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.

An open letter to the football gods on derby day

Dear footballing karma gods,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully and sincerely

Chris.

P.S. Come on you reds.

Everton: Counter the width from the Toffees, then use right balance in attack to win

Having started the day at 3.30am this morning with a trip to Southend airport to drop the parentals off for their trip to Portugal, there is a very real risk that come the end of the match today at around 2.30pm i’ll have peaked and to coin an Arseneism, be a ‘little bit jaded’, so I hope that a) the Arsenal players fair better than that today, and b) that those that are selected give me something to be pleased about so that I can snooze soundly on my Metropolitan line train home this afternoon.

Everton will be a tough game. We all know that. They were certainly the most expansive opponents we’ve played at The Emirates this season – and I include the Champions League ties in that too (Dortmund were pegged back and sucker punched us earlier in the season and the red card to Szczesny effectively ended any competition against Bayern) – and they will go into this game thinking that they have a really good chance of pipping us to a semi-final showdown against Man City, who I am convinced the winners of today’s tie will face. At least, Everton have picked up plenty of draws at the Emirates in recent past and whilst their record for victories is not great, their ability to give us a good game has always remained constant. If you look at the last six games against Everton in all competitions and there has been three wins for Arsenal and three draws home and away, each of them being by a one goal margin, then looking at the games at The Emirates we’ve seen similar results, with three draws and three wins, only one of which has been by more than a one goal margin.

So history surely precludes that this afternoon’s game against the Toffees will most likely be won by a goal margin, or a draw which for an Everton team who find themselves nine points from fourth, will probably be looking at the FA Cup as their chance for glory rather than sneaking in to one of the top four spots. They will set up to be solid defensively, but they’ll use the flair players of Pienaar and Mirallas to support the man mountain that is Lukaku, who has always been a thorn in our side even if he hasn’t always been on the scoresheet. He got an outing against Everton last weekend and scored from the bench and with Traore injured he will surely be given the nod to start today. The Everton strength from the wings will also be something to pay close attention to. With two very good full backs in Baines and Coleman who like to get forward and support the attacking wide midfielders, Martinez will be encouraging those players to stretch our full backs as much as possible.

It is for that reason that I hope Arsene opts for Gibbs and Sagna as his starting full backs, along with players who can track back and provide support for overlapping Everton full backs. In the last round against their Mersey rivals, I thought Poldi did a really good job in doing that role and supporting Monreal, as did The Ox on the wide right position, so I hope both players start. Yes, I know Podolski was poor – bordering on anonymous – against Stoke, but few players came out of that game with any credit and we can hardly drop the whole team, can we?

I have no problem with Fabianski starting in goal and continuing his cup place, but in central defence I hope Kos passes his fitness test and plays. It may frustrate Vermaelen, but with someone like Lukaku likely to occupy both defenders, you want the one with the best positional sense plus the best recovery pace, to be there ready in case he shrugs off one with his physical presence and power.

Midfield simply must see Flamini in the heart of the engine room and with jack now confirmed to be out, I’d like to see Rosicky pulling the strings, with Ozil sat in front of them and just behind the striker. I think those three players all add something different (defensive stability and bite; quick movement of the ball from front to back; ability to pick a pass and create opportunities for others) to the side and I think it is the strongest possible line up we could muster at the moment. Up top will be a mystery. Go for Giroud and hope he shrugs off his current funk? Or plump for the unproven kid who put himself about a bit against Skyrtel and Agger a few weeks back. Despite his obvious failings, he does like the comforts of home (on the football pitch anyway!) and is clearly our best player in that position at the moment. If he does play, he’ll need those players in and around him making those runs for his little flicks and hold up play and with Poldi able to ‘shoot on site’ and The Ox with that bit of trickery to get beyond defenders, I think that quartet including Ozil would have the right balance to it to give us the best chance of progression.

Will Arsene do that however? That’s the $64,000 question I guess. I don’t know why he wouldn’t go for his strongest team, because shooting from the halfway line hoping for a glorious three-point finish for a win is always more risky than taking the slam-dunk for two points and a draw, so if I was the man at the helm I’d be looking at throwing everything at today’s game and seeing who’s feeling freshest during the week.

This to me represents our biggest chance of silverware this season and for that reason it simply must be approached in the best possible manner, with the best possible team, to try to get the job done first time. Everton could afford a replay and they would happily take their chances back at Goodison Park too, so I don’t want to see us start tentative, I want to see us quick off the block and getting the ball to the most form creative player at the moment: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Come on Arsenal, I want to get to Wembley. Twice. And win the FA Cup. Any chance of that?

Stoke; The return of ‘The Feeling’ is welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch y’all tomorrow.

NLD preview: nervousness with a wee dram of confidence

Hooray, hooray, it’s Derby Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points, managers and motivation

Happy Saturday to you my friends, I hope it is one that is not filled with too much pre-Christmas stress, because it certainly isn’t filled with any Arsenal to distract you. So we find ourselves watching on over the next 48 hours to learn if all of our hard work and racing ahead of our competitors this season is rendered irrelevant as the potential of being fourth by the end of Monday night is very real.

The reality is that if we were to finish fourth, we’d still only be one point away from whoever is top, plus we’d have played a couple of really tough games. So it wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world now, would it? Arsene was asked yesterday in his presser how important it is to be top at Christmas and as usual he gave his very polished response that we want to be top all of the time, regardless of whether it’s Christmas or not. Apparently only 50% of teams that have been top at Christmas have gone on to win the Premier League, so it’s hardly a barometer of a championship winning team if you’re not a Christmas Number 1. Indeed, sometimes it’s easy to chase than be chased, so regardless of whether the fixtures work in our favour this weekend or not, I’m still happy that we’re up there challenging for the title. We’d have taken it at the start of the season and we’re taking it now. After Chelski we have a couple of tricky away games, but they are winnable games, so the hope has to be that a victory against the Chavs can be followed up by three more which would land us on 47 points having just past the halfway stage. That’s a tally that Champions should be aiming for and we all know it.

Arsene was also asked about the sacking of AVB and he gave a very interesting answer I felt. He talked about how young managers make mistakes, so if you’re starting of in management you need to be given time, because if you’re not then you don’t get the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. He then went on to talk about the fact that by constantly sacking managers so early, it makes being a manager a less attractive profession to get in to, which means that you don’t have the volume of people getting into that side of the game. It made me start to think about how many ‘young’ British managers are given a chance in the top two divisions. Not many. Every time we hear of a manager’s sacking, it is the same names that get linked, but those names don’t get any younger. Are we getting to the stage where we’re going to have a huge gap between the ‘old guard’ managers like Capello, Hiddink, etc, and modern managers? Who is being given a chance? It may not be an issue for us at this moment in time, but that’s short-sighted in my opinion. Within the next five years I suspect we’ll be needing a new manager and, if there’s a dearth of talent out there, our pool of talent to pick from will be rather shallow.

His presser yesterday bought up some questions about player availability and the good news is that the Arsenal Christmas party did not bring up any knocks, bumps or bruises, so we go into the game on Monday with an almost full bill of health. It bodes well that Poldi also returns – most likely to the bench – to further add to our fire power and I don’t know if it’s the Christmas cheer inside me taking over, but I think we’ve got the best chance of beating Mourhino’s men for the first time in ages.

Morale was also debated at yesterday’s conference, with Arsene assuring the assembled hacks that his team is still very high on morale, and the recent drubbing against Moneychester City will not affect his team’s motivation. I’ve observed quite a bit over the last few years on this blog that Arsene’s teams are often very reliant on building up confidence to really hit full steam. It’s often been the case that when our tails are up we’re unbeatable, but when we’re down we have fallen into a pit of our despair at times. It never rains until it pours, or so it may seem. However, this season it feels different. It feels like a defeat doesn’t need to lead to an infamous ‘negative spiral’. It feels like we’ve got the ability to pick up comprehensive victories after being downed by an opponent the week earlier. I don’t know whether or not that’s the team unity forged after a difficult season last year and a feeling that none of our big players have left, but whatever it is it seems to be working. My hope is that the unity and motivation of the team carries us into the New Year on top spot.

Anyway, that’s it from me today, more tomorrow. Catch ya laters folks.

Cardiff: success the sum of many parts

Well that couldn’t have gone any more to plan yesterday, could it? I mean, if you’re going to head away from home to a team that’s already picked up a few ‘big club’ scalps already, you’re looking first and foremost to ensure that you quieted the home fans early, then make sure that you pick up the points by knocking in a goal or two later on.

As every week goes by, we’re finding out more and more about this team and how they’re up for the fight, with yesterday being another example. A tricky away fixture against a Cardiff team that have proven themselves to be good at home was ticked off the fixture list with a 3-0 in that, whilst not as convincing as the score-line suggests, was still three points that I think we deserved.

What I love about this team is that everyone seems to be in form. We’re not a team with one superstar that drags us through games, we’re a collective of players that all play their part, each one contributing in his own way to getting results.

Take Szczesny for example. He made a superb save from a Frazier Campbell header when we were still at 1-0 that would have swung the pendulum of momentum in Cardiff’s direction and who knows what would have happened if the Welsh side would have pegged us back. He’s showing his maturity and form in every game, but the best thing about his form is that for the vast majority of the match he’s watching, which means he’s only called into action a couple of times in 90 minutes and so his concentration levels have to be at their pinnacle. And the reason he’s only being called in for questioning? A defensive meaner than my year nine geography teacher. And he was Welsh and from Cardiff. The back four we have is settled, composed and strong as a unit, with yesterday showing exactly what each of them are good for. Mertesacker is making a fabulous habit of just stepping in and breaking down attacks with his long legs, whilst Koscienly sweeps up any balls that get beyond him, which means that we’re building a foundation at the back which is causing issue for attacks across the land. The two full backs GIbbs and Sagna got forward as often as possible and for the most part were acting as wingers. That afforded our creative midfielders of Wilshere, Ozil and Ramsey licence to roam across the pitch and rotate in different positions.

So let’s talk about that midfield, shall we? The rotation and movement of the three above opened up space all over the park and the first goal was a classic example of the space that our midfielders get as a result. Mesut picked the ball up on the left hand side just outside the penalty box, then floated in a sumptuous ball almost on the penalty spot, where Rambo was unmarked and able to loop over Marshall. There wasn’t really anything that the ‘keeper could have done but it was a fabulously worked goal at a time where we were in the ascendency. Jack was playing well too. He was drifting past players like he did on Tuesday night and he was showing that his form appears to be coming back after a stuttering first ten games of the season. He probably should have scored too early on, smashing a ball unluckily against the corner section of the bar and post. And Mesut, good old Mesut, the man who has supposedly failed to impress if you read the media hyperbole, had a fantastic game and looked to all the world worthy of his lofty price tag. He roamed from left to right, found his man with consummate ease on two of the three goals and it was as if he’d heard some of the media berating he’s been getting and responded in the best way possible. No Bendtner, not by getting yourself in the back pages for doing something stupid, but by getting on the pitch and having a blinder.

I thought tricky Micky Arteta also had a good game in front of the back four and looked strong in the tackle, composed on the ball and hovered in front of the back four giving them an outlet for distributing the ball throughout the game.

There was even time for a Theo cameo and an assist to his name with the third goal and second for Ramsey.

The only two players who didn’t have it all their own way were Santi and Giroud. Santi was a bit quiet again, but he still got involved in the play and played a solid 7/10 in my book. But perhaps it’s indicative of the way we’re playing that a 7/10 is viewed as a ‘quiet’ game. He’s still to find his top form and the form of last season, but he’d too good not to get there, so I’m not too worried at this stage. AS for Olivier, well, it just wasn’t his day in front of goal. He still held the ball up well, led the line and was strong as always, but he just couldn’t bag a goal. Although the bizarre situation in the first half where he was through on goal with just the ‘keeper to beat yet thinking he was offside stopped, despite the lino not raising his flag, probably summed up his day: good run into the box but just lacked that killer touch in front of goal. Never mind; he was the hero last week, but with this team we have enough collective responsibility that it was somebody else’s turn to be the hero.

So we sit this morning seven points clear at the top of the league and although it will not be the same by the end of the evening tonight, it is still lovely to watch Match of The Day knowing that we’re building a bit of wiggle room with our lead that will afford us the ability for a blip or two. Now it’s on to Hull on Wednesday night and, if we can pick up another three points there followed by three against Everton next Sunday, I’ve no doubt we’ll have pulled away from our rivals a little bit more than even today.

Enjoy the Sunday folks.

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!

Aaron shines in another ‘big test’

Alright, so my ‘feeling’ yesterday wasn’t 100% spot on, but I did say I felt confident we’d win yesterday and what we were treated to was a fine display of footballing prowess from a team that is bursting with confidence. 2-0 against one of the in-form teams in the league is exactly what we needed and is the perfect response to the media criticism and constant reminder that we supposedly haven’t faced a ‘real test’ up until this point in the season. The fact that we’ve already beaten the Spuds, plus a good Napoli side and we didn’t really deserve to be beaten by Dortmund side that caught us on the counter.

Arsenal are a confidence side and it showed how strong the confidence is that we were able to take back-to-back midweek defeats and push them as far out of the players’ minds to ensure that when we took to the field against the scousers we were ready, willing and able to dispatch the visitors. It was grand stuff to watch. I’d bought the father along to the game and he was certainly impressed, remarking afterwards that overall we looked relatively comfortable. The news before kick-off that Wilshire was out felt like another body-blow to a team that is certainly ailing when you look at our injury list. Arsene said he doesn’t know how long the Englishman will be out for, but although it is not seen as a long-term injury, it seems that we just cannot catch a break with regards to getting people out of the treatment room and on to the pitch. What makes yesterday’s victory – and indeed our form this season – so remarkable, is that we’ve done it whilst being without Walcott, Podolski, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta, Sagna and Wilshire for varying periods of time during the season. Show me one of the supposed three title contenders (United, City, Chelski) with that much of their personnel taken away from them through injury and tell me none of those teams would suffer. I’d tell you that you is a crazy cat.

So, the game started, I’d had sufficient beverages to keep me warm as the night drew in and we began to play our game, causing problems for Liverpool throughout the first half. Chances for Cazorla and Ramsey didn’t quite come off, but the game was just 19 minutes old when the diminutive Spaniard ghosted in on the penalty spot and powered a header on to the post from a Sagna cross (fancy that!!), but had the momentum to follow-up from the post to smash the ball home quickly enough that Mignolet was still on his backside before the ball had hit the net. Cue the rapture inside the ground and we were on our way. Our rotational creative players that I’ve spoken about early in the season were finding spaces in between the Liverpool lines and the constant movement of Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey and Rosicky meant that Liverpool had real trouble with dealing with our movement.

Rosicky may have been a surprise inclusion because of Jack’s injury, but it was exactly the type of player that we needed in a game like yesterday. He pressed from the front, looked his usual busy self and showed just how important excellent squad players can be. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t have imagined he’d be getting much game time with all of the players we have in that midfield and in the creative wide positions, but the Czech is surely a serious contender for a starting place with the form he’s in at the moment.

The first ten minutes of each half were crucial. You can’t play a team like Liverpool and not have periods of the game when you’re not on top, but the key is to stay strong, compact as a unit and ride out any storms. I felt we did that in those first spells in each half and when we hit the 55 minute mark we began to assert our dominance much like the first. But, as with all things in football, it’s about going for the jugular when you’re in the ascendency, which is exactly what we did with yet another Ramsey goal. It was a peach, wasn’t it? Mesut Ozil, the Fantasy Football Manager’s dream, chipped a ball over some Liverpool defenders on 59 minutes and as Ramsey waited for the ball to drop he steadied himself, then hammered a ball beyond the flailing Mignolet. It was the epitome of calmness and confidence and if you ever want an example of what confidence does to a player, show somebody that goal. That is exactly the type of goal that at the beginning of last season the Welshman probably wouldn’t have let drop so he could half-volley home. He’d have probably tried to take it higher in the air with Liverpool players around him and hit the ball high and wide. But this is a man fast become a world-class player. He ran over to our corner and celebrated in front of Block Five and a half-crushed Chris. But I didn’t care, the points were secure and we were happy Gooners on the way home. Liverpool did have a couple of chances, including a bizarre bit of Szczesnyness where he passed the ball to Sturridge, but thankfully he couldn’t control the ball and Szczesny thankfully collected the rebound. It was his only lapse in a game in which he was very good at the simple things, funnily enough. There was a couple of times in the second half once we’d scored our second goal that, almost David Seamenesque, he was gathering balls and taking off the pressure and it was exactly what a Premier League team with aspirations to win the league should do.

It’s only one game. It’s only three points and means the same as Palace and Norwich. But it is of vital importance to everyone associated with Arsenal because we are now in the midst of this ‘crucial’ period and we’ve already picked up points. If we get something from Dortmund and UNited away, we’ll be coming out of November thinking that we’ve done alright.

Have a good one Gooners, I know I will!

DEFCON 3, kebabery, and the karma of Chelski

Tickety-tock goes the transfer window clock. We’re now at DEFCON 3 people and still we are yet to see the purse shaken into life. Sure, rumors persist and will do right up until the last seconds of the transfer window, but as yet they fail to materialise like a mirage of an Oasis in the middle of the Sahara desert. We’re desperate to drink from the fountain of hope and joy that a signing brings us, yet at the moment we get a mouthful of calcium carbonate in the form of silence from the club when it comes to an announcement.

We’ve become a parody. A laughing-stock. We’re up there right alongside the joke that has become Newcastle and their crazy Kinnear ways. It’s only his ‘Kebabery’ that is keeping us from propping up the division in terms of investing in the squad. Newcastle are in all sorts of bother and it probably explains a little bit why Arsenal thought they could waltz into Geordieland and get a French international for £10million.

But despite this, despite the anger and frustration, we are still three days away (I’m counting the whole of today – Saturday – as a day where deals can be done) from being able to make moves in the market and salvage what has been a disastrous window. All we Gooners have to do is hold on to our hope for another couple of days, then one way or another, at least we’ll know what we’re up against. I’m looking forward to the closing of the window now more than ever. More than a signing, more than welcoming new players, more than anything. The closing of the window will be closing of uncertainty. We may not be happy about the business our club has done by the end of it, but at least we’ll know there’s nothing more to talk about. Just football.

Speaking about football, that Mourhino fella’s a piece of work, isn’t he? He talks as if football isn’t all about him, but in his world, it so obviously is. He revels in the cameras being on him. He plays up to it. Last night at the Super Cup he was in his element. So it was rather juicy to see his Chelski side get skanked in the last few seconds of extra time. Chelski have had a few years of spawny results and I thought they’d get another one yesterday, but hopefully they’ve drank the well dry in terms of the luck they get, so I expect them to win absolutely nothing for the next ten years. It would only seem fair and logical.

Anyway, back to The Arsenal, and Arsene certainly knows how to wind up some Arsenal fans, doesn’t he? In yesterday’s presser he was once again asked about transfers, both in and out, and he pulled the scariest soundbite out of his locker that we’ve heard all summer:

If he does not leave and prepares well, and is fit, really fit, then I will use him

I know, I know, *shudder*. The thought that our transfer window has been that appalling that we’re going to rely on a player that has spent two years saying he doesn’t want to play for Arsenal, one year on loan achieving nothing at Juventus, then all summer taking pictures of himself with stupid haircuts and tanned legs, is possibly the most terrifying prospect we could have imagined. Supposedly there is still interest from Palace to sign the Dane, but he has shown no real desire to play football, only to maximise his take-home pay, so I’ll be surprised if that one comes off. If it does, I think we all know it will be Arsenal still paying the bulk of his wages. He’s the last scabby remains of the old deadwood, the proverbial turd that won’t flush, and he’s intent on leaving as many skid-marked remains as possible before his inevitable acrimonious departure. Whereby I’m sure he’ll badmouth the club at all opportunities. Because of course it’s the clubs fault that he worried too much about himself and his pay-day, or his luxury lifestyle, rather than actually playing football.

Arsene is still on the hunt for signings, yet there is no panic going on at London Colney or Highbury House. Much like you wouldn’t panic if you had a prosthetic leg and it was on fire, slowly creeping up your leg until it hits your actual body parts. You know you need to put the fire out pretty quickly, but you don’t need to be too concerned, your leg should take at least another hour to fully burn until you can put it out. Why, you could probably even watch a movie or an episode of Scrubs before you take action. Here’s the thing though; isn’t it nicer to just get the leg doused in water before you actually burn it down to its stubby end? Wouldn’t it just be a little bit more comfortable? I hope Arsene isn’t thinking he can watch Scrubs.

There’s some news in the papers today about Draxler for £40million or even Kalou signing for the club, which wouldn’t represent a forward step, as much as it would represent a shuffle slightly backwards in my opinion. Kalou failed at Chelski and has not got any younger, yet we’re taking a look at him? I don’t buy that. I hope Arsenal don’t either. As for Draxler, I don’t really know enough to comment, but apparently he is a very good young player. Worth £40million though? Bearing in mind that we baulked at £35million for a proven goalscorer in Higuain, it does seem a surprise that we’d spend so much on a younger player. I’m not saying he’s not worth it, it just seems a little odd to me.

Anyway, a preview on the North London Derby tomorrow but before I sign off, how about those Spuds eh? Supposedly we’re not as much of a threat to them any more, yet they are going out of their way to leave the Bale deal until the last day of the window so we don’t sign any players from Madrid? That doesn’t strike me as the actions of a club that is worried about their own house, but is peering in through the net curtains of another’s. I can see the logic about not wanting the deal done because it would give the club a lift before the NLD, but personally, if we’re after some Madrid players, I’d find it funny if Madrid released those players anyway. Go on Madrid, do it, I dares ya!

Anyway, that’s enough for one day. Catch y’all tomorrow.