Mega early pre-match Chelski thoughts

Morning ladies and gents, I have decided to be massively premature in my blogulation this morning and hit you up with a mega early pre-match blog, that’s just how I roll.

It’s also because Ben has something special planned for the next couple of days and so I’ll leave the floor open to him tomorrow and on Saturday and give you some super pre-match thoughts. Well, the ‘thoughts’ aren’t so much super, it’s more the timing, but you knew that already, so I’ll just crack on then…

This weekend may be Arsene’s 1000th and quite an occasion, but nobody should be under any illusion on what exactly it means for our season in terms of the domestic league, because I truly believe that this weekend will set the course for the remainder of our Premier League season. A defeat closes all doors to the title in my opinion. We’d still have a game in hand over Chelski, but seven points adrift with just eight games to go is too much to expect – especially when you look at their run in. When you also consider that Moneychester City have so many games in hand – two of which they will most likely win and be on similar points to Chelski, I doubt we can expect to see too many teams around us that will all be dropping that many points.

A draw will keep us four points behind with a game in hand, which keeps us in the mix but again the thought process is similar to Liverpool and Moneychester City – I don’t think all of those teams will drop that many points. However, a victory, well, that puts us into ‘we all believe’ territory as it will take us a point behind Mourhino’s lot, with a midweek game against Swansea which could give us an opportunity to go top before we play City, which then becomes a clash in which a victory at home puts us in pole position.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: I’m a bag of nerves at the moment. I’ve even got a bit of a dull ache in my stomach writing this blog, a full two days before the match even takes place, so lord knows what I’ll feel like come Saturday lunchtime.

If only we were at home, I’d be feeling a little (not a lot mind) more confident about getting the result. Wenger should have banished the Mourhino demons at The Emirates in December, but we came up against a ‘park the bus’ Mourhino and Giroud just wasn’t firing that day. It’s that flipping record that puts me off more than anything else. Never having lost a league game on home soil is quite impressive and, whilst I admit it has to happen at some time, there’s no doubt that the odds are not stacked in our favour for Saturday.

The only plus point is that we’ve had a full week off to recover from the defensive display against the Spuds. That game has now been put to bed and in the cold light of day we all have to admit that Chelski are a big step up from that lot, so if they get similar chances on Saturday we know they’ll take them. Also, the fact we’ve had a full weeks rest didn’t really stop us from putting in dire performances against Stoke or Liverpool, so I’m not going to be making any assumptions that we have any advantage on that front.

Obviously the down side to such an early preview blog is that I have no idea who will be selected and who is available from injury, but I’ll have a stab at it anyway, because I’m normally wrong even when I know who is in the squad! I suspect the back five will remain in tact and, after the performance on Sunday I think Arteta, Rosicky, Santi and The Ox will play, but against big strong defenders like Terry and Cahill, Olivier Giroud is going to be meat and drink, so I hope Arsene goes for pace in support of him by giving the Ox a run out on the wing and perhaps even Rosicky on the other side. That would probably leave room for Flamini to come in and with the Chelski danger men operating behind Eto’o, I think that added coverage is the right option. Of course, Podolski would drop to the bench and be a player I’d be looking to give twenty minutes to towards the end of the game depending on the result.

As for the Chavs, they’ve got the impressive Willian out suspended, along with the divey Ramirez, but it doesn’t really weaken them too much, as they’ll have Matic sitting in front of their back four and probably give a run out to the irritating Mikel, who loves getting away with snidey fouls against us and I’d expect the same treatment on Saturday. The real danger for us will be the attacking prowess of Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle and an Eto’o who seems to have suddenly picked up his striking boots, which is bloody annoying. Keeping those four at bag will be a massively challenge and without wanting to sound too pessimistic, I can’t see it happening.

If that is the case and our defensive walls are breached, then we need to counter by less profligacy in front of goal. The Ox needs to bury his chances, Giroud needs to be more active and a handful for the back two and Rosicky and Santi need to retain the ball and feed the attackers well. We can do it, of course, but this is by far the most pressurised league game we’ve had this season.

I’ll be wearing my lucky flat cap, so let’s hope I can make it three wins in a row with it on my head.

Catch you all on the other side.

Tipping the cap to Arsene’s gamble – Liverpool

Well happy Monday to you! Isn’t it a fine Monday for us to be sharing? I’m sure you feel the same, especially after a hard-fought home victory for The Arsenal. Yep, I’m feeling just fine and dandy, thanks to goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski to set us up with another big game in the FA Cup at home to Everton. Not quite content to see us have an easy ride, are they, these footballing Gods? That will have been three out of the top six we’d have had to beat to get to the semi’s where, you just know there will be Momeychester City lurking if we progress. Ah well, let’s count those chickens once they’ve actually hatched, eh?

As for yesterday, I think it only right we give Arsene a tip of the cap this Monday because let’s face it, when the team was announced yesterday there were plenty of mumblings of discontent. The feeling amongst a lot of the fanbase was that prioritising competitions wasn’t a luxury we could be afforded, yet with five or six changes to the first team (depending on who you think is a current starter), it seemed as though Arsene had decided that he would rather sacrifice the FA Cup than anything else.

Bringing in Jenkinson, Monreal and Sanogo wasn’t exactly thought of as a move we could really make, yet the managers faith in his squad to do the business was rewarded yesterday. I thought most of the team was superb yesterday. Jenks rarely put a foot wrong, Monreal had some wobbly moments at the start but grew into the game, whilst Sanogo have us the first glimpse of the promise that Arsene and his scouting network have seen.

He’s a big lad, isn’t he? Fending off Agger and Skyrtel is no mean feat, yet our Postman-in-waiting showed some great hold up play and even a couple of decent touches too, although he did have a couple of fresh air swings at the ball so you can see he’s a work in progress. It doesn’t mean he’ll be turning into the next Didier Drogba, but this was a rare start that showed he might just has something about him (providing he stays fit).

Indeed, it was the young Yaya who was instrumental in putting us in front in the first half, bringing the ball down under pressure from Skyrtel, rifling a shot against Gerrard’s back only for it to fall to The Ox to touch in. He was another fine performer on the day and in the opinion of the commentary team on BT Sport, the Man of the Match too, rightly in my opinion. All day his direct running caused a problem for the Liverpool team and his arrival from injury shortly after Theo was confirmed to be out for the season has been a timely re-introduction indeed. Arsene may see his long-term future in the middle of the park, but if short-term needs dictate him being deployed on the right of that three-pronged attack, then surely it is a case of ‘needs must’.

The second half gave us exactly what you need in a game against big rivals in the form of a Lukas Podolski goal which provided a two-goal buffer. Podolski too had a good game – penalty concession aside – and I jokingly tweeted an open letter to Arsene asking him to play Poldi more often. There is clearly the reluctance on the managers part to play our effective German, but yesterday he was imperious, running his socks off and supporting Monreal defensively, as well as once again providing a killer touch in the business end of the pitch. He must surely warrant more starts with performances like that, no? When you have such a clinical finisher, playing them in the big games is a no-brainer, because they will take the few chances afforded them. You don’t have to look too far – Giroud’s late miss on Wednesday from a Sagna cross – to see what an impact a natural born killer in front of goal can do.

I’ve singled out the squad players at the moment, but the regulars were also pretty darn good, don’t you know. Özil carried on from where he left off against United and looked like the Özil from the start of the season. It almost feels like he woke up Sunday morning last week, saw the savagery of the British tabloids, then decided to show them a footballing ‘f*ck you’ by making his mark on a couple of big games. Equally, the much maligned defence last week was back in its groove and deserved a clean sheet. Yes, the defence was breached in the second half, but if you take away the clumsy challenge of Poldi inside the box on Suarez, I don’t think our back four would have been breached. Both Per and Laurent looked shaky for the first ten minutes and Sturridge probably should have put Liverpool ahead, but it’s what we should have expected from a team whose game plan is to blitz opponents early and coast to victory, as opposed to our more cautious opening approach leading to pressure in the second half to breach the oppositions defensive line. Overall, defensively we looked strong once again and it bodes well for the upcoming tie against the best that Europe has to offer.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the contentious decisions made by Howard Webb yesterday, for which both teams profited in different ways. There was most certainly a second penalty from The Ox on Suarez To which Howard had a perfect view, but one can only assume that the way the Uruguyan threw his body around, only counted against him. In unsurprisingly hypocritical manager form, Brendan Rodgers said he had no idea why it wasn’t a stone wall penalty, whilst following that up by saying Webb got it right when Gerrard scythed down the Ox shortly after that incident, for the ref to give a free kick but no second yellow. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but Liverpool fans bemoaning bias towards the home side would do well to remember their own fortune towards their skipper.

A word on Fabianski, another fine performer on the day who did nothing wrong in goal and even produced a fine stop when Sturridge was one-on-one and bearing down on goal. It’s clearly a frustration for him that he hasn’t had more game time, but the form of Szczesny is what it is, so if that means that Fabianski is playing in his last cup run for Arsenal, then I hope it’s a good one that sees him show just what he is capable of to potential buyers.

Overall you can hardly call it a ‘vintage’ Arsenal performance, but I’m getting used to this Arsenal side and their efficiency in victory. Last season United won the league at a canter with a side widely described as ‘average’, yet nobody could argue that they weren’t efficient in winning game after game. If somebody could tell me now that I had to watch Arsenal grind out 2-0 after 2-0 between now and the end of the season, but there’d be something shiny at the end of it, I’d bite their hand off and start working away on the arm until I hit the shoulder.

Onwards and upwards, towards a tantalising Wednesday night time against Bayern, where there might just be some revenge to speak of on Thursday.

There are those chickens again.

Liverpool: We shouldn’t rotate, but we should ‘freshen up’

Today’s an interesting game to call, isn’t it? I mean, on the one hand you have an Arsenal team that have had their pants pulled down by Liverpool just over a week ago, which could either lead to a bit of fear from the players that take to the field today in red and white, yet on the other hand you sense that those players will want to prove that last week really was an anomaly and will therefore be extra up for the match this afternoon.

Likewise, you have a Liverpool team that will no doubt be buoyed by that 5-1 drubbing of us last week, as well as a last-gasp winner against Fulham on Wednesday. But equally, that’s a Liverpool tea that will surely be wary of our need to prove that last week could not be repeated, as well as the fact that defensively they still concede some sloppy goals.

I honestly don’t know which two teams will take to the field today, which makes this game impossible to call, so I don’t think I will!

In November Brendan Rodgers got his tactics wrong at the Emirates and a couple of goals from Santi and Aaron gave us a comfortable 2-0 win. He readdressed that last week by catching us cold and tactically outperforming Arsene with pace, with and a lightning quick start. He will obvious want to replay last weekend’s game in terms of the two styles, but the challenge he’ll have is making sure his team make another quick start. That’s where we have to make sure that, true to our home form this season, we are strong and compact in defence and we avoid the suicidal high line that cost us so dearly at Anfield. We’ve made a habit this season of starting games slowly and building our momentum throughout, so the blueprint is there for success: don’t let. Liverpool catch us cold in that first 15 to 20 minutes.

Thankfully, we are at home today, which I’m sure will help the Arsenal lads that take to the field because the home fans will want the sweet smell of revenge just as much as the players. We’ll need to be noisy and loud and – cliched as it may sound – be that twelfth man to ensure we navigate this very tough fifth round tie.

There’s been a lot of talk amongst Gooners and the press about the possibility of Arsene resting a few players today in prep for the arrival of Bayern on Wednesday. Personally I hope that Arsene is tempted to make wholesale changes. I hope, if anything, that he takes this game more seriously than the Bayern one, because I am a pragmatist and I think we have a better chance of silverware in this competition than in the Champions League, so I don’t really want to see wholesale changes. I know it’s not a thought process I’m alone with either, as Dave over at 1 Nil Down 2 One Up also talks about in his match preview he wrote yesterday.

Having said that, I do think Arsene needs to freshen it up from Wednesday’s draw against United, because we looked lethargic and short of ideas going forward in that second half. There has been plenty of online column inches provided by Gooners and journos alike bemoaning our lack of pace in attack, as well as runners in beyond Özil, so I hope that Arsene sees today’s game as an opportunity for Gnabry and Podolski to operate either side of the loan front man. Whether or not that is Giroud is remains to be seen and I wonder if Arsene will be tempted to start Bendtner to see if he can perform against the scousers.

In midfield Jack hasn’t had the greatest of weeks and I’d be tempted to go for a rotated two in the middle of the park of Flamini and The Ox. Matthieu has just sat out over a weeks worth of football and so will be fresh and Alex’s performance against Crystal Palace could mean he’s given another chance to shine. Alternatively, he could look at giving the effervescent Rosicky a run in the middle of the field, as we all know Arsene loves giving Tomas a shot in some of the big games. He usually performs well too.

As for Liverpool, I’m expecting the exact team that played us at Anfield last Saturday, why wouldn’t we? They smashed us to pieces with their pace and width and Rodgers will no doubt believe he has found the blueprint to beat Arsenal. That’s what worries many of us about the result today too I think, because defeat at home today will raise a lot of questions as to where we’re going right now, as well as the possibility that teams have worked out how to get at this Arsenal team.

The other worry is that Liverpool have seen what United do and play for a bore-draw to take it back to Anfield to finish the job. Let’s face it, they don’t have the fixture pile up through European competition and so don’t have as much to worry about in terms of a replay, so I’m sure if you offered it to Liverpool fans and the manager himself, he’d probably take it and try to replicate the home demolition of us in the league.

Unfortunately for me, my own current circumstances have dictated that I cannot make the game, so I’ll be watching it through the horror-show that is BT Sport in a local pub. But I hope that we can get the result we need because so far, this current ‘DEATHRUN1′ has not been ‘so good’.

Come on you Gunners!

Jose wants his ball back; we need club solidarity

That Jose Mourhino’s a funny fella, isn’t he? He reminds me of the kid back in primary school that thought he was popular, but everyone really hated him because he was a total hypocrite and couldn’t take it when somebody dished it back to him. Or in secondary school when there was this small kid who was playing for Charlton’s youth team who, when he had the ball would dance around you and you couldn’t tackle him because he’d get the hump and want to start a fight, yet when he didn’t have the ball in the playground he always went in a little to late and a little too hard.

Yesterday, Arsene did the Premier League equivalent of rob him of the ball on the playground and start dribbling with it, as he tried on a bit of the mind games for size and yes, unsurprisingly Jose didn’t like it and accused Arsene of being a ‘specialist in failure’. I’ve got no problem with the Portuguese running his mouth off, much like I have no problem with Arsene spicing it up a bit, although yesterday was another classic example of Le Boss being asked a question and giving his opinion. As opposed to the Irritating One who will venture an opinion that suits his agenda whether or not he’s been asked a question designed to illicit a spicy response or not.

I do have a problem with his hypocrisy though. ‘If you can’t take it, don’t dish it’ my mum used to say and the Chelsea manager should probably have his wife tattoo that motto on his forearm to remind him every day.

I’ve got to say though, I hope that the war of words doesn’t offer any kind of distraction, or that we end up falling foul of those annoying Chavs by seeing them win the league. We don’t normally have football karma falling on our side like they do, so I don’t like tempting fate by hearing that Arsene is having a bit of a poke at some of the other playground kids, because we usually end up with the bloodied nose that, in this instance, would be a trophyless campaign.

Anyway, Arsene extols the virtues of focusing only on ourselves and I should take his lead for the rest of today’s blog, focusing on Arsene related news, because that’s all we ever want to talk about, right? The man himself had his press conference yesterday and spoke about the return of the Flamster, who I think will play against the scousers tomorrow, as well as the fact that Santi was ill in bed and might be a doubt for Sunday. If that does turn out to be true it will be a blow, but hopefully it will give Podolski an opportunity to get some game time in a big match. To my mind he’s a big game player and, whatever Arsene’s reasons for not favoring him any more, you can’t help but think that if he plays he’ll have an impact at some stage. With every passing game it appears obvious that the manager doesn’t fancy him and he’ll be shipped out in the summer, but when you have such a clinical weapon in your team, you’d be foolish not to use him.

His press conference also brought a little bit of information about Sagna too. And when I mean ‘little’ I really mean ‘little, because all Arsene said was ‘no he’s not close to signing. IT’s an ongoing process’. I think it’s fair to say that ‘ongoing process’ includes some succession planning for next season, because we’ve seen this before and the story only ends one way: an exit from the club. I just hope that Sagna doesn’t get a call from United, City, Liverpool or any other English based club, because I think we all still believe that Sagna has a good couple of years in front of him and it would be very difficult to watch him play for an opponent week-in, week-out in the Premier League next season.

I also thought the rhetoric from Arteta was interesting yesterday, as it appeared on the official site, with Mr Lego-hair calling for all players, management, directors and fans to stick together at this time. It was interesting because, off the back of the United draw, there was some booing that took place inside the stadium – reaction to the frustration of not turning over an average United team of course – but when senior players like tricky Mickey are making comments like that on the site it shows that the reaction of the crowd clearly plays a big part in the mentality and response of the team. Indeed, I saw some people on Twitter state that Big Per looked visibly disappointed when the game finished and he was clapping the home support, yet getting that reaction. Hey, I’m not going to pretend that I’m ‘holier than thou’ and that I’ve never booed – I have and it’s always in the heat of the moment to which I usually regret a few hours afterwards – but I think our Spaniard is right and we need to show solidarity if we’re going to get through this season with silverware.

Arsene also made comments about the importance of the fans too, but did temper his comments by saying that the players need to justify the faith that the fans put in. I don’t know why, but I’ve said a few times now that the atmosphere has changed over the last year. It was as if the Bayern home game left us all so deflated, so rock bottom, that we all took a long hard look at ourselves and said ‘well, it can’t get any worse, we might as well cheer our hearts out even when the team is playing shocking’. Thankfully, that mentality seems to have remained over the last year (with the help of some remarkable consistency too, mind) and was recognised by Le Boss when he admitted that the fans were behind the team even at 4-0 down against Liverpool last weekend. I think those kind of moments have a big impact on the players and I suspect they’ll want to repay the faith on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s just wait and see.

Believing the post-match PR stuff

Still feeling the stinging sensation of Saturday’s mauling? I know I am and, although I tried to take comfort in the fact that United looked far from invincible yesterday against Fulham, the shambles at Anfield still remains fresh in my memory. Even when I close my eyes I still see that Sturridge goal and how our defence parted like the Red Sea, as if that image has been burned into the back of my retinas, leaving a scar that will take a long time to heal.

It feels like I’ve been on the most massivest of massive all weekend benders, had a day to recover and yet still don’t feel like my usual self.

I wonder what the players are feeling today? Anger? Frustration? Fear? Crisis of confidence? Whatever it is, I hope they have enough of it to jolt them into a response. And do you know what? I hope they use ‘DEATHRUN1′, as the Arseblogger calls it, to their advantage. By playing another big team so soon, the players that quite frankly didn’t bother showing up on Wednesday, have the opportunity to wrestle back some vitally needed confidence against United and then follow up the rebuilding process by beating Liverpool. Life moves at the speed of light in the football world and if we have two wins to speak of by this time next Monday, then all will be forgotten and forgiven before we entertain Bayern at the Emirates.

Three home games in a row, three tough matches, three wins will mean some very happy Arsenal fans.

Tricky Mickey has followed in The Ox’s footsteps by speaking about the way the team react to the defeat and pick ourselves up. I suppose a positive of the setbacks we’ve had this season has been our ability to avoid a football hangover carrying on for a number of games and the fact that Arteta highlights the teams earlier season successes shows that the players know and feel they can react. If that is the mindset of all players then the hope is that we’ll not just see a reaction on Wednesday night, but we’ll get a fire and brimstone rain of pain delivered upon our next opponents. What we want to see is an Arsenal side so intent on exorcising the demons of Saturday 8th February that they try and replicate what was done to them.

I also took comfort in what Arteta said when he spoke about ‘helping each other out’ in fixing the problems. We’ve seen the Denilson, Clichy, Djourou post match PR comments after a poor display, but they all sound very similar. Hearing comments like “we know we need to improve”, “we have to show what we are capable of” and “it’s up to us” are all par for the course in the modern day post-match interview, but when Arteta mentions the teams desire to support one another through their current issue, it’s not something that I felt like I’ve read before. That’s probably because I believe it. The team has shown a togetherness this season that has formed the foundation of our success. It has meant that players have been able to step in amongst a barrage of injuries and feel like part of the first team squad which, in turn, has seen players like Gnabry and Jenkinson step up and ‘do a job’. So yes, I do believe Mickey when he talks about responding and yes, it does make me believe that the team can and will respond well on Wednesday night.

They simply have to.

Before I knock off for the day, a wee bit of bonus material for you, because yesterday the lads recorded the Latest SG Podcast with Billy, the EducatedGooner, and Luke the Block32 Gooner, so have a listen to them and their dissection of what went wrong on Saturday. You know me well enough by now to know I’m useless at linking to things whilst tapping away on the old iPhone, so use the menu at the top of the page to listen to the latest Pod.

Catch you in the morrow.

SG Podcast 1-5: (or was that 5-1)

Podcast 15 (or was that 5-1)! This Week Steve & Ben (Chris is missing as her was, erm, watching…..Strictly…) are joined by Billy (Educated Gooner) & Luke (Block32AFC) to discuss the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool and the up and coming fixture against Manchester Utd.


Direct Download - left click to play or right click to ‘save as

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Trying hard not to re-live the pain, but lessons must be learned

I suppose if I try and start today’s blog with a little bit of positivity, then at least it might make you and I feel a little better, but unless I completely avoid talking about the debacle that was the football match yesterday, inevitably this won’t make for happy reading. So, I’m giving you a choice – because I likes ya so much – to stop reading after my first and initial paragraph, and save yourself the trouble of getting wound up. The positivity I mentioned? Well, at least Moneychester City also dropped points yesterday, so we find ourselves one behind Chelski and one ahead of them, wedged between two oil whores at the top of the league.

But as for the Arsenal teams performance yesterday, well, where do I even begin? I don’t even think I want to relive the match again by writing today’s blog. I feel like just sighing, pretending this weekend never happened in a footballing sense, then looking ahead to United at the weekend.

But whilst burying ones head in the sand might feel like an appropriate thing to do, it would not prove to be useful for anyone, because the next time it happens it will feel even worse. I hope Arsene is re watching the game with the team over and over again on Monday, because lessons must be learned over the players’ shocking performance.

I can take defeats. They happen to everyone. What really winds you up as a fan, is when your team looks completely devoid of any drive, which is what happened yesterday. From the first minute to the last we had too many passengers that just didn’t look up for the fight. Defensively it felt as though we could be cut apart at any moment and, although I joked on Twitter that any team being cut apart by Raheem Sterling were really in trouble, it was most of the Liverpool players that were made to look unbeatable yesterday.

People have made a lot of the fact that Per and Koscienly had never lost a game whilst playing together for a full ninety minutes. It looked as though they’d never played together at all at times yesterday lunchtime. Balls over the top cut us apart, balls played in behind, balls through the middle, balls from around the channels, I could probably go on and on. We know how good Suarez and Sturridge are, but we made them – amongst others in red – Demi-goddish. Our back four looked as though they were carrying 20lb weights around their ankles, such was the sluggish nature of the performance.

Our midfield hardly covered itself in glory either, however, with chief protagonist Mikel Arteta having a particularly horrid day. He was guilty of misplaced pass after misplaced pass and it looked like there had been something slipped into the players bottled water pre-game, because at times the players looked to be stumbling around as if they we’re punch drunk.

Özil was less than anonymous. If he was anonymous, at least we hadn’t have realised he was at fault for one of the goals, in which he dithered, looked forlornly for a foul and then watched as Liverpool cut us apart again.

Santi had an off day. That’s about as much as I can say for him, but Olivier Giroud was hopeless, failing to hold up the ball at any point and looking like he really couldn’t be arsed at times. He meandered around the field with little effort and when, at one point he moaned at Skyrtel for not stepping aside so he could jog towards Mignolet in goal, I found myself screaming at the TV in anger.

Let’s interject this melancholy blog with a bit of positivity though, because I feel I’m battering you with as much negativity as the UK is being battered by gail force winds, so let’s talk about the fans. They were brilliant yesterday and even Arsene Wenger commented that they were the only ones that came out of yesterday with any credit. Well done to you if you were there. Particularly because you’ve probably spent the best part of £200 to go and watch that travesty of a performance.

People lauding our superb display against Liverpool at the Emirates, about how Arsene ‘out thought’ Rodgers tactically that day, must surely be worried about the ease at which the Northern Irelander changed his style and ripped us apart as much as he did.

Where do we go from here? That is what worries me the most right now. The manner of yesterday’s surrender and the damage it could do confidence-wise has me fearing the worst for Wednesday. The hope is that it is such a shock to the system that the team respond against United with such desire to put right the wrongs, that it comes flying out the traps on Wednesday night. But as I’ve said before on this blog, Arsene Wenger’s sides of the past have been known to face football hangovers longer than most of the other sides at the top of the division. If I can try to look at the positives before I wrap up for today, we’ve responded well to setbacks all this season, so I hope we continue that pattern with the visit of the champions to the Emirates.

Liverpool: not season defining, but close to it

So here we are then folks, standing on the precipice of what some more eloquent bloggers/Podders than I have aptly named ‘DEATHRUN1′. Before us, the historical behemoth known as Liverpool, on a ground that has both happy and hideous memories for us all. Anfield 89 and the Pires goal during the Invincibles season have been countered with heartbreaking exit on goal difference against Liverpool in the Champions league, as well as that Robbie Fowler hat trick back in the nineties when we had those awesome lightning bolt effect red home shirts and blue away ones.

For me, Liverpool away is always met with trepidation, despite the fact we have plenty of examples of success stories in recent past. Why, even last season we saw a Cazorla and Podolski double act have us take three points back down to London, so why can’t we be optimistic today?

I probably should be, but I’m too busy worrying about how our season could unravel like a piece of toilet roll that you’ve pulled too hard, with the net effect being the whole roll unravels and falls on the floor. I fear that our mental state could be derailed at any moment should we suffer a loss to one of our rivals towards the top of the league. But I’m not sure why because, certainly for this season, our ability to bounce back from defeat, to show two fingers in the face of uncertainty, has enabled us to scale the lofty peaks of the Premier League and attempt to plant the flag of The Arsenal firmly at the summit. We have a steel about us that we probably haven’t had for a decade, so I should be less worried about the consequences of defeat in the long run, and change my mindset to the same that the team have i.e. ‘One game at a time lads’ mentality.

Today’s ‘one game’ will be a tough one. Chiefly because we face easily the best attacking double act in the Premier League in Suarez and Sturridge. Indeed, it’s their potency ing he sharp end of the team that sees them still considered as an option for a late surge on the title as we head towards the business end of the season. Arsene has rightly identified that the trick to snuffing out the Liverpool flame is to isolate Suarez and Sturridge and starve them of the footballing equivalent of oxygen: the ball. At the Emirates earlier in the season we did just that and the result was a comprehensive victory and a happy set of home fans.

Thankfully, we have arguably the best defence in the league and I think we’ll see an interesting match up as both Koscienly and Big Per attempt to contain the Scouse attacking threat. But that’s not where the threat comes alone, fellow gooner, as we all know. Rodgers made a mistake with his 3-5-2 formation at the Emirates and I’ll be surprised if he makes the same mistake. I suspect we’ll see Couthino and Sterling providing a bit more dynamism in the Liverpool side, with Gerrard and Henderson dropping deeper to protect a back four and stifle the area that Özil likes to prowl.

As for our boys, I’m really not sure what Arsene’s thinking might be today. I can tell you what I hope he might do, however, which would be to give starts to the usual back four (Gibbs on the left), Arteta and Rosicky in the middle, Poldi, Özil and Cazorla, all supporting Giroud up top. Rosicky is somebody that moves the ball from front to back quickly and is an experienced head in the middle of the park that does like a big game or two. I remember him scoring a particularly lovely goal at Anfield in an FA Cup tie so it is with that still fresh in my mind that I hope he starts and impacts the game. I’ve opted for Poldi and Cazorla because in big games you need to take your chances and I think Lukas does that better than anyone in our team. Cazorla is a man in form and provides that little bit of trickery in our team and with Özil able to drift and roam and potentially occupy Henderson and Gerrard’s thoughts, our diminutive little Spaniard could have a key role to play.

I don’t want to jinx what could almost certainly end up being the game of their lives, but Liverpool’s key weakness remains to be their defensive frailties. I was listening to the Arsenal America Podcast earlier in the week where Tim Clark talked about the fact that Liverpool had wrestled the unwanted moniker of ‘most individual errors of any Premier League team’ from us from last season and, having seen the goal they conceded against West Brom last weekend, there must be hope that if we bang on the door enough we’ll get some joy.

I don’t think today’s game will define our season, in fact if you offered me a draw now I’d take it happily and hope we pick up maximum points against United on Wednesday, but I do think that should we manage to get three points against an improving Liverpool team it will be a massive ‘tick’ on the chemist which has the heading ‘To win a Premier League’, because it would represent a tough away win against a rival. That’s something we haven’t managed to do as yet in the league.

Come on you reds.

Will fatigue make the bubble burst?

Am I wrong for thinking ‘eventually the bubble will burst’ and we’ll drop points, seeing Chelski and Moneychester City slowly disappear into the distance? I know it sounds defeatist, but whilst I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our season so far, there’s still a nagging part of me deep, deep, deep down that refuses to believe we can go all the way this season.

I feel guilt for that. For not having the unwavering belief that after this next week – which again I have horrid nagging thoughts that we will drop points in both games (probably after having dominated them too) – we will see our season-long spot at the top of the league whittled away and then disappear.

Perhaps it’s easier to chase a title, but I prefer staying on top from start to finish. Dear Arsenal, if you could just do that for me, that would be great. Thanks.

Anyway, there’s no point despairing on what will be, we have to live in the now, which is filled with the joys of yesterday’s press conference Arsene did. The grand news is that between now and last Sunday nobody spontaneously combusted and is therefore unavailable for the visit to Anfield tomorrow lunchtime. We hardly have a full compliment as far as the entire first team goes, but our squad has shown it’s strength this season in that we are able to go to Liverpool with the belief that we have a team capable of picking up three points. Heck, Le Boss was even able to offer a day of hope in declaring that Jack could be fit. Of course, if there’s any doubts then he should be saved for United (assuming it goes ahead), but if he’s fit to play, in my mind his form before the kick at home to Coventry was such that he simply must start.

Arsene was also asked about the title race and was his usual diplomatic self, talking about how the game on Monday night was an example of how nobody will run away with the league and it is still there for everybody. I do wonder if he also sees Liverpool in the mix. Most seem to be discounting their challenge, but with the majority of ‘big teams’ still to pitch up in Merseyside, they must still be considered a threat. What will be their undoing will be many more results like West Brom away, as their defensive lapses have cost them at times this season.

Wenger was also asked about regretting not signing Suarez and whether he would go back for him in the summer. It seemed a pretty unequivocal ‘no’ from the manager and I think most of us have assumed that to be the case. With the form he’s exhibited this season, plus the fact he’s just signed a new deal, I’d expect there to be a man mouth release clause of transfer record proportions. So I don’t think that was ever a go-er as soon as the summer window shut last August. As for regrets, why should he have any? There will be those that will countenance that with ‘we should have paid £50million’ but those that do I would politely suggest are those that have fading memories of the players suspension at the start of the season, as well as the fact that even at £40million (plus one) he represented a significant gamble given his chequered past. So personally I am supportive of Arsene and his thought process when it comes to the Uruguayan.

He was also asked about fatigue from the press, probably still scratching their heads as to how Arsenal are still in the title race, given the paucity of options we supposedly have. The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that we’ve had so many injuries throughout the season that people forget how many good players we actually have in the squad. Yes, at times this season the bench has looked thin, but that’s because we’ve had six or seven firs teamers out. If you take that number away from the Chelski team in different positions, do you still have a strong bench? I would question that seriously.

As for our own fatigue, the response from Arsene was bullish enough, maintaining that – more long-term injuries aside – we have the physical ability to cope with a hectic schedule over the coming months. It’s a little bit of a tired cliché (excuse the pun), but when a team is winning games, tired legs don’t seem to feel as tired. Adrenalin and momentum can get you a long way in football and we’ve shown just how strong we can be throughout this season, so I believe Arsene when he says the side are ready for it.

We’ll certainly find out this weekend.

Catch you tomorrow with a match preview.

Tickets, fixtures and Draxler’s

Welcome to Monday, home of the sucky ‘first day back to work after a weekend of lying in bed’ and master of the ‘too much food and alcohol consumed over the last couple of days, eh?’. It’s a day that, if we’re all honest with each other, could disappear into Tuesday and there wouldn’t be too many taking up arms in defence of it.

In terms of The Arsenal it’s a chance to reflect on the weekends action and, almost inevitably, curse the draw which has seen us pit our wits against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on the weekend of the 15/16th February. It will come a week after we go to Anfield in the league and three or four days after we’ve faced Manchester United on the Wednesday. In addition, we’ll only have to wait a few more days before we entertain Bayern at home. That’s one hell of a fixture pile up, folks, but at least we’re in these competitions to have a chance of winning it.

In terms of The Arsenal it’s a chance to reflect on the weekends action and, almost inevitably, curse the draw which has seen us pit our wits against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on the weekend of the 15/16th February. It will come a week after we go to Anfield in the league and three or four days after we’ve faced Manchester United on the Wednesday. In addition, we’ll only have to wait a few more days before we entertain Bayern at home. That’s one hell of a fixture pile up, folks, but at least we’re in these competitions to have a chance of winning it.

There will be those that say ‘great, as these big games are why we are in these competitions’ and I see where they are coming from, but we’ve travelled this road before i.e. In all competitions until a certain point, then we fall out of all of them at once. It’s for that reason that I wouldn’t have minded a smaller club wedges in between those tough fixtures. It would have given Arsene the opportunity to rest key players like Giroud who, through Arsene’s own making by not signing a striker, is our only really attacking threat worthy of speaking about. Arsene likes a settled eleven and he’s hardly made his Arsenal career by managing players that are in that fabled ‘red zone’, so for me having a game in which players could be afforded a ‘mini break’ would have been ideal.

Carl Jenkinson was interviewed for the Official Site saying that it is good at the moment because the games aren’t coming as thick and fast as they did over Christmas. He’s right and there certainly is a little bit more rest time than the festive period, but when we get well into February the team will be playing Saturday/Wednesday almost every week. Had we drawn against Coventry on Friday, we’d have faced a replay just before we play Liverpool in the league. As it was, by playing a smaller team at home that we were able to dispatch, we’ve granted the players a week of rest before we travel to Anfield. Now, given the fact that Liverpool are one of the top five teams in the country right now, surely it stands to reason that playing them in the FA Cup will be a more difficult and intense game? It’s not unfeasible to suggest that we could draw against them at home and have to go to a replay, which would mean yet more tough games in February. I know I’m taking a bit of a ‘glass half empty’ approach here, which suggests maybe I’ve read and watched Fever Pitch too many times, but I want us to win something this year and I want it to be as stress-free as possible!

It’s something the lads and I – joined this week by Michael aka Block_5_gooner- talked about in the latest SG Podcast that we did last night, which can be downloaded on iTunes or listened to live – just tap the SG Podcast page at the top navigation bar to see. We also talk about Draxler and a bit of Southampton, as well as ticketing given the fact the Bayern game will now be cup match number eight and therefore cost a season ticket holder yet more cash to form out on. I won’t bore you with the in depth details of what was discussed, but let’s just say that I don’t like the idea of having to shell out another £65 to go and watch The Arsenal, even if it is deferred to the end of the season.

I want a credit system where you can choose how many cup games you have at he start of the season – so you can ‘gamble’ and choose 10 paying a set price (my tickets work out at £40 per game on average), or you can choose none and have just the league games – something I know the BSM have suggested to the club.

Anyway, the other stuff that seems to be doing the rounds today seems to be yet more conjecture about Arsenal doing a deal for Draxler, with some suggesting that Poldi could be used as a makeweight. I don’t take much credence in that; Podolski showed yesterday just how valuable he is as a goal threat and, with Theo taken away from us for the rest of this season, Arsene would have to be King George style mad to sanction an exit for our loveable German. He will be an essential player in the run in to silverware and I want him banging in more goals like he did on Friday night.

There’s not a lot more really worth pouring over, so I’ll make my peace with Monday, get going into work and see you in the morrow.