Santi’s turn, Poldi’s sling shot and Mesut performs

And today’s spurious rumour of an Arsenal player leaving the club is…

Santi Cazorla!

Come on down!

It’s almost as if the tedium that was yesterday’s bore draw between Nigeria and Algeria has re-awoken the dormant transfer demons as they are offered a ray of light to make up rubbish that will get attention during the World Cup. I mean, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen an ITK on my timeline producing any gutter trash stories for at least a week now. That may be because I’ve blocked a lot of them through Twitter, but still, it does feel like it’s been confined to just NewsNow articles by the usual suspects of Goal and Caught Offside. For this I am grateful.

But apparently Santi isn’t grateful and he wants to return to Spain, with newly crowned La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid sniffing around him, so naturally he’s already booked his Easyjet flight, packed his bags, clichéd up London Colney by ‘clearing his locker’ and is now just waiting for a confirmation. I wonder if the players actually have lockers? And what would be inside them? Pictures of Lorraine Kelly and Carol Vorderman? Some maths homework? A sling shot? I bet Poldi has a sling shot. And a few stink bombs for the fitness coaches. Yeah, that’ll teach them not to make old Poldi run lots…

Anyway, I’m treating this rumour with the contempt it deserves, because let’s face it we’d be mad to let Cazorla go without a replacement. I can’t see us dropping Sagna, Vermaelen, Monreal (another mischievous link), Cazorla and Podolski, whilst still trying to strengthen the team in other positions, can you? Nope. So whilst it is always annoying to. Hear stories of our players linked elsewhere, let’s not forget that 90% of them are unfounded and will never come to pass.

Here’s another way of looking at it: of all the players we’re linked with, only 1% of those players actually get to put on an Arsenal shirt, so why would the reverse not be true of players leaving the club?

I mean seriously, who do they think they’re trying to kid? And by poking the the Arsenal fans’ hornets best by declaring that we’re after Tom Cleverly? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on…

Anyway, back to actual football and with Germany ripping a new one for Portugal, it was pleasing to see so many of our players being happy. I did think it was a bit strange that there were still some people who we’re making statements about a poor performance from Özil, because from the few highlights I saw of the game, he looked to have made quite an impact in the team. I’m not sure if it happened in the whole game, but it looked like Mesut was positioned on the right hand side of the front three, which if it was the case is an interesting consideration for him for The Arsenal in future. He should always be one to float across the front line with a free role, but having him cut inside from the right more often is definitely something I’d like to see him do more of next season (not that he didn’t do that much this season just gone, but I’d love to see him do it even more).

You’ve got to hand it to Portugal though. Along with Spain, they’ve managed to make England fans feel mighty better about the performance against Italy with their implosions. The Portuguese look like Southampton of the nineties. Everything must go through Ronaldo like everything went through Le Tissier. Players know that they just give the ball to Ronaldo and he will do the rest. But the glorious thing is, at the very highest level, no team can be that reliant on one person. I’d almost feel sorry for Ronaldo and the pressure of a nation he has if, y’know, he wasn’t Ronaldo n’that.

And finally from me for today: how much would you pay for a Thomas Müller? I mean actually pay. What a fantastic and versatile player that I only wish was born in France, because Arsene eats those kind of transfers up for breakfast and he’d probably have been an Arsenal player for five or six years by now.

Anyway, enough of this pointless daydreaming, I’m off to learn something about management.

Season review: did the attack cost us the league?

Today’s blog is my final one of the season for an overall review of specific areas of the team and, whilst the first three were relatively lengthy, I don’t feel like making this a ‘War and Peace’ analysis of the front line.

This is mainly in part down to the fact that the ‘feel good factor’ still exists amongst Arsenal fans. We’ve won the FA Cup just over a week ago, we’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of Anfield 89 yesterday, and the spirits every seem to be high. So I’m loathed to take on board too much negativity and dish it out to you in any kind of volume at such a good time to be a Gooner.

Let’s also not forget the fact that this season has already seen a concentrated and rather drawn out series of collective sighs when talking about our front line, as we have seen a league title slip from our grasp, due to a manager unwilling to strengthen in that much needed position for two transfer windows. Where he once collected strikers, he now covets creative midfielders, so it seems.

Everyone has talked enough about the issues, including myself, so I’m going to try to focus on the positives of our front line. Because there are positives. Injury aside, Theo Walcott looked like he could continue his fantastic form of 2012/13, had injury not struck him after being played so intensively when back from injury. His season may have been ‘cameotastic’ in the most part, but he still contributed to some good displays during that period of time, which should bode well for next season. It would be a delight to see what he and Özil could achieve together if given an extended run of a dozen or so games. He has the pace, he has the finishing ability and whilst Santi did excel in the Özil role before Mesut’s arrival, we’ve already seen (right at the beginning of the season) what could happen when Theo and Mesut are put together. Think Sunderland away, where Theo was put through three times in the first half and had he had his scoring boots on that day, it would have been a rout.

Perhaps that feeling of ‘what might have been’ is a common theme across all of our front line. After all, the Ox was a preferred starter on the right wing for the first game of the season against Villa, which was a heck of a statement by the manager that he thought the season might be a good one for him. Who knows what kind of Ramseyesque form Oxlade-Chamberlain might have exhibited had he not picked up that knee ligament injury. As it was, he returned to the team and put in some stellar displays at an important time, dominating both Cyrstal Palace and Bayern Munich away games. Arsene says he will become a central midfielder eventually, and we certainly have seen evidence of that, but I suspect his punctuated season last time out May have extended his apprenticeship in the attacking three positions and we’ll see more of him there next season too.

On the left we have flitted between Cazorla and Podolski throughout the season, both square pegs in round holes to a degree, but both able to play that position to some effect. Cazorla’s flexibility affords him the ability to be effective in any of three positions across the attacking four (if you include the Özil ‘in the hole’ role) but we’ve also seen that his flexibility has allowed Mesut to move around the pitch more freely at times. I think to that Everton FA Cup match when Santi found himself in the centre supplying Özil on the left for the first goal, or the cup game against the Spuds when he leathered in Gnabry’s pass whilst timing his run to appear on the left.

Podolski is an entirely different enigma and one that I don’t think any Arsenal fan will ever understand. He is 100% end product and that is both delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Arshavin was a bit like that; an ‘all or nothing’ style player but, unlike the German, he was nowhere near efficient enough and after a couple of seasons was soon feeling the burden of crowd disappointment on his shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Poldi. We all love his personality, his goals, his style when scoring. In fact, if you’re like me you’re praying that he could just give an extra 30% more to his game, he’d be one of the worlds best. It doesn’t have to be through technical ability – we know he doesn’t have that in spades – but even if it was in application and a bit more drive, he’d quickly find himself undroppable by the manager. Still, he’s shown us some fantastic goals and he is certainly a scorer in big games too, as he’s proved in his two seasons at the club. I hope he stays for next season, as he most certainly does have a place, especially with the return he gives the team in goals.

So, finally, let’s have a look at the position at the top of the tree. Currently held by Olivier Giroud but with small cameos from Bendtner and Sanogo. And when I say small, I really do mean small. Bendtner has played in a tiny proportion of games and still managed to score, but Sanogo is yet to break his duck, despite looking a bit of a gangly handful at times. Oddly enough, his overall performances haven’t been that bad, he just looks like he is nowhere near ready for the first team and one hopes that this little foray into the starting eleven fold hasn’t damaged his confidence. It doesn’t seem to have. He seems to be a confident sort of chap. Not Niklas Bendtner confident, thankfully, but enough to ensure his mind remains strong in the face of adversity. As for Bendtner, he helped set us on the way to victory against Hull, but ultimately this season has been more about finding out which stupid stunt he has pulled off this week and quite frankly, most of us are glad to see the back of him.

So to Giroud my thoughts now turn as I wrap up this blog. Yet another enigma in our side. A player capable of that deft touch and finish against West Ham only four odd weeks ago, yet still able to drag the ball wide from just outside the six yard box, as I seem to recall him doing against United at home. He is a strong centre forward who looks like his hair holds him up in the wind when the ball is put in front of him to chase, but he has still managed to convert twenty-two of his chances this season. There will be many that will question whether any half decent striker in that Arsenal team wouldn’t be able to bag between 15-20 goals a season, but I think that does a bit of a disservice to him, as he is not just a goalscorer within the team. His deft back heel to give Ramsey his cup winning goal is testament to the additional role as supplier that Giroud plays. He is certainly not without his faults, and I certainly hope priority number one is for another player to compliment his attributes rather than match them with some improvement, but to look at his season as a whole and not agree that he has improved would be wrong in my opinion.

Of all of the areas of the pitch where the team did not quite match what is expected of them, the front three would be one that I would point out as being the stand out this season just past. It has by no stretch of the imagination been an outright failure, to say such things would be incredibly harsh, but it has not quite delivered enough to give us the league title that we all craved so much but ultimately fell short.

More pace needed. That’s for sure. Injuries may have robbed us of that at times during the season, but the failure to address that at a time when we could have done so in January should go down as one of Arsene’s major mistakes of the season. Sure, the addition of a pacey striker would not have led to us conceding less goals in some of those big games, but you don’t need to win all your big games, as victories against Swansea, Stoke and Southampton earlier this year would have given us the extra seven points to be level with the Champions.

Some positives, but certainly some addressing of the faults is needed in the summer, if we are to win the league. See you tomorrow.

West Brom: Testimonial feel with fourth already secured

Yesterday’s performance at home to West Brom had all the hallmarks of a  testimonial match. The Emirates was bathed in sunshine for the most part of the afternoon and the Arsenal players were afford a relatively pain-free afternoon of football with which to wave off the home support for this season as the last home game came to a close on this seasons proceedings.

It’s hard to argue that the home form hasn’t been anything but pretty good this season. Undefeated in the Premier League throughout, except for the extreme circumstances of the first game of the season against Villa. A shocking Antony Taylor performance aside and we might have seen an unbeaten Arsenal on our home turf this campaign. So whilst the score line only reflects a narrow win, it was a win nonetheless and it was one in which we were comfortable for the most part of yesterday’s game against the Baggies. Indeed, when Giroud nodded home his 22nd goal of the season relatively early on in the match, one did wonder if the floodgates would be crow-barred open and the fans being treated to a cricket score before we head off to Wembley in two weeks time.

That we never managed to penetrate Ben Foster’s goal thereafter probably has more to do with a combination of some good saves from the potential England World Cup stopper, an Arsenal team knowing that this game was fairly meaningless given the security afforded to us after the Everton vs Moneychester City game, as well as the belief from our West Midland opponents that they are probably safe for another season. Barring an Arsenal ‘MEGA COLLAPSE’ against Norwich next week, that’s probably not a wholly unfounded perspective.

It’s difficult to mark too many players out as having really amazing performances yesterday, because it just felt like we had ‘done enough’ to win the game yesterday. In the first half we suffocated West Brom through manipulating possession and only fashioning chances when we had really good passages of play. You could tell from watching the team that they could turn it up a notch if they needed to, but with a big match looming on the horizon, going into tackles full-bloodied would achieve nothing but a potential injury or card resulting in no FA Cup final opportunity for said player. Podolski, Giroud and Ozil all had some chances, whilst Santi blazed over from a well worked effort on the edge of the box, but the name of the game was to retain the ball and we did that with consummate ease in the first half.

Pepe Mel clearly had a bit of an ear bashing in the second half, because the West Brom that appeared after the interval looked a slightly different proposition than the one that trotted around in the sunshine before the interval. They looked a little bit more spritely, had more of a spring in their step and even fashioned a couple of saves from a Szczesny that must have felt he could have set up a deck chair and a light reflecting device to see if he could start on his summer tan early. Indeed, when you look at the end of match stats and see that West Brom managed to rack up 11 attempts on goal, you have to think that eight or nine of those must have come in the second half alone.

We may have spent a little bit more time on the back foot than us fans would have liked the team to, but I never really got the sense that the team couldn’t just up it a bit if they needed to and, whilst the score remained 1-0, there was no real need to. We’ve seen this Arsenal team remain largely in control of all home games against opponents outside of the top six or seven teams and yesterday reflected what we’ve seen all season.

If we want to be challenging for the league next season, we probably just need to make sure we’re a little bit more ruthless against the bigger teams at home, but by-and-large our ability to ensure that there’s a zero against our name on the Emirates big screen has ensured that we’ve been able to dispatch many teams that visit us in North London. When you look back on the form of the Chelski’s and Moneychester City’s that have won the league, they build up long undefeated home records. If we can build our own record of not being defeated at home next season, you sense that we will have a real chance of once again having a go at the league.

So the players waved off the fans after the final whistle – some clearly doing so for the last time – and everyone with an interest in The Arsenal went home happy on this bank holiday Monday.

Now we wait for the big one (because Norwich is even less relevant to us). Wembley.

See you in the morrow.

Don’t be satisfied with where we’re at, but be contented with consistency

I watched yesterday’s game between Everton and Moneychester City with quite some interest, as I’m sure you did too, because the outcome would most definitely have a bearing on our season and also on today’s game as well. The eventual result was one that has afforded us an afternoon in the sunshine watching The Arsenal taking on West Bromwich Albion knowing that the result, short of providing a welcome sign off to the home fans this season, is relatively meaningless.

It will add a little bit of carnival atmosphere to The Emirtaes today methinks, knowing that the bare minimum standard that Arsene Wenger sets has been achieved for what is now the seventeenth season in a row under Arsene Wenger. And whilst I like many other Arsenal fans, facetiously cheer our ‘fourth place trophy’, there is no denying that the consistency of what is now deemed as a ‘bare minimum’ is still being achieved. That we have even got ourselves into this position that we’ve left it until the last couple of games before the end of the season, given that six weeks ago we were all looking at a possible title tilt, should probably just be saved for another blog discussion when the season has ended and the dust has settled.

For now, let’s just be contented with the fact that we have Champions League Football back at the Emirates in 2014/15, hopefully going beyond a two-legged affair in August.

So what should Le Boss be doing with his team selection today then, given that he doesn’t have to field a strong side to secure Champions League football? Should he go all rookie and field a team of squad players, or should he tell the first team to go out there and secure two wins in the final league games of the season to pick up 79 points and look back on this season as a mild improvement on last by way of points tally, if not actual league position?

I’m in favour of a full strength squad today actually, and I think Arsene will provide that to the last home crowd of the season, as a send off and hopefully a continuation of our recent form. The return of Ramsey and Ozil has shown a notable shift in our fortunes and we’ve looked like a team driven by purpose in the last stages of this Premier League campaign. Momentum is everything in football and Wenger is long enough in the tooth to know the importance that two more wins will give to the spring in the step of the team come Cup Final Day. Heck, even the Invincibles great run started the season before we actually went unbeaten, so if ever you want to take your cue from a successful formula, that team would be it.

Our form has been superb of late. Three goals on the last three occasions and, although I’m not usually one to make specific scoreline predictions, I do fancy a win by three clear goals today. Perhaps a 3-0 or a 4-1. Against Newcastle the team got the goals to effectively seal off the first half and then topped up the goal difference in the second, never really getting out of second gear, so I sense that we might see a similar game today. The back four will most likely remain the same barring perhaps a role for Jenkinson to replace the injured Sagna (perhaps an early indicator of what we’ll see next season) and I would have thought Ramsey and Arteta will form the basis of the deeper lying midfield positions. In front of them will be a trio of Cazorla, Ozil and Podolski with Giroud most likely to start-up front.

It’s a team that would make sense to me. There’s no need for resting players with over ten days to go until the final. Even if the match was in a week’s time it still shouldn’t make too much of a difference. When you’re playing in a high stakes match and you’ve had a week off to prepare, you can’t really have any excuses for fatigue or motivation. So I think we’ll almost certainly see the strongest side possible, with Arsene making use of his three subs on the usual 75 minutes, which will mean exits for Poldi, Mesut and Olivier (you heard it here first!).

As for West Brom, they will probably feel that they’ve done enough to stay up this year and I’d probably agree to that, especially with there now only being one relegation spot that will swallow a team next week. Norwich won’t get any change from Chelski today, which will mean they must beat us on Sunday week and hope Sunderland slip up next week. But with that extra point that West Brom have, they have a degree of security that should ensure that today isn’t life or death, so it wouldn’t surprise me if today’s game has a real ‘end of season’ feeling to it.

Our form is good, the ‘feel good’ spirit seems to have returned to the squad and the players are showing that they’re up for this final push and hopefully the cup final in two weeks time. Things are looking much rosier for The Arsenal right now. Let’s hope they give us a nice send off at lunchtime.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

We fear the players’ fear of failure. But we shouldn’t

It comes to something when even the Wigan Athletic manager is trying to ‘out mind game’ Arsene, doesn’t it?

Uwe Rosler has already begun to turn the pressure screw by claiming that Wigan are already winners – regardless of the result – and that Arsenal can only lose it themselves. To an extent he’s probably right; we’re the Premier League ‘big boys’ with the expectation of the whole world that we’ll roll over ‘plucky Wigan’, but as we all know that tag of favourites will count for nothing come 5.07pm. The whole world will be behind the Latics and we have to expect that.

And look, under normal circumstances, if this week were a Premier League game against Wigan at home, we’d expect to win, right? Even if it was at the DW Stadium we’d expect to win. So why, given that it’s going to be played in London with vastly more Gooners than Wigan fans (effectively turning it in to a pseudo home game anyway), are we all so worried?

Fear of failure. The implosions this season have hit us and hit us hard. The team has shown a mental fragility that we thought had been consigned to the history books. We fear the players’ fear of failure and freezing up against a team that will undoubtedly be weaker than us technically, but will attempt to combat that with drive and pressure on Saturday to even the score.

Failure is not an option and because the margins are…well…there aren’t any margins, this game feels like it’s all or nothing for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. Of course we know that’s not true, we know there are five league games remaining and an opportunity to secure Champions League again for the nine millionth time, but I would guess that if we lose on Saturday just about every Gooner will be looking to Stephen Hawking to manufacture us lots of regional black holes to be swallowed up in. There will have to be a media blackout of millennium big proportions for Arsenal fans and Twitter will certainly be a ghostly place. Well, I certainly won’t be venturing there for a few days afterwards if the worst happens.

It’s that fear of mental freezing the players could experience that we are worried about, so when an article which features Santi Cazorla supposedly saying that he’ll re-evaluate his position in two years time because he wants to win trophies comes out, you raise your eyes at the timing.

Of course, I don’t doubt that he probably undertook the interview a few weeks back and it’s been saved until Arsenal seem at their lowest ebb, but it doesn’t help the fragile feeling many of us have and the current emotional state we’re in when it comes to The Arsenal. And of course, as a Spaniard, it’s natural for him to talk about returning home one day. He comes from a large Spanish family and his time in England, to my mind anyway, is always going to be more of an extended stay than a permanent lifestyle change. But ideally you’d rather players kept those things to themselves. Actually, although we like hearing from them, half the time I do wish that the media weren’t allowed to interview players at all.

Santi also talked about the mentality of the players improving and that we have to believe we can win more, which if we’re all honest we’re questioning ourselves right now, but hearing it from a key player doesn’t fill me with the greatest of glee. Of course, the press have hyperbolised the situation as is their remit, the article itself not really being as damning attack on his club as they would have you believe. But there are some snippets in there which suggest that all is not right. I’m sure Cazorla is probably going to get himself in Per Mertesacker fine territory, but we’ll not hear anything from the club, hopefully they will respond in the best possible way. On the pitch.

That’s what Santi has to do now. If he leathers in a 30 yard screamer to set us on the way to a comprehensive victory sending us into the final, then has a huge contribution to the final himself and helps to win it for us, then he will be the master of his own destiny when it comes to winning silverware and his own questions about mentality and trophies will have been answered. If he under-performs like he and many of his teammates did against Everton last Saturday, he can only look at his own failings and see why he hasn’t won anything at The Arsenal.

Anyway, time for a bit more positivity before I knock off for the day, and that is we’re just two days away from a welcome return to Wembley. Come on Arsenal!

Santi and Aaron add continuity and confidence ahead of Chelski

Continuity breeds consistency and yesterday we had another example that mistakes of the past made by the upper echelons at Highbury House appear to be becoming a thing of the past, as two key players committed their future to the club in the shape of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey.

It’s fantastic news for two players that have become an integral part of the first team this season and I for one am glad that we’ve tied down another two players on long-term deals. It’s good to see the club reacting to the success that players make on the pitch, rather than the potential that could be shown in seasons to come.

I think it also shows how far Ramsey’s stock has risen, because he only signed a new deal just over a year ago as part of that ‘British core’ but perhaps this is just reflective of the importance he has had on the team this season. The hope is that after three months out injured he can return to his lung-busting pre-Christmas self and guide us towards some silverware come May. If we’re going to be successful in our secret quest (you know, that one that involves two trophies that absolutely nobody is talking about us for), then we need him back quickly and we need him to be bagging some goals in the absence of Theo.

The Santi signature is also a welcome one for a player who almost instantly slotted in to the team and has made himself a star at the club over the last couple of seasons. His vision, his passing, his close control – all sublime at times and with our £42million playmaker Özil out injured, it says a lot about him that many (me included) have been upset but not devastated, because Santi can fill in that role just like he did last season. My favourite Santi moment is a pretty innocuous one actually, as it came in the 6-1 hammering of Southampton at home last season, where the wee Spaniard was surrounded by a few Southampton players as the ball was booted high into the air. He watched it all the way, saw it come down an Velcro-like controlled and spun away from two players. Absolutely sublime and there were audible gasps around me as a number of fans realised we had some player on our hands here. More of that to come please, Santiago!

With the potential for a number of exits happening in the summer (Sagna, Vermaelen, Bendtner, perhaps even Poldi?) it is vital that the club make statements about the core of the team and by rewarding those players that have had such a meaningful impact on our season, it’s also a public statement made by the club that we have no intention of having a mass-destabilisation of Arsenal by a number of high-profile players disappearing over a couple of transfer windows. It started with Theo, but the club is now showing that they aren’t to fond of summer transfer sagas and don’t want a repeat of players winding down their contracts – Sagna aside that is!

Hopefully these announcements will also provide a suitable confidence boost to add to the existing pile following the win at the local neighbours on Sunday. Chelski expectedpy got through their Champions League tie with minimal fuss against Galatasaray and with at least three days to rest up before we play them, I don’t expect them to be too fatigue when they take to the field on Saturday lunchtime, so any additional positives we can take from this week are welcome in my book.

In other news, the youth side lost out in what sounds like an absolute belter of a game to Barcelona in the UEFA Youth League, 4-2 at the Camp Nou. It’s always nice to see any Arsenal side progress in any competition, but first and foremost we want to see some impressive displays for the future and by the sounds of it Serge Gnabry impressed, bagging the first Arsenal goal to bring the teams level. Of course, we all know that ‘The Arsenal away’ of playing football is drilled into the teams across all age groups, as it is with ‘The Arsenal Penalty Taking Way: by Mesut Özil’ with Kris Olsson missing a spot kick early in the game. You can’t teach this stuff you know!

On a serious note, I think it’s good that the team is getting this international experience and it’s great to hear there were some good performances to speak of, even if I’ve had my questions before about the purpose of buying in young players to blood them into potential cash cows in years to come. It’s not unquestionable that a couple of players might break through into the first team over the next couple of years, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see any more than three players break through, so I always take these types of game with a pinch of salt and look to see one or two stand out performers that could be rocking up at an Emirates Stadium near you sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway, that’s all I fancy mustering today, but in true marketing fashion, I’d like to leave you with a teaser for the weekend, as Ben is putting together a special ‘mega blog’ for your viewing pleasure. More to come over the coming days.

Southampton: was always going to be tough, but we don’t help ourselves

Yesterday’s game is a difficult one for me to pass comment on, given that I was unable to actually watch the action against Southampton, on account of having a rubbish computer that never streams properly. Oh, and being slap-bang in the middle of a shopping centre when the match kicked off, of course.

I did catch pieces of the game on the radio which, by the sounds of it, I tuned in at the right time having missed almost all of the first half. It sounds as if the Arsenal players did the same. Barely any shots registered in anger, some kamikaze defending (Monreal the key culprit by the sounds of it) and a sloppy goal conceded at the back post by Jose Fonte.

The team must have clearly have had a stern talking to for. The manager, ‘angry’ Steve and probably amongst themselves, because the post-halftime oranges did the trick and we were level within three minutes of the restart. Olivier Giroud with a neat finish after Sagna cut back to him inside the six yard box. Minutes later Santi put us ahead and, perhaps this is because we have been used to the team showing that they can close out matches, I thought that we would ‘kick on’ and notch another impressive away win.

But the game was not one that sounded like The Arsenal we have become accustomed to, because Lallana bought Southampton level minutes after that and the match turned into a slug fest. Özil hit the bar, Szczesny kept us in it, Flamini went mad and got himself sent off for a reckless two footed tackle. He does like those (always has throughout his career), does the Flamster, so I must admit I have been expecting him to get a red for a challenge like for some time. In modern football you simply can’t tackle with two feet and this one silly act will see us miss him for all of the big upcoming games. Right when we need him most. The thing is though, isn’t it his terrier and slightly crazy personality on the pitch that makes him what he is? So do we really want him to change into a shrinking violet?

Looking at this from the cold light of day, as well as the fact the we didn’t lose against a tough opponent, I can’t feel as despondent as some of the people that I watched mope their way across my Twitter timeline yesterday. You’re not going to go through the whole season winning eery game and every team experiences tough matches where they’re just not at the races. But the important thing for The Arsenal is that we respond on Sunday against Crystal Palace. If we pick up three points against The Eagles at the weekend then we still set ourselves up in a good position to go back top, because one of City or Chelski will drop points against each other.

There is a sense of disappointment that we’ve essentially wasted an entire half of football where, had we been at the races, we could have put ourselves in a good position to pick up all three points. It’s a worry that we just didn’t click and there have been a few warning signs of late that Arsene will be keen to iron out I’m sure.

One thing a number of people seem to be pointing out, which is the Flamini-Arteta base of our midfield doesn’t see to be working. I could see why Arsene went for it – especially if you’re playing a team that presses high from the front and you need outlets for your midfield to provide to the back four – but we definitely seem to miss a player that can travel with the ball or move it front to back quicker. Rosicky, Wilshere and Rambo all fit that category and so you have to wonder what difference it would have made if all three (or at least one) would have been fit. It sounds ominous that Ramsey had a ‘little setback’ as Arsene declared after the match, but the noises coming from the journos close to the Arsenal camp seem to suggest that it will only be a week or two extra he is out and not one of those six weeks jobs. We just have to wait and see on that one.

A quick note on Podolski, who got six minutes of injury time to make an impact, which is no time at all if we’re all completely honest with ourselves. As each match passes, it’s hard not to accept that there is something going on there. His impact for the last twenty minutes of a game has already been telling against West Ham, so why is he being ignored? Perhaps Arsene already has his replacement lined up, as last night he made a vague comment about us maybe surprising a few people over the next couple of days. As always, we seem to be leaving it to the last minute, which does make you wonder if Arsene has decided to emulate ‘Arry now that he’s not in the league. I hope he’s got something up his sleeve, because we’ve seen what a Reyes, Arshavin and Özil can do to the team.

That’s it from me I’m afraid. Like I said – I haven’t properly watched the game yet and so will have to save further thoughts for another time.

Speak tomorrow.

C

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.

Eddie Hapgood up front? Santi teaches? Arsene signs?

Hello there my fellows and fellowettes, hope all is well? Last night I had a strange dream that Eddie Hapgood was bought back to life by my cousin Mark and he was going to go and play for Arsenal and solve our striking crisis. It was strange for many reasons. Firstly, because he played as a left back for Arsenal, so signing as a centre forward would hardly have solved our striker situation. Supposedly he was quite the robust fellow. Which brings me on to me second reason as to why it was strange, because nobody actually said it was Eddie Hapgood, I just knew it was him. Even though I can’t remember seeing his face anywhere. Thirdly, and most bafflingly of it all, my cousin Mark is a Spuddite, so why he would have any interest in bringing a post World War I Arsenal and England left back into this world from the land of the dead, is quite peculiar indeed.

I never did find out if Arsene took up Mark’s offer of resigning him.

Anyway, back to the real world, which is full of transfer rubbish that I’ll swiftly navigate around and move on, it appears Santi has caused a bit of discomfort to those Spuds fans by holding up a piece of paper asking what the viewer thinks of Tottenham, also questioning what the reader thinks of faecal matter (in slightly more colourful language). Of course the answer is those pesky spuds, but much like ‘Learning to count with Theo’ failed to amuse the lilywhite supporters, ‘Learning to read with Santi’ has caused some distress. Santi, being the thoughtful gentleman that he is, immediately took to his Twitter account last night to apologise for holding up the sign along with Robert Pires.

I guess you could call all of this a bit of a storm in a teacup, but in today’s social media world with pictures, videos and comments going viral quite easily, it is almost par for the course that some people feign some sort of vague disgust at a footballer being asked to hold up a piece of paper that he clearly doesn’t know what is on it. Perhaps the Spuds are just a little bit touchy at the moment, on account of them finding out that actually, they aren’t the greatest team that have ever lived. But whatever the reason, expect ITV to comment on yet more insightment of those poor innocent coin-chucking mongrels from the wrong section of the Seven Sisters road.

In other news, we’ve appointed a new head of high development with a name that is sure to tittilate the younger Arsenal players, as Andries Jonker has been announced as a new arrival from Wolfsburg. He’s headed up Ajax’s youth academy before and will replace Liam Brady. It sounds like a very good appointment, but he’s going to have to get over a few sniggers from some of the boys with that surname I’m sure. Personally, I’d go for a bit of “Rodney you Jonker!”, but I’ve always put a cheap laugh ahead of my football career, which is probably why I never made it. Oh, as well as the fact as I didn’t have the talent and fitness, but mainly the joking thing.

The talk about Arsene signing a new deal is also hotting up, especially after some of his cryptic comments in his pre-match presser on Friday, so most media outlets appear to be upping the column inches with the news that Silent Stan is in the UK to broker a deal for Le Boss.

Perhaps I’ve missed something, but isn’t that the sort of thing Stan put his son on the board for, so that he could get involved in that sort of stuff? Or perhaps Arsene is a ‘special case’ and so needs to be treated as such? Let’s face it, if Arsene gets a call from Kroenke Jnr asking him about his deal, he’d probably tell the young lad that he’s got sleeping bag jackets that are older than he is, so to go and get his dad because the adults need to talk.

Of course that didn’t happen in real life, but in my head Arsene is a ruthless Michael Douglas in Wall Street type character, with Kroenke Jnr being a naive minion.

I think Arsene will sign a new deal and with the team looking like it’s taking shape for the next few years as a side that can compete at the very top, he’d be mad not to want a couple more years at least to see how far he can take them. I think what it does show you, however, is that most people aren’t fussed about being labelled an ‘Arsene Knows’ or ‘Wenger Out’, but are concerned more with a competitive team and, providing Arsene still has fire in his belly for success and we’re competitive, I’ll always get behind him.