Belief lacking, game plan found wanting

Well we didn’t get spanked like last year, did we? So that’s a plus point. Am I right?

That’s all I’ve got today, because yesterday you like I, will have sat through a performance that was both ‘un-Arsenal’ like and ‘very Arsenal’ like. In the way that we contented ourselves to have the least amount of possession and passing stats it was not like The Arsenal that we’re used to seeing. But the way in which we capitulated at the end of the match with a man advantage was so like modern day Arsenal it’s crippling beyond belief.

Heh, ‘belief’, feels wrong even saying that word today because, let’s face it, this team doesn’t look like it believes in itself. Yesterday was a classic case of a superior Arsenal team on paper, being outplayed by one of the most beatable Liverpool teams in a generation. Heck, we scored two goals with our first two chances on target, but that was more to do with a shocking Liverpool defence than anything else.

In November we ripped apart a United team and lost. Yesterday Liverpool ripped us apart yet, for all of Wenger’s assertions on the belief of this squad and their mental strength, we have once again showed that we are incapable of seeing out a game. Let’s also not forget that this was a Liverpool team so profligate up top that they missed guilt edge chance after guilt edge chance yesterday. They were playing with Sterling up top and until he was moved out wide later in the game, it looked like the same as when we were forced to play Arshavin up top because there was nobody else available. Yet we still managed to gift Liverpool two goals.

The first was a neat finish from Coutinho, but the fact it game because Giroud was trying to be too clever with a first touch in our half is hardly surprising. We all know the pro-Liverpool commentary in this country seem to get mesmerised by the ‘history’ of that club, but when Martin Tyler said they deserved their goal, I doubt there was a Gooner alive that couldn’t disagree.

Thankfully our response was swift and, for as shocking a game Flamini had (I’ll come to that in a second), it was a good leap and head back into a dangerous position for Debuchy to equalise on the stroke of half time.

So, to Flamini, who has deteriorated quicker than I’d ever thought possible. We’ve always known his limitations, but the guy looks like the epitome of a headless chicken in football terms. Gary Neville had called it in commentary, but the amount of times he was out of position and leaving an acre of space in front of our back four, that was really criminal. He’s supposed to be our man protecting our back four, yet he looks increasingly like a player who has no idea what his primary role is in the team. Yesterday I tweeted that I thought defensive midfielder was one of the easiest roles to perform if you have a few basic ingredients. 1) Be able to win a tackle, 2) be disciplined in your positioning, and 3) be ready to distribute the ball instantly to a nearby teammate. It really isn’t rocket science. Yet Flamini seems to be struggling. I have no idea why. Is he operating differently because of instructions from the bench? Which leads me to my next gripe I’m afraid…

Arsène Wenger. I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his actions with any kind of logic I’m afraid. He is a great man. He has given us great highs. He should be respected and appreciated. But what we have seen this season has the hallmarks of a star whose brightness is fading. Yesterday morning I wrote about how Liverpool will look to exploit us by getting players like Sterling and Coutinho on the ball and feed in to Lambert up top. I got the personnel wrong, but the game plan was not and we saw time and time again, Coutinho and Markovic pick the ball up deep and run at our defence. I have never managed a game in my life, I am nowhere near as qualified as Arsène to lead a football team, but if I can see what Liverpool are going to do, why can’t he?

Because he is incapable? I don’t know, but what I do know is we saw a team that were outplayed, out thought and out fought. And it was painful at times. I don’t know if The Ox was too injured to play, but he was terrible, given the ball away, travelling with it too long without passing it (I call it ‘non-injured Diaby syndrome’) before losing it and generally looking out of sorts. Santi faired slightly better, but he was too quiet to be really affective for any length of time. I’ve mentioned Flamini, so all in all that makes a three man midfield that at times, might as well not have been there.

Why do we have these problems in midfield? Is it the managers fault that we have so many injuries? Of course not, but he is the one that should be setting those up who are available, in a way that negates the opposition and plays to our strengths. Did any of us see that yesterday? I certainly didn’t. For that, you have to look at the manager and I’m afraid not for the first time this season, he was found wanting.

Defensively too, we were terrible, with poor old Calum Chambers looking like he was running through treacle at times. He had a torrid afternoon at right back and, whilst I can see Arsène’s logic playing the quicker Debuchy at centre half with Sterling up top, it meant Chambers suffered in a position that looks like it is increasingly more difficult for him to be a success at. Let’s not forget we’ve got Carl Jenkinson out on loan to fourth placed West Ham right now. Hopefully that decision to play Debuchy as a centre half and Chambers on the right is a short term issue and we’ll see the two swap for QPR at home on Boxing Day. But again, we go back to the fact that a lack of depth in the squad – bought on by the managers own inaction in the summer – is forcing square pegs into round holes and we look like we are suffering as a result.

I can’t believe we’re not actually beyond sight of the top four spots. For that we can at least be grateful and look, if we win all of our games over the Christmas and New Year period, we’ll be sat in a good position coming in to 2015. But despite this, does anybody really feel confident we can go into games – especially away games – and get a result? Yesterday I used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the Arsenal players. It’s an extreme word and I did think to myself whether I would regret using it come the next morning. I am a passionate fan and prone to ‘heat of the moment’ style outbursts like we all are, but I’d like to think that my friends recognise I’m not a person who can’t consider any football situation with a bit of reflective logic. So do I still think my phrase ‘cowards’ is relevant? Yes. I saw a group of players yesterday who ‘wanted it’ more and they played in red. That annoys me. It annoys me because it seems to happen too much with Arsenal. Too often we are the technically gifted side who feel we need to turn up to win games, too often we come out of these games with egg on our faces, yesterday was no exception.

I haven’t even mentioned our front three. Probably that’s because we saw little of any of them all afternoon, although I must acknowledge a fine goal from Giroud which should have seen us pick up all of the points. It’s because of that though, and the manner of the last minute goal, that this feels like a defeat and not a draw. Had it been the reverse, that we’d have scored in injury time, I certainly would have more relief this morning, but I would not be able to take any comfort in the performance.

What also really cheeses me off too, is that yesterday we could have gone some way to remove this weight around our necks of not being able to win ‘big’ games away from home. Not only are we failing to do that, again, but we haven’t even been winning at home this season.

Oh, let’s also through some petrol on this sh*t bonfire by finding out The Ox will be out until the New Year too, shouldn’t we?

What a way to start a week of Christmas over indulgence. Still, at least I’ve got enough booze to drown my sorrows over the next few days, I recommend drinking to forget. Then we can pretend we’re not in dire straights right now.

Return of double pivot today? Depends on The Ox

It’s been a long week without The Arsenal, but we’ve finally arrived at match day and it’s a trip up to Scouseland for Arsène and whoever is left in the team not currently hovering around the medical centre at London Colney like its some sort of overcrowded NHS A&E. We’ll soon find out if The Ox, Theo and Nacho are on the team bus and in the squad and whilst I think we can afford to be cautious with Theo and Nacho, The Ox simply must play if he’s even remotely fit enough.

We simply don’t have the players in midfield, you see, although I appreciate that technically we do because Coquelin can fit in. But the way that Arsène likes to play, with a stopper (normally Flamini/Arteta), a creative number 10/forward lying midfielder (Santi/Özil) and a box-to-boxer (The Ox/Rambo), having Coquelin would change it up a bit because there would be two more defensive minded players holding that midfield together.

Arsène has tried this before though, which we saw on numerous occasions last season with the famous double pivot of Flamini and Arteta. It worked at times last season, like Napoli at home, but then it failed on occasion too. If Arsène is forced in to it today, it might just work though. With Liverpool sure to play Lambert up top, there will be runners like Sterling and Coutinho who will look to catch our centre halves out with their pace, so having an extra body to screen the back four might help to isolate Lambert and cause the runners to drop deeper looking for the ball.

Of course, Rodgers could continue with Sterling up top and if that is the case then he will certainly look to play off the shoulders of the last man, so if the amount of green grass he gets to run in to today is reduced, then it might negate his threat. One things for sure, we don’t want to be playing a high line, because that’s how we always get done over.

At the sharp end of our team there is a notable difference between last season’s drubbing at Anfield and today’s game. The team that got spanked earlier this year was lacking pace in it with Giroud and Podolski accompanied by Özil and Santi. Liverpool knew this and as a result were able to play a high pressing game which kept us on the back foot as they blew us away in the first 20 minutes. If, as we’re all assuming we play Welbeck, Giroud and Alexis as our front three, we have two willing runners to play off of our big Frenchman. That should mean he won’t cut a lone figure up top. Hopefully it will mean that Liverpool can’t play as higher line against us and therefore we won’t be caught out as often as we were in February.

That’s the theory, anyway, but as we all know you have no idea what Arsenal will do in these games. You wouldn’t look at the two respective teams at the Britannia and expect Stoke to smash us to pieces in a first half, but we had about as much consistency to us as a bowl of custard that day. So I wouldn’t put it past us to wobble in yellow away today too.

I hope not. I hope we can do to Liverpool what they did to us. But I suspect that this afternoon will be a cagey affair and that both teams would probably settle for a point if you offered it to the respective managers right now. A point is no good to us though. We’ve had too many draws this season and given that West Ham seem to be stretching their lead in fourth, we need to keep pace with them because they will start to drop points. We also need to win a ‘big game’ this season. We’ve had only draws or defeats in what I would call a ‘big game’, and we never seem to be able to win away from home against the traditional ‘top four contenders’, so if ever we’re going to break that hoodoo, you’d say an ailing Liverpool team would be the time to do it.

Famous last words, I know.

Fingers crossed. Come on Arsenal!

Arsenal and Liverpool similarities, as well as Alexis and Suarez narratives, are wide of the mark

Yesterday Alexis Sanchez turned 26 years of age. Aside from making me feel even older, the anniversary of his arrival on this planet all those many moons ago, his birthday also gave Arsène, as well as me now, the opportunity to wax lyrical about our Chilean ace. Not that we need an excuse mind, because let’s face it, he’s been awesome all season.

Unsurprisingly Arsène was full of praise, but also gave us a bit of insight as to how the transfer happened, with a few meetings of players agent and Le Boss whilst in Brazil, followed by a confirmation of interest from the player, transfer agreement from Barca and then a signature.

It all sounds rather easy, doesn’t it? Of course there will have been plenty of complexities around the arrival of Alexis, but perhaps it is a mark of the man, that the transfer didn’t seem to be anything other than simple as pie. For as little as one can gather from the way a player handles himself in public, he seems like a very amiable chap, a trait which can’t be labelled at too many in the game of football that’s for sure.

Perhaps his attitude on the pitch is reflective of the perception of him off it. He is a hard worker, very talented, but humble and appreciative of his origins. It is fitting, then, that we should come up against a Liverpool team that it was fairly obvious would have loved to secure his services in the summer. Indeed, it was the arrogance of people like Phil Thompson declaring “it’s done” when referring to Alexis to Liverpool, that mean that this particular fixture has an air of hopeful symbolism for me as an apprehensive Gooner.

I said on the blog yesterday that I’d been worried about this game since Monday and, whilst the worry still remains, the prospect of seeing Alexis Sanchez score the winner against a team that coveted him as we did will feel particularly juicy. Those from the North West might argue the bright lights of London were the only lure for the player, but when you look at the two respective clubs and how the seasons have unfolded, perhaps there is reasoning in itself for Alexis to choose Arsenal over Liverpool.

I read yesterday that were it not for Alexis, we would probably be in a similar position to Liverpool in mid table and out of the Champions League. Whilst I am not going to try and pull the wool over your peepers and suggest all is fine and we’d be as good if he were not at The Arsenal, gentle reader, I think that such comments do a disservice to the rest of our squad. A squad which, despite our protestations of lack of depth, have been completely decimated by injuries this season.

Liverpool too, have had injuries, but not to any extent that has been experienced by The Arsenal. Only Manchester United and Newcastle can claim to be masters of misfortune in that regard. Nope, Liverpool have had injuries, but their lack of squad depth has just been more plainly demonstrated than ours. Look at their ‘keeper troubles, or their defensive woes, which we’ve both had. But they’ve had the added problem of problems in attack too, which is something you can’t really throw in our direction. So to say that our two squads are relatively similar is a red herring if you ask me.

I think Alexis has been brilliant for us. I love everything about him. But equally I think it is wrong to believe that we are morphing in to ‘Alexis FC’ in the same way that Liverpool were often described as ‘Suarez FC’. We have other options and there have been times this season – like West Brom away – that we have had to rely on other players to get us out of trouble. On that day it was Santi rediscovering his form and Welbeck drifting in from out wide to head home from a central location that saved our bacon.

Sometimes though, I guess it’s just easier to build a narrative if the themes seem to loosely fit. Arsenal wanted Suarez. Arsenal wanted a player with pace, ability to travel with the ball, phenomenal work-rate, etc, etc. Suarez and Sanchez have similar styles. Similar sounding names too – isn’t this all seeming rather convenient? Liverpool wanted to replace Suarez with Sanchez. Sanchez has scored plenty of goals for Arsenal. It all seems to fit together so neatly like one of those wooden Early Learning Centre trains. But you and I know different. We know that our team has been poor, but our reliance on Alexis has not been as obvious as the Suarez factor was for the Scousers last season. That’s why I’m hopeful that we’ll see a better performance than Liverpool’s team tomorrow, because I want the other players to step up. The Cazorla’s, the Welbeck’s, the Giroud’s, all of them need to perform infinitely better than the horror show of last season. We know they can do it. They just have to show the belief. Hopefully the freshness will make a difference too.

There are still concerns over some players, like the Ox, Walcott and Monreal and if we’re completely honest, we can ill-afford any more injuries. But I’m hoping for some good news on The Ox front, because I think him being fit will give us an edge over Liverpool. More on why that is tomorrow in an actual match preview. For now, I’m going to start prepping for my trial run Christmas dinner – got some friends over tonight you see, so Christmas Turkey overload begins now for me.

Have a good’un.

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.

Mesut misses work, Chambers needs to settle

It’s quiet in Arsenal world. Too quiet. The kind of quiet you get before Le Boss delivers the news that as a Christmas special, bought about by the sheer inability to field most of his players due to injury, he’s going to pull 16 names from a red velvet bag. Each one is an Arsenal red, silver, gold or platinum member, who will be contacted thereafter and told to report to London Colney at 9am tomorrow where the Arsenal team bus will be leaving for Liverpool. Of course, they’ll be no first team players on it, because they’re all rooting around the bins of Harley Street looking for spare body parts to replace their crocked limbs. As for Diaby, well…

We can rebuild him. We have the technology…but…

Poor old Mesut will be joining those scavenging first teamers tomorrow. He’ll be looking for a new knee, whimpering slightly at the fact he hasn’t been able to kick a ball for so long. With a player as gifted as he is, I’d imagine he had a football thrust into his newly born arms by his father, never letting go since, so to be out for as long as he has been out must be a bit torturous. If we think back to our own lives, not being able to do your job for a period of time would send you mad. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would think it’s amazing to get paid to do nothing, but if you think about the fact that you would literally be able to do nothing for two months, most of the population of this planet would probably start to go mad. I know I would. After the first week of being off it would feel great and like a holiday, but after about three weeks I bet I’d start to get really frustrated. After all, we’re talking about missing work through injury, so you can’t go out and do leisure activities. You just have to wait until you’re better. I don’t absolutely love my job, but it keeps me busy and I find it decent enough that I’d want to go back to it rather than sit at home doing nothing.

Now imagine you love your job like Mesut does. Painful, no?

Anyway, hopefully he’s seeing light at the end of the tunnel and he will start training by the new year. Lord knows we need a player of his craft back in the team.

For this weekend though, he is an irrelevance, but a player who is certainly not so is Calum Chambers. I remember the excitement about Chambers after his first few impressive performances of the season at centre half and us fans hailing the second coming of Tony Adams. Since then he’s been forced to play out wide as a right back and, as much as I think he’s coped admirably, I do think he has suffered a bit with the pressure of having to play all of the top flight games that he’s been asked to. I mean think about it; even at Southampton he wasn’t effectively playing two games a week. It was every Saturday/Sunday. And he was only really called on towards the second half of the season I seem to recall. So it’s a big ask for a player that young, that inexperienced, to switch positions so regularly (he’ll once again move to centre half this weekend against Liverpool) and expect them to be as natural and flawless in that position.

He seems to be taking it in his stride, saying all the right things about being happy to switch positions for the good of the team, but I’m sure we’d all agree that it would be best for everyone if he was able to settle on a position and master it. So far, granted, it’s been a ‘needs must’ exercise due to our extensive injury list, but I hope he doesn’t become Arsène Wenger’s ‘Jack of all trades’.

For me Chambers looks like a central defender and if that truly is the case, then we need to make sure he’s given a run of games to help him be the best in that position. You only need to look at Carl Jenkinson to see what a run of games will do for confidence and personal growth. He’s performing brilliantly at West Ham and I can only hope that he is so good that Arsène calls him back at the end of this he season with the mandate of fighting for that right back spot with Debuchy and Bellerin.

We’ll find out later today how much of the team is available today and I’m hoping we can see, for the first time in what feels like months, four defenders who are all in their most natural positions (assuming Chambers is now viewed as a centre back, of course). Arsenal being Arsenal, we’re bound to have a crisis somewhere else on the park, which looks like midfield right now, but if the noises about the Ox are true, then it might even look like we can field somewhat of a half decent team against the Scousers come Sunday afternoon.

Cross everything you’ve got, because we need some injury luck for a change this season, so hopefully Arsène has good news later today.

Thierry

It’s the middle of the week and boy, am I glad we’re getting through it quickly enough, because I am looking forward to Christmas. Booze, movies and plenty of The Arsenal to talk about.

On the latter, it’s still quiet times right now, as the players will have been away with their families and I believe will be coming back into training today. Hopefully there isn’t any muscular damage to any of them, having over-exerted themselves dancing the night away to The Pogues and Sir Cliff, but we’ll most likely be given an update tomorrow via Arsène and the official website.

The only real news that seemed to come out of yesterday was the retirement of Thierry Henry being confirmed and his announcement that he’ll be a Sky Sports pundit from next season. I’ve already dedicated a blog to my favourite moments of my favourite Arsenal player of all time, so I won’t go over that again, but suffice to say here is a genuine Arsenal legend who has also managed to keep the fans affection whilst moving onwards to success.

What has also been quite staggering is that, even at his tender age of 36, he still managed to bag plenty of goals for New York Red Bulls. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a weaker league, but as little as three years ago he was still able to come back for us and bag a few useful goals at a time when we needed a cool head. That goal against Leeds in the FA Cup was a stunner, not for the actual finish, but the emotion that it drew from everyone that night. His face as he ran to the bench was amazing. I’ll never forget it. Thank you Thierry. For everything.

That he’ll now have to listen to the irrelevant drivel of messieurs Redknapp and Carragher is a shame, but as I was chatting to http://www.twitter.com/benleeder about yesterday on Twitter, if it means that he is able to bump Carragher down the list so that he is featured less often during pre and post-match analysis, then I’m all for it.

I do wonder how he’ll cope though, having to work for Sky when The Arsenal are on, because he’s readily admitted he’s one of us now. Personally, when I became a Monday to Friday desk jockey, I vowed never to work when Arsenal are playing again. I hated it. So Thierry having to analyse a 5.30pm Swansea against Villa game, when Arsenal are at home to Stoke at a 3pm kick off that same day, will be tough for him I’d have thought. Unless he’s had something written in to his contract.

And anyway, I suspect it will only be a short-term thing, because it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Thierry back at The Emirates in some capacity within the next three years. I suspect that’s why he’s taken on a punditry role, because it’s probably easier getting out of it if a certain North London club come calling, asking if he wants to take some training sessions.

The club have put a lovely set of tributes on the official site. My favourite has to be this one:

“When we won the league at Tottenham, they came back 2-2 in the last-minute of the game, and they’re celebrating – because they’re happy to draw against us, obviously. And I remember saying to Mauricio Tarricco, do you realise we only need a point to be Champions? And they all [were really shocked]. So I said ‘Yes. Now we’re going to celebrate on your pitch. Bye bye!’”

Brilliant.

Catch you all tomorrow.

Coquelin’s chance, Bayern await (again)?

The two bits of news that will invariably dominate the Arsenal-related headlines today are the Champions League foregone conclusion of Arsenal vs Bayern Munich or Madrid (also known as the ‘Round of 16 draw’), as well as the perpetual treatment table merry-go-round that is our injury list of players.

It’s The Ox who is the latest player to be struck down with the plague and almost inevitably it feels like we’ll lose him for next weekend’s game against Liverpool. It’s a Liverpool team who appear to have been tonked by United, so whilst you’d hope that we can profiteer from their lack of confidence at the moment, this is The Arsenal and I’d expect nothing less than the Scousers to buck their poor form this season and play as if they were getting relegated in the morning if they don’t win. But more of that in he count down to that game later in the week.

For now, let’s try and play a fun game of ‘who the bloody hell do we have left?’, shall we? Because let’s face it, after The Ox, Arteta, Ramsey, Özil and Wilshere, we really do run quite short on first teamers in midfield. It’s why Francis Coquelin must be wondering why he didn’t buy a Euromillions ticket last weekend I’ll wager. After all, he’ll have gone from Charlton midfielder to first choice Arsenal ball winner in the middle of the park within the space of a week. It goes to show you that a week is a long time in football I guess! But also, that things can change quickly. Picture this: Le Coq starts at Anfield. Has a blinder. We win the game. He’s given another shot in midfield and plays another stormer against QPR. He goes to West Ham full of confidence and continues his form. When you take into account his superb performance at full back against Southampton in the Capital One Cup, it goes to show you how quickly life moves in the football world. Especially at this time of year. A player only needs to see a couple of colleagues unavailable for two weeks at the end of December, then suddenly he can find himself having strung together four or five games and may even be able to retain his place.

Now, I appreciate that this is all very hopeful speculation on my part, but I’ve always rated Coquelin. I’ve always felt that he was never really given his opportunity on an extended basis and, when you consider how long Denilson was afforded to prove that he wasn’t toilet (which he didn’t even manage), it is perhaps surprising that Arsène didn’t give Francis his chances earlier on in his career.

Still, water under the bridge, as well as an opportunity for a player to show the manager the error of his ways, providing the Ox is of course out for next weekend’s clash. I’m sure we’ll find out later on in the week, as the players now have three days off to recharge their batteries, which is a good thing given the hectic schedule that is about to envelope their lives. Hopefully being knocked out of the COC will be good for us in the long run.

The only other thing to contemplate is this Champions League draw. We’ve once again made it tough for ourselves, so I don’t expect us to be given any kind of easy ride by the footballing gods. After all, we’ve played the best teams in the competition at the earliest knockout stage for the last five years I think, so why buck the trend now?

I don’t really care who we play, if I’m honest, because we are unlikely to win the competition based on our play this season. I don’t want to be too much of a ‘neg’ about this draw, but there are oil-whoring clubs, the mega-rich spenders like Madrid and Barcelona, plus a Bayern side that will pass us all to death, so we’re going to come up against one of those teams at some stage anyway. We might as well do it earlier. What I will want to see though, is a fight to the death, when we do play one of those big teams. I want them to realise we’re not totally a spent force in Europe and to give somebody a real fun for their money.

Sigh…look at how things have changed, eh? We’ve gone from footballing powerhouse to plucky underdogs. I hate being ‘plucky’. I prefer arrogance and victory. It’s much more enjoyable I find. You?

Anyway, that’s pretty much all there is at the moment, particularly with no players around to talk up the Christmas period and how we’re going to get maximum points! They’re probably all nursing a hangover right now.

Anyway, you have a good’un and I’ll go and do some work. Peace out.