Loanees show how fortunes change quickly in football

There’s still another three days before Matchday is upon us and, perhaps unsurprisingly, all is quiet. So quiet, that talk about Cazorla wanting to return to Spain has seen a ripple of interest across the tinternet. Santi grew up near Real Oviedo and has said he’d like to go back there one day before he retires. 

OUTRAGEOUS! ‘CAZORLA WANTS ARSENAL EXIT’ is the story headline I could fire across the blog to see if I can scoop myself a few thousand extra clicks. But we both know that what Cazorla said – he’d like to play for his boyhood club, but it will be difficult to do so in the short term – is something that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. If anything, it’s nice to see a player have an affection for a local team and express a desire to go back and appreciate his roots. I couldn’t imagine something like that being said by a mercenary like…oh, I don’t know…Samir Nasri or somebody like that. 

So let’s have Santi for another three years and then when his star is fading somewhat, but he can still light up his local club, let’s grant him his wish and let him go in peace. That’s my hope anyway. He’s got a few more trophies to try to help us win yet. Hopefully starting with this season.

So yeah, pretty quiet at the moment, so much so that I scrolled into the news archives on the official site this morning, to check out what’s happening with our loanees. The younger players appear to all be getting minutes under their belt, which is always useful from a development perspective, but some of the more senior players out on loan appear to be stagnating somewhat it seems. You know how people say a year is a long time in football? Well nine months is just as long it appears, as you only have to look at both Podolski and Campbell to see how rapidly your stock can fall. Poldi arrived in Italy with a big reputation for goal scoring and a fanfare from the Inter faithful. They had bagged an international champion with a loan deal from another top European team and he would help to steer them towards greater victory. Fast forward from January this year and Poldi is an unused sub against Hellas Verona. 

Poor old Stevie Gooner Oaf, he who so resolutely stood by a player with a fantastic goal scoring record and clear eye for goal, but with little else to warrant his inclusion in the Arsenal or Inter team, is surely on the verge of a return back to Germany in the summer. I’d be surprised if Arsène even sent him a plane ticket as far as London if I’m honest. It’s clear – as the Arsenal team goes from strength to strength – he will not see action in a red and white London shirt ever again. Unless he fancies rocking up at Brentford or Charlton.  It may have seemed a strange move at the time, but it’s hard to argue Arsène’s very sound logic right now. 

We all loved him for his personality and ability to connect with the Arsenal fans, but with each passing match week it appears Lukas is looking more and more like a busted flush.

So too, it appears, does Joel Campbell. Remember how he was the saviour of our offensive problems in the first couple of months of the season? Much gnashing of teeth and exasperated hand gestures were thrown Arsène’s way when he refused to give more game time to the Costa Rican – a player who had excelled during the World Cup – yet he too finds himself an unused sub for Villareal and is at a stage now in which each passing week looks like he’ll probably be moved on permanently. And will there be any return of the gnashing teeth? Doubtful. That new deal he signed was clearly one designed to ensure maximum return on investment from a revenue generation point of view from Arsenal, but once again I doubt you’ll find too many Arsenal fans tutting in the direction of Le Boss methinks, because as Arsenal (actually top flight football fans in general, but we’re only concerned with ourselves so, y’know, what-evs) fans we’re all amateur accountants and a bit of cash for a player out on loan whilst the team is doing fine without him is fine by us.

That’s what victories and success affords you I suppose. Rather than the very convenient “well there’s an option on loan that we’re not even taking advantage of” being used as a sharp stick to beat the manager with, talk turns to how much cash we might get from players out on loan and how that might be invested in the team.

Football is very much a creature of the ‘here and now’ and the old cliches of ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ just serve to emphasise how quickly things change. It’s why the rewards are so high, as are the risks, I suppose. You only have to look at the seemingly inevitable departure of Pelligrini at Moneychester City to see that. So predicting the next generation of talent, of when a player has fulfilled his potential and is ready to become a first team success, is so hard. It’s easy for me, with my ability to forget what I have said six months ago and to seem like the managers decisions are baffling, but for Arsène everything is on record and his mistakes are recorded and replayed by a million eyes. The rise of Francis Coquelin seems obvious now to me (perhaps you too), but if you’d have asked me at the beginning of the season who would make a bigger impact on the first team – Coquelin, Campbell or Podolski – even I with my affection for Le Coq, couldn’t have placed him top of the list. He might not even have made the top two.

Still, at least I’m not the Arsenal manager, eh? Otherwise we’d all probably be in trouble!

That’s enough from me for one day. I have a beautiful sunny day ahead of me that I won’t bother taking advantage of thanks to my role as an office desk jockey. 

Cheerio for now.

horrendous scenes in Italy and Mesut’s high midi-chlorian count

If you could have written a more horrible ending to an England match, would it have been far off from seeing a host of Totteringham players celebrating a goal from the nation with which you were born? That’s what I and many other English-born Arsenal fans had to endure last night, as Andros ‘The Saviour’ Townsend scored an admittedly good goal against a pretty lame Italian team. The scenes then cut to a four-man huddle in which all of Townsend’s fellow Spuddies surrounded him. Not sure if anybody else did; perhaps all of the other players hate the Spuds as much as we do? Here’s hoping.

So that was my evening unfortunately. The Management smirked a little when reminding me that despite my profession that I hate internationals, I still watch them, to which all I had in my locker was “it’s football tho, innit”. But she’s right to a point I guess. I should stay true to my feelings and ignore their existence completely.

I’ll admit there was a bit of intrigue in seeing how Theo would perform up top against the Italians but, given that he was subbed off on 54 minutes having only had a handful of touches, I think it’s fairly safe to say that particular hope was one that was quickly doused with realism very early in the game. He just wasn’t effective at all and although he was strangely played as a number 10, he still could have done more to show for the ball, at the very least. But I still understand that when you don’t play to a players strengths, you rarely get a top notch performance. Theo’s problems of not being versatile enough have been his undoing this season, but last night it was that Woy just wanted to shoe him in to a formation that only works if you have players with the vision to find him peeling off the shoulder of the last defender. I saw Rooney find him with the perfect Theo ball once in the first half and but for a great block it probably would have been 1-0, so whilst we can roll our eyes at the fact he only had 14 touches, we should also roll our eyes at the inadequacy of the Englabd coaching staff not to realise that it was never going to work.

But hey, at least he and Gibbs appear to have come off without any issues and so hopefully we have a decent squad to call on against the Scousers this weekend, with Danny Welbeck apparently even looking like he’s recovered from a knock. All of this means that Arsène has some squad selection choices to make and the official website is running a story on how he does it. Unsurprisingly there is nothing that will stop the presses – choose the team the night before, talk to the medical staff to see if anyone has a col or a knock, see who performs well in training, etc – but it’s still worth 30 seconds of your time to read I think. Even if only to wash away the grubbiness of having to endure international football for over a week.

There’s also a story in which Özil says that he, Alexis and Cazorla see things on the football pitch before they actually happen, in some sort of Anakin Skywalker midi-chlorians count kind of way. Obviously I added in that last bit because I have an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars, but it is nonetheless interesting that Mesut has singled out those two specifically. All three have impressed in different parts of the season and all three are certainly players with more vision than most in the squad. There seems to have been some mention in some quarters of the Arsenal observing world that neither Özil or Alexis have been able to peak as yet, but I put that down to injury or fatigue rather than any kind of inability to play with each other. Arsène places so much emphasis on balance and le’harmony in the side, that I don’t think he’d be playing both in the same side so often if he wasn’t convinced of their combined benefits to the team, so I suspect we’ll soon see both at full flow and firing on all cylinders in the same matches together. It just needs time.

So we’ve managed to wrestle free of the horrible grip of the Interlull and now we can look ahead towards the game at the weekend, one in which it would be amazing to win, not least to make Phil Neville look like a bit of a plum for predicting we’ll not get top four and our form will most likely start to fall apart over the coming weeks. Come on Arsenal, let’s make a plum out of the stupider Neville brother.

Catch you tomorrow.

Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

all is well

Liverpool and Chelski out, City all but gone against Barca and Arsenal remain the only hope for British success in the Champions League.

How did that happen?

I’m not complaining though. Certainly not as much as Chelski players were, apparently, last night. I’ve seen plenty of friends comment on the antics of the West Londoners, but I’m not surprised, a horrible club.

So pardon me for activating schadenfreude mode and having a little Barry Chuckle at a team who have spent the best part of a decade financially doping themselves to the top. Then relying on more slices of luck when they actually won the thing than any team I’ve ever seen in my life.

But matters need to move away from Google searching for player interviews with the words “we can win the quadruple” and towards the wonderful world of The Arsenal. It’s a world of super awesomeness and at this very moment in time is one in which we have an FA Cup semi final to go, plus a run-in for the Premier League where we could see us get third if we can maintain our momentum, starting with West Ham this weekend.

I’m certainly not counting my chickens because there is a lot of winning that needs to be done, but if the best pose or scenario does happen and we finish third and win the FA Cup, all of a sudden this season of inconsistency represents genuine progress. On paper at least. I mean yeah, we haven’t even got close to challenging for the league, but last season was one in which we finished fourth and won the FA Cup, so third and the FA Cup (again, those chickens remain firmly in their coop) would be an improvement that we can all celebrate, especially given the decimation of the squad in the earlier parts of the season.

The positive signs are there though. Arsène has options. The bench has never looked so strong and even back-to-back hammies (Gabriel and The Ox) won’t see our team drastically weakened for the next couple of weeks. I’ve always bemoaned Arsène’s lack of desire to rotate effectively and yes, perhaps he still only does it because we are constantly picking up knocks, but by Jove we’ve now got one heck of a squad for him to call in reinforcements on. 

Every game there’s an argument to be made on the first eleven and coupled with our form at the moment, it means that every player knows they have a chance of playing and knows that they must perform when they are given it. Look at Cazorla. He’s in the form of his life. Özil has got back into the team after injury and looks a different player. I’m not a stats man – reading this rubbish I brain dump on this blog every day will have proven that to you already – but I know what I see and on Monday night Özil battled to win the ball through making tackles three times I counted. I wondered if he’d ever had to make a tackle before he joined The Arsenal. But he’s adapting his game to the English league and showing that he’s more than capable of being a success.

Giroud was the ‘big man on campus’ last season, but this time around he can be dropped for a crucial FA Cup away game to Manchester United. Do you think that thought would have even spent a millisecond in Arsène’s mind if that would have happened a year ago? Not a chance. But now he knows he has to perform, or he’ll find himself a cosy seat next to Theo, who I haven’t even mentioned yet because he’s barely featured all season. 

As usual I have no real underlying message to today’s blog. It’s just my thoughts and feelings as far as Arsenal are concerned right now. The feelings are good. I won’t deny the fragility of those feelings should we trip and stumble at this crucial time of the season, but right now you have to admire the team and the manager, both of whom are doing everything that is asked of them. Winning football matches.

And all is well.

Gritty three points

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game with Crystal Palace felt like a really big result, in the context of our Premier League season.

There were many people I spoke to during the week who were pretty convinced that we were going to go to Selhurst Park and sweep aside a Palace side who have had a wee bit of resurgence under Alan Pardew, but who have stuttered ever-so-slightly in the immediate past, but I never really believed that the game would be anything other than a challenging 95 minutes (although where the referee worked out those five minutes of injury time was a bit of a mystery to me).

Last season when we played Palace it was anything but plain sailing, but so it was that the home team with their partisan home support, were able to influence the game much more than many would have predicted. Under Pardew you can see that they try to press hard and fast and at times we made it difficult for ourselves with some slack passing of our own, but you can always tell the difference between the top sides and those that languish further down towards the foot of the table. Crystal Palace may not be relegation fodder at this moment in time – nor it must be said do I think they will be come May – but you could tell there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in their forward line.

Pardew is no mug and knew exactly how he could potentially get some joy against our team, targeting Monreal with Zaha’s pace in the first half and looking to get Gayle isolated against Chambers too. In the second half Chambers was run ragged by Bolasie on our right hand side and it was on that side that Palace were able to get the goal they scored in injury time, plus the Murray header off the ball with seconds to go. But again, the fact we were able to take our chances and Palace weren’t able to make the most of the 22 attempts they have, perhaps shows why we are fighting at the top of the league. We have the players to make the difference.

That’s what Welbeck did in forcing the Palace full back to make a challenge on six minutes that led to the penalty we scored. And no Ray Houghton, no Robbie Savage, despite your clear desperation to find fault in decisions given to Arsenal, it was on the line and so is a penalty. Calm down and perhaps stick to playing golf in your retirement from the game.

That cutting edge in the final third means everything, and it was that with which we capitalised through the second goal, a fine through ball from Özil (I think) finding Welbeck and his shot fell kindly to Giroud to tap home. The Frenchman is developing a lovely habit of being in the right place at the right time and is doing it on a fabulously consistent basis at the moment. Long may his form continue.

Long may our overall form continue too, actually, because we’re stringing together a number of wins that are building some real momentum. With United losing, plus Southampton and Liverpool playing each other today, we find ourselves in third and with a run of matches in the league in which you would expect us to pick plenty of points up from. Victory against Everton next Sunday, followed by an away success to QPR during the midweek after that game, will see us firmly secure a good footing on which to build success in our season. Success for Arsenal would be a trophy and securing Champions League football. We still have a lot to do to get that trophy (I don’t fancy United away I have to say. They will be pants, but they’ve made it an art how they can perpetually skank us in every competition), but if we pick up 12 points from the next four games, I’d wager we’d be halfway there to achieving the Champions League objective.

We’re looking good at the moment. We’re grinding out games when we need to, like today, but we’re also adding the occasional bit of swagger to some of our performances. That’s the Arsenal that we want to see.

Now, bring on Monaco…

Santi or Alexis: player of the season so far?

Chelski, eh? A deplorable club with a racist captain and selection of racist fans. But did we expect anything else? It’s like somebody telling you that politicians don’t always tell the truth. No sh*t Sherlock.

Anyway, the less time spent on that odious team the better, so let’s talk about something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few days:

If you had to pick a player of the season right now, would you choose Santi Cazorla or Alexis Sanchez?

Good one, eh? I could have chosen one or two other candidates and, with his form looking very good at the moment Giroud might force his way in by the end of the season, but there’s no doubt in my mind (and if assume you’re too) that the stand out contenders this season so far are the tiny little Spaniard and the diminutive Chilean.

I really can’t distinguish between the two, which one has been the outstanding performer this season, which is a real positive in an otherwise ‘okayish’ season at best.

Cazorla has looked unplayable since December. He’s had the odd game in which he’s not been at his best, but those games have tended to see the whole team under-perform, so you can’t shift all the blame in his direction. At Momeychester City, plus against Middlesbrough this last weekend, he has been particularly splendid in his play.

I don’t know whether it’s this deeper-lying playmaker role that he’s carved out for himself in the absence of other midfielders due to injuries, but he has been able to dictate play so much better when starting from deeper in our team. I love how he can retain the ball from opponents, shifting it from one foot to the other in a seemingly never-ending spiral that dazzles midfielders on the other side. The run he made – irregardless of whether it went anywhere – at City to give breathing space to our defence by taking on about five players before having the ball smashed at his face whilst on the floor, was everything that makes him exciting to watch. In that game in particular, we saw how important it is to have a player who can retain possession and also still find a teammate with a pass. Against the Spuds he wasn’t able to impact the game and coupled with the poor retention of the ball across the whole team, it contributed massively to our downfall, as we weren’t able to provide that same breathing space for our under siege back four like we did in Manchester.

It’s why I think that this possible new game plan of the team – score the early goal and soak up pressure – is one that can only be successful when you have players on the pitch with the technical ability to hold on to the ball. The immediate names in my mind that immediately spring up are Giroud, Özil and Cazorla. If those three can relieve a defence constantly soaking up pressure, by holding on to the ball longer, we have a greater opportunity to be successful in those types of games.

But what about Alexis? Shouldn’t be get the nod against a resurgent Santi? After all, he’s been a one-man match winner at times this season and the fact that he’s bagged so many goals in his first season, just shows how important he is. He’s still getting used to playing in the English Premier League and he’ll not have experienced too many challenges like the robust tackle he got from Upson against Leicester just over a week ago.

Like Cazorla, his dribbling ability is fantastic and matched with lightning pace, he’s been a godsend for us this season. The goal he scored at home against City was one that emphasises his overall technical ability and he has shown that he’s a natural finisher when he gets the chance too.

His goals haven’t been as prolific in coming over the last few games, but he has been injured and he still looked a wee bit rusty against Middlesbrough, but the speed of thought he showed with Özil with some of their quick interchanges of passes was a delight to watch. With it widely recognised that Özil struggled after the World Cup and was then injured, I am hoping that this weekend’s displays from both of our big money signings was the start of something beautiful, because both are capable of big things at Arsenal.

Arsène has spoken to the official site about how quickly Alexis has settled in, citing the fact that he’s played in different leagues, his desire to play for Arsenal, as well as the many Spanish speaking players in the league, as a key to his instant success. But I think – and hope – that this is the start of a glittering career at the club. His energy and drive is an inspiration to some of our players and, perpetual Arsenal injury crisis aside, with someone like him in the team and a more consistent squad for Arsène to choose from, I do get the sense that he can help the players to elevate their own games more and more as he gets used to the language and his teammates.

I still haven’t given an answer, have I? That’s probably because I really can’t pick between the two. If I had a gun to my head I’d probably go for Santi, but that’s mainly because I love a ‘resurrection’ story and the idea that Santi wasn’t going to get games this season with the talent we have available was always going to be a ridiculous notion, because he’s that talented that he was always going to force his way into the managers plans.

My mind may change of course, as there are plenty of games still left to play, but right now keeping those two fit for the remainder of the season seems like the best possible chance we have of Champions League football and winning a trophy.

Who’s your pick?

Santi the quarterback dominates Boro

Arsenal are a funny old team, eh? After labouring in the North London Derby, then huffing and puffing against a Leicester team with bodies behind the ball, they faced a confident Middlesbrough team and simply swotted them aside yesterday.

I have to hold my hands up and admit I didn’t see that coming. I assumed – wrongly it seems – that we would be in for more of the same as the Leicester game. I thought Boro would be organised, hard to break down and we’d have to scrap right until the last minute.

That it was the score line that flattered to deceive the North Easterners, should tell anybody who didn’t watch the game just how comfortable an afternoon we had. Indeed, it felt like if we really wanted to, I mean really wanted to, we could have won that game by about five or six, something Dave had assured me would happen yesterday before a ball was even kicked. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to his narrative; the Blackburn blip a few seasons ago aside, we don’t tend to get beaten in the FA Cup at home, especially to lower league opposition.

You could tell how in control we were within the first five minutes. The tone of the game was set when Santi drifted into acres of space at least three times in the first five. He had yet another exemplary performance in the ‘quarterback’ role sitting deep and picking passes, but Boro’ simply didn’t pick him up at all at times, which set the tone for the day. Karanka said afterwards that he thought his team perhaps underestimated how difficult repeating the feat of the Etihad was, but I think yesterday’s canter was as much down to Middlesbrough not performing, as it was Arsenal playing superb.

We were superb too. I could reel off the names of players who had good games yesterday and it would just look like I’m writing down a team sheet. Gibbs at left back was great. I noted to my colleague Tom yesterday (up in the gods of the Clock End for a different perspective does give you a better vantage point of tactical set up) that Gibbs was playing very wide – almost hugging the touchline – and it gave our players the ability to stretch the pitch a bit more than when Nacho plays. Monreal is worthy of his starting berth at the moment, so I don’t begrudge him that, but Gibbs playing counter-balances our tendency to be a little narrow when Özil is playing on that side and when Alexis drifts as he likes to do. There was a few occasions yesterday when Gibbs was waving his arms about with a heck of a lot of space and perhaps it was telling that it was his run that was key in the first goal. Santi (natch) found him with a delightful pick out and his ball to the near post was perfect for Giroud to steer under Meijas.

So next to Giroud, who bagged both goals and was the quickest to spot the freedom of the penalty box on a corner to double the advantage just a few minutes later, this time picked out by Alexis from the corner. It was quick-witted and clever but Karanka won’t be too happy about the marking for the second goal.

Giroud has been superb since returning from injury. I haven’t looked up the goals tally for him for this season, but if he doesn’t surpass his season’s best at this rate, I’d be surprised. And let’s not forget that’s including the fact he’s missed a few months due to a broken leg. He’s looking every bit the quality centre forward we need and this season has added big-game goals to his repertoire.

But it wasn’t just the Santi, Gibbs and Giroud show, because a number of players had good games. Take Mesut Özil for example, having scored and assisted in every one of his games since coming back from injury (I think – don’t quote me on that!), he showed once again that he’s coming back into force as one of the stars of the team. His movement, ability to retain the ball and link up play was wizardry at times, to which you can only watch and applaud. He was outshone in midfield by the little Spaniard yesterday, but his performance was still sparkling and yet another good game under his belt will have done his confidence the power of good, important as we enter the business end of the season.

A good solid debut was had by Gabriel alongside Koscienly, who won nearly every header all day, and coupled with Chambers looking decent at right back and Flamini marshalling the midfield, we didn’t give Middlesbrough a sniff until the dying embers of the game.

Arsène can be rightly happy this morning. He’s seen us navigate a potentially tricky tie against a team at the top of the Championship, with a quarter final now awaiting, most likely at Anfield or Old Trafford knowing our luck. I don’t see it being anything else other than that. There’ll be a couple of heated up balls in the pot tonight to make sure it happens. Mark my words.

But who cares? We can go to Anfield or Old Trafford and get a result. We are The Arsenal and with the way those two sides have played this season, even one of those toughest fixtures in the competition, we’ll have to do it eventually against one of those teams.

All eyes now turn toward preparation against Crystal Palace. They may be licking their wounds after an FA Cup exit to Liverpool, but by the time the game on Saturday comes around, I’d expect them to be fired up for us and I think we’re going to have a really tough afternoon in South London. More on that as the game draws near.

For now, I’m going to bask in the glory of victory, dreaming of another FA Cup final in the sunshine.