‘Obvious’ klaxons, Giroud’s award and Welbeck’s form an issue for Theo

It’s all rather quiet on this Tuesday morn, which is lovely given that there’s a big game tomorrow and no doubt Arsène’s presser at some stage today, so we’ll get an update on who’s available.

We’ve already had Arsène’s thoughts ahead of the visit of Monaco, in which he really goes out on a limb, describing the game as ’50:50′ in terms of our likelihood of success. Wow Arsène, mind those splinters buddy!

Champions League games are always cagey affairs when you get to the knockout stages of the competition though, so I can see why he’s trying hard not to give the Monaco team any motivation ahead of the tie, but it should be one we should be looking to win over two legs. I was at The Emirates Cup in August and we looked leggy and lethargic and the difference even then was a Falcao header. With him now firmly established in the Manchester United dugout as one of the coaching staff, Monaco have lost a massive asset, but will still be a threat so Arsène is right to be cautious. More to come on Monaco tomorrow though.

The other news is that Olivier Giroud is up for a fans player award by the PFA. Ok, so it’s only for February, but with goals and solid displays under his belt for the whole month, it will be a good confidence booster if he wins it. And let’s face it, we have the largest football fan community online at Arsenal, so I’d expect us to vote in our handsome Frenchman with consummate ease.

The hope is that he wins it and the subsequent confidence boost will propel him to being even better than he has been of late. His form is sparkling and with each game that he scores, I remain convinced that he will hit the 20 goal mark for the season, which would be quite some feat indeed given his lengthy absence last year.

That man Welbeck has also had his say on the Champions League, talking up our desire to go far in the competition which aside from the fact that ‘state the obvious’ klaxons appear to be sounding all over the place at the moment, is the sentiment and the attitude we need. No talk of advancing and who we might face in the next round, just respect for our opposition we’ve currently got and the professionalism to do the job, home and away.

You’ll all be acutely aware of the shattering feeling that Alex gave us when knocking us out of the competition after we conceded a late goal against PSV a few years back I’m sure. We need no repeat of that upset and if it means the players and coaching staff have to make obvious statements about the game then so be it.

Welbeck himself has also looked good since returning, actually, so much so that there aren’t many people calling for an instant return for Walcott. Given that we’d have chewed each other’s arms off to have him available this time last year, that’s quite a turnaround and it’s the high intensity pressing that Welbeck and Alexis give us – as well as their end product (which in Danny’s case has been assisting in build ups rather than actual goals) – that has meant Theo is an increasingly bit-part player at the moment. The long-term future for him is something that can be debated for another day, but I don’t see him being wheeled out in the immediate future and that’s a positive testament to how well Welbeck is playing, especially when you consider that Theo is scoring plenty of goals when he’s given the chance.

So we’re in a good place right now. There are plenty of form players, we’re winning games and we currently sit third in the league, which is ideally where we want to finish. We have a big European night tomorrow, with which victory be a healthy margin would help to foster yet more belief and confidence in the team, as well as the possibility of That Dutch Bloke being a longer term injury to United. He’ll develop some sort of miracle recovery time so that he can play us in about 13 days time, but for now let’s all just keep ourselves content in the knowledge that all is looking roadt in the Arsenal garden.

See you tomorrow.

Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.

Mood Swings

So. Ermmm. The 7th of Feb wasn’t great was it. BUT THE 10TH WAS. SO LETS TALK ABOUT THAT INSTEAD *weeps uncontrollably*

It’s incredible how quickly football changes. How your outlook on things can be quickly reversed with the swing of someone’s boot. I’ve decided in the last few days that at least 40% of my mood is completely determined by Arsenal’s form. Sad I know, but it’s the little things that make it all worthwhile.

Meanwhile, having to deal with the frustration on a Monday morning is the worst, bumping into people *those people* (we all have one). Smug people, who don’t really seem to know what they’re talking about, but always have the last laugh. Sometimes I wish they would all just fall in a hole.

The most frustrating thing about the Spurs game is the fact that it’s a stain on our season. We’ll have to sit and dwell on the fact that we won’t get another opportunity to try and redeem ourselves against an average Sp*rs side. Forget all that other stuff; finishing above them, etc, it’s the bragging rights we all want and we currently don’t own.

I’ve rambled enough so let’s talk about ‘that’ game. Our ‘Plan B’ didn’t really work. As much as it pains me to say, Sp*rs dominated possession for very long periods. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure with very poor passing. I do live by the motto that the majority of stats are wanky, but our pass completion was terrible, with Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker the only starters to finish the game with over 75% pass accuracy. Coquelin was the best with 78% (which is still awful).

Hindsight is obviously 20/20 so it’s easy to sit here and say this player should have played or the approach, should have been completely different, but personally I thought it was the right way to go. It’s just that the execution was very poor. Watching it for a second time (I know, I know), Spurs did in fact, play well. Pochettino organised his troops very well and also managed the game in a particularly good way. I remember thinking when I saw their line-up, it seemed bizarre. Playing Dembele so high up the field, considering his lack of end product. As the game went on it became very clear why the decision was made. He totally wiped players out, stealing the ball off our midfield trio and recycling possession. I heard a very interesting story about him on The Guardian Podcast a few weeks ago. When he was a child in Belgium, he played football on a basketball court, with no goals. The aim of the game was to take players on and eliminate them. All makes sense when you watch him play.

The decision of Danny Welbeck to start over Theo Walcott seemed bizarre for many. However, considering the opposition and the occasion, it was entirely understandable in my opinion. Welbeck’s all round game was more appropriate, especially his defensive work rate, which I think was the key for chasing him. Arsène probably anticipated Pochettino’s pressing approach. It was something he had success with against us last season when he was in-charge at Southampton.

Theo’s lack of defensive contribution was proved when he did very little to prevent Bentaleb’s cross from sailing perfectly onto Harry Kane’s head. Slightly more gutting was his clumsiness, but can that be put down to rust? In the final minute, when Rosicky sent him clear of the Sp*rs defence, the ball just bounced off him and rolled to safety. Is that rust or a wider issue of his all around game? Have we all forgotten Theo of three years ago, who would frustrate and delight in equal measure?

Football is all about fine margins. The same reason Theo wasn’t on the pitch when Arsenal conceded. On the other side of the coin, Arsenal needed a goal, but he fluffed his lines.

I said a few weeks ago that Theo deceives. I wonder what the consensus on him will be in a few weeks time. Part of me feels he should have a free pass until the end of the season (before he’s judged amongst the masses) but his contract is looming above his head. It will be interesting to see how things stand in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, in our last handful of games we’ve appeared to be comfortable to allow the opposition possession of the football to see if they can hurt us. The difference between the win at The Eithad, the draw against Liverpool (For small periods), was that we were able to relieve the pressure. Against Spurs we didn’t have enough to trouble them on the counter which just allowed them to put us under even more pressure. You can’t win a game of football if you keep giving the ball to the opposition in vital areas.

What I found interesting from Sp*rs’ approach, they essentially isolated Harry Kane and Per Mertesacker for the majority of the game, which was definitely a bad matchup for Arsenal considering we didn’t have a right back or [Insert description of choice] midfielder to relieve pressure. It appeared that Sp*rs ‘allowed’ Ramsey to actually have the ball. That’s interesting (not in a good way) because a) He isn’t a ball carrier and wasn’t able to break out for their press, b) He was very poor on the day, and C) He isn’t Mesut Özil.

They overloaded our left hand side. Which left Bellerin isolated whilst cramping out Özil and Cazorla. I wonder if Welbeck had been a little sharper in possession, we may have done considerably better.

So what have we learned about Arsenal in the last year or so? Against teams that employ a high pressing strategy they will get something from us.

I think in time we’ll improve and we’ll be more comfortable when we’re under the kosh. We’ve all played football, well attempted anyway. When you’re three nill up and the opposition score. You can feel the tide turning and you can’t stop it. It just felt we were drowning and couldn’t even tread water, let alone float unaided.

On paper, a high press can leave space in behind and if you can just break that first wave of pressure, you’re away. We will improve playing the system, I have no doubt about it, it just may take a little more time than hoped.

Be Happy,

Ben.

Taking pleasure from victory, if not performance

Regardless of the 95 odd minutes that ensued last night, if you can’t enjoy the fact that three points were secured and the team got back to winning ways with a win against Leicester, then you need to have a think about taking up something new to fill the void where football once was in your life. I’d suggest something a little safer on the old nerves. Maybe join a sewing club or something. Because despite all of the tension and frustration in a laboured performance against the basement boys of the Premier League, three points saw us leapfrog both the Spuds and United, albeit temporarily until they play Burnley at home tonight.

Seeing that Liverpool had beaten that lot down the road was a wonderful end to the evening for me, because in my mind, it effectively cancels out the North London Derby. As Winston Wolf would say…

“Like it never happened…”

I thought the ebb and flow of the game was effectively decided by the one goal that Leicester got in the second half. Up until that point we looked pretty comfortable. 2-0 up thanks to goals from Koscienly and Walcott, as the second half wore on, so too did the expectancy that we would get a third and put the game to bed. But the third never actually materialised. Instead, it was replaced by a Leicester goal that you could see visibly gave the Arsenal players the jitters. Yes Cambiasso handballed in the build up to the corner that led to the Krameric goal, but the passage of play when the goal was scored was entirely avoidable. We had ample chance to push out and even when the shot came in, Ospina would probably have expected the save one at his near post, but the goal gave Leicester hope.

Up until then, they had been content to play with a bank of about seven defenders in a line across their 18 yard box and hope that they can counter as Arsenal pushed forward for a third, which of course is exactly what we were doing. But with Walcott and Özil as the wide players, we were always going to look to play narrow and centrally and the net effect was that we often found ourselves running into blue shirted traffic for large parts of the game. Perhaps we have to give credit to under-fire Nigel Pearson, because he anticipated what Arsenal would look to do and countered it with three big centre halves who were more than happy to act as clobbermeisters against Alexis & co.

Of course Mike Jones had no intention of being anything other than his incompetent self. Robert Huth alone got away with three fouls in the first half where no warning was even offered. Mark Schwarzer was allowed to take as much time on goal kicks as he wanted, whilst both full backs for the foxes saw the leeway they were being given and decided that wild swings at both Bellerin and Özil in the first half were a good option, as Jones had no intention of punishing them. Even a late booking for Giroud for having the ball whacked at him from Schwarzer was baffling in the extreme. I tweeted last night that the ineptitude was positively Antony Taylorian in its magnitude of errors, yet I’d expect even Taylor would have been left scratching his head at the Giroud caution. Maybe.

Personally, I think Mike Riley needs to sweep the board clean and start again with referees, because this is becoming a weekly occurrence. And not just for Arsenal games.

From an individual perspective, I thought we again had a few concerns, not least defensively. Ospina – so calm and assured since grabbing his opportunity to start – seemed a bit flappy last night. He made a mini hash of a cross in the first half and got a touch of the Fabianski’s about him when rushing out to punch a couple of balls in during the second half. With an FA Cup game coming up at the weekend Wojciech will probably be wondering if there is a chink of light for him at the end of this benchy-looking tunnel, because for the first time Ospina looked a little rattled.

Bellerin too, might be looking over his shoulder at Chambers, because his performance looked a little bit ropey. Hey, the kids 19 so will always have inconsistencies, but with Chambers I’m sure chomping at the bit to get back in the team, this weekend could prove an opportunity for him. Bellerin seemed to be caught out of position a number of times yesterday and after Bentaleb had put in the winning goal at the weekend from his right hand side, I wonder if we’re starting to see a bit of confidence dropping?

Monreal had another good game though. He’s stringing quite a run together.

In midfield we again failed to be as dominant as we have been and Coquelin was ok, but didn’t seem his usual feisty self. He’s been snapping into tackles since coming back from Charlton on loan, but I didn’t see so much of that yesterday, but perhaps (hopefully) it’s just an ‘off game’ that he – as well as a few players – had yesterday.

Walcott got his goal, which was a tidy finish, but by and large he was very quiet and I keep thinking back to a conversation that Arseblog had with Tim Stillman about Walcott’s overall contribution to the team a few weeks ago. Theo now has four goals in four games and whilst that is fantastic to see, it doesn’t tell the full story of his performances. Yes, he offers more than Podolski who was just all end product and little more, but we are now at the stage where we’re asking “is that enough?”. I’m not so sure any more. Competition is dictating that players have to fight tooth and nail to keep their place. Just look at Nacho or Santi. Or look at another busy performance from the ever green Tomas Rosicky. He was busy all over the park, keeping the ball ticking over and trying to up the tempo all the time. But Theo had patches where he was very quiet. And then weren’t just small patches, they we five to 10 minute windows. With Welbeck sure to return to fuller fitness this week, you wonder if he might not be a more attractive option for Arsène.

Of course the slightly worrying parts of the evening, were injuries to Ramsey and a slight knock to Alexis, who came off for Giroud. The former looks like he’s set for another spell on the sidelines, which is a shame, but the latter we all have to pray will be ok. Thankfully we have 11 days until the next league game and I suspect Arsène will rest Alexis on Sunday when Middlesborough come to town.

There’s just one more player I wanted to mention before I toddle off for the day, which is Mesut Özil, who I thought was one of our better players on the pitch. With a deep and compact Leicester team determined not to give Arsenal any space in their defensive third, the need for a player who can see that threaded ‘eye of a needle’ pass was important and there were a few examples – particularly in the first half – where he demonstrated the value he adds against teams like that. It was his shot that led to Theo’s goal and he forced Schwarzer into a couple of good saves. At a time when many in the media question his overall contribution and value to a team, it’s important for us fans who watch the same team each week, to recognise a good display when we see one. He may have been a little less effective in the first half, but so was everyone in the team, as the mindset clearly shifted from racking up a cricket score to protecting a lead.

All in all, we’ve won the first of an absolutely crucial series of games over the next month. I remain convinced that the other teams around us will drop points, so if we can win games in all competitions between now and mid March, I think we’ll find ourselves a few points clear of our rivals and chasing down a cup (or two).

Laters.

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.

Benjy loves football, Rosicky and the FA Cup

It’s Ben today giving his thoughts on last weekend and the FA Cup in general. I’ll be back tomorrow with a dissection of what Arsène said in his pre-villa presser.
Chris

We’ve been told in recent weeks that The FA Cup has been becoming secondary and it’s losing it’s appeal. Last weekend begged to differ. We witnessed an incredible alignment from the footballing gods. Most of the major contenders went out. We had Manchester United draw at League 2 Cambridge City. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea lost a 2 goal lead to concede 4 goals to League 1’s Bradford. If superficial analysis is universally applied, Jose must be burnt at the stake. Immediately. Also, Man City and Spurs crash out. If it is losing it’s appeal, It’s definitely going down swinging.

After infuriating the footballing gods by actually enjoying the apocalypse, Brighton could of been a fixture that ‘Our beloved Arsenal’ could have flunked, terribly. But thankfully we didn’t allow that to happen. The last two games on the Arsenal calendar have been fun. like, really fun. They’ve both had something delightfully in common; A player has played out of his skin. Against Man City Santi Cazorla ran the show. At the weekend it was Tomas Rosicky.

The Little Mozart conducted our performance against Brighton and he did a pretty good job of it too. He set up Özil beautifully for our second goal and scored the third. He won the ball back high up the pitch, gave the defender his exaggerated ‘no-look’ pass which allowed Giroud the space to chip (he’s bloody good at those) it back to the edge of the box, at which point he lashed it into the back of the net.

Tomas has this great ability to control the ball, turn away from his man and drive forward four or five metres all in one movement to open up space and he did so all game. He’s 34 years of age but bursts around the pitch like a man half his age. Pressing, harassing the opposition when we don’t have the ball, then when we do have the ball he’s got one thing on his mind and that’s to go forward and make something happen. As Arsène said, if you love football, you love Super Tomas Rosicky.

But it wasn’t all about Rosicky. The rest of the motley crew put in a good performance. Ramsey made a huge impression on the game and played well; he ran himself ragged. Martin Keown said something interesting this week on our young Welshman and summed up my feelings perfectly on him:

“For me he (Ramsey) gambles too much, he doesn’t wait till the possession is secured enough and he is the key. If he can get the balance right from [when] he becomes part defender to part attacker, then Arsenal could go on and do particularly well because everyone else in that team was prepared to put a stint in defensively but Ramsey was bursting forward sometimes far too often and that could be a problem in the future.”

I agree wholeheartedly. I’d like to make it clear it isn’t a dig at Ramsey because he’s still young and learning his role, his position in the side. He can just be very frustrating to watch. He seems to do something incredibly intelligent and then he will do something equally ignorant. He’s really flirting with the idea of being bloody good at football.

There’s no doubt that the early goal at the weekend helped us control the first half. Theo will have gained massive confidence from such a sublime finish. But Theo Walcott is a player who continues to trick my eyes with his sorcery of playing styles. You watch him play and it looks like every performance is his first on a football pitch. Then you look at his stats for goals and assists and he’s up there with some very good players. I think it’s very clear at this point that Theo is a player who will get you goals as an instinctive finisher and pacy outlet, rather than a genuine creative winger. Bearing all that in mind it’s hard to work out our starting XI at the best of times, but with Theo contributing the way he did against Brighton, can he really sit on the bench playing like that?

To say something out loud that may sound silly – Theo’s goal encouraged us as much as it seemed to deflate Brighton. It was huge for us to start in such a positive way, considering the changes we made to the starting XI, as Theo said after the game (sensibly I might add). We were good in patches but, in the wake of three consecutive clean sheets, we need to look closely at the two goals we conceded. With a good number falling at the fourth hurdle it has been a great round for us. There are still some good sides left in who could easily cause an upset but providing we can beat Middlesborough we will be well on our way.

Bloody love the cup.

Be Happy,

Ben