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!

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.

Some freshness after international break?

We all know my feelings about internationals by now, right? Cool, so you know that whilst I’ll talk about yesterday’s matches, the reality is that I do it through gritted teeth, in the absence of anything else to talk about. I mean, I’m not going to give you 1,000 words on the form of Pudsey on BBC1 last night, am I?

I could probably do a better review though, because I watched more of that stuff than Eng-ger-land. If ever there was an example of ‘meh’ness about yesterday’s match, it has to be seen in the fact that the upper tier was half empty. Way to fill the stadium FA, good job guys, picking an international powerhouse like Chile to line up against. Nice. They might as well not have bothered and allowed the players the rest that I explored so vocally yesterday, but like I said, common sense never prevails for our football authorities.

I suppose if I’m going to look at the positives, it’s that Wilshere came off after 70 minutes. Hopefully Woy will rotate for the Germany game and Jack gets only a short amount of game time. Gibbs didn’t get on to the field and if it is the same in midweek next week then I’ll be more than happy, because he’ll have trained, but will be feeling nice and fresh for the visit of Southampton.

Across the water – quite a bit actually – the two games that I really paid attention to because of the Arsenal connection was Italy v Germany, and Ukraine V France. Mercifully, Big Per wasn’t even in the squad, which was great to hear and hopefully the only place he’ll take at Wembley is in one of the director’s boxes when the German’s play us. Mesut replaced Gotze on the hour mark and whilst that’s not ideal, at least he only play for 30 minutes. I have a nagging suspicion that he’ll start on Tuesday, but if he’s limited to 60 minutes then I guess that means he’s only played a full 90 in the space of 12 days, so it’s not all that bad. I have no idea how he played.

As for France, well, I’ve saved the best for last. I’m sorry to any of my readers that are French, but the 2-0 defeat to Ukraine was a perfect result from an Arsenal perspective. Imagine if France don’t go to the world cup? Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscienly will have an entire summer to recuperate. If only England, Spain and Germany could have been so generous – we’d have the vast majority of our players fit and able for the start of the 2014/15 season. It would be grand. Anyway, there’s more, because the French boss Didier Deschamps has clearly lost his mind (to our advantage) in playing Matthieu Debuchy ahead of Bacary Sagna at right back. Again, I can only assume that the same will happen in the return leg next week, so that means that our right back might just have had more of a rest over this break than we could have hoped for. But, my wonderful friends, it gets better. Laurent Koscienly, you wonderful boy, getting yourself sent off in injury time for fighting. Clever, clever stuff, as it means you’ll have a full week off now before playing for The Arsenal on Saturday.

So folks, let’s consider our back four – Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Sagna. All will have had less game time and all should be fresher for Southampton as a result. Sweet as a nut, as they say. It’s always the concern that the players are run into the ground, but it appears – at this moment in time anyway – as if the fates are conspiring in our favour. Right now we have a group of Arsenal players who either haven’t played, won’t play, or have had limited game time. That’s a-ok with this gooner; the fresher they can be for a game against an in-form Southampton, the better. Then when you add that to the list of probably starting players that have stayed at home – Theo, Poldi, Arteta and Flamini – you start to get the hope that we’ll have a team that has a freshness about them that can be used to put Southampton to the sword. More on that towards the back end of next week.

Olivier Giroud played 70 minutes, but hopefully Deschamps has some more crazy pills to take and Benzema starts on Tuesday night. That would be super-awesome.

The only question marks that remain are that of Rambo, Santi and Nacho, but to be honest I suspect Santi probably won’t start given that he’s only recently come back from injury. They make the, quite frankly ludicrous, journey to equatorial Guinea and then South Africa so we just have to hope that both players aren’t too knackered by the time they get back by Thursday. As for Rambo, at least Wales are at home to Finland so there’s not as much travelling time.

Anyway, as always during these stupid international breaks, there isn’t really much more for me to comment on, so I’ll bid you adieu.

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!

I believe the post-match positive rhetoric from the players

Bleugh, an early start for yours truly o’er ‘ere at SG Towers, on account of a hectic finish to the working week. Sometimes I wish I could have been blessed with enough ability in my feet to be a professional footballer. To be able to look forward to work/training, able to do the thing you love as your job, that would be amazing. But, such is life and I must contend myself with a role as a desk jockey, strained by the working mans noose (tie) and having to get up earlier than God sometimes.

But enough about my woes, what about what’s going on in the Arsenal world, eh? Two days have passed since the defeat to Dortmund and some of the players have been speaking to the press and official site. Jack has spoken about the fact that the team felt they didn’t feel like they deserved to lose. I’m sure we all feel like that, but I find it interesting that one of the players is saying it, as it says a lot about the sides morale at the moment. For too long we’ve seen players wheeled out after a defeat to talk about ‘bouncing back’, ‘keeping concentration’ and other such mantras. Gael Clichy, Denilson and Johan Djourou were the masters of it. But every time you read the players comments, I don’t know about you, but I always felt as if there wasn’t really any belief in what they were saying. It felt like lip service being paid to the fans and, as a result, I became cynical and distinctly ‘meh’ about those types of interviews. Perhaps it is indicative of the form and confidence of the team that I feel markedly different about the latest round of player commentaries.

I don’t know whether or not the rhetoric has become more convincing, but I believe that Jack believes what he is saying. He’s not just trotting out tired clichés about trying harder in training. He is reflecting the team mood right now, which has a certain arrogance to it, and I mean that in a positive way. The players seem almost incredulous after a defeat and as far as I’m concerned that is the perfect attitude to have. Because it will spur them on. It will give them all the collective drive to go out in the next game, take out their anger on the next opponents by trying to win, and win big. Just look at Ramsey’s comments. He acknowledges his mistake, talks about what he was trying to do and faces up to the defeat square on, which takes guts in my humble opinion. He could have let the vice-captain Arteta come out and talk to the site, but perhaps it says a lot about where his head is that he wanted to talk about it, then say to the world ‘right, that’s that then, I’ve made a mistake and now I’m moving on’. Perfect attitude.

I don’t want to compare this team to United or Chelski title-winning ones of the last few seasons, but that is exactly the type of mentality that if the team keep consistent throughout the season, they will find the resolve to bounce back whenever needed. It is what separates the challengers from the outside contenders. I hope it is a positive sign of things to come. Again, we as Gooners shouldn’t get too carried away just yet, but we should be hopeful that the morale in the squad appears to remain high.

As for our opponents at the weekend – Crystal Palace – I have no idea how they will react to the resignation of Ian Holloway yesterday. Holloway’s comments were unsurprisingly candid as he spoke about his own motivation, but what surprised me was the public chastising of some of the new players, no prizes for guessing which players might have not shown as much effort since arriving in the summer. I don’t know if his comments will act as a platform for Palace to put on the game of their lives to prove to the manager he is wrong, but we certainly need to be at 100% concentration at the weekend. The (former) managers comments could galvanise the Eagles this weekend, so it’s important that we ensure that we put out any fires at Selhurst Park, as quickly as we can on Saturday lunchtime.

I think I’ll leave it there for one day. My eyes are starting to crust over with tiredness. Catch y’all tomorrow.

Gooner getting bolshie on a Monday

Another week starts with a dark and grey Monday for this here Gooner. Which is exactly the opposite of how I feel about my football team right now. Everything is good, we all have a sunny disposition about us, even a victory for the Spuds against a pretty awful Villa side mattered not to I. Of course, we must caveat that victory with the admission that Villa were without two key men for the start of the match: Benteke returning from injury and Anthony Taylor not around to give a hand from an officials perspective.

But as Ivan would say: worry not about those that are not our rivals, only our domestic and European challengers are something to concern ourselves with.

Of course I’m getting a little bolshie! But do you know what? Why shouldn’t I/we? We have witnessed a superb weekend display by The Arsenal, which was followed up with a Sunday of journalists gushing about THAT Jack Wilshire goal, as well as the overall team play. The only hilariously sour note that I can see was from old Big Nose Phil Thompson, who supposedly said on Saturday after the game that Arsenal lack that killer instinct to finish teams off, quite an interesting statement fine we scored four goals Phil. After all, I thought the definition of ‘killing teams off’ in a footballing sense was to win the game, no? Anyway, we should waltz passed that particular pundits opinion, probably like Hansen still bitter about Anfield ’89. Move on guys, seriously, it’s becoming boringly transparent now.

Arsene believed the goal we scored by Jack was one of the best he’d seen at Arsenal and, having watched the game again, I’d have to agree. This weekend I’ve probably watched it five or six times and as I said on our second Suburban Gooners podcast we recorded last night, it seems to get better every time I watch it. From Jack picking the ball up deep from the Flamster, to the Santi drive towards the defence and the little ’round the corner’ flicks from Giroud and Wilshire, it just gets better eery time. Most certainly worthy of most of the ‘goal of the month’ and perhaps even ‘goal of the season’ competitions that are out there.

Just a quick one on the Podcast – it’s on iTunes now if you want to download – just search ‘Suburban Gooners’ and download if you like that sort of stuff. Alternatively, you can listen through our site – apologies, but writing the blog on the iPhone means linking is somewhat problematic.

Anyway, back to the goodness that is Arsenal and specifically now, Aaron Ramsey. Once again he showed his stature with the most composed goal of the game and it has to be said that another performance of outstanding quality against Dortmund will go a long way for us to pick up some points at home. I’ll come to that in a sec, but the fact that Rambo is getting plaudits from all corners – including the captain Thomas Vermaelen who described him as ‘the best player in the league’ – just goes to show you how essential he is for us, every single week. Again, having looked at the goal he scored on Saturday, the thing that impressed me as much is the way he was able to bring the ball out of his feet perfectly before smashing it home. Wonderfully crafted goal from a lad who has the Midas touch.

We now head into the most crucial month of matches in the season and it’s great that we go into it with the morale in the squad being exceedingly high – Mr Kipling Cakes style – so why shouldn’t we think anything else other than positivity for tomorrow. More on the match and the line ups, as well as the opposition tomorrow, but if the team can match the intensity of Napoli and the quick start then we should only be in line for good things. The only question mark for tomorrow will be the Flamster, but we’ll hear today from Le Boss when he announces the team line ups, whether of not Matthieu has recovered from his concussion to make it into the squad. I hope he does, because that bit of steel in the midfield that he brings has been a vital cog in our winning machine thus far.

There’s some stuff from Arsene about not ruling United out of the title race and, whilst we all know we can’t do that, wouldn’t it be really good fun to? I know , I know, I’ll probably end up eating my words and have to endure a dancing That Dutch Bloke, but I’m just so desperate to see their decline and our ascension, that I’m getting far too excited. The reality is that we’re eight games in, haven’t played them yet and are still to face plenty of tough matches that could see our season looking just as derailed as United’s is. But if we can’t make hay whilst the sun is shining, when can we, eh? WHEN CAN I MAKE MY HAY?

Anyway, that’s enough of me prattling on for one day, catch you tomorrow for a match preview.

Norwich: comfortable, but only after the benefit of hindsight

The lean, mean, three-point gathering machine continues to roll on and it’s with a swagger that can only be achieved with a certain je be ce quoi about it. Or at least that’s what it feels like.

Yesterday we were treated to an eventually comfortable victory against a Norwich team that is clearly quite limited, albeit somewhat plucky, trying to recover some semblance of form that saw them finish mid table last season. A 4-1 score line seems, from this Gooners perspective anyway, as a score reflective of the overall play. In truth, and with hindsight squarely behind me and fanning me with a towel in the corner, we were never really looking like we could relinquish three points from a game against our East Anglian rivals. As usual, there was the now expected scary moments when Johnny Howson slotted home a decent finish to bring the score back to 2-1, but that was pretty much all Norwich offered if I’m completely honest.

The visitors opted for the Scottish sensation Gary Hooper up top, but as is the case with so many of those that venture south of Hadrian’s wall, the striker found slim pickings from both Kos and the BFG all game. If I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure exactly what Norwich’s game-plan was yesterday afternoon. They didn’t set 11 men on the edge of their own box in an attempt to frustrate, nor did they show too much ambition by playing two up top, so it is with some difficulty that I try to assess Chris Hughton’s tactics. From this Gooners perspective, Norwich came to The Arsenal without any real gameplan and it ended up costing them dearly.

Of course perhaps I’m being overly harsh on The Canaries. After all, they came across an Arsenal team full of the verve and swagger of early Arsene Wenger years teams, and popped the ball about like a team that is in the midst of the purplest of purple patches. It’s practically ultraviolet actually. All across the pitch we had players who looked like they knew no fear, zipping the ball around and finding players in red and white with consummate ease.

If I seem like I’m overly gushing, perhaps it’s because I’ve started today’s blog whilst venturing back home shortly after the game on the Central Line, which means that the Euphoria of being clear of Liverpool on points is still coursing through my veins. In truth, there were times of the game that nerves were still to be found in Block Five and until that third goal went in through a fantastically mazy dribble and finish from Ramsey, the game still appeared in the balance.

We started off strong enough; dominating possession, controlling the play and forcing a couple of smart saves from Ruddy, but until that first goal goes in, you’re always a bit worried about the goalkeeper having a ‘Dirty Dancing’ style. time of his life and so when Jack volleyed the ball home after a sumptuous interchange between Santi, Giroud and himself, all of the worries of a frustrating goalless afternoon soon disappeared. It was a move that was crafted out of pure beauty and, with Dennis Bergkamp appearing prominently in the UK press due to the release of his book recently, it was a goal that the Dutch master himself would have been proud to call his own. These are the types of goals that you score when your team is in form. The one-touch quick inter plays with fantastic flicks – it’s all a consequence of extreme confidence – and after the couple of weeks Jack’s had in the media, who could begrudge him a little extra smile as he caressed the ball home.

The only sour point on the first half was the disappearance of Flamini who, let’s face it, is almost a dead cert for starting each week right now. Again, I write this report not knowing how he is in terms of Dortmund on Tuesday, so let’s hope it was just a precaution.

The second half needed an Arsenal goal to arrest the eroding of fingernails amongst the home support and we were duly obliged by our megastar Mesut. The German was there for the most unlikely of goals you’d associate with him, as he rose to meet Olivier Giroud’s well placed cross into the box. The Frenchman is fast turning into quite a unique footballer I have to say. Hold up play, scoring, assists and general presence in attack, he is showing everything that we want from our strikers and his importance to stay fit grows with every game. He may not have scored yesterday, but his influence was obvious.

The game was still in the balance after Howson breached our defence, but goals from both Ramsey and Özil made sure that my compatriot for the day – @RoyThomas16 – had a happy evening having backed 4-1 at 22-1 with a tenner on to secure a nice little bonus on top of three points at home. It was a relief that we had navigated this particular banana skin and a pleasing sight to see that this Arsenal team can put the so-called ‘lesser’ teams to the sword. I don’t want to seem like I’m being preemptive, but there seems something about this team, something that is built on a foundation of togetherness and confidence. Of course, we all know that could come crashing down with a few defeats during a difficult October/November period, but whilst the sun is shining we should make happy hay. We’re top of the league, looking good, scoring plenty of goals and this far have casted asunder the teams that have historically caused us all manner of headaches. The acid test will come against Dortmund, Liverpool, Chelski and Man Utd, but right now we’ve got a barrel full of alkali to neutralise said acid.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

We can all take in some fresh football air now

It’s over. You can all come out from behind your sofas. The international window has been smashed and all that awaits is for us to climb through it and inhale a deep, fresh and free breath of air. That funk that’s been permeating through your household hasn’t been anything to do with the curry and beer you had this weekend, but it turns out that it was just international football stinking the joint out. Open the windows, spray some air fresheners and turn on the plug ins, because normal football service will soon be resumed.

Last night, I must admit, I once again succumbed to watching the country of my origin squeeze their way gingerly through into the World Cup Finals in Brazil next year with a victory against Poland at Wembley. I wasn’t expecting anything but a complete write-off of a game – a snoozefest, if you will – but I was pleasantly surprised to see an England team with no inhibitions (until they scored in the first half and it hit the last twenty minutes that is) who played some decent football. There were no Arsenal players on display either, so the desire was somewhat quashed as a result, too.

However, I must confess I was entertained and but for a fine performance from Szczesny, the result could have been a lot worse for the Poles. It’s almost the perfect result really, because the stand-out Polish player was our number one and the fact that he made a string of good saves will hopefully bode well for the weekend and upcoming games against some tough opponents for The Arsenal.

I must say I found it interesting that the England players celebrated so heartily after the final whistle. I wonder if the media and TV pundits alike will question those players as they questioned the Arsenal players so vehemently upon hearing the final whistle last season against Newcastle. After all, where qualification of the World Cup Finals were secured last night, see qualification for Arsenal in the Champions League this season. I suspect we will not hear a single ex-footballer snorting at the effort of the England players with comments like “I don’t know why they are celebrating, they’re not going to win the World Cup”, do you? Of course, it is the relief of a secured status that they were celebrating, not the qualification itself. See Arsenal’s final match in the North East for a similar reference point.

Jack got ten minutes at the end of the game, which was fine by me as it means he won’t be knackered come the weekend. Carl Jenkinson played for the under-21s, who now seem to be referred to as the ‘Young Lions’, which is obviously an homage to the fabulous 90s moving Lion King involving young Simba as he fights to become master of all he surveys. It’s actually good for Carl that he plays, as game time will keep him match sharp and given that he’s been out of the team since Sagna’s shift back to right back, hopefully the game exposure will be beneficial for the Corporal at the weekend.

We’ll hear more from Le Boss over the next couple of days, but it sounds like all of our players have come through this break from Arsenal unscathed, except Mesut Özil, who was pulled off after 82 minutes as a precaution. Let’s hope he’ll be fine for the weekend because the prospect of seeing him and Cazorla in the same team is mouthwatering to say the least. But it does once again highlight why the international mid-season breaks should be detested with such vigour. Yesterday we launched our first ever attempt at a Podcast, in which I attempted (through crackled signal on my phone) to explain why I hate these stoppages in the domestic season. We need look no further than the fact that we are now all on tenterhooks because our record signing picked up a knock for his country. It feels like we Arsenal fans are constantly blighted by injuries to players on international duty. I just hope this is something Mesut can shake off.

For the rest of the players coming back, I thought it was largely positive from an Arsenal perspective. Vermaelen played a full 90 for Belgium – something he needed; Koscienly and Rambo played a full 90 – something we could have done without; Mertesacker, Monreal and Gibbs were unused subs – good stuff, as they’ll be fresher this weekend; whilst Giroud played 80 odd minutes for France – again, ideally something we’d like to have avoided but never mind. The rest of the squad was, by and large, left at home with a week off, so the hope is that when the players rock up at The Emirates this weekend, they’ll be fresher as a collective and Arsene can tell them all to go out there and express themselves. More on the team news and suspected line ups over the next couple of days.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for today I’m afraid. I think I’m still trying to remove the mental scarring that another international weekend has imprinted on to my cerebellum, so I’ll save my other Arsenal related thoughts for tomorrow, when the international window is a mere footnote on the season and is rapidly disappearing off to the horizon.

You be good folks. Catch you tomorrow.

The bitter injury pill may force rotation

Morning Gooners. Hope your corner of the world is dandy at the end of this working week (well, for this blogger, anyway). Unfortunately the skies above where I reside are clad in grey and the floors are sodden with rainfall. It has a particularly autumnal feel to it today. Perhaps the weather is reflective of the way we’re all feeling without The Arsenal to entertain us this weekend, replaced instead by internationals that get me as excited as Eeore from Winnie the Pooh gets excited about, well, anything.

I don’t really hate internationals that much, but more what they seem to do to our squad in particular. I speak to Chelski, Liverpool, spuds and United fans, all of whom don’t seem to have as much of an issue as I do, but when I explain my logic I do sometimes get some sympathy.

Injuries. Injuries are one of the main reasons for my detestation of international breaks. Yes, having them appear every month and disrupt the flow of a series of games in the domestic calendar is annoying, but I could live with that if I knew that every Arsenal player would return to London Colney in the same condition as whence they departed. But we all know that never happens. There’s always one player that misses out. In the last international break we had two, as both Cazorla and Rosicky picked up knocks and both have been out since the last break. This time around it seems as though Koscienly is the victim. He sat out training yesterday and another defender ha been drafted in to replace him. Know doubt Kos will be tossed back to Arsenal and told by the club to pick up the tab.

If Laurent is out for an extended period of time, perhaps it will be a good thing, as it will give Thomas Vermaelen the opportunity to step in and win his place in the side back. He’ll no doubt have been chomping at the bit to get back into the side and, if competition has risen Szczesny’s game to a higher level, there’s no reason not to think that our captain won’t step up to the plate and deliver some ‘smash it out of the park’ performances. It’s great that we have the competition that ensures we have a certain level of quality at the club to replace the broken and wounded, but to me it’s just not the point, because we should be playing our best players in the best form. When players are injured that has nothing to do with their involvement with Arsenal football club, it is an even more bitter pill to swallow, as if someone has coated the bitter pill with oil of cloves and asked you to suck on a lemon before you consume it.

I don’t want to wish injuries on any other players, but for once, can’t the football Gods just share the international break injuries around the other Premier League clubs? When was the last time you saw a key player for the other top clubs pick up a serious injury? Even the man who spent half his career getting injured whilst away with his national side – you know the fella, he who should not be named from The Netherlands – seems to avoid any kind of knocks now he’s exited out of The Arsenal. Hurumph! That’s what I say.

There’s not really a lot else on if I’m honest, but before I go I want to highlight exactly what players are up against in the media. The Chief Sports Writer of The Sun wrote a piece yesterday stating that Jack Wilshire is next in line to succeed the man at the top of the English Defence League (EDL), the nationalist movement that are the closest thing we’ve got to Nazi’s in the UK. I find it staggering that these people from the media can preach about responsibility and duty of care that footballers should adhere to as role models and people with high profile, when they too should take a look at themselves and the influence they have on British society. But it is indicative of the arrogance of some sections of the British media that they think of themselves answerable only to themselves. The power of influence they wield is far greater than footballers, yet they play ‘high and mighty’ with their commentary on footballers some times and it makes me pretty irritated actually. What happens if somebody sees that article and, unable to appropriately control their emotions, decides to target where Jack Wilshire lives? Yes, I know I’m being extreme, but these situations aren’t unheard of in today’s society. Do you think The Sun will take any responsibility for having an effect? Of course not. They will continue to do what is best to sell as many papers as possible. And unfortunately, as long as there are people buying those papers, they’ll continue to do whatever the hell it is they want.

Sorry for getting ranty folks, but in the absence of The Arsenal, what does anyone expect? Anyway, I think you’re fabulous people, because you’re a Gooner. So let’s just collective console ourselves in the fact we’re all great and the rest of the world are bleach – i.e. a mild irritant.

Have a good day people.

West Brom review: Jack and Arsenal prove a point

So the Premier League disappears across into the horizon for a couple of weeks to be replaced by the barren feeling of international competitive matches, with The Arsenal continuing their ‘non-losing’ form by avoiding defeat against a decent, if not spectacular, West Brom team yesterday. The Management is currently off on work duties in the Middle East (no, not the blue half of Manchester, the REAL Middle East), so it was a quiet Sunday with only a Goodfella’s pizza and a couple of bottles of Peroni to keep me company, but I had the Arsenal and so my hopes of another away victory remained firmly entrenched in my mind.

Arsene was forced to shuffle his pack with the disappearance of Sagna, to be replaced by Jenkinson, but Le Boss also saw fit to reintroduce Jack Wilshire into the starting line up – albeit in his unfamiliar attacking left position. The game kicked off and quite early on in proceedings it became obvious that Jack wasn’t going to be at his best. Last season just before he got injured at the beginning of 2013 he looked to be getting back to his best, driving at opponents and taking them on at will. However, right now it appears his ability to get past players is faultering slightly. On numerous occasions yesterday he gave the ball away through sloppy play and the calls from the Sky Sports pundits for Jack to be replaced at halftime were certainly echoed by more than one person on my Twitter timeline. Arsene has spoken of his need to find his ‘burst’ back and I think we got the perfect example of what that actually means against The Baggies. Jack at his best can wriggle through tight spaces. He has a quick burst over five yards that can beat his man, which gives him space and time to pick a pass and release the ball. That is what he is lacking at the moment and so when he tries the things that normally come naturally to him, it is not surprising he is falling at the first hurdle. He will get there, he will find his form, we just all need to be patient.

Patience is a virtue that too many don’t have (I am not excluding myself in this accusation by the way!), but thankfully, it is something that Arsene has shown spades of. Just look at how much of it he has dished out on Abou Diaby! So perhaps we should all be glad that he carries this attribute in abundance, because if he were a man made more in the Jose Mourhino mould (heaven forbid), then Wilshire probably would have been hauled off at half time. But Le Boss rarely makes half time substitutes and yesterday wasn’t going to be a change of policy in that regard. So Jack came out for the second half and with that wonderful gift of hindsight, aren’t we all glad he did. He still didn’t look 100%, but I thought there was a little bit more purpose about his play. A bit more determination. So who better to get us level after we’d gone behind to a Yacob header just before half time, than the man who is in the headlines right now, our Jacky. His exchange of passes with Giroud was crisp and incisive and the finish – whilst handily deflected – was exactly the type of response we needed and exactly the type of response you would expect from a player with such personality and character. He doesn’t hide, he tries his hardest, and that’s why we love him.

As for our opponents, well, I thought they were ‘alright’. They didn’t look like a team of world beaters, they just looked like a side that had a bit of craft but perhaps lack a little bit more cutting edge that the best teams in the division have. They probably should have gone 2-0 up when Anelka raced clear, or when he was fed the ball from Berahino just after the interval, but they squandered a few good chances. We too were guilt of a little bit of profligacy, as Gibbs could have done better in the first half, and perhaps Giroud could have slotted the ball away when he rounded Myhill, who made a good save from the Frenchman. If I’m completely honest – and once again with the benefit of my old friend hindsight – West Brom had a few chances, but they caught us on a good day (for them) and I felt we looked a little sluggish throughout. That cutting edge we had from the Napoli game just seemed to be lacking a bit.

I thought Szczesny had a good game and made some quite smart saves, and defensively we looked solid enough, but you can certainly tell the difference in class between Jenkinson and Sagna. Carl cut a forlorn figure defensively at times up against Berahino and was ruffled a bit with the introduction of Long, but I guess overall we should look at the fact that he is still serving his Arsenal apprenticeship, with plenty of time to iron out some of the kinks in his game. I thought he was certainly better going forward and on more than one occasion had the beating of Ridgewell.

I don’t think you can ever underestimate the value of not losing. Sure, a draw is only a point more, but on a day when the Spuds were cut apart by a West Ham team with now strikers, it is probably worth considering that there will be plenty of teams that will go to The Hawthorns and come away with their noses bloodied and bruised and certainly not with three points tucked safely under the arms. A draw keeps the momentum with us. The draw ensures that we are still on an unbeaten run and it means that when the international break has been cast back into the shadows, we should see the return of some of the more creative attacking players that will give us some much needed width and also depth. Probably quite useful given that we play Norwich, Dortmund, Palace and Chelski in the space of two weeks.

Catch y’all tomorrrow.