Hull touch, Welbeck settled and more balance needed

I didn’t watch the game between Hull and Liverpool last night, only checking in this morning to find that the scousers end of season collapse is now in full swing, but that was a bit of a touch for us wasn’t it? 

In more ways than one, actually, because victory over Liverpool gives Hull a wee bit of a cushion over the chasing pack, as well as defeat for the Reds leaving them eight points away from us having played a game more. It means that winning our game in hand against Sunderland will almost certainly secure top four for The Arsenal next season and, almost like the teams at the bottom where survival is there bare minimum requirement, ours will have been met for this season. In fact, if results go our way this coming weekend, then victory over Hull away on Monday night could secure us both top four and St Totteringham’s Day too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I don’t know if you’re feeling the same, but I’m not going to bother watching tonight, because no result is positive. Not really. A win for Chelski means they secure the title at the weekend. A draw means they have to wait a little longer but are essentially there. A defeat will excite the media, but they should still pick up victories against Palace and Liverpool and so it would only serve to extend the beautiful delusion that we could actually win the league.

We can’t. Winning at the weekend might even have had me saying ‘what if?’, but ten points with four to go is not realistically possible I’m afraid. Mathematically yes, but realistically, no.

So we move on with our lives. We still have plenty to play for and occupy our thoughts until May, including the cup final, in which tickets went on sale yesterday. This is the first time we’ve been at the other end of the ground since I’ve been making my way to Wembley. I’m happy to report though, it’s not like it’s been fully successful and therefore this is a bad omen to be in a different part of the ground: we lost to Birmingham whilst in the Northern part of the ground. Maybe the south side will be a positive for us, because we haven’t really played great football in any Wembley match that I’ve watched, so perhaps locating us in the other part of the stadium will mean we can smash Villa 6-0?

No, I don’t believe that either, but as we draw nearer to the game you’ll find me looking out for all kinds of good luck charms or ‘signs’ that is will be a glorious day in Wembley for Arsenal fans. 

Elsewhere in the Arsenal world, Danny Welbeck has been talking to the official site – an interview in which I also read the Evenig Standard’s article on – about how he is settling in and is not 100% happy with his goal contribution. It’s funny actually, because as fans we have – I think, after many years – come around to he idea that it takes a foreign player a season to fully adjust to the style of the Premier League, but also the new team in which they are playing in. But for an English player, the expectation is to hit the ground running and be an instant success. 

There is probably very few of us that take into account the need for an English player to also ‘bed in’ to a new team. Welbeck admits himself that he’s moved from a smaller city in which he knows his way around, his friends, family and the like all close by, to a bigger city witha new environment and new teammates to get to know. At United he’d been there so long, that when Rooney picked up the ball deeper, he probably knew exactly where he was going to make the pass if Welbeck could get in behind. He probably knew the way in which players in the United team passed the ball, the angle of their bodies which gave a ‘tell’ and afforded him an extra half a second to make a move. At Arsenal he has to learn all of these little tricks all over again and he’s probably spent the best part of the season working that out.

Could he have scored more goals? Of course. But his contribution and versatility has meant that he has most certainly been valuable and when you consider that we got the same deal as Liverpool got for Balotelli, you have to be happy that we’ve got ourselves someone like Danny.

I’d like to see him play more before the end of the season. But not as a central striker, out wide right, because I’m not sure Aaron is working out there. I actually don’t think he’s playing badly, but his natural instinct to move in field hinders our ability to break with pace and we saw that at the weekend. If Wenger is reluctant to use Theo, I’d like to see Welbeck be given more time, although I’m not sure at who’s expense that should be. Maybe that’s why Arsène is playing Ramsey there; he can’t figure out who to drop and so is not dropping anybody at the moment. It would be strange though, as somebody who is so concerned with the balance of the team, to be playing players who don’t offer the balance on the flanks that we need.

But ours is not to judge, as long as Arsenal are winning football matches, I suppose. 

Just keep winning Arsène!

Surprises dished out, but it doesn’t change what we need to do

So how about that then, and Arsenal/Liv….oh…

Come on now, hands up who legitimately thought that Aston Villa would be the victor in the other cup semi final yesterday? Certainly not me and certainly not the English press. That guy you always see carving the name of the team on the trophy was already at ‘pool’ if you believe what all of the pro-Liverpool hacks would believe, so for Villa to spoil the party makes this weekend all the more juicy to savour, as there’ll be no ten minute BBC montages of Steven Gerrard’s career to endure, nor comments about ‘fate’, ‘history’ or the ‘romance of the cup’. Well, maybe a little bit of the last one, but at least it won’t be Scouse directed. 

What this means for Arsenal in practice is little, however, because we’ll still have Premier League opposition to overcome and after the meal we made of the Reading game and Hull in the final last year you can’t expect anything but a tough game. Villa also have a track record of playing us away from home and getting a good result, so when the game does come around then we’ll have plenty to worry about, regardless of how Villa finish the season.

For us the attention can now firmly turn towards the league and whilst the title is, unfortunately 99.9% gone for us, we still have the opportunity to grasp the runners up spot. Hey, it’s not what we want – especially with Chelski the victors – but if it means that we can continue the momentum by keeping our good form going into next season, I think Arsène will be looking at next season as one in which we’re going to have a right to at the league.

I expect this week to be a quiet one to be honest. We’ve got seven more days before we play that horrible lot, to which the focus will surely be to remove this pesky Mourinho hoodoo he has over Wenger, then the plan will be to get as much distance between us and the chasing pack so we can spend the countdown to the cup final enjoying the inporoving weather and The Arsenal.

Quite who Arsène plays in the upcoming matches will be a tough one to work out. He said post-match that the reason he bought Debuchy back was because he wanted to protect Bellerin from suffering any injury setbacks in his ankle, having played well recently, so perhaps he will still be given a shot after a week’s rest? It’s probably doubtful, but the options Arsène now has at his disposal are scarily good, if even say ‘field two teams’ good with everyone fit at the moment. In fact, with the way things are going, you almost want us to hurry up and get daylight between the teams in third and fourth below us, just so the manager can rotate the team and have a look at everyone before the final comes around! Never thought we’d see that during the wilderness years of Denilson, Bendtner and Squillaci, did we?

Tis’ a good day to be an Arsenal fan. The sun is out, the team is in form and even this touch-tight Metropolitan line train isn’t causing me any irritation. 

Long may this continue! Well, at least until June, then if we can start all over again in August, that would be great!

Emphatic Arsenal led by Özil

Well how do you even start after a game like yesterday? 

I mean wow, if ever you wanted an emphatic way to say ‘chill Gooners, we got this’, the present Arsenal team delivered yesterday. And them some. 

I’ve got to tell you, I was mighty impressed. I was mighty impressed because I thought yesterday’s game would be a scary day in which Arsenal didn’t quite manage to put daylight between us and some of our opponents. After all, we’ve shown in many games over the years that we’ve been able to implode when the going gets tough over the years, so why wouldn’t we have the same shakiness to do it against a Liverpool team who were desperate to pick up three points to try to resurrect their flagging Champions League qualification campaign? 

So it was with much apprehension that I sat to my table in the fancy pub near the home of Churchill (I’d given up my ticket because this weekend is one spent with The Management’s family) to watch what could have been a very eggy faced Arsenal performance against a desperate Liverpool side.

I need to have more faith in the team I support. The first ten minutes helped. All over them, we were, and after ten minutes and a gilt-edged Rambo chance I turned to The Management to proclaim (I’m told with an expletive in tow) that we should have taken our chances. I did indeed fear we’d be punished on the counter and lets be honest, had Markovic been able to square pass the ball properly to Sterling, we might be recounting a different script this Easter Sunday. As it was we got away with it and it was long before the dominance shone through.

Can I just point out, in case you didn’t already know or assume, that I frigging love goals in quick succession? The pro-Liverpool (although I have half a mind to accept my iPhone auto prompt, calling it ‘Loverpool’, as if it knew of of media bias) media were reeling as the third goal went in, but I still remember vividly the three goals Fowler scored in quick succession against us in the 90s, so in no way to I feel like vengence was anything else other than served. So the fact we got three in eight minutes is not lost – nor under appreciated – by this here Arsenal blogger. I may not have been in the stadium, but I felt it as if I was slap bang in the middle of blog five I can tell you.

What a game though. And what a performance from some players. MESUT Özil, for example, took two fingers and planted them firmly inside Neil Ashton’s nasal cavities. He was super throughout. He dictated the play, orchestrated the proceedings, as well as scoring a goal that said “guess what bro? I’m putting the ball right there. And guess what? There ain’t a thing you can do about it”. He was awesome. In a big game. In which the media will have been present and hopefully saying: “turns out he ain’t that bad, eh?”

Has anyone let Neil know. We probably should. Y’know, professional dignity, or something. 

Mind you, professional dignity wouldn’t have played a part when Bellerin danced through the back line to curl one in, did it, so why should it could with ill-informed journos?

What a performance from them all. Even Ospina made a couple of sound saves. There was no player that didn’t play there part yesterday and the net effect is that we find ourselves nine points of Liverpool, second in the league, as well as riding high on a series of victories in which the only down side is that regrets are emerging that we didn’t kick of properly in the first half of the season. Wins against the Spuds and Hull alone would have given us the four points which separate us from chelski and although they still would have had two in hand, at least we’d be breathing down their neck.

But hey-hp, let’s not be too picky, because at least we’re in pole position for Champions League Football. Who’d have thunk we’d be where we are in October last year, after suffering yet anoth points and injury setback and looking so far away from the Champions League, that a top six finish would have been about right?

Let’s also have some props for Giroud. The man is going to hit 25 goals at this rate and with his confidence as high as it is, who’s to say he won’t wrestle the golden boot from Jesus himself, aka Harry Kane. Another goal to put a glorious cherry on the cake was exactly what we needed and Olivier is looking every part the world class striker we’ve craved for the last couple of seasons. It’s funny how these things just happen to land on your doorstep every once in a while. That seems to be happening a lot to us lately. Just ask Francis Coquelin.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re fed up of my gushing for one day, so I’ll leave you in peace. Up the Arsenal!

Make my Easter Arsenal, re-write the media narrative

Happy Easter Saturday in which let’s all be completely honest with each other, unless we get a win this lunchtime, won’t make this festive season a fun one.

Liverpool come to town and it’s a Liverpool team in which Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana will no doubt have miraculously recovered from the injuries that conveniently left them out for the duration of the England matches played over the last ten days, but not any Liverpool matches at all. I’m pretty sure if Arsène Wenger tried a similar stunt he’d be metaphorically hauled over the coals by the media, but I guess one of the advantages of ‘Being Liverpool’ is that the media either fall over themselves to edge an unspoken bias about that club, or they completely sweep things under the carpet.

Still, it is what it is and whilst Liverpool will have the collective threat of Sturridge and Sterling to concern us with, at least they are weakened defensively with the absence of Skyrtel. Whether Gerrard would have played is questionable, but in Lucas they have a combative player who is a dirty little scummer, so I’m sure Brendan is happy that he has more than enough to give us an uncomfortable afternoon. And no matter what anyone thinks, it will be uncomfortable for both sides I think, because United at home a fortnight ago aside, Liverpool were in great form and you’d probably say it was almost as good as ours. They’ve been picking up clean sheets and winning on the road and their home form has stabilised too. This is a massive game for them because three points keeps them well in the hunt, so much like we were desperate for a good performance against Monaco away, I think Liverpool might just try to take the same approach against us come 12.45.

For us it’s a chance to continue our momentum, but also put some very real daylight between us and the scousers, so we have to be massively up for it. Our returning players coming back from internationals all appear to be ok and when you look at the form of some, it’s hard not to fancy us from getting something in the game, although I’ll not go as far as pronouncing our victory just yet. Far from it, actually, as I still have the same old big game nerves I usually do.

The manager has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, so needs to make some serious decisions about who his best XI are, as I’ll be darned if I know. I can have a stab at it, but it’s just as likely to be bailed on as it is a totally different side altogether.

I think Ospina starts in goal, with a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal. Three of that four in defence haven’t played any internationals and so would be fresher for today’s challenge. Having said that, Gabriel offers more pace than Per and there are two pacey attacking players in Sturridge and Sterling, so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the Brazilian from the start.

Midfield simply has to have Coquelin at its base. Arteta may have returned to action in a friendly against Brentford, but Le Coq has been superb and his ability to break up the play will come in handy when creative players like Coutinho are on the ball. Ahead of him you’d expect to see the form player of the season, Santi Cazorla, whilst Özil’s displays also warrant inclusion I think. 

I’d be surprised if Alexis and Giroud don’t start, but who will get that third spot? Theo may have been unimpressive against Italy, but in games like today, with opponents that are a little bit weaker defensively, I just wonder if this might suit him. Welbeck picked up a knock and The Ox is still injured I believe, so Theo may just find himself given an opening to the first team. If he is, he needs to take it with both hands, which means goals, threat going forward and work rate. 

Whoever is left out, at least we had a mighty strong bench to choose from, with some very good players that won’t even make the squad.

We can’t afford to be timid today. Liverpool may well try to catch us cold by getting at us quickly with a high pressing game, so we have to be able to react, either with our own high press, or containment for the start of the match. The last time we played Liverpool for a Saturday kick off we were smashed to bits and the narrative that seems to have been built is that we don’t prepare properly for early kick off games. We need to re-write that media rhetoric. We need to win on our own soil and move on towards the goal of a top three finish.

Come on The Arsenal!

horrendous scenes in Italy and Mesut’s high midi-chlorian count

If you could have written a more horrible ending to an England match, would it have been far off from seeing a host of Totteringham players celebrating a goal from the nation with which you were born? That’s what I and many other English-born Arsenal fans had to endure last night, as Andros ‘The Saviour’ Townsend scored an admittedly good goal against a pretty lame Italian team. The scenes then cut to a four-man huddle in which all of Townsend’s fellow Spuddies surrounded him. Not sure if anybody else did; perhaps all of the other players hate the Spuds as much as we do? Here’s hoping.

So that was my evening unfortunately. The Management smirked a little when reminding me that despite my profession that I hate internationals, I still watch them, to which all I had in my locker was “it’s football tho, innit”. But she’s right to a point I guess. I should stay true to my feelings and ignore their existence completely.

I’ll admit there was a bit of intrigue in seeing how Theo would perform up top against the Italians but, given that he was subbed off on 54 minutes having only had a handful of touches, I think it’s fairly safe to say that particular hope was one that was quickly doused with realism very early in the game. He just wasn’t effective at all and although he was strangely played as a number 10, he still could have done more to show for the ball, at the very least. But I still understand that when you don’t play to a players strengths, you rarely get a top notch performance. Theo’s problems of not being versatile enough have been his undoing this season, but last night it was that Woy just wanted to shoe him in to a formation that only works if you have players with the vision to find him peeling off the shoulder of the last defender. I saw Rooney find him with the perfect Theo ball once in the first half and but for a great block it probably would have been 1-0, so whilst we can roll our eyes at the fact he only had 14 touches, we should also roll our eyes at the inadequacy of the Englabd coaching staff not to realise that it was never going to work.

But hey, at least he and Gibbs appear to have come off without any issues and so hopefully we have a decent squad to call on against the Scousers this weekend, with Danny Welbeck apparently even looking like he’s recovered from a knock. All of this means that Arsène has some squad selection choices to make and the official website is running a story on how he does it. Unsurprisingly there is nothing that will stop the presses – choose the team the night before, talk to the medical staff to see if anyone has a col or a knock, see who performs well in training, etc – but it’s still worth 30 seconds of your time to read I think. Even if only to wash away the grubbiness of having to endure international football for over a week.

There’s also a story in which Özil says that he, Alexis and Cazorla see things on the football pitch before they actually happen, in some sort of Anakin Skywalker midi-chlorians count kind of way. Obviously I added in that last bit because I have an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars, but it is nonetheless interesting that Mesut has singled out those two specifically. All three have impressed in different parts of the season and all three are certainly players with more vision than most in the squad. There seems to have been some mention in some quarters of the Arsenal observing world that neither Özil or Alexis have been able to peak as yet, but I put that down to injury or fatigue rather than any kind of inability to play with each other. Arsène places so much emphasis on balance and le’harmony in the side, that I don’t think he’d be playing both in the same side so often if he wasn’t convinced of their combined benefits to the team, so I suspect we’ll soon see both at full flow and firing on all cylinders in the same matches together. It just needs time.

So we’ve managed to wrestle free of the horrible grip of the Interlull and now we can look ahead towards the game at the weekend, one in which it would be amazing to win, not least to make Phil Neville look like a bit of a plum for predicting we’ll not get top four and our form will most likely start to fall apart over the coming weeks. Come on Arsenal, let’s make a plum out of the stupider Neville brother.

Catch you tomorrow.

fanciful Walcott hypothesising

With one more pointless set of internationals to play, we’re still knee-deep in the thick of it, footballistically speaking. 

We had the worry of Welbeck’s injury that still looms on the horizon but, with Arsène probably not going to speak to the press until Thursday at the earliest, there’s still plenty of time for us to lose men to rogue challenges or loose tackles. 

I haven’t really been paying much attention to the games themselves, so I’ve no idea whether Alexis or Gabriel played or even starred at The Emirates, nor can I tell whether Giroud’s performance and goal was a great one. But given that there are no major stories about players breaking down, I am hopeful that we will have a relatively full compliment to choose from, come Saturday lunchtime.

Most of the chatter I’ve been seeing online has seemingly revolved around Theo Walcott’s current contractual wranglings, which appear to be mirrored to those of Raheem Sterling, also currently deadlocked it appears. But much like the last time we had to deal with Theo and his advisers demands, it appears the scousers are having trouble convincing the 20 year old that a £100k+ per week deal is acceptable, the poor diddums. 

As we will be all too painfully aware, the situation at a club can influence these types of negotiations quite a lot and with Gerrard offski, Suarez departed and Torres before him, Sterling and his ‘people’ have probably seen how strong their hand is and are poker-facing it all the way to the last.

So naturally the speculation from an Arsenal perspective is whether or not we should be giving a ‘heads up’ to Camp Sterling to say we’re interested, as well as Liverpool to talk all things exchange between their contract rebel and ours, perhaps with a bit of cash going the scousers way in addition. 

Now I’m no expert on transfer negotiations, or deals, but this appears to me to be some fanciful stuff from Arsenal fans talking about the possibilities of it happening. Firstly, it would appear to be too good to be true, because Sterling is younger, with more potential and Liverpool will be desperate to avoid any kind of action that strengthens a rival. Whether or not it does actually do that to such an extreme extent also appears to be very dubious to me. Not least because those advocating a move seem to have forgotten the impact that Walcott has made when fit over the last two seasons. Sure, he’s been a peripheral player since the turn of the year (and most of this season), but remember how long – and how many games – it took Ramsey to get to before his form exploded last season? Players need game time to be at their best and right now Theo just isn’t being given a chance.

But that doesn’t mean we should all mentally ship him out and look to the North West for a solution. It also doesn’t mean it will happen. In fact, when was the last time you saw a player exchange between two high-profile players take place? It’s early in the morning for me writing this so I can’t exactly reel off any recent ones (unless there aren’t any?), but the last one I remember was Gallas/Cole. Before that I remember Anelka/Suker. But I’m running out of any other ideas after that. 

We should probably also take note that Sterling appears to want megabucks. We’ve shown that we’re not averse to going down that route, but with a club as fiscally conscious as we are, would we really break the bank for a player that has shown brilliant patches but like Theo, also had his inconsistencies? 

And with players wanting megabucks, there’s usually an oil-whoring club sniffing around too, so we should probably recognise that any move would probably be scuppered by one of the oligarch-funded teams.

So often in football transfer negotiations are complex and fraught with difficulties, which is why player swap deals are so rare, so that leaves me to question: would a deal between those two players ever actually be possible? Highly unlikely. Both players’ representatives find it challenging to negotiate with their existing clubs, so how would a deal be done that included them both?

We should probably also not discount the fact that Liverpool will have been pretty cheesed off after the Suarez incident and, if we’re honest, Arsenal were probably equally cheesed off when Liverpool made it public.

So all of this hypothesising is probably worthless. But I guess it keeps us all busy until the football starts. 

Which is why I’ve just spent most of the blog doing the same. Oh well, back to normality soon, so hang in there kids.

Catch you tomorrow.

Unwelcome interruptions and welcome opponents

Well folks, here we are, we’ve wandered knowingly into an international break and there’s no Arsenal until Easter. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It’s bloody hard going at times like this. Especially when it feels like it’s been so long since one of these inconveniences has come around. 

From August to December there seemed to be one of these a month, which felt like every ten days, making for an unwelcome frequency of boredom. Plus usually, the added kick in the knickers of losing one, two or a handful of your first team squad. We’d also had to contend with Alexis coming back from a NASA mission to Endor to play their select XI, so fatigue was always the worry, so all in all it made for an irritating part of the season.

Thankfully at least Alexis And Gabriel don’t  have to travel too far, what with Chile playing Brazil on their home turf in North London, but the others will be posted out here, there and everywhere, so we just have to clasp our hands together and look up to the sky muttering incantations. I think they call it ‘praying’.

In this country we have to deal with seeing players like Daniel Sturridge fall down with a ‘knock’ that will most likely miraculously see him fit for our game Saturday after next, but the news that Lallana has pulled out of the England squad could mean it’s a bit more serious for him, because unlike Sturridge Lallana needs to grasp every opportunity possible to play for his national side. There is plenty more competition for him than Sturridge, so I won’t be surprised at all to see Sturridge return and Lallana out when we play them next week. 

The other blow for the Scousers was the charging of Martin Skyrtel which, if confirmed as expected that Liverpool have accepted the charge, would be a big blow to their team and massive positive for us. He’s scored at Anfield for the last two years running against us and is undoubtedly their best defender. So losing him, as well as Gerrard and possibly Lallana, will cause Rodgers a bit of a selection headache I suspect. And not the kind of selection headache that Arsène has had with fitting his players in, either.

When you look at our form in March, actually since Christmas is you funk about it, this international break has come at the worst possible time. We are in such a rich vein of form and these breaks inevitably cause a disruption to the ryhthm that we could do without. If I’m looking on the positive side, at least our opponents over Easter will also face disruption. When you’re up against another team from the top of the division, they also have plenty of internationals heading out to their national teams, as opposed to when you’re playing teams towards the bottom of the league. Those teams will still have one or two internationals, but take Burnley for example, who will have a host of English players not in the squad. They get a week of training and probably get some time together to work as a group at how their going to overcome their next opponents. It gives them an advantage and at this stage of the season, when there are tired legs and minds, the last thing you want to see is a group of players who have had a week off and have the full intention of catching you cold.

So in a way it’s a good time to be playing another team fighting at the top. 

That’s it from me. Have a good’un and stay safe in these barron times.