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.

Form throughout the squad will serve us well

Don’t really know what I was worried about yesterday. Perhaps I’d read too much into the various pre-game tactical analysis about Villa, coupled it with the reappearance of the worst ref in the league Antony Taylor, then rebooted a few old memories of past discrepancies against our Midland opponents yesterday.

I probably should have looked more closely at the stat which said that Villa hadn’t scored for something like five Premier League games, then worked my confidence up from there, because yesterday was a rampant Arsenal that were in control from start to finish.

It is funny though, because when you’re there and you aren’t influenced by the chatter of pundits or fellow fans on Twitter and other social networking sites, you do tend to be a bit more nervous inside the ground. At halftime the talk should have been about us going on a finishing this game off, but inside the ground my peers and I found nothing but worry that we were going to get sucker-punched. Let’s not forget that our only defeat at home since we last lost to Villa was a sucker-punch from a pretty average United side, so we have recent memories of how it can happen.

But my natural sense of pessimism which has been forged in recent times as an Arsenal fan, also impedes my ability to see the world’s easiest accumulator contributor, because with the form we’re exhibiting at the moment we were always going to win this. Oh hindsight, you can be such a valuable ally.

It only took us eight minutes to get on the scoresheet and when Ollie G flicked the ball over Guzan for the first, it was thankfully the start of things to come rather than the end of all that was good. Everyone seemed up for it yesterday. Mesut Özil was in sparkling form (the flick for the first goal will have had Cristiano smiling, remembering the ‘good old times’ had he been watching, I’m sure) but he was joined by Santi too, who showed once again how undroppable he is right now. Those twinkle toes of his are something to behold and Villa just couldn’t handle him yesterday.

But it wasn’t just Cazorla they couldn’t handle. Giroud won most of his aerial duels, was composure personified with his goal and showed why he is first choice at the top of our formation. He’s been brilliant since returning from injury and suspension and the very fact that we see few online keyboard warriors bemoaning his existence, shows how well he is playing, so long may he keep it up.

Theo and Rambo may have had moments in which they looked rusty, but they both still impacted the game with the former scoring a well taken side-footer to make the game safe at 3-0, whilst the former worked tirelessly and showed that even when some of the stuff that makes him amazing didn’t come off, his work-rate and attitude helps him to come through well.

I haven’t even mentioned Coquelin yet who, with the kind of display that looked like he’d been a first team regular for the last three years, broke up Villa play perfectly and formed the perfect anchor weight for the rest of the creative players to build on. As Nigel behind me noted, he’s got ‘legs on him’ which whilst sounds like the world’s most redundant statement, anybody who watches football and knows it’s lingo will understand what it means. His anticipation is superb and he loves a tackle. In England, the sort of floor-sliding, ball-winnery will always get the fans cheering your name and Francis has become as undroppable as Santi in my opinion now.

But the good news doesn’t stop with the attack and midfield. Defensively we looked like we could have held our goal untouched for days. I don’t know whether that’s because Villa have no real cut and thrust about them, or whether we are just too good at the back right now. That’s four clean sheets in five now I believe and with new signing Gabriel and Calum Chambers able to spot in should the worst occur, we also have options at the back for rotation.

Yes, you read that right: we have options at the back.

We have options everywhere, actually, because let’s not forget that Monreal is keeping Kieren Gibbs out of the side at the moment. Nobody would have seen that coming this time last year, would they? He, like many in the team at the moment, is in form and keeping his place on merit. Much like Bellerin. Given his age and his rawness when he first started appearing in the first team this season, it was natural to assume the Chambers would take the right back spot, but Hector had another fine display and one that will have the manager wondering who will be his first choice right back next season if he maintains this trajectory. He even chipped in with a composed side foot planter right into the bottom corner in injury time.

I’ve started, so I’ll finish with the praise in the team, so step forward David Oooooossssspina! I don’t know if you can see it on the TV, but after we were awarded the penalty on Chuba, I happened to look down the pitch at the defenders. Ospina was out of his goal and talking to Monreal, Per and Kos and looking authoritative and organised. He did that all day. He marshalled his defenders, then when called into action, caught balls into the box, claimed crosses and made a couple of very smart saves. Again, there on merit and whilst I’ve always been a fan of Szczesny, I just can’t see how he’s going to get back into this team right now.

The arrival of Gabriel, coupled with the form of so many players, is making this current moment in the season an enjoyable one. We still need to win more games and next weekend’s North London Derby will be crucial, but our squad depth at the moment looks frighteningly good. No Alexis, Welbeck, Ox, Debuchy, Wilshere or Arteta, yet we still smashed an admittedly ailing Villa team to pieces. People in the media keep asking Arsène how he is going to fit in all of these players into his team! I remember four years ago we were bemoaning the leeching effect of the deadwood in the team, but now we look like we could field two sides, such is the strength of the side Arsène has built.

Hopefully this bodes well for the remainder of the season. We are putting together the sort of run that we had last season at the start of 2013/14, so it ‘feels’ to me like we are ready to really cement our Champions League credentials. The games will start coming thick and fast after Saturday’s game, so rotating a big squad will be essential and having players in the squad that are in form, is the sort of thing that you see from sides that win trophies.

We still have a long way to go, but we’re playing the right way at the moment. We’re winning, with swagger. Let’s have that next weekend please, boys.

Le boss in fine fettle and the club in form; what we all want, right?

Arsene took on the press yesterday and, as expected I suppose given our form and the announcement of a signing to talk about in the shape of Gabriel, he was in quite a jovial mood. I must say, it is much more preferable to me when everyone is a little bit more happier. I think there are some Arsenal fans out there in the world who seem to thrive on misery in some sort of footballing masochistic mindset, because some people only seem to get a thrill when we’re failing. But me, I like it when things are rosy in our garden. I like it when Arsene can have a joke with the press about giving them his address so they can send another signing his way if he is an ‘exceptional talent’.

Le Boss told the assembled hacks that Gabriel was ready, fit and will go straight into the squad, which is lovely to hear and something that will be a great boost to the squad as a whole. He may not speak enough English yet, but his fellow Spaniard’s in the team will give him enough support and I suspect that if we can get ourselves a comfortable lead on Sunday (which I don’t think will happen by the way; I suspect Villa will be hard to break down and it will be a tighter game than the pundits are suggesting, but more on that tomorrow), we might see Gabriel as a sub appearance to ease him in to the team.

The only downer that you could possibly have on the presser yesterday was the confirmation from Arsene that Alexis is unlikely to be risked. He’s picked up a knock and as a result I think Wenger will play the cautious game. It’s a sensible option and one that is made all the easier for the boss by the form of other players, as well as the fact that we have somebody like Rosicky who, in my opinion, deserves another run in the team after the Brighton game. Of course, the options are such now, that Rosicky may not even start, and with Ozil back you wonder if it will be a combination of Santi/Ozil or Santi/Rosicky for that left wing position. My preference would be Rosicky out wide left because I think the best players who are in the best form need to play and Santi is in the best form so he has to play centrally. Ozil out wide left hasn’t worked as much, but Rosicky has more experience in that position, so I’d give him the nod. But second guessing Arsene is like trying to break the Enigma machine, so I’ll not bother trying with that just yet.

Welbeck, Jack and the Ox are still out, but with the sheer volume of quality players we have at the moment – something Arsene confirmed when he spoke yesterday when replying to whether there would be any more signings – means that we have plenty of options to cater for our massive injury list. You just watch: now that we seem to have found solutions to the troubled positions that have been rocked by injury, we’ll end up having the whole squad fit and players getting unhappy because they’re not playing as much. I guess we’d all rather have that than the other end of the spectrum though, i.e. no players fit so we go back to putting square pegs in round holes!

I do wonder with the Welbeck situation, whether Arsene is being ‘ultra cautious’ because he has other players that he wants to play who are in form over recent weeks, hence why he won’t be featured this weekend. Arsene has said that in the past he’s told the press that a player is injured, or has a ‘little bit knock’ of varying degrees, but with the form post Moneychester City and Brighton, Welbeck doesn’t just walk straight in to this team. It saves his, as well as Arsene, a job of fitting players in if one is a bit ‘short’. I know I’m going all conspiracy theory-esque on you now, but it just seems convenient that Welbeck is back on Monday and, after Rosicky will have played the last few games back-to-back, Arsene might then have a get out by saying ‘look, he is 34 and he cannot play every week, so I have to be able to rest him’. I know, I know, I’m getting way to hypothetical here – especially if Rosicky doesn’t play tomorrow – but given that I saw somebody on Twitter speak about how they had met Welbeck and he’d said he is fit, it feels like Arsene is keeping players back to save their own face as he tries to fit in so many talented footballers into his matchday squad.

But hey, I’ve wanted this for so long (squad rotation) so please don’t mistake my comments as a literary bashing at the manager- they’re really not supposed to be. If you’re going to have a big squad of talented footballers, you’re also going to have a lot of bruised egos when they’re not playing, so the best thing to do is to protect them in the public eye and I’m sure they will appreciate that too. So I say ‘bravo’ to Arsene. It feels like his mindset is shifting and he’s starting to manage the fitness of the players better; rotating them on a regular basis, keeping the competition for places realistic and at the same time ensuring that the infamous ‘red zone’ is this evil thing that is way off into the distance somewhere.

We’re in good spirits right now. A win tomorrow will give us yet more momentum and with a trip to Spudsville on the horizon, it will be good to see that we are in the kind of ‘positive spiral’ that could help us to put on a show and potential collect three points at our nearest and certainly not dearest rivals.

Until tomorrow.