A tale of two halves: peanut butter and oranges

I am all about the result right now. Much like the blogs I write, I am a man concerned not with the intricate details, but the end game. That game is one in which three points are everything and anything less than that is like ash in my mouth. Or peanut butter. That stuff is rank.

So ultimately, yeah, I’m pretty happy that just over 72 hours after the players secured our route to the FA Cup final, we managed to overcome a West Ham team that fancied an upset under the North London floodlights.

Three points is everything to Arsenal right now and with the margins thinner than Kate Moss, we can’t afford to be slipping up against mid-table teams, which seemed a very real possibility after that first half display that we witnessed last night.

Sluggish in possession, devoid of pace in any areas of the pitch (apart from Sagna, who I thought was excellent tonight, sign him up please…), we started as if we’d played and finished the FA Cup semi final about half an hour before we actually kicked off. As if it was some cruel Sunday league under-12s ‘double header’ that was going down. My compatriot for the evening, Billy and I, were at a bit of a loss to explain the lethargy if I’m honest. Arsene had rotated a number of players and rested Gibbs for Vermaelen, Ramsey for Kallstrom and Rosicky for The Ox, yet we still never really looked remotely fresh. Perhaps the general malaise of our other Premier League performances had clouded the weekend’s exploits and exuberance of the team?

Whatever it was, it didn’t feel very ‘Arsenal’ and as West Ham pressed us slightly higher (clearly with the mandate to try and grind us down after our difficult cup tie against Wigan), whilst looking to hit Carroll as often as possible when in possession, we looked devoid of any spark to set us going. So when the West Ham goal came first, the apprehension in the stands was palpable, with many a contorted face wondering whether this season would sink further into the mire. As Billy and I turned our necks towards the big screen to relive the pain, it occurred to me for a fleeting second that Giroud’s flicked miss only a short while earlier when put through from Santi, had been our only real chance of the game and could possibly have been the last at that rate.

Sometimes though, when you’re not playing well, you need just a little flash of brilliance. So step forward that man Lukas Podolski. He is an absolute enigma. Put him inside the box with the ball at his feet and you could bet your house, wife, dog and kids on him. But anywhere else on the park he looks lost at times. If there was the ability to freeze play, bring him on as a specialist player – like a kicker in American Football – and put him in a dangerous position, he’d be worth a billion bucks. But as an all round footballer he leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, right now I wouldn’t change him for anyone, because it’s clinical finishers like that who make the difference in top flight football. Had the score remained at 1-0 going in to the interval, who knows how it might have affected the teams mentality, yet his timely finish just before halftime enabled the team to regroup, tuck in to some half time oranges and come out firing in the second half.

And boy did those oranges work. The team that trotted out to the field for that second half looked totally different to the one that we have become used to during the last few weeks. There was more zip about the play and almost instantly you could see that the passing had more purpose to it. If the first half had been an exhibition of our mental fragility, the second half was an example of the teams testicular fortitude, because they released the ball quicker when in possession, they fashioned a chance almost immediate with Giroud cutting in behind the left back and central defender and they seemed like a team determined to show they could replicate some of that early season swagger.

A Cazorla cut infield and snap shot fizzed the post, a Podolski free-kick stung the palms of Adrian, all precluded the second goal and, as much as Podolski remains a mystery to us, to too does Giroud. The goal he scored last night was more reminiscent to the type of control and finish we’ve seen Suarez tuck away this season, so to see our much maligned centre forward tucking it home with his weaker football was, well it was a surprise and a half I can tell you.

After that we looked more comfortable, the passing remained assured and we fashioned more chances. Giroud, in particular, suddenly looked like he could retain possession when it was knocked up to him. Perhaps being dropped against Wigan was his Szczesny moment from a couple of seasons back? We can certainly hope so and if the threat of rotating with a raw 19 year old and potentially losing your cup final place in a months time, is the jolt he needs to get back to his pre-Christmas ways, then I’m all for it.

The game was secured ten minutes from time with a fantastic finish from Podolski, but the header down from Ramsey on the edge of the box was what excited me, because it was perfectly weighted for Lukas to roll his man and smash the ball home.

It’s amazing what a difference a day makes. Arsenal pick up three points to arrest a worrying winless streak, Arsene confirms that players are returning including Özil for the weekend, plus we have a bank holiday weekend and a dress rehearsal for the cup final coming up on Sunday. Happy Days.

I hope the players are feeling on top of the world today. I hope the win last night was the catalyst to us returning to our form that saw us to the top of the league and I hope that three points on Sunday will put us in the strongest possible position to secure top four.

Up The Arsenal.

An open letter to the football gods on derby day

Dear footballing karma gods,

I am a good boy. I work hard, pay my taxes and generally try to build enough good karma in my life to make sure that it is a happy one. Yesterday whilst I was out walking I even picked up some litter in my town centre. It was a Robinson’s Fruit Shoot and somebody could have tripped on it.

Yesterday you saw fit to grant myself a small mercy in the watching of Chelski lose to Aston Villa and for that alone I was grateful, but you even thought you would deliver a couple of red cards to Chelski players too, which will ensure that both Willian and Ramirez won’t take to the field next weekend when we play them at Stamford Bridge. Thank you for that. Also, thanks to you for ensuring that Moneychester City’s best central defender won’t be playing against us in two weeks time as he serves the final game of a three match suspension, having been sent off against Hull. Again, I thank you and appreciate that you couldn’t go as far as having Hull win against the oil whores, I understand and appreciate that.

But today is a new day, a special day, a day in which I am beseeching you to grant me all of your cosmic karma powers and help to deliver Arsenal three points. I know that a lot of getting those points will be down to the eleven players on the pitch that play in red and white today, but if you can see fit to grant us any kind of luck on an important day in our season, I will express my gratitude by personally and publicly thanking you and for repenting any of my sins and curse words I have sent in your direction over the last seven months or so. I know I have cursed your hand of fate dealing us injury blow after injury blow, but if you seek to re-address the balance this afternoon I will happily ‘call it quits’ with you. How does that sound?

I’m sure Arsene will do everything in his power to set up a team that is capable of beating our nearest (geographical) rivals today, to make your job a little bit easier, so I expect to see the back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and probably Monreal at the back. In midfield I think Arsene will go with a more defensively minded two of Arteta and Flamini and the three just sitting behind Giroud will probably consist of The Ox, Santi and Poldi. You might have seen The Ox against Bayern during the week; he was superb and at times looked unplayable. What am I talking about? Of course you saw the game in midweek, because you saw fit to take Mesut Ozil away from us for the next month or so. But I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I just hope that you can see it in your heart to give us three points today.

Three points this afternoon will give us Gooners hope. If we get it, it will mean we’re four points behind Chelski with a game in hand and level on points with Moneychester City (although they have a game in hand over us), with them still needing to come to the Emirates in two weeks time. We can speak about that on another day, because I’m probably going to be sacrificing a goat or some similar hillside creature to you around that time as well. Is that what this afternoon’s fixture needs? Do you need me to sacrifice some sort of creature in order to appease you? I’d love to, in fact I have a suggestion in the form of Mike Dean who is reffing the game today, but a) I’m not really the ‘killing’ kind, and b) it would probably end up with the game being called off. Ritual human slaughter isn’t my thing I’m afraid. I will wear my newly found lucky piece of clothing for the duration of the game, in the form of the flat cap I’ve had for about five years but never taken to the football. I wore it against Everton and it seemed to work its magic, so I’m prepared to wear it again today – inside my own house and look like a bit of a wally – if The Arsenal get three points today.

The Spuds are an unpredictable lot, your footballing karma godliness, you know. They have been awful of late and some of their new manager’s (he’s a Gooner don’t you know, so actually, if you think about it, he’s in a win-win situation from his side, so you can deliver us a victory without fear of making him as sad as he was last weekend against Chelski) team selections at times have been puzzling. That makes me even more nervous though, because I fear the unknown and we don’t know what sort of Tottenham team will step out on to the field today. Whoever does play, I know they’ll be massively up for it, so if you could grant us a bit of early luck for which the Arsenal players could capitalise on, i’d be forever in your debt.

Finally, before I bid you my goodbye, I’d just like to point out that we haven’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007 and so by granting us our first win in seven years, you’d be throwing one of those curveballs you so love to deliver. Like you did yesterday when you made Mourhino look sad.

Yours faithfully and sincerely

Chris.

P.S. Come on you reds.

Things change so quickly

What a difference a week makes. From having a mental block against the so called big teams, mentioned as some sort of inferiority complex, we’ve beaten a in-form Liverpool side, where tactics, formations, get chucked completely out of the window, then supposedly gone back to square one if you believe the British tabloids. Nah, me either, actually.

What’s interesting about this Arsenal side is that we only seem to evolve when we become confronted with adversity and the so called problem is pushed to one side. Considering Bayern last year was out trigger point, I wonder how the mainstay of the team will see this milestone, or millstone across their neck, if you will. Will they grasp this opportunity with two hands in the face of defeat to Munich?

I love a good football debate. It’s interesting to watch social media and watch people, babble, ramble on about an issue (which I might add, I enjoy) of a so called conventional problem. It then circulates, and funnily enough, usually isn’t the actual problem at all. I think we saw that case and point at the weekend. Giroud has been a talking point in recent weeks. In steps, the young,unproven Yaya Sanogo. In the grand scheme of things, was his performance that much different to what Giroud actually offers? Obviously technical differences are there for all to see, but the role, effort, work rate was very similar. It’s kind of a mute point really, but the issue has been and had always been the midfield. If the service is correct and the midfield functions, we will have success. ‘Feed the goat and he will score’. Or Ox, or sheep, or small gerbil. That last one probably didn’t work.

Midfield issue…

The midfield axis of Flamini and Arteta against Liverpool made for interesting viewing, and food thought. Flamini was deployed as more of the last line of defence, which left Arteta the freedom and ability to press high and very aggressively. I can’t quite remember if that’s what they’ve done in previous games together. Even so, It definitely helped Arteta feel a lot more comfortable and that was evident in his performance. One of his better performances this season as he’s been under par in my opinion. I don’t think Mikel has been as good as he used to be. Whether it’s due to age, injuries or his midfield partners, the Spaniard seems to be less influential than when he first arrived with his perfectly manicured barnet.

More importantly for the team, that cog in the midfield helped it work much better, well, better than in recent weeks, anyway.

With our current environment, well, midfield options, would you continue with it, just for stability reasons, against Sunderland? The first choice in my midfield would be Aaron Ramsey. His development has been simply remarkable. But, as we all know, he isn’t available. You’ve got Jack, he’s had the weight of expectation on his shoulders and arguably struggled since our shift in formation, then before that we had Alex Song and Fabregas, who have now departed. Considering we now have a winning formula, I’d say, stick with it. Jack played against Munich and unfortunately for him and most of the team he never really got the chance to prove himself after the sending off, so it’s difficult to work out the best course of action this weekend. I hope Jack can keep his head straight, and just play the game, if he is selected above Arteta. He needs to stamp his personality on the game. Just not let the opportunity stamp on him.

If we go back to the United game, Arsene wasn’t comfortable with us controlling the midfield. Our passing was off. Hence the hesitant attacking play.

Thinking long term, Arsene needs to find a partnership that’s solid and tactically astute, but doesn’t sacrifice any penetration in attack. Whether that’s Jack, Aaron or Alex in some sort of combination or a new addition (Which I would like) something needs to be done in the summer.

Drastic Özil improvement.. No doubt he’s our number 10

Özil was unplayable at the weekend. I was delighted to see his form slowly but surely return, but again, he struggled in midweek. Again, like Jack, he never really had the chance to shine against the German champions and he suffered on Wednesday by being crowded out every time he picked the ball up I their half. Let’s focus on the positives. The way he reads the game, the opponent, is just sublime. He waits for exactly the correct moment before attempting the daring, yet correct option. His understanding for what the team needs, is hard to explain, he can just feel it. You watch other playmakers in the league just attempt the tricky through ball when the time isn’t right. A lot of the time, the ball is just given away and the opposition regains possession. Thank god for Mesut Özil.

What to do with Lukas Podolski?

I think we can all agree something is going down with Podolski, and as I write this, it seems the writing is on the wall for the German goal scoring machine. We saw glimpses against Liverpool (and as we mentioned on the podcast) of what he should be doing on a regular basis – One-touch passing. Lukas is one of the best we have and up their in the league as one of the best in that skill set. His goal against Liverpool was very reminiscent to his goal against Montpellier – In terms of his sudden burst of pace. The way he goes through the gears, it’s pure brute strength. I hope he gets more opportunities, but more importantly, he grasps the chances he gets.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

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.

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.

Mean Arsenal end Coventry dreams

Is it going to rain for every game between now and the rest of the season? Because right now it feels like I’m being punished for my Arsenal habit. I’ve watched four games over the last month and only one of which has actually seen me arrive to my destination without the desire to wear wellington boots after each match.

So it was to come to pass that I had to endure another evening of torrential rain underneath the floodlights at the Emirates. Still, never let it be said that we Arsenal fans don’t have a sense of humour; after all, when the floodlights went out just before halftime all that could be said was that Arsenal needed to pay the bill, amongst a cacophony of third generation+ phones lighting the proverbial way as The Arsenal sauntered to the most routine FA Cup fourth round display that you’ll witness. Perhaps the Coventry fans were expecting an FA Cup response to the plight they faced in League One with no home ground to call their own, but the reality of the situation was that there was little offered by our opponents throughout the game, save for a spurious outside of the box effort that clipped the edge of Fabianski’s left hand post. It was all that Coventry could expect against an Arsenal team that was not prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of a lower league defeat for two years running.

I must admit, I was a little surprised to see the starting line up take to the field that Arsene had chosen. Picking the likes of Özil, Gibbs and Wilshere said that Arsene was taking this competition more seriously than perhaps seasons past against lower league opposition, or perhaps it was a case of ‘fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ when it comes to David vs Goliath.

Thankfully David never really mustered a half-hearted lob at our side, so speculating over a giant-killing was left to the ITV morons that will occupy tomorrow’s live football slot.

I thought we were mean yesterday. Mean in the sense that we never even gave our opponents a glimmer of hope. By halftime w had dispatched our lower league compatriots through two Podolski goals and by the final whistle we had doubled the tally through Giroud and Cazorla. The quality of our team was evident throughout and as I mused to Mr Leeder, we were never going to lose this game, not really.

Individual performance-wise, I thought we had some definite positives to take away from the game. The usual suspects performed well (central defence, Gibbs, Jack, Özil), but I was pleased at the confidence that Jenko exhibited. He looks a more than able deputy to Sagna – given the room to grow and flourish – and he was a constant thorn in Coventry’s side throughout the game. So too I thought, was Gnaby, who looked lively and ‘showed’ for the ball constantly. We’re in the midst of a title race here folks and, with the need for players to ‘step up’ and show their credentials, the young German is looking every bit the part.

Heck, there was even a bit of time to see a little bit of Zelalem to brighten proceedings, and he looked composed and calm on the ball. Amazing when you think he’s just 17 years old.

Look at me; I’ve spent the whole blog talking about the positives and haven’t once mentioned the goals. Podolski finished smartly after 15 minutes and then roughly 15 minutes later he nodded in his second from a good cross in from the corner. It was game over at that point and Coventry never really threatened. The second half was much of the same, with Arsenal controlling possession and the Sky Blues (in yellow) never really able to retain the ball for more than a couple of minutes.

Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla with two decent strikes gave the score line more of an accurate reflection of the gulf in class and we go marching on into round five.

A word on Podolski, before I clock off for today, because I thought he was impressive and did exactly what his game was all about: end product. He’s a lethal finisher and a vital asset in what will be a fascinating last third of the season. Last night he showed exactly what he is capable of and, unlike the game against Chelski in the Capital One Cup where we huffed and puffed but never really looked like scoring, I can’t help but wonder if Lukas had played that evening, would the result have been different?

Anyway, that’s it from me today. Enjoy your weekend folks.

Santi’s adaptability could spell trouble for Lukas

Hello there person for which I do not know your name, nor what you look like, yet am pleased to call you ‘friend’.

I’d like to tell you that there has been a cacophony of interesting and fantastical Arsenal-related stories that have permeated through the inter web airwaves and landed on our laps for our own consumptive pleasures.

But there isn’t.

Even the official site is running with stories which are kind of interesting, but not really, if you know what I mean? Those kind of stories that you can spot a mile off as ‘fillers’. So we’ve got a couple of snippets from Arsene about how there is an ‘interesting’ gap developing in terms of the points tallies at the top of the league (the most ‘paddy’ of ‘Padding’ stories there), plus how Szczesny has improved in his consistency since hitting the 100 club for The Arsenal. In addition on the site, there is Santi Cazorla telling us about how he loves playing with the midfielders that Arsenal have, how they all compliment each other with their own assets that they bring to the team, which is why we are in the position we are in challenging for the league (at the moment, anyway).

I think it’s the Cazorla interview which offers the most insight into the structure of the team and the roles they are being asked to play at the moment. Santi speaks about how he, Mesut and Rosicky are all very similar and like to play in confined, tight spaces. Where as Jack is somebody who likes to ‘take the game by the scruff of the neck’ and is a stronger player. He goes on to talk about Rosicky’s directness too.

It’s interesting because he likens himself and Mesut as very similar players, but with a difference that he prefers to play out wide and cut in whilst Mesut occupies the central territory in a free-roaming capacity. I say it’s interesting because that is pretty much what Santi did last season – free-roam in the centre of the park – and so to hear him talk of a preference for being out wide makes me wonder whether he is just saying what people want to hear, or whether he actually does prefer it. Because last season he spoke of how he relished the freedom he was being offered in the team.

I suspect that it is more of a case that when you get great players who are so flexible like Santi, you can pretty much play anywhere and they’d enjoy it, because they just want to play football. And let’s face it, if you and I had a left and a right foot as sublime as he does, we’d probably just love to play football too, wherever you played us on the pitch. He is a quality player and quality players find it easy to adapt. If it’s true that the tiny little Spaniard sees himself as that left-sided player, then whilst it bodes well for those of us that wanted to see the full extent of a Cazorla/Özil partnership, I do wonder what that does to the long-term future of Lukas Podolski. He has yet to demonstrate his prowess as a central striker (although he will probably get a chance on Friday with the FA Cup tie against Coventry) and if Cazorla continues his upward trajectory in terms of his form, I think the loveable Germans game time might be limited. If Cazorla starts to demonstrate more of a goal threat in games, like he did with Fulham at the weekend, it will become difficult for Arsene to justify Podolski’s inclusion in the starting line up. Poldi is an impressive impact player; scoring goals and offering a directness at goal, but there’s no doubting that technically he is nowhere near Cazorla’s level. And we all know that Arsene values a technically gifted player above all else – it’s how he has managed to impose his football philosophy on the club throughout his tenure.

I worry for the long-term future of Podolski, I have to say, because he’s not getting the game time we or he expect. On the ‘A Bergkamp Wonderland’ Podcast last week they touched on there being something not quite right, with Tim Stillman in particular saying that he felt there is something going on with Podolski, and I think he’s right. The Ox has come back into the side from a lengthy layoff and already seems to be getting more involved, where as Lukas has been back over a month longer and yet he is still supposedly ‘finding his fitness’ to get back into the team. I am starting to wonder if Podolski’s impact on games is being questioned by Le Boss in the light of the plethora of midfield and attacking options he has.

We just have to hope that Lukas finds some form, some goals and helps drive us forward to a league title come May.

Catch you tomorrow.

NLD preview: nervousness with a wee dram of confidence

Hooray, hooray, it’s Derby Day!

Nothing better than the feeling of anticipation that envelopes you before a local derby. And what with today being an FA Cup affair, it seems to have a little bit more intrigue about it today, so I am an excited Gooner going into a home tie against the old enemy. Today is an opportunity to make another statement in our season. Today we can end the Spuds hope of a domestic trophy (although I realise they are still in with a chance of European success). Today we can take a hammer blow to their confidence.

But what makes the NLD more exciting – in a cack your pants kind of way – is that this fixture could go any way. Yes, we’ve got used to having the upper hand in terms of our league finishing position, yes we’ve beaten them more times than they have us, but rarely do you get an easy afternoon and that all adds to the feeling in my stomach which makes this match all the more intriguing.

It’s a game that has bought about 75 Arsenal wins, 45 draws and 54 wins for ‘them’ which, when you consider the number of trophies we have won, plus the fact we’ve finished above them for so many times particularly in the most recent couple of decades, the win ration between the two clubs seems quite close. It’s a cliché, but that stat clearly shows that anything can happen in the NLD and quite often, it does.

Are you nervous today? I am, but it’s a nervousness with excitement. It’s a nervousness with a wee dram of confidence, because we have once again found form after a mini blip the other side of Christmas and we find ourselves going into the game off the back of three victories. We might have a bit of an injury conundrum or two that need overcoming, but any player that takes to the field today will be confident, so we should too. Some have suggested that playing  a resurgent Totteringham now is possibly not the best time to be rocking up against the lilywhites, but I liked Arseblog’s comments yesterday about Theo’s response to the question about whether or not it was a good time to play them. He’s right, it was a stupid question, Theo’s right about it perhaps not being a good time to play us and Arseblog’s right about the football brain fart that seems to have clouded the journo’s memory that funnily enough, we’re actually top of the league.

But league form goes out of the window today, and unfortunately they are quite capable of getting the win or taking us back to their gaff for a replay, so hearing Arsene say this gets treated as a league game was music to my ears yesterday. We need to be on it from the start because they will want to carry on from their decent win at Old Trafford by taking another big club scalp. And of course, it would just happen to be that time of the year when Greedybayor actually decides he wants to get a few goals, having been told there could be another contract up for grabs for him. He’s still getting wages paid by Moneychester City at the moment, so if he wants the Spuds to go anywhere near half the wages he currently gets, he’s going to have to put in some shifts, which is why we’re seeing such a resurgence from the Emmanuel the Mercenary. If I sound bitter, it’s because I have a nasty feeling that he’s going to do what he seems to have done nearly every time he plays us and score. There’s no doubt he’s a handful when he wants to be, but he seems to reserve his best football for us and by the sounds of it he’s managed to recover from being stretched off in midweek to play again today. That’s why I hope Arsene keeps his normal back four and we see Big Per and Kos at the back, flanked by Sagna and Monreal (with Gibbs still injured).

In the midfield I look at the possible Spuds line up of Capoue and Dembele and think that our three should include Arteta to marshal the Belgian’s movement, plus Arteta who can push forward if Capoue is sitting deeper. If they play the same team that lined up against United, it means Erikson will want to drift across the park and not operate as a natural winger, so with both Flamini and Arteta operating in front of the defence I think that works. Just in front of them, providing he’s fit – and the pictures of him training yesterday suggest so – I think we’ll see Ozil. On the left we’ll most likely have Cazorla and on the right will be Theo, with Poldi up top. The only position I think might be up for question will be if Arsene decides to insert Rosicky into the team, because Arsene does like playing the effervescent Czech in our big games when he’s fit. Plus, Arsene did admit that Tomas and NIcklas made a very positive impact against Cardiff, so I wonder if he will look at that game and decide that perhaps Santi should be dropped to the bench with Rosicky in from the start. Actually, now that I think about it, what about Jack? He’s had a couple of really good games and in my opinion was the best player against Cardiff, so relegated to the bench seems a little harsh, but I suppose it will depend on how Arsene feels over his bowl of cornflakes this morning. The important thing is that we’ve got options. And if we need to, we can change things around a bit, so there is plenty to be cheerful going into today’s game.

I hope we’ll be able to give them lot a tonking, but I suspect this will be a close encounter under the floodlights, so strap yourselves in, and get ready for the rollercoaster ride that is The Arsenal Vs Spuds.

Cardiff could prove to be a banana skin with injuries playing their part

Hello there pop-pickers, and a Happy New year to you and all you know, love and drink with. It’s 2014, it’s the halfway point in the season and if you’re anything like me you’ve woken up this morning with a little recollection of the previous nights festivities, but more than anything else you’re feeling a little bit tired, having woken about five or six hours since you went to bed. Yes folks, in honour of this time of year I’ve decided to try to replicate the ‘fatigue’ factor we hear from Premier League managers, but through sleep deprivation rather than physical endurance like the players we all worship.

Today managerless Cardiff come to town to try to remove the bad taste of having a victory at home snatched from their grasp against struggling Sunderland at the weekend. They will see this game as an opportunity to try to steal some points themselves, because let’s face it, they are big underdogs today and so are not expected to pick up anything. I hate it when that happens, i.e. all the odds appear to be stacked against our opponents and nobody gives them a cat’s hell chance in winning the game, because usually the football fates conspire to deal us an unlucky blow. We’re The Arsenal after all – we don’t benefit from flukey ricochet’sor at least it doesn’t ever feel like it) or dodgy penalties in injury time to preserve a home record. Oh no, we get punished by the footballing gods because we didn’t sell our souls to the devil in favour of money, power or an odious manager who wants everything to revolve around himself.

The news after yesterday’s presser wasn’t grand from an Arsenal perspective. It turns out that Lee Probert was not content with trying to give Newcastle just about every foul they could muster, after the game he ordered a firing squad to ‘take out’ most of our players. Thankfully we got the boys on to the bus in super-quick time, so there was just a few surface wound bullet-hole injuries, which means we’ll have to see what happens with the fitness tests for Jack, Tomas, Theo, Thomas and Nacho.It would be a real surprise if all of the players missed the game today, but it’s not unheard of and if there are any risks on any players then Le Boss can’t take any chances. So It may be the most make-shift of teams that take to the field. You can obviously tell that topping the league on New Year’s Day wasn’t enough for the Footballing Gods: they must have us top the injury league table too now.

It is because of all these injuries, that it becomes really difficult to try to predict who will start come 3pm, but today will certainly be a chance for some of those players that haven’t played as regularly to get themselves some game time. I’d be surprised not to see Poldi and probably Bendtner start-up top and if Theo doesn’t shake off his knock, then expect to see Gnabry get a chance as well. That’s not a bad front three when you consider the walking wounded we have, but it is a three that hasn’t played together this season, so will need to get an understanding of one-another’s movements pretty sharpish. Sitting behind that possible attacking trio will be a midfield that I hope includes Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta. I haven’t picked Flamini because unless we hear otherwise, we’re looking at him potentially deputising for Monreal and Gibbs – both of whom might be injured – which is unfortunate timing to say the least but not unexpected in the Arsenal world. ‘It never rains, only pours’ is a phrase that comes to mind in that regard (injuries to players in the same position).

The back five – left back aside – could remain the same, which is the good bit of news, but I wonder if Arsene doesn’t give Big Per a rest today. I guess a lot will depend on how many other players we’ve got out, because he won’t want to change things around if he doesn’t have to, so whether Vermaelen and Koscielny take to the field today (if Thomas is declared fit), will probably depend on other positions more than anything else. I know there will be plenty of you telling me that Vermaelen and Koscienly doesn’t work as a central defensive pairing – and you’re preaching to the converted on that I assure you – but if there are times where we can give Per a little breather then I think we should try to do so.

As for our opponents today, well, unless Vincent Tan has decided that he’s going to take the reins (not unfeasible given the personality of the Cardiff City owner), Cardiff will have their assistant manager Dave Kerslake (I remember him from my Premier League sticker album in the 90s – had about 15 of him) picking the team and I believe they have no new concerns since the weekend. Thankfully, there will be no Craig Bellamy to irritate us, but their potency going forward will be through the handful that is Fraser Campbell and possibly a recall for Odemwingie. They will flood a five man-midfield and attempt to stifle us through their defensive bulldog Gary Medel, so it will be important that we are spreading the ball quickly and keep our heads in probing, because I think they will set out to frustrate today and hit us on the counter attack.

This is a game that we have all of the tools to win, regardless of who starts, but that doesn’t mean we will, as there is most certainly a banana skin ready to be thrown down by the Welshmen today.

Come on you reds!

How much rotation can we afford?

It’s a tough one today. I’m up North with The Management’s family for Christmas who are all based in the North East, so it’s been a perfectly timed away match in terms of my attendance, but in terms of the opposition it’s not really the perfect time to play Newcastle. Flying high with seven wins out of nine, plus a comprehensive victory against Mark Hughes’ Stoke on Boxing Day, it makes for quite a challenge for The Arsenal to come away with three points come 4pm this afternoon.

What also doesn’t help is that Newcastle could afford to play in third gear after they dispatched their third goal of the game on Thursday. I watched the whole game on Boxing Day and the two sendings off allowed the Magpies to pop the ball around knowing they could wear down their opponents without much worry of running out of steam themselves.

Where there is hope, however, is the way that Stoke broke in amongst the defensive ranks of Newcastle before they lost their first man. Stoke were very bright and Newcastle looked leggy. There was also space for Charlie Adam to dictate the play in that midfield, so my hope is that Mesut and Santi – should they both play – get the same space with which to orchestrate proceedings. If that does happen, then we will create chances, hopefully we’ll also score enough goals to secure the three points.

I don’t know if Newcastle missed the defensive nature of Tiote, but they won’t have to worry about that today, as he returns from suspension to probably have another match of his life no doubt. He loves a game against Arsenal so I suspect he’ll be fired up and running his arse off for the whole game, probably steaming in to tackles, which we will need to be mindful of. Not least because of the last three times I’ve been up here to watch Newcastle, we’ve had players needlessly sent off for silly offences, so the hope is that we can avoid giving a man advantage today and make sure we punish those Geordies. Although after the referees we’ve been given in the last few weeks, I’m having expecting Mertesacker to be sent off for being drop-kicked in the head.

Rotation is the name of the game at this time of year, so I am left pondering what team Arsene will pick for his starting eleven this afternoon. Does Monreal deserve a recall into the side? Should the effervescent nature of Rosicky be called into action? Does Poldi’s impact surely mean that he makes it from the subs bench to the starting line up? As usual this season, there are lots of questions about who should start, but I do think we’ll see a bit of shuffling, but not much. Giroud looked a little off the pace against West Ham, but his inclusion in the team is a no brainer; if he’s going to be rested, it must surely be at home, so Cardiff on New Year’s Day would be a better option for the Frenchman to sit one out.

Either side of Olivier there must surely be a start for Theo and, with the display of Podolski a couple of days ago, I hope Arsene gives him the nod. In the middle of the park I wonder if Mesut should be given a rest, with Santi being given the option of playing in a more natural free role, like he was able to do last season. Sitting behind them I would opt for the defensive screen of Flamini and Arteta to protect the back four, as I think Arsene will be wary of the threat of Ben Arfa, Gouffran, Sissoko and Cabaye. Those four like to operate just behind a main striker like Cisse, so we’ll need players that can sit and control possession in midfield.

I think Kos will return today – we need our best central defensive pairing and that means Big Per and Laurent.

There’s no doubt we have the players and ability to beat Newcastle, but as with all games like this one today, I think the first 15 minutes will set the tone of the day. If we get at Newcastle and were even to score in that time, it quietens the crowd and allows us to take hold of the game, but if we allow them to dictate play initially then we could be in for a long day.

Come on you reds!