Cech out our goalie, as well as a dodgy lino

Not for the first time this season Liverpool were the beneficiaries of yet more dodgy officiating, yet for the first time this season, we were the beneficiaries of a superb Petr Cech display. Which would probably be the story of the game if you asked me to describe it in a paragraph or less.

The pre-game teams news undoubtedly handed Liverpool a boost and no matter what people say about Mertesacker being a liability (less so most of the Arsenal fans I know), his calming influence would have been useful against a clearly nervous Calum Chambers in the first half last night. Chambers is a good defender. We’ve seen that at the start of last season, but it’s hard to just switch on and off form when you’ve not been playing, especially when the same is true of his central defensive partner Gabriel last night. 

It was pretty painful to watch in that first half, wasn’t it? All of the back four seemed to be shaky at different moments and the passing had about as much accuracy as a one armed blind archer. Bellerin, Gabriel and Chambers all seemed to take turns in suicidal balls in our defensive third and when the need was there for a bit of ball retention and clever passing, even Santi decided to chip in with some off-key distribution. Heck, even Mesut Özil – who misplaced just one pass on Sunday last week – lost the ball two or three times and we looked like we couldn’t have been happier to go in to the first half after a performance like that. 

Yet for all of the Liverpool possession, great saves from Cech and rattled woodwork, we should have been one up with a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside. Figures.

I don’t know whether or not Arsène went to DEFCON 3 on the team at half time, but thankfully our second half performance was better and we had more of it after the interval. Liverpool looked to counter and Mignolet tried to slow down the play by time wasting as much as possible. But we still should have broken the deadlock. Alexis off the post, Giroud slipping when through against Mignolet, the Ox forcing him in to a good save and countless runs by Monreal in behind the defenders, meant that it was our second half.

So perhaps in hindsight a draw is the fairest result. Except it always feels a little more deflating when you’re at home. Had that been at Anfield I’d probably be quite happy with it. It’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time to get a run together. But because it was on our own patch, it feels like we’ve dropped two points, plus I have this nagging and uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have that feeling not because of the rum I drunk whilst watching the game, but because that’s another game without scoring at The Emirates (even if we actually did had the rules been properly enforced) and it’s another performance in which we’ve given the opposition far too much licence to do their own thing.

I want us to be champions. I want us to win more football matches than anyone else. But we’re looking nervous at times at home and that’s not good. I know I shouldn’t look at other teams at such an early stage in the season, but I couldn’t help but think back to what Arsène said about the beginning of last season, in which we effectively lost the league after about six or seven games. By the ten game mark I think we were eight points off Chelski. We’re five away from City already and although they will inevitably drop points, if they keep building a buffer, all it will do is give them the opportunity to drop points without there being repurcussions. 

The problem we’ve also got is that we go to Newcastle next Saturday and with last nights draw at home, if we get anything else other than three points come 3pm, we’ll be even further away from City by the time Match of the Day comes around. That’s the kind of pressure a draw at home brings to you.

It’s not terminal. We could win against Newcastle, then go on to beat Stoke before we play Chelski away, but if we lose in the North East we could be dead and buried in the league by the end of September. I know that sounds dramatic, but our away record at Stamford Bridge is atrocious, so back-to-back defeats away from home in our next two matches will probably make a league title assault look as far as it did this time last season.

Can everything be solved by transfers? I don’t think so. I think some players need to step up more. Santi has had two off games and one good one already this season. Giroud hasn’t looked great at home but did well away. Alexis just needs game time. Things just need to click a bit. But the problem is, things have already clicked at City and so we’re already playing catch up. 

Is it a psychological barrier we have to overcome? Maybe. I didn’t see a fantastic Liverpool team yesterday, that’s for sure, but I could t help but think that if City or Chelski played them, they would have found a way to beat them whilst playing as poorly as we did in that first half. That’s what worries me about us winning the league. Last night should have been a ground-out victory, not us talking about how great our ‘keeper is and how shaky our defence looked in the first half.

If I sound overly negative today then I apologise. It’s only because I’m so despair ate for Arsenal to show the world that we’re good enough with the squad we’ve got. But when a couple of injuries cause us to go all ‘jellylegs’ at the back, what’s it going to be like when we lose players in positions in which we aren’t as well stocked?

Arsène needs to have a think about how we sort ourselves out, because four points from three games isn’t good enough form to start crowing about possibly winning a title. Had we beaten West Ham then we’d all feel a little better about the situation, but we made life hard for ourselves from day one, so now we need to change that by picking up back-to-back victories. Quickly.

On a positive note, Coquelin had a very good game and Petr Cech showed a performance that most certainly shows why he was valued at £11million, so at least there’s something for us to focus on. 

Roll on next weekend, eh?

Play Walcott and don’t go back to square one

With Chelski and City both picking up the wins that I expected they would yesterday, it adds a wee bit more pressure on us to perform this evening against a Liverpool team who will be buoyed by their own results, if not the way in which they played in those games.

Liverpool represent a serious challenge to our title credentials, because we need to prove that we can beat all of our rivals, as well as being flat-track bullies by beating the so-called ‘smaller’ teams.

I was at a wedding yesterday and I was asked by a Liverpool fan what I thought the score would be. One of the difficult things about the start of the season is that you have no real form or frame of reference to make an educated guess with a question like that. We’ve seen abject failure in the form of West Ham at home, then redemption of sorts with a strong first half performance against Palace and then holding on to the three points, so it’s hard to really talk about any kind of ‘form’.

I mentioned it yesterday, that this time of the season is more about building momentum and dealing psychological blows, rather than the importance of the three points. I think the fact that I couldn’t properly predict a result to the Scouse fan, shows that too.

I suspect we’ll line up exactly the same way in which we played against Palace. I don’t like seeing Ramsey operating as a wide forward, but I think Arsène is desperate to get him in to the team by hook or by crook, so I see it as inevitable that he’ll play. Cazorla and Coquelin have both been good enough in the middle not to be dropped and with Özil running the show against Palace in the number 10 role last Sunday, he’ll be expected to do the same again. The defence picks itself at the moment and with Alexis now back to a bit of fitness and ready to rock and roll, the only real decision for Le Boss is whether or not he opts for the target man in Giroud, or the pace of Walcott.

To an extent, I hope Arsène makes his decision based on who he thinks will cause the greatest threat to Liverpool, rather than just start Giroid out of some kind of hierarchical based thought process. Liverpool have played with three at the back and wing backs in the last two years at The Emirates and we’ve been pretty comfortable in 2-0 and 4-1 wins, but I doubt Rodgers will play the same way tonight. I suspect he’ll play four at the back and look to win the midfield battle with Henderson and Milner being the chief protagonists, then looking to play Coutinho as a number ten behind Benteke. Defensively they’ll most likely have Lovren and Skyrtel at the back and neither are blessed with astronomical pace. So I do wonder if playing Theo might be a consideration. He will force Liverpool to sit deeper defensively and hopefully that would leave the midfield to drop deeper to receive the ball, which would isolate Coutinho and Benteke. We’ve seen from successive victories against Villa last season that if you isolate Benteke he will cut a lonely figure up top, so it will be important for us to try and replicate that because if we don’t, he’ll inevitably be a handful.

Two wins on the trot would allow us to start thinking about putting a run together. A draw means we haven’t really got anywhere, but haven’t lost, which really would feel like we’re back to square one. I hate square one. Square one sucks.

Stay away from square one Arsenal.

Alexis the machine; Arsène has a point on technology and transfers

Hey there fellow fan, how are you holding up during this barren Arsenal weekend? Any good? 

I’m feeling your pain, because I feel pretty fed up at the lack of Arsenal too, so we can both be a bit morose with Sky and BT for fudging around with the fixtures. Monday Night Football may give a football fan something to watch after the first day of the working week, but don’t let it be Arsenal, have some other clubs playing. Like Spuds away to Weet Brom or something.

But it is what it is and at least we have Arsène’s pre-match pressed to pour over and dissect to the nth degree. During it he confirmed the situation regarding our current injury status, which is pretty much ‘as is’, so that’s good to hear (in terms of no new ‘set backs’). Le Boss also confirmed that Alexis is almost at 100% match fitness and given that we’re only in to the third game of the season, he really is a staggering example of a footballer. When you think about how most players coming back from the World Cup last season needed a month or even two before they started to look like their usual selves, he continues to amaze and astound us. Quite why Barcelona swapped him for Suarez is beyond me. Perhaps I am too obviously biased, but Suarez and Alexis look evenly matched in terms of what they bring to a team, so it looks like Alexis fell victim to the fact that he wasn’t seen as a ‘superstar’ and the Barcelona (and Madrid) fans and club itself always want something shiny and new. Had Alexis signed from Udinese to Arsenal, had three or four years with us and then Barcelona were looking at him because he’d impressed with us, I’m convinced they would have been after him as much as Suarez. But hey, let’s not complain too much, because we’ve been gifted a truly marvellous footballer. At Liverpool’s expense too.

It will be an interesting game on Monday up against the Scousers, because they have a 100% record and will go in to the game with plenty of confidence, so I expect it will be tough. More on that tomorrow and Monday, but Arsène alluded to the fact that there was perhaps a bit of fortune to their start in the late goal at Stoke, coupled with the incorrect goal against Bournemouth. He worded it very cleverly though, being careful not to sound like he’s underestimating Liverpool, so to avoid giving them the clichéd ‘newspaper cutting on the dressing room door’.

He did have a point about the disallowed goal though, specifically when related to video technology, because we now live in an age where the reaction can be rapid once a decision has been reviewed. Had a video referee messaged down to the referee/linesman whilst Liverpool were celebrating – which was at least 30 seconds to a minute – there could have been enough time to review, see it wasn’t a goal and bring it back as a goal kick. Between a goal going in and the kick off for the restart is usually at least two minutes. Are you telling me that another official couldn’t make a decision in two minutes? Sky Sports were able to, so they also were able to reverse that time decision without any other stoppages that wouldn’t have happened during the goal. But anyway, it’s done, the Premier League/FA won’t change and we have to accept it.

What we also have to accept (although I think some still refuse to) is that we probably won’t be signing anybody at this stage. Paying attention to the ITKs and attention seekers is a waste of time. Decisions can be made so quickly, so quite why the ITKs talk about these transfers as if they are dragging out, shows that they know nothing. “Arsène just needs to decide if he wants to bid”, “the player will travel to London within the next 48 hours” and other such nonsense is, well, nonsense. Arsenal and Arsène aren’t at home right now with a blank piece of paper that reads ‘pros/cons’ on it with Benzema’s face in the middle of the A4 piece. If the club are interested in Benzema and haven’t bid it is because they are assessing the current situation, not waiting on Le Boss’ list and available Easyjet flights to Luton.

I did have a wry smile when Arsène spoke about closing the transfer window before the season starts, because we’d have signed nobody over the last couple of years of that would have been the case!

(I realise that the opposite might also be true i.e.having Özil et al at the club earlier than we did)

I’ve seen a few people getting irate – usually those from the school of thinking that believes Adrian Durham has some relevance – at Arsène talking about the lack of available players. I don’t really understand why. His rationale was perfectly logical. Football has lots of money in it. Football teams that 20 years ago could not refuse a big money bid for their players, are bidding big money for players themselves, so they have the financial muscle to convince players that they have a future by waving the all-mighty-pound at the players who have one less reason to angle for a move. If footballers are as money-motivated as most of the world says, surely Arsène’s comments make sense?

What he was really getting about players for Arsenal, was that there isn’t any available who would improve our first team, which I agree. We don’t want or need squad players, all of the players that are being touted around are just that, so what’s the point in even looking at them?

We’re in a good place right now and a win against Liverpool on Monday night doesn’t mean Arsène has an excuse to not sign players, it means we’re three points closer to that league title challenge we want. Let’s all focus on that, eh?

Catch you tomorrow.

Should we be pleased with the fixture tampering by TV companies?

It’s bloody typical that the start of the season for me is choca-block with things I can’t get out of, like stag dos, weddings and other such family occasions. But, what is more bloody typical is that having already made my plans to unfortunately offload my tickets to a couple of games, I find myself now frantically trying to undo my own efficiency because Sky and BT Sport have had their wicked way with the fixture list.

Sunday lunchtime football against West Ham and Monday night against Liverpool means that in theory I could still make both games. I suspect I’ll possibly have to miss out and there’s consolation in the fact that Arsenal are on TV every week for the first month of the season, but given that I’ll be starved of live football by the time I get to rock up at The Emirates (for me there is nothing quite like the whole experience, pre match chin wagging, smells, sights, etc, of going to the games) I’ll have come back from my second sojourn to Pottugal in September.

Despite the fact that this fixture tampering will mean I can still watch all the games with consummate ease wherever I am, I still long for the halcyon days of 3pm kick offs every week. I know I should just get on with my life and know that they’re never coming back, but it still doesn’t stop me from pining for it, you know? Michael Jackson has long departed from this earth, but I still wish I could watch him sing live and in the flesh.

Perhaps we should all take it as a positive sign. Sky and BT clearly think there’s enough about this Arsenal team this seaso. To challenge for this title, which is why they are snaffling up every game until September in which to show Arsenal. With our existing squad and the additional of a top-notch ‘keeper, the bookies may be thinking us challengers. That’s nice, isn’t it? I do prefer when you’re completely ruled out and you challenge from a position nobody thought you could, but there’s a reason bookmakers are all in business and it’s not because they take punts on things. They’re usually right for a reason and whose Chelski will be odds on again in 2015/16, I’d be interested to see where they place us.

The only two rumours worth a look today appear to be the Rosicky stuff to Sparta Prague and the Pedro stuff to Arsenal. On both accounts we have players who have only recently just had extensions to their contracts agreed which is weird, because on both accounts you have players who have been shunted further down the pecking order last season, so whilst both had extensions sorted, you have to wonder if it was to protect their values as assets rather than because the club has plans to push them back in to the first XI. Whilst I can see the logic in doing that with a 27-year-old Pedro, I don’t think there would be much cash you could glean from a Rosicky transfer, so I’d guess that the only way that transfer is going to happen is if Tomas himself says he’d like to head home. Arsène is the type of guy that wouldn’t stand in the ‘Little Mozart’s way if he did decide he wanted more game time, so if a bid came in from the Czech club it would be a decision for the player that could see us lose somebody in a similar fashion to the way in which we acquired Cech. But hey, whilst we love Rosicky, we all know that he’ll be a peripheral player next season. So perhaps there’s more than a bit of general speculation to that one.

Anyway, that’s yer lot from me today. I’ll catch you tomorrow.

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.