Belief lacking, game plan found wanting

Well we didn’t get spanked like last year, did we? So that’s a plus point. Am I right?

That’s all I’ve got today, because yesterday you like I, will have sat through a performance that was both ‘un-Arsenal’ like and ‘very Arsenal’ like. In the way that we contented ourselves to have the least amount of possession and passing stats it was not like The Arsenal that we’re used to seeing. But the way in which we capitulated at the end of the match with a man advantage was so like modern day Arsenal it’s crippling beyond belief.

Heh, ‘belief’, feels wrong even saying that word today because, let’s face it, this team doesn’t look like it believes in itself. Yesterday was a classic case of a superior Arsenal team on paper, being outplayed by one of the most beatable Liverpool teams in a generation. Heck, we scored two goals with our first two chances on target, but that was more to do with a shocking Liverpool defence than anything else.

In November we ripped apart a United team and lost. Yesterday Liverpool ripped us apart yet, for all of Wenger’s assertions on the belief of this squad and their mental strength, we have once again showed that we are incapable of seeing out a game. Let’s also not forget that this was a Liverpool team so profligate up top that they missed guilt edge chance after guilt edge chance yesterday. They were playing with Sterling up top and until he was moved out wide later in the game, it looked like the same as when we were forced to play Arshavin up top because there was nobody else available. Yet we still managed to gift Liverpool two goals.

The first was a neat finish from Coutinho, but the fact it game because Giroud was trying to be too clever with a first touch in our half is hardly surprising. We all know the pro-Liverpool commentary in this country seem to get mesmerised by the ‘history’ of that club, but when Martin Tyler said they deserved their goal, I doubt there was a Gooner alive that couldn’t disagree.

Thankfully our response was swift and, for as shocking a game Flamini had (I’ll come to that in a second), it was a good leap and head back into a dangerous position for Debuchy to equalise on the stroke of half time.

So, to Flamini, who has deteriorated quicker than I’d ever thought possible. We’ve always known his limitations, but the guy looks like the epitome of a headless chicken in football terms. Gary Neville had called it in commentary, but the amount of times he was out of position and leaving an acre of space in front of our back four, that was really criminal. He’s supposed to be our man protecting our back four, yet he looks increasingly like a player who has no idea what his primary role is in the team. Yesterday I tweeted that I thought defensive midfielder was one of the easiest roles to perform if you have a few basic ingredients. 1) Be able to win a tackle, 2) be disciplined in your positioning, and 3) be ready to distribute the ball instantly to a nearby teammate. It really isn’t rocket science. Yet Flamini seems to be struggling. I have no idea why. Is he operating differently because of instructions from the bench? Which leads me to my next gripe I’m afraid…

Arsène Wenger. I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his actions with any kind of logic I’m afraid. He is a great man. He has given us great highs. He should be respected and appreciated. But what we have seen this season has the hallmarks of a star whose brightness is fading. Yesterday morning I wrote about how Liverpool will look to exploit us by getting players like Sterling and Coutinho on the ball and feed in to Lambert up top. I got the personnel wrong, but the game plan was not and we saw time and time again, Coutinho and Markovic pick the ball up deep and run at our defence. I have never managed a game in my life, I am nowhere near as qualified as Arsène to lead a football team, but if I can see what Liverpool are going to do, why can’t he?

Because he is incapable? I don’t know, but what I do know is we saw a team that were outplayed, out thought and out fought. And it was painful at times. I don’t know if The Ox was too injured to play, but he was terrible, given the ball away, travelling with it too long without passing it (I call it ‘non-injured Diaby syndrome’) before losing it and generally looking out of sorts. Santi faired slightly better, but he was too quiet to be really affective for any length of time. I’ve mentioned Flamini, so all in all that makes a three man midfield that at times, might as well not have been there.

Why do we have these problems in midfield? Is it the managers fault that we have so many injuries? Of course not, but he is the one that should be setting those up who are available, in a way that negates the opposition and plays to our strengths. Did any of us see that yesterday? I certainly didn’t. For that, you have to look at the manager and I’m afraid not for the first time this season, he was found wanting.

Defensively too, we were terrible, with poor old Calum Chambers looking like he was running through treacle at times. He had a torrid afternoon at right back and, whilst I can see Arsène’s logic playing the quicker Debuchy at centre half with Sterling up top, it meant Chambers suffered in a position that looks like it is increasingly more difficult for him to be a success at. Let’s not forget we’ve got Carl Jenkinson out on loan to fourth placed West Ham right now. Hopefully that decision to play Debuchy as a centre half and Chambers on the right is a short term issue and we’ll see the two swap for QPR at home on Boxing Day. But again, we go back to the fact that a lack of depth in the squad – bought on by the managers own inaction in the summer – is forcing square pegs into round holes and we look like we are suffering as a result.

I can’t believe we’re not actually beyond sight of the top four spots. For that we can at least be grateful and look, if we win all of our games over the Christmas and New Year period, we’ll be sat in a good position coming in to 2015. But despite this, does anybody really feel confident we can go into games – especially away games – and get a result? Yesterday I used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the Arsenal players. It’s an extreme word and I did think to myself whether I would regret using it come the next morning. I am a passionate fan and prone to ‘heat of the moment’ style outbursts like we all are, but I’d like to think that my friends recognise I’m not a person who can’t consider any football situation with a bit of reflective logic. So do I still think my phrase ‘cowards’ is relevant? Yes. I saw a group of players yesterday who ‘wanted it’ more and they played in red. That annoys me. It annoys me because it seems to happen too much with Arsenal. Too often we are the technically gifted side who feel we need to turn up to win games, too often we come out of these games with egg on our faces, yesterday was no exception.

I haven’t even mentioned our front three. Probably that’s because we saw little of any of them all afternoon, although I must acknowledge a fine goal from Giroud which should have seen us pick up all of the points. It’s because of that though, and the manner of the last minute goal, that this feels like a defeat and not a draw. Had it been the reverse, that we’d have scored in injury time, I certainly would have more relief this morning, but I would not be able to take any comfort in the performance.

What also really cheeses me off too, is that yesterday we could have gone some way to remove this weight around our necks of not being able to win ‘big’ games away from home. Not only are we failing to do that, again, but we haven’t even been winning at home this season.

Oh, let’s also through some petrol on this sh*t bonfire by finding out The Ox will be out until the New Year too, shouldn’t we?

What a way to start a week of Christmas over indulgence. Still, at least I’ve got enough booze to drown my sorrows over the next few days, I recommend drinking to forget. Then we can pretend we’re not in dire straights right now.

Finally!

Finally! It may have taken us until mid December this season, but we finally have a Premier League game in which we were dominant from start to finish, never really looked like we weren’t in control of the game and got the required number of goals that our performance warranted.

I thought we were brilliant yesterday. From the first minute until the last. We started off with an air of authority and control over a confident Newcastle team that looked like the Arsenal of last season. I feel like a wandering desert nomad who has finally been given a glass of ice cool fresh water. I have been waiting so long to drink from the cup of ‘comfortable Premier League victory’ that i’d almost forgotten the tast. I’ve become accustomed to have a hard afternoon. There was nothing hard about yesterday, unless of course you count trying to understand Lee Mason’s refereeing decisions. He was the only negative on a lovely early evenings football. To my mind, he missed a clear boot to the chest of Alexis by Tiote, a couple of penalty decisions, plus he decided to penalise Danny Welbeck for being too close to Janmaat when a gust of wind knocked him over in the box and Welbeck finished superbly to make it 2-0 within the first 15 minutes. Or at least it should have been. Like I said, that gust of wind was a real doozie and Welbeck’s goal was rubbed from the scoreboard.

It all seemed to work yesterday. From back to front we were on it. You only have to look at our first goal, in which the passage of play was started by Hector Bellerin biting in to a tackle and then giving the ball to Giroud. The Frenchman then fed Alexis and took his position in the middle of the box to head home an excellent cross. It was brilliant stuff and no more than we deserved. Before that even big Per was in on the action with a looping header that hit the bar.

We popped the ball around with purpose and poise and how the scoreline was still 1-0 at half time is anybodies guess. I can say it now, because we were comfortable all afternoon, but at half time you’ve always got that worry that we’ll conceded and then end up ‘backs to the wall’-ing it as the opposition fight to come away from The Emirates with a point. But the second half saw us up it another gear and Santi’s little dink over Alnwick to make it 2-0 had the hallmarks of a player in form. He could have even been given a penalty had he not scored, because Coloccini had almost taken him out inside the box. But the diminuitive little Spaniard did what every one wants to see; he stayed on his feet and got the goal that his performance warranted.

Four minutes later it was game over, as Giroud got his second of the night and what a second it was, with the outside of his boot and with the tightest of angles. He really can be quite some players on some games. It’s amazing how we seem to have a player that can blow so hot or cold during the course of a season. But I supposed he is an example of this Arsenal team. They can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a week.

We’ve now had two 4-1 victories and it’s looking like we’ve recovered a bit of that fragile thing called confidence. Which is just as well really, because next week we return to the location of our humbling last season and face a Liverpool team who will – regardless of what happens today – be massively up for this game and so we need all the help we can get through our levels of confidence and remembering performances like that.

Individually, it was good to see some systems worked. I thought the front three rotated well and were a handful all afternoon. Arsene said in his post match report that we looked dangerous every time we went forward and he’s right. I thought we could have scored every time we went forward and as I reflected afterwards, to friends and family members that would listen, the 4-1 scoreline flattered Newcastle in fairness. The fact that they even scored was a cause for irritation, because the defence probably deserved a clean sheet. Debuchy was good at centre half, although that might have been because he wasn’t troubled as much, but I thought he attacked balls lumped forward well, looked like he was confident, then positionally was assured enough too.

In midfield, The Ox gave a couple of balls away, but in the main he was good with the ball at his feet and he is an able deputy for that box-to-box roll role that Ramsey normally occupies. Santi Cazorla has found his ryhtm too, putting in another great display and getting himself in the goals too. I have seen some people (not Arsenal fans, obviously) who have said he was a little disrespectful with his little dink of a penalty. But if we score every time, we can be as disrespectful as we like as far as I’m concerned, because all I care about is Arsenal scoring goals and winning games. The rest of the football community can ‘do one’.

So that’s it for another weekend. A victory, three points, a good performance, some players looking like they’re hitting form, plus a week to rest and recuperate for when we play Liverpool on Sunday next week.

Come on you reds!

Newcastle preview: makeshift defence needs protecting, attack needs closeness

Howdy there partners! Happy Saturday and hopefully one in which all of Goonerdom is blessed with that holiest of things: three precious points.

It’s the black and white stripes of Newcastle United that come to town and quite frankly, after last weekend’s abomination of a performance in the first half against Stoke, I’m looking for one heck of an improved performance from those available today. And therein lies the nub of us on this chilly winter’s day: can we patch together a team capable enough of winning a game against a resurgent Newcastle team that have won six of their last eight and one against Chelski last weekend. They were the heroes for us against Mourinho’s men not seven days ago, yet now we find ourselves facing them as the enemy.

It’s a tough one to call. Over the years, even when we haven’t been great, you usually look at these games as ones that we win. Despite all of our grumbles about not really competing at the top of the league on a consistent basis for a number of years, when you look back at the end of the season and see the ‘W/L/D’ columns, there’s more wins than defeats. So it’s why actually, we get to be happy more than most – because we’re usually one of the best four teams in the division. But this season has been different. There haven’t been any league games in which we’ve looked comfortable at all in the league. Even the Villa game in which we smashed and grabbed three goals in a matter of minutes had its moments both before and afterwards. So I’m not going to expect us to buck this seasons trend and put Newcastle to the sword in the first half like Stoke did to us last weekend. Especially given our makeshift squad at the moment.

So makeshift, in fact, that it looks like Francis Coquelin might even find his way back into the matchday squad by virtue of the fact that he still has all of his limbs, joints and muscles in one piece. The injury list is lengthy and the recall of Coquelin from Charlton has been hastened due to absentees such as Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere and Ozil, in addition to Ospina, Koscienly, Monreal, Chambers through suspension and even Walcott, although I suspect he might be in the squad today based on Arsene’s comments this week. But it’s all looking a bit ropey defensively, isn’t it? As I said yesterday, it looks like it’s another defensive shuffle that will take place and I suspect we’ll see Debuchy slot in to central defence as the more experienced player in the squad. Mertesacker normally plays on the left of the two centre halves, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him shifted to the right to support Bellerin, whilst Debuchy plays next to Gibbs. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a worry for us defensively and given our recent transgressions in the league, i’ll be biting all of my fingernails every time a black and white shirt ventures into our half.

That’s why the responsibility of the midfield today will be essential. With Flamini back he’ll need to ensure that he gives as much protection to the two central defenders as he can possibly muster. With a side like Newcastle and the injuries they have, the temptation might be for him to venture forward more to support the attack, but that’s not his job and we really could do without some sucker-punching goals like we’ve conceded all season. He’s been quoted as saying that at times they like to win the ball back higher up the pitch, but if Newcastle play with pace on the counter with the likes of Cisse and Cabella, then we’ll need him to be a protector rather than a gallivanter in the opposition half.

I know Newcastle have been in form, but I suspect they’ll want to soak up pressure and not come at us too much. Pardew is not an idiot and will have seen how susceptible we are on the counter, so I think he’ll sit two holding midfielders in front of his back four and hope to hit us quickly on the break. That’s where the form of players like Santi and the Ox will be essential I think. Both will slot in to central midfield and I expect to see them the ones that will battle with Tiote and Colback in the midfield area. It will be on the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck to provide the support for Giroud, who will need a vastly improved performance from the game at The Britannia. He’ll be up agaionst Coloccini and probably Mike Williamson, so his role will be to hold off those two centre halves and bring our pacey wide men into play. We started to see signs of what these three could do together in the final third against West Brom, but today will be slightly different. Newcastle will try to suffocate the space around Giroud, so those little flicks around the corner and knock downs will need to see our front three operating very close together I think, if we’re to get any joy that is.

There’s no doubt we have the players that are technically capable of beating this Newcastle team later this evening, but the real question is around the confidence and mental fragility of this side. We’ve already drawn far too many games and every time we look to be stringing together some results we seem to come-a-cropper with a poor performance. At home it has tended to be draws when only a win will do. Away it has been the damaging defeats that have been hard to stomach.

I’ll be relegated to watching the game in the local pub, as I’m at a family event, but hopefully Ian and his boy (who have taken my ticket today) can bring the team some luck. We could do with it.

See you tomorrow. Hopefully i’m all chirpy because we’ve smashed the magpies. But I’m not expecting it.

Problems placing Poldi

Today I want to say some words on Lukas Podolski, because after the game on Wednesday night, it appears as though a fire has been lit under many for his inclusion from the start on a more regular basis.

First and foremost, we must all admit that he gave a much improved performance against Galatasaray, notching up another two goals and putting a little bit more effort than perhaps he has been seen to be doing previously. It’s that kind of hunger to impress that you want to see from the players that don’t get regular matches and I for one was pleased to see some of the rotational players step up.

However, to the doubters in Podolski, I too must admit I have a side of me that is with you. Whilst his performance on Wednesday was markedly improved, there were still times when his movement looked static to me and as much as he comes alive in the final third, when he has the ball in the middle of the park it is usually to quickly redistribute it to somebody else.

He’s certainly a conundrum of a player. Not quite technically brilliant enough for Arsène to keep him in the team, but so lethal in front of goal, that it makes Arsène look silly that he doesn’t play more often. I maintain the opinion that if he was another four inches taller and could hold the ball up, I don’t think we’d have seen as much of Olivier Giroud, as we have done over the last couple of years. I know Giroud brings more than just a tall target man and that his touch and interlinking play with others around him is far better, but having a Podolski with those stronger centre forward attributes would definitely give us a more direct and ‘end product’ type of striker.

But of course he isn’t. Which is why he has been operating out on the left for the most part of his career for Germany and for Arsenal. But the problem he has now, is that his position is being occupied by the Rolls Royce that is Alexis, which means his chances at the club will inevitably be few and far between. Alexis may not necessarily operate in the same zones as Poldi, but that wide left position which has been moulded into a number 10 hybrid at times with Alexis, means that Poldi’s old spot is evolving. Without him.

I think more than anything though, the technical ability of the player is what has cost him his place in the team, especially when you look at someone like Santi. At the start of the season, a few people thought he would be the player that is used less and less, as Özil occupies the number ten role and Alexis operates out wide on the left. But we’re now coming to the midway point in the season and I think I’m right in saying that Cazorla has played more than almost everyone else in the squad. It’s true he may have benefitted from injuries to players like Özil, but his regular inclusion in the side supports the arguments that for Arsène, technique trumps any other kind of attribute that his players must have.

I’ve said it a million times: with Podolski you know exactly what you are getting: end product. Nothing more, nothing less. He is the specialist ‘field goal kicker’ that American Football teams have just to get those field goal points. If you could make rotational subs like in 5-a-side, he’d be an awesome player to bring on every time we get a throw in or corner in the opposition box, then drag off the second a move breaks down, because his end product starts and finishes with his goalscoring.

Which is why I can understand the argument for him being an impact sub. If we need a goal with 20 minutes to go, then we need Podolski, because as long as he gets the space in our around the box, he’ll hit the target. Perhaps this is where I don’t understand Wenger’s thinking, because five, six or seven minutes at the end of a game is hardly enough time for someone like Podolski to make an impact as a sub. If we are all in acknowledgement that we’d be best served with him on the bench coming on in the second half, why isn’t Arsène more ruthless by hooking off any ineffective attacking players sooner? If, after an hour of football, we’re seeing Giroud having ‘one of those days’, then shift Welbeck up top, Alexis out wide right and Poldi on the left, no? Likewise if Welbeck is ineffective, or even the wonder boy Alexis. These guys are all human beings and everyone has an off day, so there’s no shame in admitting it hasn’t worked and trying someone different. That’s where I don’t understand Wenger sometimes.

It has been mentioned to me that perhaps Poldi is a ‘square peg with no round holes’ i.e. He doesn’t have a position that suits him in this Arsenal side. I’m not sure I subscribe to that thinking. Mainly because, as I’ve mentioned, he’s such a specialist player (end product) that he doesn’t specifically need a position I don’t think. Instead, he needs to occupy areas of the final third where he is within range and has space to fashion himself a shot. There’s nobody that can’t argue that had the same chance (the first goal against Galatasaray) fallen to him on the right hand side of the goal, that he wouldn’t have hammered it home, albeit would have been slightly more difficult as he probably would have taken it on his left and so not allowed the ball to roll across his body before striking.

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a specific position, just a skill, that he isn’t getting more games. Actually, re-reading the thinking above, I suppose that is a square peg, but it’s not that there is no round holes, it’s just that there all filled up. And anyway, his peg is so small it would just fall through and not fit anyway. Or something similar like that.

I suppose this is just one long monologue which ultimately comes to the conclusion that if I had the reigns at Arsenal, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with Poldi either, because I’d want him in my team but I’d have nowhere to put him on a permanent basis. The only conclusion I can draw is that we should be using him more. Who knows, perhaps the busy Christmas schedule will see him get more games for the club, I’m looking specifically at that QPR game and thinking that it could be tailor-made for him to start from the beginning.

What’s your view on Poldi?

Santi turns lead vocalist at West Brom

It’s a real shame that what was essentially a gritty, hard-fought away win against a dogged West Brom side, was overshadowed somewhat by a banner unfurled at the game by a selection of supporters with an agenda to remove Arsène Wenger as manager.

I believe people are entitled to their opinion and I understand that opinions are divided over the managers’ future, but it’s just a shame that all the papers will focus on today is that banner. Which we’ve all seen before has been in existence for a number of years, but has never really managed to get any of the coverage that the owners would have liked. Until now that is.

I too, find myself questioning whether Arsène is the right man for the job, and one win against the Baggies won’t change that at this stage just yet. But I am a firm believer that you keep your opinions outside the stadium and rely on adrenalin of supporting your team to override any thoughts of the future of the club. Whenever I take my place at whatever ground to watch The Arsenal, the only future I’m ever bothered with is the subsequent 90 minutes. No more, no less.

So what about our 90 minutes yesterday? Well, perhaps it’s a measure of the first half that the banner has been given so much coverage, because it was a pretty turgid affair. We started with a trio of Giroud, Welbeck and Alexis up top which gave us an interesting compilation of target man and pacey wide men, but very quickly it showed that rotational positioning was the Soupe du Jour, as Welbeck found himself both central and wide right, as did Giroud and Alexis at times. And we seemed to pop the ball around nicely after the first 15 minutes or so, keeping possession well and testing Foster with a few pot shots, most of which were down his throat. It all felt very ‘Unitedy’ in that respect, which makes for uncomfortable viewing when you know that the Premier League quite often punishes you for not taking your chances.

But we had the return of a familiar face in Koscienly and you could tell that Big Per felt a little more at ease as a result. In some respects perhaps this was the perfect game for him to get back in to the swing of the Premier League, because West Brom played with Berahino up top who never really troubled us too much in the first half. He could have done, had a poor non-offside decision been given, but we got the run of the green for a change and at halftime West Brom hadn’t even racked up a shot on target.

The second half felt very similar to the first actually. As the clock ticked on you wondered where our goal was coming from. Step forward Santi Cazorla. He’d been good all game, but that dinked ball from the byline on to Welbeck’s head was perfectly placed and helped to secure him the man-of-the-match award in a game where quality was at a premium.

I have to say, I was really pleased that it was him that stepped forward and bossed the game, because we haven’t seen enough of that from him over the last year and a half. We know the talent is there, I don’t know about you, but it feels like he’s happy playing second fiddle to some of the other big name players in the team. Two years ago he was the lead vocalist, but it’s almost as if the band got a few more singers and he volunteered backing vocals as a result.

The thing is, he showed yesterday that he can still step up and run a game. So I’m hoping that this gives him the confidence boost he needs to start influencing and dictating the play more. Let’s have more acapella’s Santi, we know you’ve got the pipes for it, so just come out of the shadows and do it man.

It’s also good that a different player shows that he can be an influencer. It always feels a little uncomfortable when you look to one person to drive the team on, so sharing that burden around will give all of us fans a little bit less worry if the rest of the team does put in shifts like that, as opposed to Alexis all the time.

Plus, Welbeck got himself another goal and after going four or five without scoring, it was good to see him on the scoresheet. Arsène has hinted that he will play more on the flanks to accommodate Giroud, but I hope that yesterday’s flexible approach to rotating will give Welbeck more cause for optimism than concern. We don’t play with as natural wingers as he was asked to with United, so hopefully we see more of him popping up all over the pitch.

If that is to be our front three for the foreseeable future, it’s going to take them time to function as a cohesive unit, but I saw signs yesterday that it might just work. We shall see on Wednesday night when Southampton come to town.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

A reversal of fortunes from when we played the Baggies last year

Good matchday morning to you my friend, I hope Saturday is one that can bring both you and I what we are all quite desperate to see, three points away to West Brom. It’s a game in which last year we stuttered having been on a decent run and, if I recall rightly, it was the first game in a while last year when we really didn’t play that well, after having played well for a number of games previously. This year we are all hoping for a reversal of those fortunes, having played pretty poorly all season this time around. A stellar performance from the team would make this weekend marvellous I must say.

The weekend didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of news, after all, because we have an all-star cast of players who have been knocked about more than the occupants of a Catamaran on the Bay of Biscay. Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Debuchy, Ospina and Szczesny all remain either a doubt, definitely out or facing a race against time to be fit through late fitness tests. IT’s interesting how much has been made of Man United injury problems, but theirs have all been short term and will disappear as quickly as they appeared. For us, as we all know, we’re likely to have this problem throughout the whole season.

It’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually saw Podolski get some game time if he remains at the club beyond January. I don’t believe it is possible for our stand out player – Alexis – to go the entire season Injury-free. The second he signed his paperwork at the club he was a marked man and so at some stage – providing he doesn’t tell Wenger he wants out – he’ll get his chance. But for now it looks like that door is closed to our social media loving German. Arsene was asked about Lukas in his presser yesterday and gave the usual response about how he expects him to stay. It was as believable as the old “three weeks away” stuff we have heard from the club over the years. But hey ho, they’ll be plenty of time to speculate on the ins and outs at the club in about a months time. For now, a trip to the Hawthorns looms, to which we absolutely must build on the victory from midweek against Dortmund.

Thankfully, it sounds like Koscienly is back and, if he really is fit enough to start, I don’t see how he won’t alongside Mertescaker. They’ll both be flanked by Chambers and Gibbs and with Debuchy a maximum of two weeks away, we’ll have our first choice back four back just in time for the January window to open and Arsene to declare he has no more available space in his squad for incoming players. Happy days.

West Brom will be up for this. They’ve lost their last two league games as well and will want to take a big scalp today. And they’ll have seen that even shocking teams like Swansea and United can have their day of glory against us, so they’ll probably up their game to give us an extra hard afternoon. There was some suggestion yesterday about the early kick-off playing against us when you look at last seasons games, but I don’t see that as any factor whatsoever. After all, before we lost to Moneychester City, Liverpool and Chelski in those early kick offs, we’d also beaten Crystal Palace away. So you can hardly say there was a pattern developing. Unless you say it’s a pattern of bottling it in the big games. That we can all agree on.

Tactically, you can already see signs of what Alan Irvine wants to do. He highlighted to the press this week that he thinks Arsenal are vulnerable at the back and at times have left just three players (including the ‘keeper) in their own half, so I think he’ll look to see if he can draw us out and catch us on the counter. Think the first goal we conceded against Swansea, or the Rooney second goal last weekend. He’ll probably line up quite defensively and hope that the pace of Berahino will cause us a headache. Where we can help ourselves will be to replicate the responsibility of the defenders in getting forward. Two centre halves and one full back in position when we lose the ball is essential. And a Flamini that is disciplined and not drawn forward is important. If West Brom do try to play us on the counter, there will be no need to try and win the ball high up the pitch, because they will only counter in ones and twos, so if Flamini is sitting, it would give us plenty of cover to deal (in theory) with their attack. Sessegnon will also be an important player to snuff out. He’s a tricky and fast little player who, whilst not having the best scoring record, will sit behind Berahino and be a handful all afternoon. That’s where Flamini will be important in breaking up the play. With his now customary yellow card, of course.

As for us, I expect we’ll line up with Martinez in goal (it didn’t sound to me as if Szczesny had fully recovered from last weekend’s knock, so why risk it?), with the back four as described above. I think injury dictates that the two in front of the back four will be Flamini and Ramsey, which will mean two wide of Cazorla and The Ox and Sanchez sitting just behind the striker. I think Arsene would probably ideally want to go with Welbeck if he is fit, but if there is any doubts then Giroud will get the nod. And who knows? The Giroud/Alexis combo might just work. If Alexis knows that he has a target man who will hold up and feed him in, we might see him latching on to more knock downs and flick throughs. I guess we’ll see in a matter of hours.

Right, I’m off for some breakfast, a morning chore or two, then the pub. Come on you reds!

Nerves, openness and Burnley

The whole world seems to think that today will be a walk in the park at home to winless Burnley. Everywhere I look there are match previews and predictions ahoy of 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0.

But you and I know better. You and I know that rarely in top flight football do you see batterings of teams and when you do, it’s not normally the team’s you’d expect, as we found out to our detriment last season.

You and I know that The Arsenal rarely make life easy for us. So I’m not going to pretend that I’m confident of a cricket score today, that’s for sure. Do I think we will win? Well yes, of course, but do I think that we’ll all be home and dry in the first 15 minutes? Not on your Nelly.

It’s our form and our play you see. Sure, we’ve strung back-to-back victories together, which one hopes we’re starting to build a bit of confidence and momentum. But the way in which we’ve gone about getting those victories has hardly been by swotting aside our opponents with consummate ease. We’ve huffed and puffed all season and I expect much of the same today.

But who cares as long as we win? There are people that are unhappy because we have won whilst playing poorly, but think back to the last few seasons. When have we regularly played really good football? I bet you could count the number of games on your fingers. The series of early season 2-0s last year had people saying that we were winning without playing so well. So what’s the problem? I’d take a rather drab 2-0 Arsenal win today, make no mistake of that, so let’s start with the desire for the points and see any score line that results in that as a good one. Even a good old fashioned ‘One Nil To The Arsenal’ would do me fine. It might make for a nervous afternoon towards the end but I’d be fine with that.

I’ve had a Burnley supporting friend over to stay this weekend and he says he’s just down for the fun of the experience. Ahh, I can’t even remember when football was just about the fun and experience. There are highs, of course, but it’s my addiction and when things don’t go to plan, I often worry too much. I worry before the game, during the game, then if we’ve won I start to worry about the next game about two hours after the victory.

So, as I said, my Burnley mate. He doesn’t expect anything, but is still a little apprehensive about how Burnley will line up today. Sean Dyche has lined up his team as 4-4-2 all season and is apparently playing an open and expansive brand of football that leaves Burnley susceptible to being opened up by the bigger teams. When I was talking with him last night he said that the game at home against Chelski was a classic example. They came out, got the first goal and his his words “then Chelski got angry and just started scoring for fun”.

I want us to be ‘angry’ from the first minute. If Dyche does stick to his footballing philosophy, then Burnley will be open and we need to capitalise on that, by banging the door down on their goal. So the emphasis today has to be on the forward line performing. We need Alexis, Welbeck, Cazorla and The Ox (all of whom I’m assuming will play) to be at it from the off. With Wilshere injured, Rambo will also step in and we will need to see more of the 2013/14 version of our Welsh Jesus, rather than the slightly stuttery version we’ve witnessed this season.

I suspect Mikel Arteta will anchor the midfield and the makeshift back four will see Monreal slide across to left back with Chambers at centre half and Bellerin at right back. I’m kind of ok with that, because in reality we should have less to do defensively, and I thought Bellerin did well at home against Hull.

But like Hull, Burnley could just as well promise to play open football but not actually deliver, so let’s not expect an easy ride. Steve Bruce said Hull would ‘come and have a go’ but had no intention to do such a thing. If Burnley get through the first half without conceding then they will have similar desires I suspect. And hey, I don’t begrudge them that, because the onus should be on us to break out opponents down in 90 minutes.

So whilst I don’t think we’re in for an easy afternoon, I do think we’ll pick up the points, and I certainly hope so too.

Up The Arsenal!