Big Brother household – Cech saga style; upsetting the harmony isn’t something Arsene will do

Day (what feels like) 72 in the Big Petr Cech House and, much like the social experiment TV programme that nobody bothers watching any more because everyone’s realised that the inhabitants do absolutely nothing at all, there’s nothing going on in the Petr Cech Saga. No new spins. No fresh angles. Just a quick article on Sky Sports explaining why Arsenal need Petr Cech and why he would be good for Arsenal. Stop…the..presses… In other news, the sky is blue, the grass in my garden is green and putting your head in an oven when it’s on full blast might just cause you some discomfort.

Cech will be good for us. He is better than what we have. That’s pretty much all we need to know. He’ll most likely make saves other ‘keepers in our current squad would struggle to get to, he’d be a more commanding presence in the box than the others and he comes with a big reputation. It ticks all the boxes. Now we just need to tick Chelski’s, with probably an extra nought added on if Jose has anything to do with the deal.

The non-Arsenal transfer news of the day is Kondogbia to Inter Milan. Yep, Ben warned me about declaring my hand and desires so early in the summer, and it seems I should have heeded his advice because my expressions of desire for him to play in an Arsenal shirt have clearly led to the footballing fates deciding that I cannot have what I want. Or, to put it another way, Arsene is not sure that he’s the type of player we need. Sure, he was a beast against us in the Champions League at the Emirates, but one swallow does not a summer make, eh? But what about if it’s a really really hot day? No? Ok then.

It is a testimony to the evolution of Francis Coquelin that the Arsenal Twitterverse hasn’t exploded into a ball of molten fury, ready to unleash all of its social angst and outrage on the wider world. But as it is the masses appear to be by and large abated, perhaps still revelling from the FA Cup win, satisfied with a season rescued by the form in 2015, coupled with the distraction of the Cech deal. I too feel that we need more depth in that ‘ball winning’ part of our team, but it is not as simple as ‘buy player x’, because the club need to move players on too. With so many of us that lamented the ‘deadwood’ of four years ago, isn’t it prudent of the club to ensure it balances the squad in a way in which the irons are in the fire being shuffled to make room? I think so. One of Flamini and Arteta surely do not have a future at the club and I would imagine the transfer negotiation team are working as hard on the ‘outs’ as they are on the ‘ins’.

There is a balance to be struck because spunking £25million on a player who may not even start based on Coquelin’s form is a tough one. Yet there needs to be a decent enough calibre of player who can rival the young Frenchman. That’s why I have a feeling that despite all of the noises about Schneiderlin, we aren’t after him, or any player in that ‘elite’ price tag. I have a feeling Arsene will try to go under the radar to pick up an understudy to Coquelin. I have no real basis for that inclination, nor can I offer you any kind of action from the club that suggests it, I can only give you what I have seen happen over many years of supporting Arsenal and knowing that Arsene spends a lot of time worrying about harmony and balance of his squad. Throwing in a £25million player in defensive midfield might be something we’re all keen on, but it will upset the apple cart with regards to our Spanish Captain, Coquelin and probably Flamini. You’d be right in exclaiming “tough. We need better players and it’s a cold world out there”, but whilst Arsene appears to be doing that with the ‘keepers, I just don’t see it happening in two positions this summer. It’s why I’m also not convinced we’ll land a megabucks striker. Arsene has plenty of players in those positions and if Walcott signs on for another three to four years, Wenger will feel he has enough to have a go with what he’s got.

And do you know what? With a world class ‘keeper in between the sticks, I think we’ve got a very strong squad that can compete. Ideally I’d love another ball winning defensive midfielder, but I think we’re good enough to compete.

Switching off to the press talk

Happy Saturday to you and yours. Me and mine are spending it doing the square root of naff all, on account of an impending venture to the Algarve next week. There’s a haircut, new house key cut and potentially a bit of back garden lawn cut, but that’s about it.

In Arsenal land, the only cutting that might take place is the possibility of Arsenal’s approved agent list length taking a bit of a cull, after it was announced that Arsenal are going to be charged for the Calum Chambers deal last summer. I don’t know the technicalities, but it appears Arsenal are convinced they acted in the proper way and for a club who always prides itself on doing things properly, it is a little bit of a surprise. 

What this will mean I’m not quite sure, but I suspect a fine and a bit of a slap on the wrist is the most likely outcome. From the footballing side it’s unlikely that the player will face any kind of punishment; the players are rarely involved in any kind of element of any deal that goes through – they leave it to their agent – so it’s not as if he’s going to have his FA Cup medal stripped from him and told to go back to Southampton and forget that his Arsenal adventure ever happened.

It’s a murky world, is the world of transfer dealings, in which i suspect no party is ever really innocent. 

The rest of the Arsenal guff at the moment centres around the international games, as well as transfer stuff, most of which we’ve heard before. I do wonder how creative the hacks will get in order to re-word the same story again and again. Cech is off to Arsenal, you see. Arsenal are on the verge of signing Cech. The Cech deal edges closer. Arsenal are on the brink of an international ‘keeper arriving. Yawn. How about we try a new thing of not mentioning him until he either a) arrives at the club, or b) goes somewhere else. That works for me and probably most Arsenal fans around the world.

The same can be said for contract negotiations with existing players. Just wake me up when it’s signed, Theo, would you? I’m not interested in the protracted nature of any agreement. I just want to know if you’ll be an Arsenal player for another three to four years and if so, sign your deal and start to worry about how to get back in to the Arsenal side on a regular basis. You’re a good player and I’d love you to stay, but if I’m honest all of this posturing is getting on my wick a bit.

I suppose I have Arsène to thank for my increased apathy levels over the Walcott situation. After all, he went out and strengthened us to a point where if Walcott left we’d have plenty of other players to fill his boots from both a goalscoring and pace perspective, so this current contract ‘saga’ is bit more like a contract ‘minor distraction’ this summer.

Much too like the rumours of Wilshere’s potential exit. Any time I see any kind of newspaper article looking to explore that particular avenue, I usually ignore it completely, because I can’t see either party – Arsenal or Wilshere – offloading. Earlier in the season Arsène went to great lengths to try and accommodate a Wilshere/Ramsey midfield, such is the clear affection he has for both, so I don’t see him handing over Jack to one of hogue oil whores so they can fulfil a quota. Yes he needs to try and get better at avoiding injury and yes he needs an extended run in the team, but I think if he stays fit then Arsène will give him that, especially if he continues to look as sharp as his cameo appearances suggested at the end of the season.

Wilshere has no intention to leave either. He’s said “as long as Arsenal want me I’m happy” and having been at the club for more than ten years already and Arsenal having entered in to every fibre of his body, you can believe those words when he utters them, so I’m not really inclined to change my mind that he’ll be an Arsenal player for a long time to come, so long as he can continue to play regularly and play well.

There’s not really a lot else going on today. Rambo seemed to have a good game for Wales last night, even if it was the Madrid monkey who will have taken the plaudits, so that’s always nice to see. Wales top their group as of last night and must be favourites to be at France next summer, so it will be nice to be able to watch Rambo at a major tournament, so let’s hope it happens.

Catch you tomorrow.

Arsenal season review: An attack I’m happy with

Right then, shall we have a little look at the forward line and give them a bit of an assessment, eh?

This time last year we were all still enjoying the post-FA Cup glow, which had put a bit of a sheen on what was otherwise a season that appeared to disintegrate after such a fantastic start. If you will recall, it was widely accepted that defensively we’d performed well (big game mauling’s aside), but our forward line just, well, ran out of a bit of puff. Giroud needed some support, Podolski was becoming more and more inefficient and less and less trusted by the manager and we ended up seeing more of Yaya Sanogo than we’d have wanted, given his inexperience.

When the dust settled there was a World Cup to look forward to, but it was painfully obviously that we needed something addressed in our attacking part of the pitch. The over-reliance on Theo for pace was evident and with him out for the first part of the season Arsene had to act.

Boy, did he act, signing both Alexis and Welbeck for our forward line for a combined fee of around £51million (although Arsenal never disclose this so it is open to interpretation). It’s true that the Welbeck signing was born out of desperation given that Giroud broke his leg, but nevertheless it was still done by the manager. And now that we reflect on the 109 goals scored by Arsenal – ten more than in 2013/14 – we have to say that Arsene acted and acted well.

Ten additional goals seems a decent improvement if you ask me, but it is not just the statistics that I think shows the improvement in the team. We have options now. We are no longer reliant on one player for anything. Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis have pace. Giroud and Welbeck can lead the line. The Ox – who I’m including in the forwards assessment because he played more games wide right than in centre midfield this season – and Alexis can beat a man through their close ball control and dribbling. We have interchangeable players. Of course, some are better than others and one in particular has made a marked difference to the team, but overall you can say that we are stronger and can cope with the rigours of an inevitable injury crisis which seems to engulf the team each season.

But individually we’ve seen some great stuff too. Let’s start with the main man, Alexis Sanchez, who has been the Energizer Bunny for this team this season. What was fantastic about him is that he’s not only extremely talented, but he works so hard too, which immediately endeared him to the Arsenal fans. We love him. He has an explosive power that no other player in the team can match and whilst his ball retention isn’t always great, he is that player that can do something out of the blue. I’m thinking in particular the Moneychester City goal, the goal against Liverpool and the cup final goals. All examples of how he has wonderful end product. But unlike Poldi, who was all end product, Alexis does everything the German didn’t do, exemplified by the fact he must have picked up half a dozen man-of-the-match performances in the league this season alone. I’m thinking of the Burnley game at home in particular, or the Southampton game at home where we huffed and puffed but it was he that dragged us over the line to collect three points.

I don’t want to compare Podolski to Alexis, but given that Poldi was our wide left man before Alexis, it’s an easy one to make, so although we were all sad to see Lukas the personality go, Alexis the footballer is a magnificent upgrade. And that’s what we want from this Arsenal squad now. If you’re like me, then you like most of the players in the squad and would be happy to go in to next season with them all still playing for Arsenal. But if an upgrade comes along – like Alexis – who will enable us to take Arsenal to the next level, then we should be doing it straight away. Look at me, I sound like a proper Wenger convert, don’t I?

so Alexis get’s the praises for his debut season, his goals, his impact on the team and his ability to take us to the next level, but it is not just he who has contributed to this seasons success. Olivier Giroud has spent half of it injured, yet has still amassed 19 goals and before his barren spell was ended by the FA Cup final goal, he was on a rich vein of form at just the right time to see us secure third spot. That’s the difference in this team. Alexis hit a purple patch either side of Christmas and carried us through games. When the goals dried up for him, Giroud chipped in with goals in consecutive games from March onwards. Last season, when the goals dried up for him and if Rambo didn’t score, it felt like we didn’t have that extra player with Theo injured, to take us over the line and challenge for the league. My favourite Giroud goals are his trademark; the run to the near post and flick. Against Middlesbrough and in the cup final can be the perfect examples. There is plenty of talk about his replacement this summer, but I am not seeing a glut of strikers who will contribute as much as he does (and are available, I hasten to add!), so although there is a desire for a Giroud upgrade, I’d be surprised given all he has provided to us this season. He is a focal point. He is a player who will bring others in to play and unless Arsene finds Giroud mkII in terms of hold up play and overall team contribution, I can’t see him making an addition in that area of the field.

I think we’ll also get to see more of the best of Welbeck next season too. The one area of his game where everybody is focusing on is his lack of goals, but he has shown that he has it in him – just think about the hat-trick against Galatasaray as a prime example. He has also played parts of this team as a wide attacker and, whilst that wouldn’t be his preference as he’ll readily admit, his work rate to the team when flanked by Alexis on the other side gives us a dimension that we haven’t had before. He’s more powerful than Theo and contributes more to the overall team play, which is why I think we’ll see him – with a year of playing in the team and getting to know how his teammates tick – up his game next season. A special mention has to of course go to the Old Trafford goal, in which a footballer finally made a statement to the world that guess what? You can score against your old team and be happy about it.

The two remaining forward men are ones who haven’t had the greatest of seasons, but only because of disruption caused by injury. Theo has missed two thirds of the season as a result of his cruciate injury picked up last season, then a variety of niggly injuries that kept him out of the team. Arsene seemed reluctant to bring him in more readily but as any of us can testify to, when you’ve got a team winning back-to-back games for what was almost a club record, you don’t change it. But as we drew closer towards the final we saw that Theo has a place in the squad. A natural finisher and a man who set us on the way to the cup final, his hat-trick against West Brom was perfectly timed and the conversations on his new deal will be interesting ones this summer. I’d like him to stay. I think he gives us something different. But the club are holding the better hand than Theo this time around and if he tries to play silly buggers with them, they’ll offload I suspect. Arsene has said he won’t go this summer, but if we get in to mid-August without a resolution, I suspect there might be one or two teams that try their luck with a cheeky bid or two.

The second of the injury-hit players was the Ox. It’s a shame because the same happened to him at the beginning of last season on the first game against Villa, but he’s found himself in and out of the team because of his injuries. He made 23 appearances this season, which isn’t a bad return, but given his potential to nail that wide-right position because of his trickery and guile, he’d possibly have been hoping for more. He’s now had two seasons in a row in which he’s found himself injured for prolonged periods of time and I just hope that next season isn’t one in which he starts to be recognised as an injury-prone player like Jack. With a full season free of injury under his belt, I’d love to see just how good he could be.

The forward line is full of options. I haven’t even mentioned the talented Serge Gnabry, who will surely ant to get some game time next season – if not at Arsenal then on loan – and if I’m honest it is the one area of the field that I don’t think can be strengthened much, not unless we’re spunking close to £50million on one player and I’m not sure Arsene will do that this summer. But I’m ok with that. I think there are other areas of the pitch that need addressing in terms of building the squad depth, so if we go into this new season in August with Theo nailed down for another three to four years, I’d se that as a decent enough bit of business for the summer.

What do you think?

Still basking, with Jack and Theo on the mind

Still basking in the post-FA Cup winning glow? Well too right you are. Me too. I think if we won the FA Cup every year for the next year, the feeling would remain as strong each year, because winning trophies is what we want to see from our team and when it happens you need to appreciate the significance of the achievement. And it is an achievement. One that not many fans of teams in all divisions get to experience regularly. If you count the playoff final trophy as one – and we have no reason not to given the fact you do lift a piece of silverware – there are only eleven trophies across all 96 clubs that are available to be won each season. This season four of those avilable – Premier League, Community Shield, League Cup and FA Cup – were won by two teams. That leaves most fans of most clubs not getting to experience the highs of wins like we’ve had this weekend. Most fans are in the minority and it’s why the feeling of joy from a cup win should stay with you for some time yet.

So when I see Jack Wilshere appear from the team bus in the morning, amid rumours of all night boozing with his teammates, I’m not going to expect anything else other than a bleary-eyed twenty something individual take to a bus and celebration stage to sing songs in front of people who have been singing the same songs all year and have cheered him throughout.

So I was a bit surprised that the papers have picked up on his ‘foul-mouthed taunts’ and decided that this was one of the more newsworthy stories of the parade yesterday. Jack’s an Arsenal player, but he’s also an Arsenal fan, who was singing with other Arsenal fans about the Spuds. Some people in the media just need to pick themselves up a sense of humour from eBay or something.

The parade itself was lovely to watch – albeit from afar due to an inability to rouse myself from a beer-induced slumber in time to head over to North London. I think it even caught some of the players and presenters of Arsenal TV by surprise, because it was our second year of doing it and it was hammering it down. But as I mentioned above, this doesn’t happen all the time and for the majority of fans it will never become a reality, so it should be no surprise to see Arsenal fans out en mass for a celebration of a successful season.

And it has been a successful season. What we demand of Arsenal is success through trophies. What Arsenal demand of themselves is that plus Champions League football. We got both. So to me that is ‘job done’ for now. Sure, we want a league title triumph, but let’s appreciate what we have got for now.

As for the only other real bit of ‘news’ that came out of yesterday, it was talk of Theo’s contract and having scored the first goal yesterday and started in the cup final, he was understandably in good enough form to suggest that he wanted to get some sort of deal done but wanted to enjoy the day and the FA Cup final celebrations before sitting down with the club. It’s clear that this will be a long and drawn out process – he said so himself – and the club are aware of how Theo and his representatives like to play the waiting game. Arsène has done his bit to get negotiations along nicely by being able to say “look, I played you centrally in the cup final, so what more do you need to show that you will play more regularly next season and in future?”, but I suspect that it won’t be done and dusted by the time the Community shield comes around in August. If that truly is the case, then the club have some serious thinking to do about moving him on and if they have to do it in the last couple of weeks of August, it does weaken their hand slightly.

But anyway, he’s me prattling on about something that can really wait until the FA Cup win starts to become a mere memory, so I’ll leave the deliberating on the squad for another day.

See thee tomorrow.

Arsenal’s FA Cup: a new dawn

Has there ever been a more comfortable and one-sided final? Have we ever seen Arsenal do it the easy away in a big game, with such verve and vigour? Does this happen to us? Arsenal are supposed to make our lives difficult, aren’t they?

Apparently not. Apparently there is an ‘easy way’ and all we needed to do was to have a gooner managing the opposition.

My day started with the usual routine of cereal and blogging, but when I was asked the usual question from The Management of ‘are you nervous?’, much response was a surprise to both of us. ‘No’ was the simple answer. And it was the truth. I could not explain why, I just didn’t feel as nervous as I sometimes do when we play teams like Stoke, or even when we played Villa away and home in the league. 

Clearly that comfort translated itself to all the fans and the players yesterday, because the atmosphere wasn’t of nerves, but of confidence. We utterly dominated from the first minute.

Arsène’s decision to start Theo ahead of Giroud could have been a gamble, but after the West Brom game it was clear he would be confident and so it showed, as he was the one to get us on the road to victory with a fantastic precision finish. He was good all day, running the channels and switching with Alexis to cause Vlaar and Okore a headache throughout the game. 

But Theo can only be good with the support of his colleagues and to a man they all stepped up. Szczesny didn’t really have much to do, but when he was called into action to catch or punch the occasional ball clear, he did. Bellerin and Monreal dealt with the few Aston Villa forays forward, but more importantly provided plenty of width and options for Ramsey and Alexis on the overlap.

In the heart of the midfield Santi pulled all the strings and was masterful in possession, deservedly picking up the man of the match award, whilst Coquelin dealt with every attack when called upon as the holding midfielder. Ahead of those two, Mesut Özil floated about the pitch, finding pockets of space and distributing the ball perfectly each time. When you had a player like that it must be a dream for the forwards, because you know he’s going to draw players out of spaces and give you pockets to move in to. Then he’ll find you with a pass.

The front three – perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me as I thought getting Theo and Rambo into the same team would be nigh on impossible – were the epitome of movement and fluid attacking. Never stationery, always rotating and switching, Villa stood no chance. You only have to look at Theo’s goal as an example, as it was Alexis who won the header in the box and Theo arriving from the left to smash it home. For Alexis’ goal, he came from wide left and cut in field to unleash a thunderbolt, which would have probably have taken Given’s hand off if he’d have touched it.

This is two major trophies in two seasons. The players have tasted success twice and the Hull game last year has proven not to be a one-off. The team is growing. Mentally. The desire for more trophies and more success will only grow too now. The players will not accept that they can fall short and I think that will drive them on further.

It feels like this is a new dawn of success for Arsenal. Even more so than last year, because now the players will truly believe that they are winners. You can’t teach that, you have to learn it.

Today will be a soggy victory parade, but nobody in Arsenal’s world will care. We’re cup winners.

My cup final. Your cup final. Arsenal’s cup final. Make history.

This is it people. Cup final day.

It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.

First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.

But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.

Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.

It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.

But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.

Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.

Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.

However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.

That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?

So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.

It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.

Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal  – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?

I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.

Come on you rip roaring reds.

Up the Arsenal.

FA Cup countdown begins – an analysis of Arsenal’s key decisions

It’s Friday, the week has nearly met its maker, but more importantly we’re less than 24 hours until FA Cup final Matchday.

Much like when Arsène said that he still gets the same buzz as last year and every other time we’ve won a trophy under his tenure, the cup tomorrow feels as exciting and new as it did last year. I feel as nervous as I did last year and I didn’t get much sleep last night so I expect it’ll be the same again.

You know how when you’re a kid the prospect of Christmas is so exciting you can’t get to sleep? Then, as you get older, it becomes less exciting to wake up early in the morning to scramble downstairs? Well I don’t know if you feel the same as me, but as I’ve gotten older the reverse has happened with The Arsenal. Each time we get to the eve of an event like tomorrow’s, I feel more excited than I did last time. Christmas has well and truly been usurped by The Arsenal. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday I did ‘The Arsenal Discussion’ with Giles and Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV, and it’s pleasing to see so many other people who have the same experiences as me. I’m not alone in the week-long run up to the cup and that is somewhat comforting. However, as Tim Stillman said in his excellent blog that I read yesterday about cup highs and lows (sorry, on the iPhone typing this so no link. Just visit Arseblog and have a look), by the time I’m walking up Wembley Way it will feel like I’m the only person going through this, so I’ll become insular and sullen until a five goal advantage has been established, or the whistle blows and we’ve been declared victorious. Of course defeat will merely continue my melancholy for the following week at least.

One of the key themes for yesterday’s discussion was on how Villa would set up, with the congregation of assembled Gooners not quite 100% sure how Tim will approach the game. Does he go with a style to frustrate and counter like Swansea? Or does he opt for a more expansive style by looking to have a go at Arsenal with more creative players pressing higher up the pitch?

Both will have merits as well as drawbacks. A defensive style with bodies behind the ball and looking to counter quickly will work only if Aston Villa’s back line hold firm. It will mean reliance on the pace of N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor to quickly counter with Benteke from deep in their own half, like Montero and Gomis a couple of weeks ago.

Alternatively, Sherwood could – and has suggested he would – play a more attacking brand of football like he did against Liverpool. In that game, Aston Villa concentrated their efforts predominantly on Liverpool’s right hand side, giving Grealish, Delph and Benteke the freedom to drift into that area of the pitch. If Theo starts tomorrow (and I don’t think he will for this reason), then Bellerin won’t get that same level of cover as Ramsey, so Arsène has a decision to make there. I can’t see a way Theo and Rambo get in to the same line up, not with Santi and Mesut fit, so I suspect it will be the Welshman who will be granted the starting journey.

Another interesting point flagged yesterday was the goalkeeping situation, in which again everyone was divided, but I stand firmly in the Szczesny camp. I don’t know if he’s the long-term solution any more, but Ospina continues to raise doubts in my mind, regardless of the fact he’s been playing regularly and has done ok for us.

I just think Szcseny is the better ‘keeper overall. I think he can be more commanding in the box and yes, whilst he does have a rick or two in his game, I also think he’s more likely to have an outstanding performance than the Colombian. And as I said yesterday on the debate, if Villa are going to look to take advantage of Benteke’s obvious aerial threat, who do you think is best positioned to snuff out any danger by repeatedly coming to collect balls placed deep in to the back post? Wojciech did that all day long against West Ham back in December, but I haven’t seen Ospina from image his area as much as yet, so for me it’s difficult to argue a case for him.

Anyway, why not have a listen for yourself before the game (again, apologies for no link), by having a virtual wander over to Arsenal Fan TV on YouTube and searching for ‘The Arsenal Discussion’.

I’ll see you tomorrow!