Not even new signing excitement could avoid the tedium

Happy Thursday is wished unto thee, as you like I, battle the tedium that is an international break.

We’re fully into the festering swamp that is internationals now, so there’s no point on looking back and discussing football of weekends past, we just have to keep our eyes on the prize and focus on the visit of Moneychester City to The Emirates on Saturday week.

Last night I made the epic mistake of tuning in to about 40 minutes worth of England Vs Norway and, perhaps surprisingly, found some comfort in the game. The comfort came from the fact that my expectations and experiences of international football have not proven to be false and that it really is a total waste of time. 40,000 people (less than half the stadium) decided that they had nothing better to do in Wembley last night, but by the end of the 1-0 win there will hardly have been any people inside the stadium that would have felt it was a worthwhile journey.

A turgid England was only made more satisfying, for me as an Arsenal fan, by the noises that came from corners of the media saying that Wilshere had a decent game and that Welbeck made a positive impact when he came on for the last 20 minutes. Let’s just hope that all the Arsenal players can come back fit as a fiddle after the qualifying game against Switzerland.

I suppose one positive I can draw from this international break is that by playing a team like City straight after the internationals have finished, we will be playing against players that have also been on international duty, which means there is no additional advantage gained over a team that has had a week to put their feet up. I know that it shouldn’t really matter at this stage of the season, and that having international quality players is what you need in your team if you want to win things, but I’m looking for any sma victories here, so humour me folks.

So we got our first glimpse of Arsenal’s Welbeck yesterday, who looked like he had a spring in his step, if you don’t mind me saying. Perhaps he was buoyed by his transfer and the prospect of finally getting a chance to play as a central striker? Whatever it was, he looked pretty decent and having had his first interview posted on the official site in the afternoon, he’s already endearing himself to fans like me with his comments.

Whilst recognising he spent a lot of time at United, he was very focused on all things Arsenal and the future, perhaps even being slightly dismissive of his past if I do say so myself. And I do. Because that’s what I want to hear and it’s always better to believe what you want to believe, rather than what could be the reality, which includes the fact that having been in the United first team for many years he’ll have been media trained to BBC news anchorman standards.

Regardless of the likelihood that he was telling us what we wanted to hear, it was still good to hear him speak so glowingly about The Arsenal, watching them on TV all the time, admiring the style of football and imagining himself playing for us. What I also liked about his interview was the sense that he already felt part of the club, using the all encompassing ‘we’ to describe Arsenal as a team, the recent history, etc. It’s the little things, you know?

But actually, it’s what he started to touch on (admittedly with the help of the interviewer) when talking about the creative players that we have, that had me getting excited of the prospect of him being a success at the club this season and I the future. He talked about linking up with the midfielders, about getting in behind defences and about using his pace to bag himself a few goals. It was only a year ago to the day that you could look at our team and, Theo aside, wonder how many times the players we had could get in behind defences like the Arsenal teams of old. Now, with the additions of Welbeck, Sanchez and Campbell, there are multiple options with pace as well as Walcott. The hope is that we can use it to our advantage.

I hope he hits the ground running on Saturday week and I hope we see him bang in a debut goal. That would be special and give us all a massive lift.

There’s not really a lot else to report on. It was nice to see Chambers get some minutes on the pitch towards the end of the match yesterday, plus the Ox got another good run out after injury last season and despite the fact he didn’t have the best game in the world, he will need time to rediscover his potency in the attacking third of the pitch so I’m not particularly worried about that. Jack will have also have felt good about getting another decent performance under his belt and, with all of the scrutiny he has over everything he does, it’s pleasing to see he’s essentially ignoring the morons in the media and getting his head down and working towards being the great player he can be. I still wonder how much game time he’ll get when Arteta, Ramsey and Özil are firing on all cylinders in the middle of the park, but it’s a concern for another day so I’ll park any further thoughts on that for now.

That’s yer lot from me today. Stay safe in this bleakest of international breaks.

The striker issue isn’t black and white

Howdy there you, hope you’re doing hunky doory, if that’s even how you spell that??

Yesterday I had a bit of a ‘life is different to back then’ moment, so I thought I’d bring myself back in to the here and now and reflect on Arsene’s presser yesterday and the Champions League draw, which will once again see us pit our wits against Borussia Dortmund, whilst also taking on Galatasaray and Anderlecht. It’s no surprise that Chelski got a buy into the group stages, but in all fairness we can be pretty happy with our lot given that, the Germans aside, it’s a group that we should be looking to qualify from. It would be nice if we could go through as group winners for a change, so one would expect that the head-to-head against BVB will be a decider on who tops the group. The first game will be at Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so it’s up to the team to try to replicate the 1-0 victory in Dortmund last season to get us off to a flying start.

In the meantime, there is a game this weekend against Leicester and then the small matter of a home game against the reigning champions, so there’s plenty of time for us to get into our rhythm before the Champions League starts. Not. It’s fair to say that we haven’t exactly hit the ground running as yet, but with the injuries having a part to play in the stuttering beginning to the season (unusual for us as we have tended to always start strongly and fade away towards the end of campaigns), we need to start clicking into gear and doing so quickly. That comes with matches, with new players being able to bed in and with established players finding their form, so this weekend’s game against newly promoted opposition represents a chance to lay down a marker. More on suspected team line ups tomorrow, but Arsene did confirm that both Arteta and Gibbs will continue to be missing until after the International break, which will mean Monreal and the Flamster continue to deputise.

We all know about Giroud and his long-term absence, so it was not really a surprise when Arsene was once again quizzed about finding a replacement up top. He, as would be expected, extolled the virtues of the talent he already has available in Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. Later on, I think in an interview which wasn’t part of the afternoon presser, he stated that there were too many strikers and he would only look to bring another one in if one went out. Whilst there will be those that will wonder whether that means a potential loan move for the raw Sanogo, or a permanent move for the clearly unflavoured Podolski, I suspect that the comment was designed to explain to the masses that Arsene really isn’t looking for another forward at all. Further evidence to this school of thinking can be found in the words of the BBC’s David Ornstein, who has always been seen as somewhat of an unofficial mouthpiece for the club, as he confirmed that Arsenal are after a centre-half or defensive midfielder.

Whilst my initial reaction to Arsene’s assertion that he has enough strikers and that only ‘top,top top quality’ would do (although I must question this definition given that Gervinho managed two seasons at the club) was to be slightly aggrieved, upon some reflection about the possible options out there, I could kind of understand where Arsene is coming from. Giroud’s injury is certainly a big blow and we will no doubt feel his absence, but his absence is something that we all feel needs to be replaced with somebody for the here and now, and therein lies our problem. There are plenty of names being kicked around amongst arsenal fans, but the reality is that any player coming from any league other than an English one, will need time to bed in, which is time we simply don’t have. Just look at Sanchez; he is still finding his feet, still needing to hone his radar so that he latches on to Ozil passes, etc. Any new player brought in from another league is going to go through the exact same process. So we are effectively back to square one because we don’t address the here and now in terms of finding a goalscorer instantly.

“But what about finding one from the Premier League?” I can almost hear you say, but again, I’m not sure what other options are out there that will be suitable for our style of play and the way Arsene is setting up his team. Remy and Bony are names that come to mind, but both are different to Giroud as strikers, so if at the moment we are looking at finding somebody to fit our existing style, then they won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t really many Giroud-style replacements out there – certainly not in the Premier League – that you and I would see as worthy upgrades. So it does leave the manager in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. Unless his plan is to change the attacking philosophy, to which I think Tim Stillman put the most eloquently in his blog on Thursday this week over at Arseblog Towers. If the plan to adapt the style is therefore needing to be accelerated, I would have to wonder if, actually, Arsene is right, and we do have enough players up top when Walcott arrives. The only caveat I’d place on this however, is that Walcott is an injury prone forward and if he breaks down again, we’re back to square one, with a lack of pace up top and a reliance on Sanchez to bed in a lot quicker in his debut season.

I don’t really ever pertain to have any answers, I’m just an observer, but what I do know is that we need to start hitting top form soon if we want to win that all-elusive Premier League trophy. I know that in some sense Arsene is right – it’s not always clear cut – not always black and white when it comes to football systems and finding players from other clubs that can fit neatly into the right gaps that Arsenal have in their team. There is a balance to be found and players to fit systems, but just because a player like Remy, for example, looks good in a Newcastle or QPR shirt, doesn’t always mean he’ll automatically fit in at Arsenal and bag 15 goals in the first half of the season.

That’s all from me on that today I’m afraid. Things to do and all of this pondering is giving me a headache. Cheerio folks. until tomorrow.

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.