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

Rosicky masters (sort of) safe passage to round five

After a weekend of some surprising Premier League bloody noses, when I sat down to watch The Arsenal take on Brighton, the one thing that really settles the nerves is a nice and tasty early goal.

So when Calum Chambers found Walcott in a bit of space inside the box after a minute and a half, it was like the perfect start that we could all hope for, drilling the ball beyond Stockdale and starting us along the right path to victory.

You could tell – early goal aside – that we were up for it in Brighton yesterday. Arsène had shuffled his deck a little bit and was using the cup as an opportunity for some of the players that hadn’t played recently to force their way into his thinking for a starting place next weekend against Villa. Recalls of Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Flamini, Özil, Walcott and Rosicky meant that there was a freshness and desire in the team to show that they deserved to be playing more regularly. And it showed.

We dominated the first half and when Özil was found by the reverse pass of Rosicky, he slid the ball home to double our advantage, which was the least we deserved. Brighton didn’t know how to deal with the movement. Our midfield snuffed out any venture forward that Albion tried to muster and our defence looked completely in control. Well, for the first half, anyway. It seemed like a) we had taken note of the surprises from yesterday, and b) we were building on the success of last weekend’s confidence-boosting win against Moneychester City.

Despite the fact that we’ve had blips like Liverpool and Southampton, the last six weeks have seen Arsenal win plenty of football matches, so much so that it actually feels like we’re starting to compile a bit of momentum. Probably just as well, because our stuttering season could have gone on forever if we didn’t start showing signs of winning back-to-back games. I’ve criticised the manager a few times on this blog this season, but he has spoken of injuries before, saying that when players are back fit we’d see a different Arsenal team. Well, you can’t argue that with all of the players coming back from injury, we’re not seeing a different Arsenal. Not only are we looking more impressive, but the fact Le Boss was able to rotate most of his team yesterday and we still performed well enough to win, are good signs for The Arsenal.

But – with Arsenal there’s always a ‘but’ – we rarely make life easy for ourselves and despite cruising the first half and looking dangerous going forward, at the back the second half performance was a ropey as I feel after going for a run after knocking back a bottle of Sailor Jerry the night before.

We know we haven’t got the best defence in the world, but you can tell how fragile we look sometimes when the back four are changed around. Able to minimise any threat in the first half, and by and large in the second, you’d have to question concentration levels of a side that concedes two goals from a lower league team that only has two shots on target all afternoon. The first goal was a combination of individual errors, from the Rosicky lump in the air inside the box, to the Chambers appealing for a non-existent free kick and then Koscienly not closing down the oncoming shot from O’Grady. Similarly too, the way in which we were cut open for the second goal was slightly concerning. Monreal may be much maligned by some Arsenal fans as a centre half, but it was Koscienly stepping forward and not tracking Baldock’s run that was the biggest mistake of the move.

All this served to add more unnecessary nerves to the early evening’s proceedings, but we saw the game out and in knockout competition that’s all you really need, because nobody cares about how you played when you’re still able to have your name in the hat for the next round.

And with that in mind, how about I accentuate the positives from yesterday, rather than the negatives? Like the Little Mozart himself Tomas Rosicky who, without a shadow of a doubt was the man of the match, topping off his display with a wonder volley from the edge of the box. He was at the centre of everything good we did yesterday and Arsène was right to praise him in such a way. He may be 34 years old but the way he scampers across the pitch makes him look like a twenty something to me. His ball for Özil’s goal was a touch of reverse-pass class and after a display like that, the midfield starting line up feels almost impossible to to choose today. At half time I mused to myself that if Rosicky and Özil were told to play piggy-in-the-middle with you, it would probably be the worst game for you ever, because you’d never touch the ball for hours. His reverse touches and ‘look-away’s when passing on a couple of occasions were class personified and the most hilarious thing of all was Phil Neville’s ludicrous comments that somebody should have ‘two-footed’ the Czech midfielder. People talk about footballers being role models and an example for kids to look up to, but that is exactly the sort of comments that kids will have watched and he should probably be reprimanded. He won’t though. He’s in the media and we know that they look after their own.

But hey, he’s a moron, we’re into the next round and that’s all that matters. See you tomorrow.

Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

Arsène does Mel, Jenks stories are false and agreeing with Walcott (to a point)

Morning you lot, I hope you’re enjoying your Wednesday and are just happy that we’re slowly but surely making our way through this working week. All’s still quiet on the Western front, which means no signings announced, not even a 17-year-old who the club has confirmed has had a medical.

I mean what’s going on here with Bielik? Is he still in school and hasn’t secured a note from his parents yet? Has somebody kidnapped him and are waiting on Arsenal to pay up to a kings ransom for his release? Arsène Wenger is not Mel Gibson people. He may have that kind of money, but he just doesn’t look good in a kilt with blue and white facepaint. Plus I’m pretty sure he’s not a raving anti-Semite either.

Anyway, whoever has taken Bielik and is playing ‘keep-away’ with him from Dick Law, can you give Dick his Bielik back now please? Remember how much he cried when you did the same thing with Campbell? Nobody wants a weeping Dick.

If you read the transfer talk the gutter press hash together worse than a Mondeo/Volvo estate ‘cut-and-shut’, you’ll possibly have read that Arsène has ‘slapped’ a price tag of £12million on Carl Jenkinson to ward off his East London suitors. Quite why Arsène needs to denigrate Carl by physically sticking a label on him is beyond me, but putting aside some quite funny visual imagery of Le Boss as a used car dealer based in a London Colney showroom, I suspect that this story is nothing more than hypothesising mischief making from the red-tops. Jenkinson has had a good season, Arsenal are down a first team right back, plus I’ve seen David Sullivan respond to a few West Ham fans on Twitter in the last few months about how the Jenkinson loan deal should probably be made permanent.

We know Arsène is a pragmatist and I would be very surprised if he decided to cut the loan short and throw in the towel so early in Jenkinson’s career. As long as you show willing and effort, Arsène always gives longer than most managers for his young players. Just look at how long Senderos was given before Wenger decided he was a busted flush. So I suspect they’ll be no decision made until the summer, whereby Arsène will take a call. One wonders if, now that Bellerin appears to be being used as the right back of choice, we won’t see him improve to a point at which he’s had 20 games under his belt by the end of the season and has improved in a similar way in which Coquelin has improved with game time over the last few weeks. If that is the case, then I expect Arsène to have his plans influenced on the future of Jenkinson, but if Bellerin isn’t able to step up in the coming months Arsène still has the option of sending him out on loan and bringing Jenkinson back into the fold to fight with Debuchy for a place in the team.

The only other stories that appear to have come out over the last 24 hours appear to be from both Walcott and Giroud, the latter of which has said that he models himself on Schevchenko, Jean Pierre Papin (what a player he was) and of course Thierry Henry. Ollie: if you could take a few pinches of each of those players’ footballing essence and sprinkle it over your maple and pecan crunch in the morning, that would be a-ok with me. Just try to avoid the Headbutty, will ya?

He’s shown an efficiency in front of goal this season that I think has been lacking in previous seasons. Last year he did well, but he was always slightly lacking in that ruthlessness to be one of the best in the league, I felt. I don’t know whether or not it’s got anything to do with the competition he’s now got, but he seems to have suddenly become a lot more effective in front of goal. When he’s been fit and not suspended that is.

Perhaps the same that pushed Szczesny to up his game last season, has also pushed Giroud to up his game too? The arrival of Welbeck would suggest his position is not 100% guaranteed and with the manager faced with other options like Theo and Alexis who could also (in theory) play through the middle, Giroud is probably looking at his situation as more precarious than it’s ever been.

It’s why I can kind of understand what Walcott is talking about when he mentions that our squad is probably better attacking-wise than he’s ever seen it. When Walcott arrived we had some amazing players, but they were the cream of the crop and once you got beyond the first two or three forwards, I always felt that we weren’t as strong in squad depth as we are today. There’s more competition for places today and as a result we might just be seeing the value of competition as it pushes players to be at their best, or fear losing their place.

Just a thought and a theory. What’s yours?

Anything’s a bonus today

It’s Sunday, the time of prayer in the Christian world, to which I too am offering up some prayers to the football gods for this afternoons game. I am praying for a win or even a draw, because let’s face it, our chances seem slim giving our history, the form of the champions, our patchy form, plus more news that we’ve lost more players to injury this week. Yet more blows to the team.

Yet despite the injury problems, despite the opportunity to address that by signing somebody in January and despite the bookies and most pundits expecting this to be a routine home win today, the good thing about pre-match run ups to the game are that there is still hope.

I still hope that we will turn up and surprise City. I still hope that we can put in a performance more like the one at home to Stoke rather than the one away to Stoke. And I still have hope that Alexis Sanchez will win the battle of the big stars against Sergio Aguero.

In the reversal of this fixture it was Alexis who put us ahead with a stunning volley that was worthy of winning any match, but as usual our defensive fragility came back to haunt us, conceding from a corner allowing an unmarked Demichelis to nod home. City could have had other goals that day and we rode our luck, but a draw was probably a fair result, so given that the oil whores are on home soil today, I would expect to be punished more than we were at home if we defend like we have done at times this season.

The manager has a decision to make on who plays in goal and, whilst Ospina has done nothing wrong, I just wonder if Arsène will bring Szczesny back into the team today. Wojciech has gone on record before to say that sometimes he needs that bit of competition to push him and improve him. Well Woj, now you’ve had it because you’ve lost your place, so what are you going to do? Arsène might just have that in his mind and he might have used a relatively safe game like Stoke at home to scare Wojciech into thinking he could lose his place into the side. So if he starts today, I fancy him to be quite motivated indeed, so I do.

Defence picks itself I think. Back two because we don’t really have any options, with Monreal still playing instead of the returning Gibbs, plus Chambers on the right hand side rather than Bellerin. Hector has done nothing wrong, but he’s a young and inexperienced player who has struggled at times away from home, so I’d be surprised if he was in the team from the start against City.

Midfield and attack is where it gets interesting, because Arsène does have a choice, so I think he’ll find it tough deciding who starts today. I think Coquelin has done enough to retain his place, but the role of the other two midfielders is a tough one. I suspect he’ll start Cazorla from the beginning in the middle, because he’s been so effective of late, but does he go with Ramsey or Rosicky as his box-to-boxer? Or does The Ox get the nod, with Theo wide right and Alexis wide left? That pace would certainly give City something to think about and if they play a high line against us then you have to hope that we can capitalise if both those two are flanking Giroud up top.

One things for sure, if those two do play, we need to get Santi or Özil on the ball as often as possible. They are the two best passers at the club and if we’re going to go direct with pace, then those two need to be given the ball any time we break down a City attack. Ramsey and The Ox’s passing range is not great at all, but Santi and Mesut could drop the ball on a pin head, so you want to see them giving Alexis or Theo the ball from deep.

We also have the option of hitting Giroud with the ball and, with his ability to be such an effective link up man up top, one suspects that the two wide men need to be as close to him as possible for the big Frenchman to have an effective afternoon.

Whatever side we put out, the odds are stacked against us and with all of the teams around us winning yesterday, I don’t hold out much hope. Defeat today isn’t the end of the world, because all of the other teams that visit the Etihad around us will drop points there, if they haven’t done so already, so it’s a strange situation where I’m looking at this game and thinking a single point would be a bonus.

Keep those fingers crossed and let’s hope for some positive news come 6pm.

Stoke preview: time to get back to being flat-track bullies

Blimey am I not a fan of these Sunday 1.30pm kick offs. It’s a ruddy pain in the derrière if I’m completely honest. After all, Sunday’s should be solely for sleeping in and recovering from any said hangover that one might have. Particularly if Arsenal have won from a 3pm kick off on a Saturday. Sleeping and terrible TV. That’s what Sunday’s should be about.

Still, rather than be accused of being ungrateful for what I’ve got, I should be thankful that I get to go in the first place. Which I am. Many cannot, I am privileged to be able to, even though I certainly pay my pretty pennies for it.

Listen to me, moaning away like some sort of grizzled old prospector who hasn’t found a single ounce of the yellow stuff in months. Today is a happy day! Or at least, it is for now as we all prepare for the game this afternoon against the Orcs of Stoke. Should we be victorious in battle (and I’m sure it will be a battle), we will leapfrog the Spuds and be right on the coat tails of Southampton, so perhaps there is cause for optimism rather than grumbliness.

There’s optimism too on the injury front. We’ve got a trio of midfielders returning in the shape of Ramsey, Özil and Flamini and I suspect we’ll see at least one of those players start. I couldn’t be 100% sure who that would be, but if I was forced under duress to pick one, I’d go with Ramsey. He’s the only player who’s position hasn’t seen a colleague step up and perform well in, so with Santi’s and Le Coq’s form being as it is, I expect those two to accompany Rambo in the heart of our team.

The defence should pick itself and, you’d have to think that Szczesny will start. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Ospina, as well as Wojciech’s attitude, but his attitude hasn’t suddenly changed overnight from the Southampton game. He’s always been viewed as a little bit arrogant and so I’d be surprised if Arsene bought Ospina in for today’s match up. If he does play, as The Arseblogger said on his Friday Arsecast, I think there’s more to this smoking story than meets the eye. Players had smoked before, but to be booted out of the team like that would point to something else in my opinion. There will be those of you probably saying now “yes, but he was terrible against Southampton so that might be why he could be dropped” and I understand that line of thinking, but the game before against West Ham he was excellent, so I don’t think Arsène would drop players on the basis of one game. He’ll look at it over a series of games and so far you can hardly say Szczesny has gone all ‘Almunia’ on us, can you?

The front three will be an interesting one to pick. Alexis and Giroud come straight in I think, but who occupies that third space? For me, as much as I’m loving the longer term prospect of Walcott and Alexis’ pace in our front three, I would give The Ox the nod this lunchtime. My thinking here is that the Ox is better with the ball at his feet. He’s a better dribbler and will be able to beat a man. Let’s not pretend that Stoke will come here today and be anything other than very compact and sit deep. They will hope to give us possession in front of them and not allow any space in behind their defence by sitting deep. Theo is a player that is unplayable when there is plenty of grass to run in to, but if teams sit deep, I’ve seen him struggle at times.

Last week against Hull was the perfect game for him because it was a knockout competition. Hull got nothing from sitting back and keeping it to 1-0 and so there was naturally more space for Theo. He got more chances as a result and if he had been back a few weeks earlier and already had a few games under his belt, I think he would have cleaned up. But I can’t see him getting that much joy today.

The Ox can be a little bit wasteful at times, but he is better operating in smaller amounts of space and so that’s who I would pick. The good news is that with so many players returning, we have plenty of options from the bench should the afternoon not go the way we are hoping it will.

This will be a tough game. It always is against that lot. They will rely on Arnautovic and Bojan to hit us on the counter and Mark Hughes will want to see Crouch holding the ball up as much as possible to bring those runners in to play.

If you look at both teams you say this is a home banker. But we are the patchiest form team in the league. Every game this season that I’ve rocked up at home has been a case of shrugged shoulders when somebody asks me over a pre-match pint ‘what’s the score going to be?’. I have no idea. We could win this by three goals (unlikely), or we could labour to a draw, or just as easily get done over by the one shot Stoke have in the entire game. Your guess is as good as mine.

What we do need to start seeing though – like, now – is a string of victories being put together. It’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future, as we have an away trip to Momeychester City next weekend, but that makes the importance of three points, all the more obvious today. Last season we were flat track bullies with every team below see the or eighth in the league. I’ve accepted that we’re never going to win away games against the bigger teams, but if we can get back to home and away wins against the mid and lower league teams like Stoke today, then we should have enough for fourth. But we haven’t done that all season, so our form needs to change, and change soon, if that standard season trophy is achieved once again for the bagillionth time under Arsène Wenger.

That’s yer lot from me today. Come on you reds!

The horizon of hope (and less injuries)

Well what have we hear? Good news and returning players from injury? Is that cause for optimism I see galloping over the horizon, heading towards us at a rate of miles per hour? Sort of, I guess, because until we win some back-to-back games, which seems as likely as a Ched Evans apology right now, I don’t think that Black Beauty will neigh its way past us for a few weeks. We have a game against Stoke tomorrow with which you’d hope we can pick up a victory, but the following week see’s us go to the Etihad to pick up yet another loss to continue our dreadful away form against the big teams.

But stop this, Chris, because you’re being positive today so get back on track for today’s blog. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts…..3-2-1 you’re back in the room…

So we have the return of Mesut Ozil to all get excited about. Missing since October, his patchy form of the beginning of the season belied his natural ability and I think – as does Arsene if you believe his presser yesterday – that we’re going to see the best of our German for the second half of this season. Arsene spoke about the ‘hunger’ that he has back in his belly and that’s a-ok for me. He’s a man who see’s things that nobody else in our team can do. We may have bemoaned the lack of Cescyness in our team this season, but you only have to look at the sheer volume of assists he made for us last season, as well as for a number of year’s with Ronaldo, to know what we’ll get in our team.

This is the thing you see. Ozil has never had someone at Arsenal with the pace and the ability to get in behind defenders. Ronaldo may be one of the most skilful players on the planet, but he is also a pacey one, getting in behind defenders and relying on his teammates as much as he relies on his own ability. Mesut spent the first half of this season either injured or shunted out wide, with only a handful of games in the middle. Arsene has already admitted that he saw his World Cup players look like they had a bit of what he called ‘artificial hunger’, but with Alexis out wide on the left, Giroud through the middle and one of Welbeck/Ox/Walcott occupying the other position, if Arsene is going to get Ozil in this team it will be in that number 10 role that we’re all craving him to play in.

It will however, mean the end of Santi’s spell in that position and as a result you have to feel for the Spaniard. There are plenty that will – rightly – call for Ozil not to come in until he has earned his place or until Santi’s form has dipped, but I reckon we’ll see Ozil slowly drafted in to the team regardless of how well Cazorla played. That’s just the way he is. He has his favourites. Always has, always will. But hey, at least we now have enough options to be genuinely having a discussion about who has earned the right to play, eh? Much better than looking at a squad and repeatedly reciting the word ‘deadwood’, right?

With Ozil’s arrival we also find more positive news on the injury front, as both Ramsey and Flamini have been declared fit, so it means we finally have more options for the manager to choose from. Competition is important to at the top of professional football, as we’ve seen with Szczesny, so to have Flamini and Le Coq now fighting it out, as well as Ramsey, Ox, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky all vying for a starting slot, it augurs well for the players’ desire in the latter part of this season.

That’s why I don’t think Szczesny should be dropped right now, actually, because I think the knowledge that his position is under threat might just spark the kind of hunger we want to see from him. I have always been a fan of his, but with Ospina now fit and the press even questioning whether or not he should start along with some Arsenal fans, you do wonder if that is exactly what the Pole needs to recapture his form on amore consistent basis. Just think about what happened to him when the very real threat of Fabianski suddenly materialised after a few years of him clearly not challenging Wojciech for the gloves? It made him a better player and he even admitted it.

So I’d be inclined to make a public statement if I was the manager and start him tomorrow, but with a private sentiment that he’s a game or two away from losing his place on a longer term basis.

By the sounds of it Arsene was in fine form yesterday, making the odd joke and even being slightly coy with his response about the whole smoking thing and there being someone who leaked information into the dressing room. I bet Stevie Bould is shifting a bit awkwardly in his seat today, because John Jensen did him up like a kipper by leaking the info about the smoking a few weeks back. Anyway, water under the bridge, or water out of the showers and onto a Benson & Hedges, I guess you could say. Everyone will move on and hopefully we’ll do the business tomorrow.

I could talk a little bit about the transfer stuff, but I really can’t be bothered if I’m honest with you. There will be plenty of time to be looking at that sort of stuff when the football isn’t on, so let’s just be happy in our Saturday activities, safe in the knowledge that for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a squad that is looking more impressive week-by-week.

So long, you wonderful lemon flavoured popsicle sticks.