Season review: did the attack cost us the league?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Schadenfreude from me…yet…

I have to say, I am reluctant to go full 100% Schadenfreude this morning after Chelski were humbled at home to Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge last night. There were plenty of tweets after the game that I read where Gooners were having very humorous digs at that lot in West London, but with an FA Cup looking on the horizon and with my superstitions nature about how the footballing karma gods really don’t like us very much, I’ll keep my gloatiness to a bare minimum today.

However, y’know, John Terry crying n’that…..

Anyway, if its Arsenal related then it’s what we’re all here for, so let’s start with a little bit of Theo Walcott on a Thursday. He’s been speaking to the official site and has talked up next season for him as he bids to return to the first team as quickly as possible. Although he won’t be there to claim his first bit of silverware if we win the FA Cup, he knows the importance of it to lift the whole squad and club. Amongst all of the excitement of getting FA Cup tickets (sorry to those of you that missed out) and getting to the final for the first time in a while, it’s players like Theo that I must admit I forgot about the impact of his injury has had when we get to the business end of the season. If we do win the FA Cup, will he be able to say that he’s won himself a trophy? After all, he seems a humble sort of chap and certainly not a man in the mould of John ‘Full-Kit W****r’ Terry, so whilst his teammates may possibly be able to parade a cup winners medal, he will not.

I suppose what Theo will be more interested in is ensuring that the trophy win fuels the hunger of the whole squad for more. That’s what we’re all after really, isn’t it, after all? We hope that the silverware monkey is cast from our shoulders and locked in a cage in some sort of Dorset based retreats for hairy mammals of that variety. If the opportunity to win the FA Cup is taken this season and we win one of our remaining two games, we want the players to realise that they have picked up a higher points tally than last season and have ended the nine-year itch for cups. That to me, represents moving forward and it will be up to the management of the club to ensure that we can compete not just until early March in the league, but until early May next year too. It will be difficult under increasing pressure from the Oil whores and improving sides around us, but we have the infrastructure and I believe the backbones of a good squad that can do it.

There’s some transfer guff around about Kasper Schmeichel joining the club on a free transfer in the summer, as well as Lars Bender being our number one target – neither of which I would have any real objection to if I’m honest – but it still feels a little too trivial to be thinking about the summer whilst there is still so much at stake for this season. We’re almost at the finishing line now, then we can all start to speculate until the cows come home, swatting up on our YouTube scouting and such, but right now I want to see focus from everyone that has a stake in Arsenal towards picking up three points against West Brom and picking up that FA Cup trophy.

Before I sign off for the day, a quick shout out to the other Suburban Goonerites Ben and Steve, who both appeared on the GoonerGirls Podcast last night. Unfortunately, as Mick Cash and his cronies denied my ability to actually take part in the Podcast, I wasn’t able to make it, but the guys gave a good account of themselves it sounds. Have a listen if you get a spare hour, or you can download to your iPhone/iPad through the Apple store on iTunes.

That’s it from me today. Time to saunter off to another wedding for a bit of booze and food and, err…more booze.

Catch you tomorrow.

Which Arsenal Players Are Headed To Brazil?

The 2013-2014 season is beginning to wind down for Arsenal, which is now hoping to cling to the fourth-place spot in Premier League play. That alone gives supporters a goal to keep in mind over the last few weeks of matches, but many of us are already looking ahead to what promises to be a busy summer, not just in the transfer market, but on the pitch! I’m talking of course about the 2014 World Cup, where we’ll get the opportunity to see several of the Gunners’ top players competing for high-profile national teams all over Brazil. But which Arsenal players, specifically, figure to compete this summer?

Let’s take a look.

It begins with the English national team, which despite placement in what some argue is this year’s “Group Of Death”—alongside Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica in Group D—is expected by many to compete for a spot in the knock-out stages. The defence for England is all but set, with no Arsenal players to speak of. In the midfield, however, things get interesting. In addition to mainstay veterans Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain figures to play a prominent role even at just 20 years of age. Jack Wilshere is also a possible invitee from Arsenal, though his injury has certainly dampened his hopes, and there are other young midfielders ready and waiting. Gambling.com posted an articleon outsiders contending for World Cup spots and noted Liverpool’s young star Raheem Sterling as a possibility. It’s certainly possible that a player like Sterling could ultimately rob the recovering Wilshere of what once looked like a solid roster spot. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott will also miss the World Cup due to his devastating left knee injury, which could well mean that Oxlade-Chamberlain will wind up the only Arsenal star playing for England in Brazil.

Moving away from England, however, we should be seeing a number of prominent Arsenal stars playing key roles in the World Cup. France will certainly be a team for Gunners supporters to keep an eye on as it competes in the considerably softer Group E alongside Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras. In all likelihood, the French national team for the summer will feature Bacary Sagna (who, once thought to be on his way out, may be staying with Arsenal after all according to iSports Times) and Laurent Koscielny in the defense, and Olivier Giroud up front in the attack. And given the relatively easy outlook in Group E, we could well see this trio of Arsenal players advancing well into the World Cup.

Arsenal will also have a heavy impact on a German squad that many have tabbed as the strongest European contender for this summer’s World Cup. Like England, the Germans have a very difficult group to get through (featuring Portugal, USA, and Ghana), but they are still heavy favourites to advance, potentially as far as the final. And a few Arsenal stars will likely be there to help them do it. In the defence, Per Mertesacker is likely to receive a roster invite, though there will be competition in the backfield. Mesut Ozil will play one role or another in the German attack, likely seeing time at midfield but potentially playing up a bit as well to allow the veteran German midfield to stay intact. And then of course there’s Lukas Podolski, who is confident in his role despite some whispers that he may be left off the 2014 World Cup roster.

Ozil

Ozil the talisman for Germany?

That essentially makes up the bulk of Arsenal’s potential impact on the World Cup. There are a few other possibilities, such as Nacho Monreal or Mikel Arteta breaking through for the Spanish side, but for the most part Gunners supporters should be focused on England, France, and Germany this time around. It’s been a disappointing stretch for a couple of months for Arsenal, but seeing the club’s best players on the world’s biggest stage is always a great deal of fun.

Fulham review: one word – routine

If you were to describe yesterday’s game in one word what would it be? For me? Routine.

More possession (59% – 41%), more attempts both on and off target (22 to 8), more chance of us scoring than Fulham, exactly what we deserved on a balmy January afternoon at The Emirates. We came, we saw, we dispatched with little fuss. Oh if only every opponent that rocked up at The Emirates had the same lack of desire to get into our half. ‘Twould be a nice easy stroll to the Premier League crown and that’s no mistake.

Nothing summed up Fulham’s lack of creativity going forward than Dimitar Berbatov who, when not shrugging his shoulders or holding his arms out in frustration, cut a relatively solitary figure alone up front for most of the game. Fulham fans may have been happy to see the re-arrival of Clint Dempsey to their team, but on yesterday’s display they are in trouble and no amount of returning hero-worship will keep them from being embroiled in a serious relegation scrap.

The day started in usual fashion for this here Gooner, a trip to the Tollington to meet Brock, one of the founder members of the Official Arsenal Supporters Club of Charleston, South Carolina. He was an Emirates virgin until yesterday so it was nice to be able to play a small part in a unique first experience for somebody in the world of The Arsenal. As we pondered over the expected team line up, the news quickly filtered through that Monreal was starting ahead of Gibbs and that despite his lack of visibility in training on Friday, Jack was fit to start alongside the Flamster. Welcome news indeed given the fact we’ve had players breaking down with injuries left, right and centre since Christmas. Up top the sharp end of the team featured the direct running of Gnabry, the close control and twinkle toes of Cazorla, the vision and craft of Ozil and the hold up and link play of Giroud. Expectation of a high scoring match was high and within the first ten minutes we were offered a glimmer of the cricket score I’d asked for on Twitter hours before the match. Great interchanges of triangle passing set Ozil away on the right and as he got into the box and flicked the ball beyond Stekelekerlekerlekerlekenberg I thought it was only a matter of time before we opened the floodgates.

But it never really seemed to happen in the first half after that. We never seemed to get going. Some of the passing was a little bit lackadaisical and although Fulham had spells of popping the ball around, it felt to me like a bit of a non-event in the first half. Sidwell did force Sczcesny into a smart save, but having watched the Match of the Day commentator call it a brilliant save last night when I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder if the overreaction from the commentator said more about the chances and overall action of both sides, rather than the actual difficulty of the save.

But whilst the first half was tinged with frustration, I never really felt like this was a game we weren’t going to win, especially after the first ten minutes of the second half. It almost felt as if the players knew that they could turn it up a gear in the second half and really only wanted to play one 45 of football, so they saw the first half out before upping it in the second, for which the reward was a goal from Santi almost on the stroke of the hour. It had been coming to be fair, because Gnabry had forced a smart save from and Koscienly had a point blank shot saved too, so when Jack cut the ball back to Cazorla almost on the penalty spot for the diminutive Spaniard to prod home, the game was all but done and dusted now we look back on it.

But, as with all things in football, you have to make the game safe and we did so just five minutes later. A ball in from Monreal was headed away by one of the Fulham centre backs, but only as far as the edge of the D where Cazorla took a touch and stroke the ball home. I don’t know about you, but it seemed to take an age to actually reach the net, but nobody in red and white will be complaining, because at 2-0 and with the defence that we have as strong as they’ve been, the game was sewn up. We saw out the rest of the game and picked up a deserved three points to keep us top.

That’s two out of two of the key games that we’ve got through with maximum points and next up in the league will be Southampton away, which will be a real tough one, but if we can win that and Palace at home then hopefully we’ll have built a cushion for when we visit Anfield in February.

A couple of individual performances and thoughts on specific players. Firstly, Lukas Podolski. He came on with about 20 minutes to go and had an almost immediate impact, crashing a ferocious shot against the post, but other than that I thought he seemed on the periphery of the game for his whole appearance. I know it’s sacrilege to seem to criticise a player that is clearly so well liked by everyone involved in the club, but I would have expected him to be a bit more direct and trying to get into attacking positions in and around the box. But he seemed to just drift out wide and when our central attacking players picked up the ball in the middle of the park, he didn’t look to make any kind of darting run but instead just stood static. It was the first time I’ve understood perhaps why Arsene isn’t giving him as much game time as Poldi would like. If you consider who the experience German replaced in Gnabry, Arsene could have quite easily deployed Santi on the right and played Podolski on the left, but he chose to go with Podolski’s younger compatriot. Who, by the way, had another really good game. He worked the Fulham keeper, offered a decent outlet on the right and his direct running at Richardson gave him something to think about all game.

A bit of praise should also be reserved for Santi too. He’s struggled for form and fitness after an amazing first season last year, but there are signs – including yesterday – that we’re starting to get our tiny little Spaniard back. Much like I said about Wilshere on the blog a few days ago, it’s coming at the perfect time as well.

Anyway, that’s it from me today, so enjoy your Sunday safe in the knowledge that we are top of the league, say we are top of the league.

Routine NLD shows just what this squad is capable of

Today’s blog is partially written in the heat of the moment, because I’m stuck on the Tube and the chances are that I’ll want a lie in tomorrow, having drunken my own body weight in Carling Extra Cold (if the makers of said drink feel like sending me any free samples of said beverage, feel free to drop me a line for the free plug) before the game, so will undoubtedly be inclusive of all of the passion and hyperbole that a victory against ‘them’ can bring. Sure, we know we are a better team than that lot – a top of the table position doesn’t need to tell us any more – but it felt all the more special ensuring our name was in the hat for the fourth round after today’s victory, what with a potential winner dispatched and the confidence further enhanced with a compelling victory against the old enemy.

Come on, don’t tell me that you’re not walking a little bit taller today, eh? I know the league is ‘priority number one’, but ensuring that Spudsville isn’t steeped in silverware is pretty darn hilarious, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons to be positive today as well, isn’t there? After all, we saw an Arsenal team missing Big Per, Gibbs, Flamini, Özil, Poldi, Giroud, Rambo et al, yet we still managed to dominate the majority of the North London Derby (NLD) against a Totteringham side that were supposed to be full of a Tim Sherwood revival. Turns out Tim Sherwood’s a Gooner. Perhaps Daniel Levy should have done his groundwork. Or at least dropped a call to The Arsenal and asked if there are many season ticket holders with that surname. He was obviously too busy planning his next £100million on a new team and new superstars to bring in.

The day started off with plenty of optimism. I met a host of Gooners in the Tolly who had plenty of belief; the protection of The Emirates was surely enough to ensure that safe passage to the next round of the cup was secured, wasn’t it? Everyone thought so. So we drank, made merry and saluted the New Year whilst patiently waiting for kick off. The weather had threatened earlier in the day to be a nasty one, so I wasn’t taking any chances. After my painful shin experiences of Chelski and Cardiff, I boy-scouted myself up with protection on my shins in anticipation of a downpour.

shin pads

Essential Protection for the NLD

Thankfully it never came, much like the Adebayor and Spuds onslaught that we were supposedly going to get now that the Tim revolution was underway along the wrong side of the Seven Sisters Road, which didn’t so much explode as much as ‘pfffft’ with a whimper. I must say it’s grand watching The Arsenal dispose of our noisy neighbours. Actually, after hearing the limp “support” in The Emirates yesterday, it is hard to assign our Lilywhite cousins with the term ‘noisy’ if I’m honest. We get a bit of stick for being quiet at home and there is this myth that the Spuds fans are quite vocal, but I didn’t see any of that. They even had most of the Clock End to get into full voice as well!

I know I sound extraordinarily ‘crowy’ today (is that a word??), but it’s hard not to be the most chirpy of Gooners; we’ve dispersed our rivals in a cup competition, hopefully dented their confidence after a good win at United, plus we’ve further added to the credence that this Arsenal team has the minerals to compete on multiple fronts.

Serge Gnabry; ladies and gentlemen, Serge frigging Gnabry. I thought he was superb throughout and the fact he hasn’t featured much for the last few months owes more to the fact that we’ve got a plethora of great options in attack more than his own form. He came in, played superbly, and did exactly what you want for a player vying for the first team: terrify the opposition. He assisted for Cazorla’s goal, had a good shot fizzed over and rarely lost possession of the ball. He’s 18 years-old and he looks like he’s going to be a star for us.

I love beating the Spuds. More than anything else, I love beat if the Spuds and leaving egg on their faces, so step forward Tomas Rosicky, purveyor of fine NLD ‘egg-on-face’ distribution’ since 2010. Having robbed Danny Rose (remember him, he’s the ‘wonder boy’ that scored that goal on their turf against us and disappeared), he bore down on goal and sumptuously lobbed a stranded Lloris to effectively seal the game, despite the fact there was at least 25 minutes to go. It was a grand goal and the fact it game at the fault of the old enemy made it all the more delightful. Tomas was once again superb and is making a real habit of putting in some brilliant shifts in the middle of the park. I said yesterday that Arsene loves a bit of Rosicky for big games and he proved me right again. The goal he got may have had an element of fortune to it, but it was just reward for a fine performance.

But where are my manners? How about the first strike to put us on the way to victory? Oooooooh Santi Cazooooorla. You may not have captured the form of 2012/13 just yet, but we still love you, and you still know how to smash home a derby goal. It was the superb Gnabry’s pass that made it all possible, but the wee little Spaniard still had a lot to do, so when he hammered the ball into the net, there was a hell of a lot of relief and rapture, I can tell you. In fact, as my mind wanders back to the game, although I was nervous for the vast majority, hindsight allows me to comfortably ask why, because the Spuds rarely threatened our goal. The FA Cup deputising Lukas Fabianski had never had such a comfortable afternoon, and with the back two taking turns in keeping Greedybayor in their pockets (Soldado not being relevant given the lack of penaltyage), it was as routine an afternoon as you could hope for under the floodlights.

This was our day and we made sure of it. But sometimes there is always something that spoils it, so I need to mention the Theo incident. Having gone down with a knee injury over by the corner where the away fans sat, there was a reaction from Spuds fans almost straight away, thinking that he was feigning injury. Having then been stretchered off by their away fans, the lovely human beings that ‘they’ are decided to start throwing coins, hitting some of the stewards in the process. Theo reacted by smiling and pointing out the score. Perhaps he shouldn’t have done it, as it did incite the fans to yet more coin and missile throwing, but when you have been insulted, attacked with missiles and abused, what human wouldn’t react? I thought the reaction was very mild, yet there’s talk today of a ban or fine for Walcott. It wouldn’t surprise me, but then again, nothing does with the football authorities.

Anyway, let’s not end on a sour note, because we’re in to the next round and the confidence that this win would have done will prove vital in the wake of a tricky run up into February. See y’all tomorrow.

NLD preview: nervousness with a wee dram of confidence

Hooray, hooray, it’s Derby Day!

Nothing better than the feeling of anticipation that envelopes you before a local derby. And what with today being an FA Cup affair, it seems to have a little bit more intrigue about it today, so I am an excited Gooner going into a home tie against the old enemy. Today is an opportunity to make another statement in our season. Today we can end the Spuds hope of a domestic trophy (although I realise they are still in with a chance of European success). Today we can take a hammer blow to their confidence.

But what makes the NLD more exciting – in a cack your pants kind of way – is that this fixture could go any way. Yes, we’ve got used to having the upper hand in terms of our league finishing position, yes we’ve beaten them more times than they have us, but rarely do you get an easy afternoon and that all adds to the feeling in my stomach which makes this match all the more intriguing.

It’s a game that has bought about 75 Arsenal wins, 45 draws and 54 wins for ‘them’ which, when you consider the number of trophies we have won, plus the fact we’ve finished above them for so many times particularly in the most recent couple of decades, the win ration between the two clubs seems quite close. It’s a cliché, but that stat clearly shows that anything can happen in the NLD and quite often, it does.

Are you nervous today? I am, but it’s a nervousness with excitement. It’s a nervousness with a wee dram of confidence, because we have once again found form after a mini blip the other side of Christmas and we find ourselves going into the game off the back of three victories. We might have a bit of an injury conundrum or two that need overcoming, but any player that takes to the field today will be confident, so we should too. Some have suggested that playing  a resurgent Totteringham now is possibly not the best time to be rocking up against the lilywhites, but I liked Arseblog’s comments yesterday about Theo’s response to the question about whether or not it was a good time to play them. He’s right, it was a stupid question, Theo’s right about it perhaps not being a good time to play us and Arseblog’s right about the football brain fart that seems to have clouded the journo’s memory that funnily enough, we’re actually top of the league.

But league form goes out of the window today, and unfortunately they are quite capable of getting the win or taking us back to their gaff for a replay, so hearing Arsene say this gets treated as a league game was music to my ears yesterday. We need to be on it from the start because they will want to carry on from their decent win at Old Trafford by taking another big club scalp. And of course, it would just happen to be that time of the year when Greedybayor actually decides he wants to get a few goals, having been told there could be another contract up for grabs for him. He’s still getting wages paid by Moneychester City at the moment, so if he wants the Spuds to go anywhere near half the wages he currently gets, he’s going to have to put in some shifts, which is why we’re seeing such a resurgence from the Emmanuel the Mercenary. If I sound bitter, it’s because I have a nasty feeling that he’s going to do what he seems to have done nearly every time he plays us and score. There’s no doubt he’s a handful when he wants to be, but he seems to reserve his best football for us and by the sounds of it he’s managed to recover from being stretched off in midweek to play again today. That’s why I hope Arsene keeps his normal back four and we see Big Per and Kos at the back, flanked by Sagna and Monreal (with Gibbs still injured).

In the midfield I look at the possible Spuds line up of Capoue and Dembele and think that our three should include Arteta to marshal the Belgian’s movement, plus Arteta who can push forward if Capoue is sitting deeper. If they play the same team that lined up against United, it means Erikson will want to drift across the park and not operate as a natural winger, so with both Flamini and Arteta operating in front of the defence I think that works. Just in front of them, providing he’s fit – and the pictures of him training yesterday suggest so – I think we’ll see Ozil. On the left we’ll most likely have Cazorla and on the right will be Theo, with Poldi up top. The only position I think might be up for question will be if Arsene decides to insert Rosicky into the team, because Arsene does like playing the effervescent Czech in our big games when he’s fit. Plus, Arsene did admit that Tomas and NIcklas made a very positive impact against Cardiff, so I wonder if he will look at that game and decide that perhaps Santi should be dropped to the bench with Rosicky in from the start. Actually, now that I think about it, what about Jack? He’s had a couple of really good games and in my opinion was the best player against Cardiff, so relegated to the bench seems a little harsh, but I suppose it will depend on how Arsene feels over his bowl of cornflakes this morning. The important thing is that we’ve got options. And if we need to, we can change things around a bit, so there is plenty to be cheerful going into today’s game.

I hope we’ll be able to give them lot a tonking, but I suspect this will be a close encounter under the floodlights, so strap yourselves in, and get ready for the rollercoaster ride that is The Arsenal Vs Spuds.

Pandora had it easy, Theo wants a fight and we go once more

I really hope 2014 isn’t going to be defined as the year of pain and surface-level wounds for yours truly. Yesterday I had a post match shin bruise and cut to nurse, whilst today I woke up to find my right thumb throbbing with more vigour than a Dirk Diggler love scene. I have no idea why, how or when, just that I seem to veer from one ‘ow’ to the next.

So from my pain, to our collective pain, as the January transfer window is now well and truly wide open and as expected, the pond life from within it’s barrier have emerged. ITKs are free and easy and running about everywhere and it’s already getting tiresome. Jack Bauer ‘longest month of my life’ tiresome. And the Transfer Terror Alert situation has been raised to ‘heightened’ now, as people search high and low for the tiniest glimmer of spurious activity that they can latch on to. Just talking about this Groundhog Day feeling has literally caused me to pause for a second, take a deep breath, sigh and continuing typing. It’s like Pandoras Box, only snakes and demons and all things nasty seems like an easy afternoon in the sunshine right now. That Pandora, she had it easy, for she didn’t have to concern herself with shouty Scottish Jim from Sky Sports, or the media hyperbole that is ‘Deadline Day’. Somewhere in West London, ‘Arry just twitched.

So I sigh at the bravado. For as I opened my Twitter feed yesterday hoping to find out if there was any news on players fit for tomorrow, I see the Goonersphere awash with noises that Yaya Sanogo supposedly welcomed Berbatov to Arsenal on his Facebook page and then deleted it. Like gossip hungry salivating sheep rushing towards that first feed of the season, people flocked to gorge themselves on this speculation, as the need for ‘anybody’ seems to overrule the logic that our own eyes should have shown us over the last few months. If a player like that isn’t up for a relegation fight, what makes anyone think he’d be up for a title assault? And what happens when it doesn’t go his way? It’s Arshavin all over again.

Speaking of fighters, or at least those in the squad ready and looking forward to a battle tomorrow, Theo Walcott has spoken to the official site ahead of the NLD and has talked up his own personal excitement at facing that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. He talked about how it’s always one of those fixtures he looks for and stressed the importance of making The Emirates ‘a fortress’. That’s the spirit Theo. That’s the kind of fighting talk we want to hear about from our players and I hope the rest of the players bring that attitude tomorrow. When we faced the old enemy at the start of the season we got a good first half goal and then I felt we took a pragmatic approach to the rest of the game, preferring to keep the Spuds at arms length rather than try the tactic of Arsenal teams past and go for the jugular. It worked, at a time where some might have seen us mentally on the rocks, having lost to Villa and with the window on the verge of shutting with no marquee signing on the horizon. Tomorrow will be different I think. I suspect we’ll see more confidence, more impetus to lay down a marker and hopefully we’ll hear from Le Boss later today about the injury situation, which will give us an indication about how strong a team we can put out tomorrow.

There’s no doubt that this festive period has been one of the most gruelling for us in respect of injuries. As muscles are tired, bones are aching and therefore more susceptible to injury, we’ve had to do far more rotation than even Arsene had wanted I suspect. But we’ve coped to date and the hope has to be that tomorrow, regardless of who is for and who is not, we have a first eleven capable of winning the game.

I hope we’ve got a number of players returning for tomorrow. After the FA Cup game there is at least a week’s worth of rest that is in store for the players, so whilst I certainly don’t advocate putting bodies on the line that are potentially going to break down, for the game against Totteringham there has to be an element of ‘once more into the breach’ before we allow our charges to rest easy before Villa away a week on Monday. I guess the good news is that the early season injuries to Theo, Poldi and Cazorla mean that they are fresh, whilst the two games sat out over Christmas gave Jack plenty of rest time, which I do wonder if it helped to contribute to his vastly improved performances against Newcastle and Cardiff. So whilst we’ve been beset with injuries, it hasn’t forced us into the old ‘square peg, round hole’ situation too often, like we’ve seen over the years.

Right, well, I think that’s about all my throbbing thumb can handle for one day. Let’s see what Arsene tells us on the injury front this morning, then I’ll be back tomorrow to dissect another encounter with them lot.

Newcastle: Ending year on a high with prospect of more to come

As the final whistle of our final game of 2013 was blown, in amongst the jovial Arsenal fans at St James’, there was one Gooner that stood in reflective mood having just seen his team ward off a spirited Newcastle side to secure three points. The reflection was one born from relief, happiness and belief that this Arsenal side might just be able to achieve something come May 2014. Certainly, if you look at the impressive form throughout the calendar year of 2013, you can see why said Gooner was in such contemplative mood; the consistent success of The Arsenal since March 2013 is enough to have any Arsenal supporter believing that good things will come to us; after all, we have waited long enough, some would say.

Yes folks, of course the aforementioned Gooner is myself and yes, I have woken on this day with a spring in my step after we went to an in-form Newcastle and put on a display which can be filed in the ‘Winning Ugly: The Mark of Champions’ category – part of the formula that every human being involved with in football assures us all is something that needs to happen to secure silverware in the Spring of each year.

It’s the time of year when the games come thick and fast and of course that includes injuries too, so when I scrolled through my Twitter feed outside the ground with twenty minutes to kick off, it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see that there had been some casualties from the West Ham game on Boxing Day. Vermaelen and Ozil were deemed injured (although one wonders whether this might have been part of the ‘Wenger Code’ of giving players a rest but calling them injured for fear of media overreaction of players being dropped), so too was Nacho Monreal with an illness which, added to the Ramsey thigh strain that was picked up against the Hammers meant that our side had a somewhat depleted feel to it. Nevertheless, when you saw the starting line up take to the field yesterday, it was self-evident that we have a squad that has a little bit more depth to it than some would have you believe. Certainly, the return of Koscienly to pair Mertseacker, as well as Walcott and Podolski’s inclusion in the squad, has added something extra to the team and as the whistle signified the start of the game, it was The Arsenal that started the brightest, popping the ball around like a team that knew they had the superior quality. However, it was a game that was lacking slightly in clear-cut chances in the first half, with Newcastle content to let us have the ball and try to ask us to break them down. This resulted in a number of pot-shots from outside the box and also an inordinate amount of Check Tiote fouls designed to stutter any potential momentum we could have. Lee Probert isn’t exactly the most observant of refs, so it was perhaps not surprising that he missed a clear yellow card early in the match when Tiote took out Walcott after a nice one-two with Giroud.

Newcastle probably had the best chance of the half right on the stroke of the interval, as a lose and careless Koscienly pass fell to some guy in black and white who had his shot blocked, but Sissoko followed up the block by firing a hard shot that was palmed away from Szczesny. From the resulting corner the Magpies hit the bar. It was all the warning we needed as we went into half time with our defence yet to be breached. The second half started in similar fashion to the first actually. I felt we looked a little leggy and our build up play seemed to be quite slow from where I was watching up in the Gods. The passing was slightly off and we couldn’t seem to get any kind of rhthymn, so when Theo’s ball into the box (what? After Tiote’s fifth foul and no yellow? say it ain’t so!) was glanced on by the ever-grateful Olivier Giroud, I can happily say that in hindsight, it did feel like it might be the only goal in a tight game devoid of any major action. The headed finish was one with the deftest of touches by the Frenchman, but he won’t care, because it was another away goal and one to stop the drought he’s suffered of late. That will give him confidence going in to the New Year, although I do wonder if Arsene will take the opportunity to give Bendtner the chance to replicate his Hull heroics against Cardiff on New Year’s Day, because Giroud looked understandably tired and could probably do with a few days to sit one out and be ready for the Spuds this weekend.

Some words for some of the other players yesterday, most notably Szczesny, Mertseacker and Rosicky. Wojciech needs to cut out those kamikaze kicks from his game, because one of those is going to fly off a grateful strikers bonce one of these days and into the net, so I hope this is a final lesson to ensure that he aims his back-passes well wide of any onrushing centre-forward. As for the BFG himself, he was once again immense and even the Management mused during and after the game that he seemed to have been involved in almost all of the clearances on the day. Those that lambasted him at the start of his Arsenal career should be holding their hands up and admitting fault, because Big Per is currently undroppable. Although I do wonder if Arsene will fancy chancing his arm and resting the lad against Cardiff on New Year’s Day. As long as he’s not in that fabled ‘red zone’, then I think he’s got to continue to play in my opinion. Finally, a word on Tomas Rosicky. What a player he is. He was everywhere yesterday and won tackles, was there for any of his teammates to receive the ball and even drove at the Newcastle defence to release a couple of pot-shots. He is a ball of energy and at 33 looks like he’s got some sort of elixir of life that allows him to play like a 23-year-old. I really hope he’s fit, ready and able to play against Cardiff, because it’s his form that can help to mitigate the impact of Rambo’s departure.

So all in all, a grand day at the office. We won away from home, continued our recovery from our December ‘blip’, and go into a string of games that, should we win, will put us in a fantastic position come February to make an assault on the league title, plus give us the confidence in a difficult Champions League double-header against the reigning champions of Europe. But if we keep up the same form that has seen 2013 end in such sparkling fashion, Bayern will be under no illusions that this is a wholly different Arsenal team they’ll face home and away.

Back tomorrow with a match preview.

How much rotation can we afford?

It’s a tough one today. I’m up North with The Management’s family for Christmas who are all based in the North East, so it’s been a perfectly timed away match in terms of my attendance, but in terms of the opposition it’s not really the perfect time to play Newcastle. Flying high with seven wins out of nine, plus a comprehensive victory against Mark Hughes’ Stoke on Boxing Day, it makes for quite a challenge for The Arsenal to come away with three points come 4pm this afternoon.

What also doesn’t help is that Newcastle could afford to play in third gear after they dispatched their third goal of the game on Thursday. I watched the whole game on Boxing Day and the two sendings off allowed the Magpies to pop the ball around knowing they could wear down their opponents without much worry of running out of steam themselves.

Where there is hope, however, is the way that Stoke broke in amongst the defensive ranks of Newcastle before they lost their first man. Stoke were very bright and Newcastle looked leggy. There was also space for Charlie Adam to dictate the play in that midfield, so my hope is that Mesut and Santi – should they both play – get the same space with which to orchestrate proceedings. If that does happen, then we will create chances, hopefully we’ll also score enough goals to secure the three points.

I don’t know if Newcastle missed the defensive nature of Tiote, but they won’t have to worry about that today, as he returns from suspension to probably have another match of his life no doubt. He loves a game against Arsenal so I suspect he’ll be fired up and running his arse off for the whole game, probably steaming in to tackles, which we will need to be mindful of. Not least because of the last three times I’ve been up here to watch Newcastle, we’ve had players needlessly sent off for silly offences, so the hope is that we can avoid giving a man advantage today and make sure we punish those Geordies. Although after the referees we’ve been given in the last few weeks, I’m having expecting Mertesacker to be sent off for being drop-kicked in the head.

Rotation is the name of the game at this time of year, so I am left pondering what team Arsene will pick for his starting eleven this afternoon. Does Monreal deserve a recall into the side? Should the effervescent nature of Rosicky be called into action? Does Poldi’s impact surely mean that he makes it from the subs bench to the starting line up? As usual this season, there are lots of questions about who should start, but I do think we’ll see a bit of shuffling, but not much. Giroud looked a little off the pace against West Ham, but his inclusion in the team is a no brainer; if he’s going to be rested, it must surely be at home, so Cardiff on New Year’s Day would be a better option for the Frenchman to sit one out.

Either side of Olivier there must surely be a start for Theo and, with the display of Podolski a couple of days ago, I hope Arsene gives him the nod. In the middle of the park I wonder if Mesut should be given a rest, with Santi being given the option of playing in a more natural free role, like he was able to do last season. Sitting behind them I would opt for the defensive screen of Flamini and Arteta to protect the back four, as I think Arsene will be wary of the threat of Ben Arfa, Gouffran, Sissoko and Cabaye. Those four like to operate just behind a main striker like Cisse, so we’ll need players that can sit and control possession in midfield.

I think Kos will return today – we need our best central defensive pairing and that means Big Per and Laurent.

There’s no doubt we have the players and ability to beat Newcastle, but as with all games like this one today, I think the first 15 minutes will set the tone of the day. If we get at Newcastle and were even to score in that time, it quietens the crowd and allows us to take hold of the game, but if we allow them to dictate play initially then we could be in for a long day.

Come on you reds!

City review: less anger, more numbness

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to yesterday’s football match. There were so many talking points that one could probably write a match review to rival Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’. So inevitably I’m going to end up missing out bits from yesterday.

In the most part, this blog today will not be filled with happiness, which I guess you already knew. We conceded an embarrassing six goals to a title rival that quite frankly should never have happened. So today my friends, I am an unhappy Gooner.

But strangely, I’m not as unhappy as I thought I would be after the team worryingly conceded 35% of all of our goals this season in one match. And not just any match, a match against our title rivals in which all we will now be subjected to is how Momeychester City are an unstoppable force that will win the league at a canter because they will score 76,524,625 goals at home this season. I just feel a bit numb.

Arsene said he wouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse for the shoddy team performance yesterday, but it’s hard to not see how some of the players were dead on their feet come 70 minutes yesterday, so fatigue undoubtedly played a part. In under a week the team has played on Sunday, travelled to Italy to play on Wednesday, then headed up to play Saturday lunchtime. So perhaps that gives a little bit of detail on some of the tired legs.

Fatigue leads to mistakes, but doesn’t always explain decision making by players and at times yesterday the players made decisions that were just wrong, wrong, wrong. Arsene spoke of some of the technical mistakes that were made and I am even shuddering now as a write this the day after the match. I think back to Koscienly switching off for the first goal, to Özil’s shocking pass infield from our right back position, Gnabry’s hospital pass in-field inside our half that lead to the penalty; all of these goals seemed avoidable and it seems as if all of the defensive solidity and hard work the team had put in had evaporated overnight. I’m thinking back to the individual performances of the defenders and I don’t think anybody really had that much of an individual shocker, but as a unit it just didn’t work. And most worryingly of all, the injury to Koscienly means he’ll be out for a prolonged period of time, probably most of Christmas I’d imagine. It’s worrying because I just don’t think Vermaelen and Mertesacker works. The third goal for City highlighted this. Vermaelen was drawn too close out wide and Silva got in between him and the BFG which was probably when the game began to get away from us. It meant we had to start chasing and to be fair to the team, they stepped it up a notch and we were beginning to dominate for about 10 minutes in that second half. We even got it back to 3-2 through a superb team goal and another fine finish from Walcott. It gave us hope, but that was misplaced, as it soon went back to 4-2 and when that happened it was game over I think.

Our midfield was probably where the game really went awry. Jack was recalled to the side but his performance was severely lacking in the necessary quality as he misplaced at least five very simple passes throughout the game. To top it off, he was caught on camera sticking his middle finger up at some City fans. There seems to have been a consensus amongst the media that he should now face a one-game ban for his actions. I’m not condoning it, but I don’t know why this is different from screaming swear words at a referee, or telling fans to eff off when a player is taking a corner. I’ve seen that plenty of times and yet there is never any retribution dished out by the authorities. So I’ll be interesting to see what happens here. It feels very Eduardo vs Celtic, where he was retrospectively banned for diving (which was eventually rescinded) off the basis of what seemed like a media campaign to punish divers. I’m all for that, but given that not a word of such similar actions that have taken place over the years since that game against Celtic, I wonder if this will be another media-driven campaign.

Anyway, I’m digressing from the actual match yesterday, probably for a good reason because there’s very little positives that can be taken from the game. The return to the starting line up of Theo is one, however, and he showed what an asset he is when it comes to goalscoring for the club. His first goal yesterday had an element of fortune about it,wrong footing the massive City keeper, but the second one oozed class and came after a great bit of build up. He will be vitally important if he can stay fit for the remainder of this season and based on that performance he must surely start against Chelski in over a week.

I want to reserve a special mention for yet more incompetence for the officiating yesterday. Martin Atkinson and his team of ‘professional’ referees had, by all accounts, the stinkiest of stinkers. I don’t like to blame referees – it normally reeks of sour grapes – but after the third incorrect decision that was given in favour of City yesterday, I started to keep count via Twitter on the number of decisions City got in their favour, which unbelievably went into double figures. It was shoddy beyond belief. Wrong offside decisions, stonewall penalties waved away and even a collectors item – a Bendtner goal – that was wrongly ruled out. It almost felt like it was cheating at times, but of course that’s a load of poppycock, the officials yesterday were just abysmal. There should be punishments for such dereliction of duty but we all know there won’t be. After all, Antony Taylor is still refereeing games after being proved in three or four different games that he is not fit to ref matches in the Premier League. Still, let’s not dwell too much on that, because the referees didn’t part like the Red Sea at times to gift Moneychester City some of their goals.

I feel like I should be more upset, but I guess that the fact we’re still two points clear and have plenty of time for players to rest up for a big game against Chelski Monday week, means that we can all take stock and almost forget that yesterday even happened. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not reading any non-Arsenal fan views for the next week and I’m certainly not recording Match of The Day tonight – nor did I watch yesterday’s, even if Thierry was on – so it will be a good opportunity to put some other blogs together that aren’t focused on any of the recent games.

I haven’t mentioned a few players in today’s blog – like Özil and Giroud – but that’s probably because they offered little in a match when we needed some of our big players to step up. I can’t really be bothered to give any more analysis other than that I’m afraid.

Read a book, go for a walk, play games. These are all my bits of advice for your Sunday. Let’s just be glad that there are no more trips to Manchester in the league this season.