting or rival fan ribbings. Arsenal have me for life. Take this weekend. I’ve been worrying about it since Monday you know. I managed to enjoy the victory against Newcastle until Monday mornings commute to my office, in which I started to think ‘but it will all be back to square one if we lose to Liverpool’, that’s how fleeting the highs are. So they’ve been replaced all week with the fretting since then. It makes you think, eh? If you’re anything like me, during the course of a season you’ll probably get less than a month’s worth of accumulated days of jubilation, whilst the other eight months of the season you spend worrying about the next result. That’s one ninth of your time actually enjoying and experiencing the highs you so desperately crave.

All for those highs.

Bet you’ll be back next week though. I know I will. And I wouldn’t change my addiction for anything.