The charm offensive is good

After spending a few days waxing lyrical about the form and effervescence of Alexis Sanchez, it appears everyone is getting involved in the love-in sessions, only this time the power of positive thinking is being spread around the Arsenal camp with players deciding to talk up their own happiness.

Whilst trying to scour the t’internet trying to find scraps of something Arsenal to talk about, I realised that I didn’t have to look beyond the official site yesterday evening, as both Santi and Jack have been talking up their happiness and pride respectively.

Santi talks about how he trains and plays for fun and that’s what allows him to enjoy his life so much, whilst Jack has been telling us about his own inner confidence to get back to former glories after a couple of stop-start seasons chocked with injuries. I’m glad that the players are being more positive about themselves at the moment, because let’s face it, we haven’t been playing too well of late so any potential confidence boost we could get as fans that the team is starting to perform is a welcome one.

The run needs to start now you see. I had a long chat with a friend who is a Burnley fan yesterday and he’s been telling me that he fears us and Chelski the most away from home because of Dych’s insistence on playing a more open and expansive game of football. I certainly hope so because whilst the football hasn’t been as flowing, the results look to be building and it feels to me as if we really need a comprehensive victory to make the Arsenal engine purr. We need that one catalyst to be able to say ‘ok, now we’re up and running, so let’s see how far this team can take us’ and as much as I like my Burnley supporting friend and have no real issues with our weekend opponents, I hope we smash them into the ground on Saturday afternoon.

So hearing the players go on a charm offensive, no matter how obvious and possibly doctored the interviews might be, is a-ok by me at this stage.

Elsewhere there’s…well…not a lot really. The COC was played last night and aside from Bournemouth taking a Premier League scalp, there were no real upsets. League Two Shrewsbury were outdone by Chelski, who I now note are being described as ‘undefeated in all competitions’ Chelski. Good lord I hope someone turns them over in the League soon. It will make the world a better place. Seeing Jose Mourinho smirking his way to the Premier League trophy will be painful enough for the next seven months, but to take away the last bit of bragging rights we have will be all the more painful. And the fans…blimey…they’re already the worst fans in the history of the world, so to throw in an undefeated season will be like some divine power appearing before your very eyes only to tell you the world is going to end about thirty seconds later.

I made the mistake a few years ago that thinking that there can be some kind of karma in football for oil-whoring clubs, then Chelski skanked their way all the way to the Champions League final before winning it, so I’ll not make the same mistake and say that they can’t go unbeaten.

This is all too much doom and gloom for a Wednesday morning. How about we just take a second to imagine a front line of Theo, Alexis and Welbeck playing a high line in a league game with Mesut feeding them a platter of delectable through-ball delights?

*Pauses and looks up at the sky for six seconds*

Ahh, that was nice. Can we have some of that please soon Arsène?

Again, relatively short one from me today, but I promise to be more contemplative tomorrow. Or the next day.

You have a good one.

Something’s not right

Something isn’t quite right at Arsenal at the moment. Most obviously is the number of draws that we’ve already racked up this season. Everton, Leicester, Moneychester City, the Spuds and Hull have all shared the spoils with us and as a result we find ourselves this morning with only 13 points after the first eight games.

If you want to look into the detail you could argue that going away to Everton and Chelski and playing the Spuds and City at home isn’t the easiest of starts, to which I would certainly agree, but the really great teams take advantage of things like being at home and pick up points where needed. Just look at Moneychester City. They dispatched a pretty average Tottenham team that we huffed and puffed against but still laboured to a draw. I know I probably shouldn’t be comparing us to any oil whoring club, but we’ve had aspirations of an assault on the league title previously, especially after our appetites were wetted following an excellent attempt at it last season. So for me personally, to see us now already miles off the two petro-dollar clubs is a pain that I’d rather not have to experience, as a fan.

I tweeted yesterday that I am coming to accept that our fight is not with the two going for the title, it is with the also-rans of Man United, Totteringham and Liverpool. With every performance like yesterday that appears more and more to be the case. We came up against yet another team in Hull that, Like Palace on day one, knew that what they needed to do was sit deeper, defend in numbers and catch us on the counter. And we once again, like the Spuds game, huffed and puffed in the second half with no real drive or guile to unlock an industrious, but not particularly special, Hull team.

When Danny Welbeck scored the equaliser in stoppage time, I was relieved, but Ben and I (my partner in crime for the day) barely even celebrated. Why should you feel like a last minute goal to avoid the first defeat at home in 14 months is a good thing when the opponents have only had four shots on goal in the whole match? It’s like an old fashioned game of Championsship Manager, but we are the real-life example. Teams don’t need to batter us to pick up points at The Emirates, they just need a set piece or two, or a counter attack. That’s what’s wrong at the moment. We concede with the only chances that our opponents get. It happened with Palace on the opening day, it happened against The Spuds, and now it’s happened against Hull.

Yes, Steve Bruce rightly admitted that their first goal probably shouldn’t have been because of the blatant pull by Diame to win an advantage and get through against Szczesny, but the second goal was a comedy of errors from our perspective.

The really weird thing is, from my perspective when thinking back on the game, I don’t think our defence was that bad in the main. Perhaps that was because we spent very little time doing any actual defending, but I thought Monreal coped admirably, that Gibbs looked good going forward and that Bellerin was not over-awed by the occasion. But we seem to have this amazing ability to play half-decent and still look terrible on one or two moments like the Hernandez goal just after half time. It’s weird and I can’t put my finger on it. Do we just switch off? Are we just unlucky? Is there a soft underbelly to this team that you just need to catch at the moment? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will not be getting anywhere near close to the Premier League this season, so let’s start paying more attention to the results of Liverpool, United and the Spuds who, thankfully, all seem to be having their own issues in different areas at the moment.

The first half yesterday actually looked pretty good. We popped the ball around well, Alexis was in sparkling form (he was one of the few that continued that in the second half) and I remarked to Ben at half time that we were unlucky not to be two up and coasting at half time. If The Ox had put away his chance just before Hull scored, we’d probably have been out of sight. But that is the story of yesterday, as we didn’t do enough to put Hull to bed and collect the three points needed to move on to Sunderland next weekend.

The second half was probably the most dire I’ve seen so far this season. After we conceded the early goal we spent five minutes being shell shocked, but after that Hull knew that all they had to do was sit deep, in numbers and waste as much time as possible (Mr East the referee was in no mind to pick up this deliberate tactic) and they would potentially pick up the win. Which they nearly did. It took us until the 86th minute before we even fashioned the first proper chance for the third choice Hull ‘keeper to make and that was a smart header from Alexis. But other than that we had barely mustered a decent ball into the box or a shot in anger. Why we even bother with corners I don’t know, because we are completely redundant whenever the ball is slung into the box. We’d be far better taking the ball short and trying to build from there, because whipping a ball in to an opponents head is hardly worth the trouble we spend. Ben and I joked at one point that we would probably be more likely to concede from one of our corners than score from it.

I’m pleased Danny got another goal though. Both him and Alexis are already racking up a useful tally, which you’d hope would be good enough for us to be winning games, but with your defence looking more like a grandmother made patchwork quilt, it is always going to be a struggle. It was a good assist from Alexis too. He was probably the man-of-the-match I would imagine. But again, it was too late to mount a proper onslaught and go for the win, so we pick up another draw. Have you noticed how I haven’t even mentioned the midfield? That’s probably because I can’t really recall any of them having a particularly good game. Flamini’s role is fairly standard and he had little to do against a Hull team sitting so deep, but Jack didn’t really manage to replicate the Pirloesque form of his England displays last weekend, so there were no threaded balls for the front players to feast upon in the second half. Santi was good in the first but faded in the second half and The Ox mis-placed a number of simple passes throughout the game. That was where the issue was in the second half I feel. The midfield just didn’t click and looked fairly negated by the deep-lying Hull defence. But if you want to be champions you have to overcome obstacles like deep-lying teams and you have to unpick the lock, so-to-speak. That is something we just don’t seem capable of and it is a worry for me for even the top four spots.

So next weekend we travel up to the North east to play a Sunderland team who will be really pumped and desperate to show their fans that their 8-0 thrashing to Southampton was a one off. Before that there’s the small matter of an away trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht and you have to hope that we can pick up the required win in both of those games to start this run of form that we’re all hoping will see us in to Christmas in one of the top four places. We have players coming back from injury at various times and hopefully they can lift the club, but the run simply must start now. We cannot afford any more of these hitches.

See you tomorrow.

Jack’s timely form softens Özil sadness

Had a lot on yesterday, so didn’t manage to step into the blogosphere to compile some thoughts on all things Arsenal, but with a spare 15 minutes this Saturday morning I thought I’d spew some prose onto the online page following the first round of international matches.

Firstly, the performance of the England players, most notably the excellent Jack Wilshere. He is growing better and better with every game and after the start of the season and some of the criticism he received from the media, it feels like we’re getting back to seeing the 18-year-old version of the Wilshere that burst on to the scene and had us all excited. With the absence of Özil proving a blow, the ray of sunlight I can see is his form picking up and our diminutive midfielder being the talisman to get us moving in the league after a stuttering start.

Of course knowing our luck he’ll hobble off in Tallinn on Sunday afternoon and we’ll not see him until the New Year, so whilst I am praising his form and the hope that it’s a timely positive amongst a plethora of injury negatives, I do it with a wary eye on the possibility that he could break down at any moment. He likes a challenge, does our Jack, see. He will always get stuck in and with his injury record you always fear that he’s a crunch away from being Diaby’d.

Still, whilst we have him fit and willing, we should be thankful. And with someone like Welbeck up top, we’ve also got a form player than I fancy hitting 30 goals in all competitions this season. I include internationals here too. He’s already got four for Arsenal and three for England, so if he gets another eight by Christmas in about 12 or 13 games until we reach the halfway point in the season, who knows?

I’m not really one for giving a monkeys about internationals, but when you’ve got five Arsenal players involved in an England game, it’s hard not to show a modicum of intrigue. I thought our two full backs performed quite well, but specifically Kieran Gibbs who must always have felt a bit left out when most of the other Arsenal players disappear off to their respective national team gatherings, but with the histrionics of Luke Shaw having finally died down, the smoke seems to have cleared and Roy has finally seen that Gibbs is an excellent left back. Going forward he was good – admittedly against a poor San Marino – but I think he must surely be rivalling Baines for that number one spot given Baines’ lack of form and Gibbs’ return to the team from injury.

I haven’t really looked at any of the other internationals, but know that Germany don’t play until tonight and Chile played Peru in the early hours of the morning. By the looks of it Alexis played the full 90 in the game, but he’s such a bundle of energy, that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he’s run all the way back to London after his second friendly match he’s involved in. Let’s just hope he stays injury free too. With Per retired and Özil injured, our only interest in the German game is Podolski, but Low will know that he isn’t playing so I’ll be surprise if Lukas gets much time at all.

The other players in action will be Rosicky, Ospina and Szceseny, who you’d be surprised if the two ‘keepers pick up knocks and Rosicky hasn’t found his way into the first team yet, so we’re looking in good shape right now. Santi got eight minutes against Slovakia, but Santi always only gets sub appearances for Spain, so we need be less worried about his propensity for injury. I’m just glad that Spain were so poo in the World Cup and Euros so now have to qualify for the next Euros, because at least it means our wee little playmaker will stay on this continent for his travel for European games.

Anyway, that’s all I gots time for today I’m afraid. I have some eggs that need a-cookin’. Ciao peoples!

Pressures on, but enforced changes may be a blessing

Big game today boys and girls, big game indeed. Not least because a consecutive defeat in the Champions League will make qualification from the group stages look very precarious. It seems quite amazing that at Matchday 2 out of six in the competition we are already worrying about an early exit, but such is the importance of getting yourself up and running on Matchday 1, that it immediately puts pressure on you to win your next game.

Arsène knows this, saying as much when he spoke to the press yesterday about tonight’s game, in which he effectively set out his blueprint for advancement to the next stages: win all of your home games and pick up at least one point away from home. Ten points is usually enough to see sides navigate these early parts of the competition and his – and our – experience of managing, watching or playing in this competition tells us that he speaketh the truth.

But a defeat, or even draw tonight, means that you have to win one and draw one of your two remaining away games in this stage. It doesn’t really afford much margin for error. Which is why we’ve usually been alright and already won our first game of the group stages by now. It takes the pressure off. But no matter, we have the chance to get up and running against Galatasaray, plus we can all be under no illusions that on paper the hardest group game came first with the away trip to Dortmund.

In terms of team news it’s as expected really. No Arteta and Ramsey, but Wilshere makes the squad having trained yesterday. With Jack’s record and Arsène’s gambling ability akin to Paul Merson’s skills at the bookies, I’d be inclined to save Jack for the bench in today’s game. In Dortmund he picked up a knock to his ankle which he looked to have exacerbated in the NLD, but thankfully he seems to have recovered well enough, but I’d still be inclined not to risk him if a few more extra days training and rest will help.

Whether Arsène adopts the same mindset is anybody’s guess. If he doesn’t, I’d expect to either see Rosicky slot in to that box-to-box role instead of Jack/Rambo, or Santi come in to play wide left. That would move Mesut into the centre, Alexis on the right and The Ox in the middle of the park. I didn’t watch the game against Southampton last week, but by the sounds of it Tomas had an evening to forget, so on that basis I wonder if Arsène will look to see if The Ox can replicate his excellent performances of last season against Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich, in which he played in the centre of the park and was arguably the man-of-the-match in both.

At least Arsène has choices in the middle of the park that won’t have us cursing our injury record, because let’s face it, defensively we have enough to worry about. Rumours are rife that Koscienly is carrying a knock and has done for a few weeks, but Le Boss’ failings to strengthen are putting him under pressure to remain fit whilst both Debuchy and Monreal are sidelined. It also puts a lot of pressure on Chambers to be consistent at right back and, with still only a handful of first team appearances under his belt, it does seem quite unfair to place such a burden on a 19-year-old. But that is that path that we have chosen as a club and we have to hope that all remaining defenders can remain ready, willing and able to fight for the cause. Starting tonight.

The Galatasaray threat will invariably come from the trickery of Wesley Sneijder who, despite my own assumptions that he was clearly past it having toodled off to Turkey for an extended holiday for a few years, has shown for the Dutch national team that he still remains a very good player. I don’t know Galatasaray very well – well, apart from what Champions League games I’ve watched of them – but I do know that the old stereotype of Turkish teams not travelling too well is still in existence. Their vocal away support will be at it’s raucous best, but we have to quieten them down by asserting our dominance early. That means we have to start like we did against City and also the Spuds, albeit getting a better result, but we need to put them on the back foot early.

How do we do that? Hopefully by reverting to 2013/14 Arsenal and playing Mesut through the middle. He doesn’t have to stay there, but it gives him licence to roam as he sees fit and there’s something that feels a bit more balanced about having a player with a free role in the middle of the park. I’m no tactical expert, so can’t really tell you why (perhaps it just looks better and easier to explain when you look at a formation, a la Championship Manager), but it just feels like it makes sense to have Özil dictating play from behind Welbeck.

Who knows, maybe the forced change Arsène would have to make through injuries would be a blessing in disguise, with Wenger realising that last seasons Arsenal was a more successful blueprint for him to work from. But then again, we do all know he’s a stubborn old mule at the best of times, so let’s not hold our breath.

Having missed the Besiktas game, I’ll be at The Emirates tonight and it’ll be exciting to get our Champions League campaign underway in my eyes, so I hope the performance matches my hopes and expectations for the evenings frivolities.

Up The Arsenal.

Get back to last year’s success story Arsene

What did I say yesterday? When everyone tips The Arsenal to steamroller a top seven side, fates invariably conspire against us to ensure that we don’t pick up maximum points.

It’s hard to be pleased about a home draw to what has been the poorest Spuds team that we’ve played in quite a while. Tottenham came to The Emirates with one goal – not to be defeated – and the Mushroom Man Pochettino ended the day yesterday the happier of the two managers after the 1-1 draw. His was a plan better executed than Arsene’s, as the Spuds were content to sit deeper than we’ve ever seen them before and try to catch Arsenal on the counter attack. And why not? If anyone has watched Arsenal this season they will have seen that we are susceptible to the sucker punch, as this game proved in the second half when the Spuds scored against the run of play. It was a goal entirely of our own making as Flamini was caught out easier than a John Terry testimony.

I don’t know if I am the only one here, but I’m starting to get a little bit concerned with the propensity with which we seem to be conceding first. Not only does it give our opponents something to hold on to, but it puts us in a position where we need to take risks and that isn’t something that’s good for my health. Arsene and Bouldy need to have a think about how we are set up, because it was much more fun last season when we were winning every game 2-0 and being defensively solid. But once again, almost as if to prove some kind of belligerent point, Arsene reverted to the style that we’ve adopted all season and played Ozil on the left. We saw with devastating effect the success of Mesut through the middle, but not only that, we also saw last week how Ramsey was more effective whilst sitting deeper and breaking forward from a deeper lying position. Yesterday was back to the old Ramsey, trying little flicks that didn’t come off and then capping off a torrid day by getting himself injured through a busted hammy in the first half. That problem was also compounded by Arteta who went down with a calf strain and the two will now not be available for next weekends loss to Chelski.

Tactically, Arsene needs to go back to basics too. The most basic principle being winning games. Three all season in all competitions is mid-table mediocrity form and we’ve already dropped far too many points this season with draws. Unbeaten runs may sound good out loud, but if you draw every game in the season you get 38 points and probably avoid relegation by a point or two, so should be taken with an extreme pinch of salt. To be honest, from the Gooners I talk to and follow, none are particularly over the moon with the fact we’re unbeaten, especially when you consider that the record will be dead and buried by next Sunday evening. I’m treating it as a forgone conclusion because, unlike Arsenal, when pundits tell the world that Chelski will roll over us, that is what usually happens.

Arsene needs to recognise who his best players are and play them in their best positions. Alexis’ best position – last time I checked – wasn’t sitting on the bench patiently waiting for the 75th minute to come when Arsene makes his customary substitution. Why on earth he didn’t start yesterday is a mystery. Actually, I don’t think it is a mystery at all. I think that Arsene is trying frantically to have a formation that affords Wilshere a space in the team. To Jack’s credit, he did ok yesterday, but with Rambo and Arteta having established the hierarchy last season of being on the teamsheets first and foremost, Arsene won’t drop them or Ozil, which is why Mesut is being shunted out wide. The hamstring injury to Rambo will allow Wilshere to sit alongside Flamini in the coming weeks and give Jack licence to be that box-to-boxer that we all want. It will also force Arsene into playing Ozil centrally, something that I’m pretty sure would have come to a parliamentary petition by all Arsenal fans at Ten Downing Street, had Arsene pressed ahead with his ‘Ozil out wide’ experiment. Ozil actually had a good game I thought, but he will only be so effective out wide, so needs to be sitting in that hole so he can feed Welbeck those killer balls we’re all craving.

When Santi came on I thought he was really good. He gave a bit more purpose to our attacking play and having him on the left with Ozil through the middle and Ox on the right instantly changed us into more of a threat. We should have had more than the one goal we had to show for our performance yesterday, but for some smart Lloris saves and a deep-sitting Spuds defence.

I really hope this doesn’t end up being a season of draws. Last year I don’t think we picked one up until late November and, when you go on long winning streaks it effectively sets you up for a title charge when you reach the halfway point. At this point now, with the tinkering Arsene is doing to the team, it’s hard to think we’ll be doing anything else than staring down the fourth place trophy. Sadly, just before the Ox scored his goal, I was starting to ponder whether or not a defeat today would at least give us the reality check that would be needed to know that it will be another season where fourth place is the target rather than lulling us into the false sense of hope that we’re good enough to win the league. I immediately hated myself for thinking that in the midst of the game and whilst we could still feasibly pick up two goals and win the game, but I can’t shake the feeling that come December our expectations will have been decidedly altered.

Le Boss has some work to do now. He needs to find his best team, not have them injured, get them back to playing what they did last season, plus get us on a winning streak that builds momentum and confidence. The good news is that after we lose to Chelski, we’ve got a run of winnable games until we then play Man United at home towards the end of November. We have to start clicking and clicking now.

Catch you tomorrow.

Not the result, it’s the performance that worries

Morning from a grumpy Gooner in a corner of London Suburbia. I’m grumpy because my team failed to deliver a performance against a newly promoted and stubborn – but ultimately limited – Leicester City team at the KP Stadium yesterday afternoon.

These are the teams that last season we simply dealt with, yet already the warning signs are here for a different season to last when it comes to the teams lower down the division. And that worries me. It worries me because unless we address our woeful form against the big boys, the only way we’ll get close to the top four this season (notice how I’m not even talking about winning the league), is by picking up a shed load of points against teams from sixth downwards.

We just aren’t clicking at all. That is more frustrating than the result. Result-wise, it’s not the end of the world and at this early stage of the season the league means about as much as a promise of humbleness from Jose Mourinho. But my concern lies with some of the initial signs from some of our big players. Specifically our midfield.

Yesterday’s 1-1 draw and the profligacy in front of goal may be labelled at the raw and clearly not ready Sanogo (I’ll come to that in a bit), but as a couple of people pointed out last night (I think Mean Lean over at Arsenal Vision said it first on my Timeline), it’s very difficult to pin it all on the front men when it was obvious that our midfield wasn’t right. I though Cazorla, Ramsey and Özil all had pretty poor games if I’m honest. Santi produced a lovely chip to set up Sanogo whose shot deflected into the path of Sanchez for his second goal in two games, but other than that he was way off. Passes were astray for all three players, ball retention left a lot to be desired of, the drive and determination of last season just didn’t seem to be there.

I don’t know why that is. This isn’t a Spuds/Liverpoolesque root and branch overhaul of the squad – the team that lined up we’re all ever-present last season barring Debuchy and Sanchez – so I don’t know why we haven’t found our rhythm in any of the games we’ve played in yet (Community Shield aside). That’s five games folks. Everyone has off days, we’re all only human, but every time we seem to take to the pitch it’s an off day at the moment it seems.

I did wonder if the new arrivals would take time to ‘bed in’ and we’d have a few quiet games, but it seems Chambers, Debuchy and Alexis are the ones that are actually performing quite well. Sanchez popped up on the left and right yesterday and looked to run at defenders wherever possible. He provided a creative attacking outlet and is getting better all of the time. But Özil was misplacing passes, looked out of sorts and never really threatened that killer pass beyond the eight man Leicester defence.

Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances. Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Everton and Leicester all got men behind the ball. That made it difficult for us to get behind them and yesterday, without a really quality target man, you could see we weren’t willing to whip balls in behind the defence for out wide. There just wasn’t the variation. We got the ball to the edge of the Leicester box and then tried to thread the most intricate balls in behind a well drilled defence that we could.

Are injuries playing their part? Perhaps. The head injury Koscienly picked up clearly affected him in the early stages of the game, as he was culpable for the equaliser that Ulloa got and came off shortly afterwards. It was a shocking bit of defending for the goal, but a fully-fit Kos probably would have nodded that one away.

Last season injuries decimating the team cost us around March time and we fell away from title chasers to fourth place trophy chasers. I can’t help but think that this season we are in for more of the same, only the injuries are happening now, so our title challenge may just evaporate earlier in the season than later.

I’m sorry if I seem despondent at the moment folks, but it’s just that so much early promise after a good summer of business and the Community Shield win had me really thinking we could have a good to at the oil whores this season. But when you look at the two Petro-dollar teams and see how strong their squads are, then you look at how we’re affected when we miss a few key players, it just feels like a mountain that is too steep for this Arsenal team to climb.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just being a little melodramatic after a few flat performances. But historically, the seasons that have been good ones at Arsenal have been because we’ve started strong and raced to early leads by picking up a lot of points quickly. The ones where we’ve scrapped for fourth all season are where we’ve stuttered at the start and never even got close to the top two. I fear the latter scenario.

I don’t really even want to touch on the last day of the transfer window. For some, it’s the last bastion of hope that our frailties will be addressed, but for me I think there is too much work needed for the squad to be capable of picking up the challenge of a league title and running with it. A back up centre half may be easier to secure if you go to a smaller club, but picking up a defensive midfielder as well? I’m just not sure we have the ability to close two high-profile deals on the final day.

But that isn’t the most frustrating thing of all. The lack of a World Class striker will be painfully evident for us for the first half of the season I fear. Perhaps I’m being unkind to Arsène, because he made the excellent acquisition of Alexis and he may just turn out to be that superstar up top we’re looking for, but he is going to take time and as was shown yesterday, there is literally no other acceptable option when Giroud is out for a prolonged period of time. Sanogo is just not good enough I’m afraid. Not yet, anyway, and he showed that on numerous occasions yesterday. He’s a young player, he’s been thrust into the limelight and he’s having to accept his role as fall guy because Arsène is his chosen ‘project’. Well Arsène, if you don’t sign anybody by 11pm tonight, I pray your ‘project’ has some sort of miraculous change of fortune, because if he carries on like yesterday, I fear it could break him mentally. Think about how Diego Forlan got on at United when he took an age to score. It smashed him mentally and he only recovered when he went back to Spain and started banging in goals again. None of us want to see that for Sanogo, but that’s what I fear.

Right now, I have no expectations for today and if the performances continue like they have done over the coming weeks, I have no expectations for this season. Other than the standard fight for fourth place. Obviously.

See you tomorrow.

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.