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.

Finally!

Finally! It may have taken us until mid December this season, but we finally have a Premier League game in which we were dominant from start to finish, never really looked like we weren’t in control of the game and got the required number of goals that our performance warranted.

I thought we were brilliant yesterday. From the first minute until the last. We started off with an air of authority and control over a confident Newcastle team that looked like the Arsenal of last season. I feel like a wandering desert nomad who has finally been given a glass of ice cool fresh water. I have been waiting so long to drink from the cup of ‘comfortable Premier League victory’ that i’d almost forgotten the tast. I’ve become accustomed to have a hard afternoon. There was nothing hard about yesterday, unless of course you count trying to understand Lee Mason’s refereeing decisions. He was the only negative on a lovely early evenings football. To my mind, he missed a clear boot to the chest of Alexis by Tiote, a couple of penalty decisions, plus he decided to penalise Danny Welbeck for being too close to Janmaat when a gust of wind knocked him over in the box and Welbeck finished superbly to make it 2-0 within the first 15 minutes. Or at least it should have been. Like I said, that gust of wind was a real doozie and Welbeck’s goal was rubbed from the scoreboard.

It all seemed to work yesterday. From back to front we were on it. You only have to look at our first goal, in which the passage of play was started by Hector Bellerin biting in to a tackle and then giving the ball to Giroud. The Frenchman then fed Alexis and took his position in the middle of the box to head home an excellent cross. It was brilliant stuff and no more than we deserved. Before that even big Per was in on the action with a looping header that hit the bar.

We popped the ball around with purpose and poise and how the scoreline was still 1-0 at half time is anybodies guess. I can say it now, because we were comfortable all afternoon, but at half time you’ve always got that worry that we’ll conceded and then end up ‘backs to the wall’-ing it as the opposition fight to come away from The Emirates with a point. But the second half saw us up it another gear and Santi’s little dink over Alnwick to make it 2-0 had the hallmarks of a player in form. He could have even been given a penalty had he not scored, because Coloccini had almost taken him out inside the box. But the diminuitive little Spaniard did what every one wants to see; he stayed on his feet and got the goal that his performance warranted.

Four minutes later it was game over, as Giroud got his second of the night and what a second it was, with the outside of his boot and with the tightest of angles. He really can be quite some players on some games. It’s amazing how we seem to have a player that can blow so hot or cold during the course of a season. But I supposed he is an example of this Arsenal team. They can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a week.

We’ve now had two 4-1 victories and it’s looking like we’ve recovered a bit of that fragile thing called confidence. Which is just as well really, because next week we return to the location of our humbling last season and face a Liverpool team who will – regardless of what happens today – be massively up for this game and so we need all the help we can get through our levels of confidence and remembering performances like that.

Individually, it was good to see some systems worked. I thought the front three rotated well and were a handful all afternoon. Arsene said in his post match report that we looked dangerous every time we went forward and he’s right. I thought we could have scored every time we went forward and as I reflected afterwards, to friends and family members that would listen, the 4-1 scoreline flattered Newcastle in fairness. The fact that they even scored was a cause for irritation, because the defence probably deserved a clean sheet. Debuchy was good at centre half, although that might have been because he wasn’t troubled as much, but I thought he attacked balls lumped forward well, looked like he was confident, then positionally was assured enough too.

In midfield, The Ox gave a couple of balls away, but in the main he was good with the ball at his feet and he is an able deputy for that box-to-box roll role that Ramsey normally occupies. Santi Cazorla has found his ryhtm too, putting in another great display and getting himself in the goals too. I have seen some people (not Arsenal fans, obviously) who have said he was a little disrespectful with his little dink of a penalty. But if we score every time, we can be as disrespectful as we like as far as I’m concerned, because all I care about is Arsenal scoring goals and winning games. The rest of the football community can ‘do one’.

So that’s it for another weekend. A victory, three points, a good performance, some players looking like they’re hitting form, plus a week to rest and recuperate for when we play Liverpool on Sunday next week.

Come on you reds!

Newcastle preview: makeshift defence needs protecting, attack needs closeness

Howdy there partners! Happy Saturday and hopefully one in which all of Goonerdom is blessed with that holiest of things: three precious points.

It’s the black and white stripes of Newcastle United that come to town and quite frankly, after last weekend’s abomination of a performance in the first half against Stoke, I’m looking for one heck of an improved performance from those available today. And therein lies the nub of us on this chilly winter’s day: can we patch together a team capable enough of winning a game against a resurgent Newcastle team that have won six of their last eight and one against Chelski last weekend. They were the heroes for us against Mourinho’s men not seven days ago, yet now we find ourselves facing them as the enemy.

It’s a tough one to call. Over the years, even when we haven’t been great, you usually look at these games as ones that we win. Despite all of our grumbles about not really competing at the top of the league on a consistent basis for a number of years, when you look back at the end of the season and see the ‘W/L/D’ columns, there’s more wins than defeats. So it’s why actually, we get to be happy more than most – because we’re usually one of the best four teams in the division. But this season has been different. There haven’t been any league games in which we’ve looked comfortable at all in the league. Even the Villa game in which we smashed and grabbed three goals in a matter of minutes had its moments both before and afterwards. So I’m not going to expect us to buck this seasons trend and put Newcastle to the sword in the first half like Stoke did to us last weekend. Especially given our makeshift squad at the moment.

So makeshift, in fact, that it looks like Francis Coquelin might even find his way back into the matchday squad by virtue of the fact that he still has all of his limbs, joints and muscles in one piece. The injury list is lengthy and the recall of Coquelin from Charlton has been hastened due to absentees such as Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere and Ozil, in addition to Ospina, Koscienly, Monreal, Chambers through suspension and even Walcott, although I suspect he might be in the squad today based on Arsene’s comments this week. But it’s all looking a bit ropey defensively, isn’t it? As I said yesterday, it looks like it’s another defensive shuffle that will take place and I suspect we’ll see Debuchy slot in to central defence as the more experienced player in the squad. Mertesacker normally plays on the left of the two centre halves, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him shifted to the right to support Bellerin, whilst Debuchy plays next to Gibbs. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a worry for us defensively and given our recent transgressions in the league, i’ll be biting all of my fingernails every time a black and white shirt ventures into our half.

That’s why the responsibility of the midfield today will be essential. With Flamini back he’ll need to ensure that he gives as much protection to the two central defenders as he can possibly muster. With a side like Newcastle and the injuries they have, the temptation might be for him to venture forward more to support the attack, but that’s not his job and we really could do without some sucker-punching goals like we’ve conceded all season. He’s been quoted as saying that at times they like to win the ball back higher up the pitch, but if Newcastle play with pace on the counter with the likes of Cisse and Cabella, then we’ll need him to be a protector rather than a gallivanter in the opposition half.

I know Newcastle have been in form, but I suspect they’ll want to soak up pressure and not come at us too much. Pardew is not an idiot and will have seen how susceptible we are on the counter, so I think he’ll sit two holding midfielders in front of his back four and hope to hit us quickly on the break. That’s where the form of players like Santi and the Ox will be essential I think. Both will slot in to central midfield and I expect to see them the ones that will battle with Tiote and Colback in the midfield area. It will be on the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck to provide the support for Giroud, who will need a vastly improved performance from the game at The Britannia. He’ll be up agaionst Coloccini and probably Mike Williamson, so his role will be to hold off those two centre halves and bring our pacey wide men into play. We started to see signs of what these three could do together in the final third against West Brom, but today will be slightly different. Newcastle will try to suffocate the space around Giroud, so those little flicks around the corner and knock downs will need to see our front three operating very close together I think, if we’re to get any joy that is.

There’s no doubt we have the players that are technically capable of beating this Newcastle team later this evening, but the real question is around the confidence and mental fragility of this side. We’ve already drawn far too many games and every time we look to be stringing together some results we seem to come-a-cropper with a poor performance. At home it has tended to be draws when only a win will do. Away it has been the damaging defeats that have been hard to stomach.

I’ll be relegated to watching the game in the local pub, as I’m at a family event, but hopefully Ian and his boy (who have taken my ticket today) can bring the team some luck. We could do with it.

See you tomorrow. Hopefully i’m all chirpy because we’ve smashed the magpies. But I’m not expecting it.

A reversal of fortunes from when we played the Baggies last year

Good matchday morning to you my friend, I hope Saturday is one that can bring both you and I what we are all quite desperate to see, three points away to West Brom. It’s a game in which last year we stuttered having been on a decent run and, if I recall rightly, it was the first game in a while last year when we really didn’t play that well, after having played well for a number of games previously. This year we are all hoping for a reversal of those fortunes, having played pretty poorly all season this time around. A stellar performance from the team would make this weekend marvellous I must say.

The weekend didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of news, after all, because we have an all-star cast of players who have been knocked about more than the occupants of a Catamaran on the Bay of Biscay. Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Debuchy, Ospina and Szczesny all remain either a doubt, definitely out or facing a race against time to be fit through late fitness tests. IT’s interesting how much has been made of Man United injury problems, but theirs have all been short term and will disappear as quickly as they appeared. For us, as we all know, we’re likely to have this problem throughout the whole season.

It’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually saw Podolski get some game time if he remains at the club beyond January. I don’t believe it is possible for our stand out player – Alexis – to go the entire season Injury-free. The second he signed his paperwork at the club he was a marked man and so at some stage – providing he doesn’t tell Wenger he wants out – he’ll get his chance. But for now it looks like that door is closed to our social media loving German. Arsene was asked about Lukas in his presser yesterday and gave the usual response about how he expects him to stay. It was as believable as the old “three weeks away” stuff we have heard from the club over the years. But hey ho, they’ll be plenty of time to speculate on the ins and outs at the club in about a months time. For now, a trip to the Hawthorns looms, to which we absolutely must build on the victory from midweek against Dortmund.

Thankfully, it sounds like Koscienly is back and, if he really is fit enough to start, I don’t see how he won’t alongside Mertescaker. They’ll both be flanked by Chambers and Gibbs and with Debuchy a maximum of two weeks away, we’ll have our first choice back four back just in time for the January window to open and Arsene to declare he has no more available space in his squad for incoming players. Happy days.

West Brom will be up for this. They’ve lost their last two league games as well and will want to take a big scalp today. And they’ll have seen that even shocking teams like Swansea and United can have their day of glory against us, so they’ll probably up their game to give us an extra hard afternoon. There was some suggestion yesterday about the early kick-off playing against us when you look at last seasons games, but I don’t see that as any factor whatsoever. After all, before we lost to Moneychester City, Liverpool and Chelski in those early kick offs, we’d also beaten Crystal Palace away. So you can hardly say there was a pattern developing. Unless you say it’s a pattern of bottling it in the big games. That we can all agree on.

Tactically, you can already see signs of what Alan Irvine wants to do. He highlighted to the press this week that he thinks Arsenal are vulnerable at the back and at times have left just three players (including the ‘keeper) in their own half, so I think he’ll look to see if he can draw us out and catch us on the counter. Think the first goal we conceded against Swansea, or the Rooney second goal last weekend. He’ll probably line up quite defensively and hope that the pace of Berahino will cause us a headache. Where we can help ourselves will be to replicate the responsibility of the defenders in getting forward. Two centre halves and one full back in position when we lose the ball is essential. And a Flamini that is disciplined and not drawn forward is important. If West Brom do try to play us on the counter, there will be no need to try and win the ball high up the pitch, because they will only counter in ones and twos, so if Flamini is sitting, it would give us plenty of cover to deal (in theory) with their attack. Sessegnon will also be an important player to snuff out. He’s a tricky and fast little player who, whilst not having the best scoring record, will sit behind Berahino and be a handful all afternoon. That’s where Flamini will be important in breaking up the play. With his now customary yellow card, of course.

As for us, I expect we’ll line up with Martinez in goal (it didn’t sound to me as if Szczesny had fully recovered from last weekend’s knock, so why risk it?), with the back four as described above. I think injury dictates that the two in front of the back four will be Flamini and Ramsey, which will mean two wide of Cazorla and The Ox and Sanchez sitting just behind the striker. I think Arsene would probably ideally want to go with Welbeck if he is fit, but if there is any doubts then Giroud will get the nod. And who knows? The Giroud/Alexis combo might just work. If Alexis knows that he has a target man who will hold up and feed him in, we might see him latching on to more knock downs and flick throughs. I guess we’ll see in a matter of hours.

Right, I’m off for some breakfast, a morning chore or two, then the pub. Come on you reds!