Nobody fancies us

Well here we are. At the end of a long week that was made positively Jack Bauerian after defeat to Chelski and then a sucker-punch at home against a very average Swansea team. Yep, it’s just me and you chilling, waiting for tomorrow to arrive, trying to deflect the cruel retorts of rival fans who have decided to further stick the knife in on our title chances.

Nobody seems to fancy us tomorrow either. I’ve seen plenty of glum tweets on my timeline to suggest we’re facing an impenetrable wall and, whilst I’m not one to be blowing carbon monoxide into your back passage, I’m not sure whether the ‘we’ll lose 3-0′ is coming from if I’m completely honest. In fact, the one thing I’ve learnt from this topsy-turvy ol’ season, is that you can’t rule anything out. For example, we were sitting pretty at the top of the league and in-form when we went to Liverpool, yet they served us a metric tonnes worth of humble pie, so who’s to say we can’t do the same tomorrow? It’s a funny old game and all that…

Arsene was certainly taking that approach when he spoke to the official site yesterday and I think he made another good point: everyone is looking at Everton catching us at the moment, so why shouldn’t we look at doing the same to those above us?

Of course, the stark reality is that all of the teams around us appear to be bang in form at the moment, where as the only thing we’re ‘bang in’ on right now is an injury crisis coupled with a crisis of confidence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ll catch the teams above us, but on the eve of another big match at home I am full of that thing that all fans have in varying stages during the season: hope.

I hope that the players that haven’t had as much chance to prove themselves can step up to the plate and show that this team is capable of big results. I hope that we see the best of Thomas Vermaelen, The Ox, Santi and Giroud. But most of all I hope we can ditch the ‘big game bottlers’ tag that seems to be tightly affixed to our collective necks at the moment.

It’s hard to work out whether Arsene believes his own rhetoric when he speaks about taking positives from what was by and large a pretty poor performance against Swansea, so when he talks about Vermaelen ‘taking his chance’ you do have to wonder if it is more for the Belgian’s own confidence than actual belief that Thomas can usurp Koscienly for a starting spot. Against Swansea he did ok, but was still outmuscled for the Bony goal and when you’re up against an in-form Dzeko, who’s to say he won’t suffer the same fate? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s also the fact that Swansea didn’t really venture forward too much during most of the game, which meant that defensively we had little to do anyway, so you could question how well any of the back four did.

Arsene will take to the scrummage of mic’s this morning in his first proper duel with the press since the debacle at Stamford Bridge and, whilst I’m sure many will think he’ll go a bit prickly on the assembled hacks, I think he’ll make it one of the most all-time boring pressers there is to be had. After all, what more is there to say, that hasn’t already been said? How much more can they dig the knife in more than he probably has dug in himself at this point? I’d wager not too much, so Arsene will be as vanilla as possible and hope that his team responds on the pitch which if we’re all honest, is all we want to see as well.

The team news will reflect the boredom of today’s presser in that there isn’t really any of note to report. Kos begins the second week of his ‘three-weeks-then-setback-leading-to-another-three-weeks’ time on the sidelines and Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil will be mentioned in dispatches as playing for Arsenal at some stage between now and the end of 2020, so it will be on the players who’s form is as indifferent as Wenger’s opinion of ‘out-tacticing’ whoever his teams are up against on any given week, to put in the effort to nab us three points against a Moneychester City team that are back to being ‘a little bit scary’ again.

I know I’m being a bit flippant with my remarks today, but I really do hope that Arsene can turn it around, because I hate to see a well-regarded man have his legacy tarnished by the latter part of his tenure. I want us to go on a seven game unbeaten run, win the FA Cup and have the manager declare that he’s ‘going big’ in the summer to make us a title challenging side (right to the end). I’m not sure that will happen, but I want it nonetheless.

You?

An amazing defensive piece of the ‘victory’ puzzle

Today I would most like to be talking about our defence. Because it has occurred to me that I simply haven’t given them the level of praise they deserve of late. In particular, those gentlemen that sit at the very heart of the defence; the foundation, the bedrock of our miserly back five and the fulcrum of which our successful campaign has been built to date.

Step forward Per Metesacker and Laurent Koscienly ladies and gentlemen.

Per and Kos

The defensive stalwarts

I think for me, when it hit home the most was on my way back home after a long day in The Smoke, reading a copy of Tuesday’s evening standard. In an article talking about how we had ground out another win, whilst somewhat critical of Arsenal’s ability to give hope to opponents by not killing teams off, the writer did praise the nature of our defence. He also highlighted an amazing stat. So much so that I didn’t really believe it at first. It reads: 28 games, 20 wins, 8 draws, 0 defeats. That is the number of games Per and Kos have played together for a full ninety minutes. Zero defeats at all. It’s remarkable stuff when you think about it. Not least because it spans a number of seasons. When these two lads have played together for the duration of the game, we haven’t lost, to which the writer of said article rightly said that when you have a defence as strong as that, it does afford an element of profligacy.

Just think the confidence it gives to the whole team to know that. To see what knowledge and understanding of one another’s game does for teammates. It isn’t a fluke. These two play together so regularly that they intrinsically know what one another is doing. Because I’m telling you now, there’s no way that you can play that many games and get results like that, by way of fortune alone.

One really good example I can think of in recent memory is the home game against Cardiff on New Years Day. Kos had been caught higher up the pitch as Cardiff broke and, with Campbell turning Big Per quicker than two week old milk, the German hauled down his marker on the halfway line. It was cynical and deserving of the yellow card it got, but from my side I watched it unfold and knew that Mertesacker, without any knowledge of Koscienly’s exact positioning, knew he had to ‘take one for the team’ because he knew he had no back up.

These two are Ying and Yang. Per loves his role as Gandalf (‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS’) in putting in those big blocks, plus his positional sense makes him a perfect captain; a role he’s deputised in during the ongoing Vermaelen absence and when Arteta is rotated. Conversely, Koscienly relishes his status as Aragon, the all action runner that mops up and uses his recovery pace when Big Per falters.

How long can these two stay unbeaten

together? I do wonder what the football betting at William Hill online make of it and whether or not we will see a season of these two together undefeated. One things for sure, keeping those two together will have a massive bearing on where we finish this season.

I will be really interested to see if we can keep them both fit for our two spells of really tough games at the beginning of February and the end of March. If we do, well, that’s a massive piece of the ‘victory’ puzzle already clicked into place, my friends. It’s why Arsene also now has to think very carefully about rotation, because a fatigued player is a player that is more likely to succumb to injury, so I hope he uses Vermaelen where he can. Providing of course the Belgian also remains fit!

So share a little love with me for our two defensive stalwarts. And pray that they can stay together at the back until mid May.

No more Mr Orange, but Arsenal still need to be wary

Trying to predict what Arsenal side takes to the field this evening is a little like trying to convince a hormonally charged teenager that Justin Bieber is in fact “a bit of a tit”. Or, if you prefer a more Arsenal related analogy, it’s like trying to explain to Nik Bendtner that actually, no, the world does not see him as the saviour reincarnate. He too, is just a bit of a tit.

But it’s a Matchday, I’ve got an hour tube journey to assimilate some thoughts, and by joining me on my journey you obviously feel like reading some of my prose. I can’t think why, The Management and family roll their eyes anytime I open my gob. But thank you anyway. So, shall we talk about this evening then?

When the fixture lists are set in stone (only to be recast once Sky and now BT Sport have their grubby mits on them) at the beginning of the season, there’s probably not many people that earmark this game as a ‘big one’ and if truth be told Hull are hardly a side with which we have any real animosity. There was that time when they tried to burn the retinas of all opposing teams by hiring a manager so orange he started his own gravitational pull and a mini solar system exploded from within him, but thankfully the Phil Brown era disappeared a long time ago, along with his Premier League managerial credentials.

It’s a totally different side that will take to the field tonight from a Hull perspective, with the only potential exception being Paul McShane, who seems to be one of those ageless midfield journeymen. Whether or not he’ll start tonight I’m not sure, but I know that they’ll be missing one of their main defensive stalwarts tonight through suspension: Curtis Davies.

I don’t really know too much about our opposition tonight, except that they made Kolo try to dismantle the Hull turf on Sunday with his mammoth fist. They have a tidy ‘keeper in McGregor and a load of ex (or on loan) Spuds players, so we’ll need to keep an eye out for that ‘let’s get a bit of revenge for our former club’ mentality, but there’s no doubt that we’re overwhelming favourites tonight.

We will need to be wary though. The dispatching of Liverpool on Sunday showed that this team are capable of an upset. Yes, the game was on their own turf and yes Liverpool were a bit pants, but we need to be wary of the scabby corner of set-piece delivery followed by a game of defence versus attack as Hull show no ambition to get forward after scoring their only effort on goal after seven minutes.

We should have enough though, even if as Arsene has suggested, he rotates a little bit. The one enforced change will be Jenkinson for Sagna, who picked up a knock against Cardiff, and the young right back will be eager to make amends for his horror-show against Chelski in the Capital One Cup over a month ago. I, like you I’m sure, hope that Carl can recapture some of the form that earned him an England call up last season, but concentration needs to be something he needs to get better at. It’s games like tonight where that is most important. In defence, at home, against an opponent that will attempt to frustrate, he might only be called into defensive action a couple of times during the 90, so it’s important that concentration levels remain high. On the positive side, he’s one of the best distributors of the ball from out wide in the whole squad, so if he’s spending most of the evening getting forward it could be good for his confidence and the managers that he can step in when needed.

As for the rest of the team, Arsene has said he will have to rotate, but caveated his comments by asserting that he prefers to do it by smaller numbers per game, which means that I’m not sure that we’ll see too much switching around in the same areas of the pitch. That means I think we’ll see either Monreal or Vermaelen miss out a start in the side because of the forced change at right back. Le Boss mentioned something about the full backs getting more tired in games in his presser, so I wonder if the captain misses out and Monreal gets another shot at left back.

In midfield your guess is as good as mine. Personally, I’d like to see a three of Arteta, Rosicky and Wilshere, with Theo, Cazorla and Giroud up top. That’s not a slight on Özil, but I just want to make sure he’s fully fit and firing on all cylinders for Everton on Sunday. Likewise for Ramsey who, let’s face it, has covered the equivalent ground as Forrest Gump did in that film, I forget the name…

This is a classic ‘nosebleed’ game in my opinion. Everyone expects us to win and complacency could easily set in. But the one thing you have to say about The Arsenal this season is that we have been able to dispatch the so-called lesser teams with a lot more ruthless efficiency this season. With that in mind, we should be hopeful of a win and demanding of a good and positive start, but we shouldn’t take anything for granted.

So have at it lads, bring home the three points, and we’ll all sing up for The Arsenal.

Will confidence allow us to rotate?

I’m up early before the sun, I’m back home after the sun, jeez it can be a bit depressing, you know? Still, I have a football team that is casting shadows over the rest of the Premier League at the moment, so it’s not all bad right?

Yes, I know it sounds a bit too much of a chirpy statement, but if you can’t make hay whilst the sun shines ‘n all that (although admittedly right now there isn’t and sun whatsoever)…

It’s good stuff at the moment. We’re looking strong, we’re putting teams to the sword and we’ve not slipped up against some of the more, shall we say, workmanlike, teams in the league. We may only be 13 games into the season, but the signs are positive. Every interview that comes out of the club from the players is one that oozes belief. Mikel Arteta is the current man to sound the confidence klaxon. He spoke to the official site about the statement we made by picking up three points against a resolute and decent Cardiff side on their own patch. The score line looked comprehensive, although we know it was far from it in reality, which Tricky Micky says that it has made another statement of our Premier League credentials. And he’s right. Opposition players are talking about us more. Nasri (aka ‘The Punk’ – ask Oaf12) has spoken about the gap that City need to overcome sooner rather than later and he’s certainly right. Our consistency thus far has meant that the teams at the top of the league know they can’t afford to drop points because we have capitalised to date.

Of course we all know it means nothing at this point and you’ll certainly nee find this humble blogger trotting out tired cliches about no trophies before May. But tomorrow night we play Hull at home and a win followed up by another win on Sunday against Everton would put our rivals in a position where they know that anything other than 100% victory would result in us nosing ourselves further ahead. Both games will be tough and a challenge, but I’m in confident mood, as this round of midweek games means that all teams will be feeling fatigue come tomorrow and Sunday. It’s not as if we’re playing an opponent who has had the week off to recover. Does the fact that Hull and Everton not regularly play twice a week mean that they are not as battle-hardened to this much football at this time of the year? Maybe, maybe not, but one things for certain, our confidence and our experience of regular midweek matches will certainly put us on the front foot tomorrow evening and hopefully on Sunday.

Arsene will no doubt plant himself in front of the waiting media today and give us an update on who’s fit to play and who isn’t. Predicting the starting-line up has been as easy as predicting how many grains of rice there are in a jar at a summer fete these days, but until Le Boss gives us an update of who will be ready for tomorrow I’m not going to try. What I will hope for though is that we see a little bit of rotation. I want us to use some of those players that have been knocking on the door of Arsene, those that are ever-so-slightly on the outskirts of the first eleven, be given a chance. If some players are feeling a slight degree of tiredness, then they need to be saved for the Everton game. I’m thinking Vermaelen and Monreal specifically to be given the nod. With all due respect to Hull City, If you can’t rotate at home against a newly promoted side, how can you expect to challenge for the Premier League crown?

All of the squad should be buzzing. All of the players should be chomping at the bit to be part of the match day eleven and my hope is that those on the periphery are even more resolute and determined to play well when they are given the chance. Just look at Szczesny. As soon as he got himself some competition, as soon as he knew his place wasn’t guaranteed, he stepped up and has been superb ever since. Times that by the rest of the team and you have a hunger and mentality that can drive forward those squad players to go that extra mile. Perhaps that is what also had an impact on squad players of the last few seasons? Yes, I know many were not good enough, but if they’d have been able to give an extra 10-20% in games because they knew they were coming in to a winning team, how much would that have affected our overall ability to be successful? Players are human and if you can provide the right environment, then you will see them thrive, and that is what I think is happening now. That is why when a player comes in like Monreal did against Marseille, they look composed, because they’re coming into a team of confidence, they are desperate to show they deserve a place, they give that extra 10% as a result and we as fans benefit by feeling like we have a squad that can compete, not just a scrape top four each season.

Anyway, I’m rabbiting on, so I’ll leave it there for one day. You have a good one and I’ll catch you in the pub on Wednesday.

You can’t teach concentration

I do wonder why so many people get worked up with the invoice of that lot along the Seven Sisters Road. Seeing the Spuds to to a penalty shoot-out and then squeeze through against newly promoted Hull, I couldn’t help but feel a bit ‘oh well, never mind’ about it all. Yet I read some people who genuinely seemed a bit cut up about it. Let’s look on the positives, the first team players that played for them last night will have gone through 120 minutes so there will be an inevitable tiredness for players like Vertonghen. And, without attempting to jinx the future, if the Spuds lost or drew this coming weekend, wouldn’t you see it as a more preferable result? Of course they’ll probably end up winning and you can blame me, but hey-ho.

In the Arsenal world there’s a few interviews knocking around the official site. Thomas Vermaelen talk about how close the two sides were – bar a couple of individual errors – and whilst my red and white tinted eyes agree with our Belgian Captain, it is scant consolation for the fact that we got knocked out to that lot. In some respect I’d have preferred us going out to a ‘lesser’ team, as it saves the blushes of having to deal with the ‘Johnny-come-lately’s of the football world, but C’est la vie and all that.

We have to look forward and to a weekend where the top two clash. Arsene has promised a response and certainly I hope we get one. I still haven’t heard any news about the Flamster yet, which probably isn’t a good thing, but I would hope that the players that take to the field on Saturday evening will want to atone for the midweek display and get all three points. It won’t be easy, but they are capable, providing the basic errors that have cost us so far are ironed out. I think it was on a couple of Podcasts and Blogs that I read last season, but I vaguely recall hearing about how our team conceded more goals due to ‘individual error’ than any other team in the Premier League last season. That’s quite sobering when you think that teams like Reading and a QPR team that included Armand Traore and Jose Bosingwa were in the division. When you look at the defeats this season (and some of the victories) you can point to the same flaw in our game. Whether you think it was a second penalty for Villa on the first game of the season (I happen to think it wasn’t), Koscienly didn’t need to make the challenge on Agbonlahor. Bacary Sagna was nowhere to be seen for Lewandowski’s match-winning goal. And let’s not even run back over the mistake poor old Corporal Carl made in midweek.

With situations like the above described, I’ve always though it was just a bit ‘unlucky’ or ‘could happen to anyone’. Indeed, just look at the Hart/Nasastic mix up from the weekend that Chelski profited on. But the more it keeps happening, the more you start to wonder if it’s endemic in the squad, concentration is often lost in games. Perhaps in every game, but it just depends whether or not we are punished by a team that is quality enough, or not. The scary thing about that is that you can’t work on concentration levels on the training pitch. I don’t know how you can eradicate that at all actually. Maybe some sort of electric shock treatment? I’m sure there’s probably something human rights activists would have to say about that.

The players are only human and humans make mistakes. Some humans make more mistakes than others, but you hope that they learn from those mistakes. With a ball over the top like that one on Tuesday, perhaps next time Carl will take an extra glance to see where the opposing player is, or perhaps he’ll just head out for a throw-in? There’s no way of telling unless we have some sort of super-awesome mind-penetrating device that can get into players brains. We just have to hope that they don’t make those types of mistakes too often, or when they do, it doesn’t prove costly. The positive I take from Jenkinson is that he doesn’t want to hide. He’s happy to face up to the media, the fans, the world and to admit his mistake and show a desire to learn and get better. Arsene Wenger will show faith in that kind of attitude. If Carl shows that determination and learns from his mistakes, he’ll only get better and that can only benefit Arsenal as well. We have to remember as well that he is being asked to do a job on a sporadic basis, which means building your own personal momentum is difficult. Where he has been successful last season was where he had a run of games to play himself into form. It is true that at the top of the tree you don’t get that kind of time to find form, but I still hope that there is a player in there that can emulate Lee Dixon and be at The Arsenal for years to come. The next 18 months or so will tell us whether he’s a Dixon or an Eboue I think.

We should find out a bit more about the availability of players from the cheeky Arsene interview he does with the official site, so let’s hope for some good news on Flamini, or at least no more bad news on players. We’ve got enough injuries as it is so could do without the existing ones getting any longer. I doubt we’ll see the Flamster this weekend, but I’d see it as a massive bonus if he’s back for the United game.

Anyway, I’m offski to the Big Smoke, so I’ll catch you later.

Manny needs a move, Thommy needs games and a Polish boss that can see into the future

Morning Gooners, hanging in their? Chin up friend, we only have but a few more days before we can did ourselves of the international window beast that has plagued us thus far for that last week.

Even Arsenal.com is getting a little desperate. They have a Frimpong ‘Twitter Takeover’, presumably because nobody else was around to answer questions about their eating habits or favourite footballers when they were a kid six years ago. We all like Emmanuel as a person – he’s a Gooner at heart after all – but as a player I think his days are numbered and he appears to be slowly backing himself out of the exit doors at The Arsenal very slowly. He promised so much when he came onto the scene – a Flaminiesque ball-winning, no nonsense, hard-tackling midfielder – but he’s never really managed to step up and as a result I think he’s stagnating. We all know it will happen eventually, we’ll be sad when it does, but I think a permanent move away beckons sooner rather than later. After all, what chance has he got being Flamini’s replacement when we signed the actual Flamster in the summer anyway? Manny shouldn’t be waiting around for a chance for another year – he needs game time to get his career going.

Elsewhere, it’s all very quiet on the Western Front. Which can only be a good thing because it means that our players are all available and fit and haven’t had limbs severed off by their national team excursions. Even Koscienly played for France, despite sitting out a training session, so that’s positive. Still, there are another round of games tomorrow, so there’s plenty of time for Arsenal players to be struck down with the plague and be out for the rest of the season.

One person who must have been a little optimistic after hearing about Koscienly’s injury is Thomas Vermaelen. He’s not even getting a game for his national team any more and, with Kompany out injured at the moment, he would surely have hoped that he would be given a chance for the national team. But their squad is one of those ‘golden generation’ types by the looks of it, which means the Belgian coach can afford to drop players when they’re not playing. That sort of rejection will be affecting Vermaelen. Last night I did the first of hopefully a few Suburban Gooners Podcasts and the subject of Vermaelen cropped up. I said I hoped that he uses his bench time to be a motivator and when he’s called upon show how good he is in the same way Szczesny has done at the beginning of the year. Arsene doesn’t like to rotate, so seeing the Belgian starting will only become a reality dictated by cup or injury, but when he gets his chance he has to take it. If he doesn’t get his chance? Well, let’s put it this way, if he hasn’t made six or even appearances by January I think he’ll be looking at heading elsewhere.

There really isn’t much else out there at the moment, so I’ll leave you with the strange scenario Poland had by naming both of our Polish ‘Keepers on the subs bench at the weekend. I thought that was a strange one, unless you’ve been granted the gift of hindsight and know that you’re going to lose two ‘keepers in a game. Unfortunately the Polish national team boss must have been duped on that one, because he didn’t even need one spare goalie on the bench, let alone two. Maybe he needs a new flux capacitor.

Anyway, I’m done for the day, so I’ll catch ya on tha’ flip side.

Out.

A pressing need for pressing

Do you know it’s been bloody ages since I wrote a blog about something else other than topical subjects that was happening in the world of Arsenal right now? So I find myself this very day quite bored of the ongoing transfer nonsense and inclined to pluck some thoughts from my cerebrum and dump them on to this here online parchment I see before me.

The title pretty much gives away what my focal point of personal discussion is today, but I’ll spell it out anyway for consistency:

What in the name of all that is Dennis happened to our pressing game?

You know, the one where all players would close down quickly and win the ball off the opposition as early as possible so we could turn defence into attack quickly, that type of pressing.

I remember being at a BBQ a few years back and not getting the chance to get anywhere near a TV, radio or online for a prolonged period of time on the first game of the season. Arsenal were away to Everton and when I got to a radio I was nervous. Everton are a good team and a result there was always going to be difficult. I needn’t have worried. As the news announcer declared the final result of 6-1, I heard of a team that had torn apart an industrious Everton side that simply couldn’t handle the attacking flair, even of a new centre-back who rocked up with a goal on his debut. Thomas Vermaelen was his name. But what really stood out for me during that short synopsis of the game by the commentator, was how he waxed lyrical about our high line of pressing, never giving Everton a moments peace.

And that’s how the season continued. We pressed from the front, worked hard from attack to defence, and picked up results, going on to compete for the title until at least March time. Yet here we are, three years later, with a team whose fitness levels are certainly no worse than the 2009/10 batch of players, yet I rarely see us engage in that type of activity.

And I have to tell you, I find it really odd, not least because we all know and are told that Arsene prepares his players really well and they are some of the fittest in the league. And we all know that if they wanted to, they could all do it. Yet we don’t for some reason that is unbeknownst to me.

You only have to look at one of the best teams in Europe over the last three or four years – Barcelona – to see what effective pressing can do. The last time Barcelona came to The Arsenal, that’s what stood out for me, their ability to press quickly all over the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, we are all amazed at their overall play when going forward and when they retain possession so well, but they were equally impressive without the ball too. If we adopted the same approach without the ball as that Barcelona team, the number of unforced errors we’d push our opponents into making would probably result in at least a dozen extra goals scored for the team at the end of a season. That ratio of extra notches into the onion bag could be the difference between finishing 16 points away from the champions and level pegging with them.

I think the thing for me that is also frustrating is that it’s not as if to teach a pressing game, winning the ball higher up the pitch, is a difficult one. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things to coach in football. Closing down your man and denying him space all over the pitch doesn’t require the skills and flair of Messi and Ronaldo. Heck, even Ryan Shawcross can do it, although you probably have to tell him there is a raw steak for his supper and a fresh bowl of water to motivate him.

So whilst we’re all looking towards what transfer activity could and should be done over the summer – and I must stress I advocate action too – there is a change I’d love to see from our Arsenal side in prep for the new season, and that is more emphasis placed on closing down the spaces that other teams have to do us damage.

For me, there most certainly is a pressing need for us to do more pressing in 2013/14

Say it out loud: defensive stability at Arsenal

Ahh Thursday, how are you? It’s been almost a week since I saw you last, hasn’t it? No, you’re right, it’s been exactly a week. A week in which we learned our fate lies in the Champions League (qualifiers at least) and where hope has now sprung from the possibility of a proactive summer that will strengthen the team and put us in a position where we can hopefully look upwards to challenge rather than downwards to who is catching us up.

The subject of transfers will be a hot potato for the next few months and, whilst we would all agree that we need strengthening, one area of the team that surprisingly needs probably the least bit of surgery is our defence. Last year we leaked more goals than Julian Lestrange leaks politically sensitive material. We were subjected to abominations like the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford and you wouldn’t find too many Gooners that could argue that we had the basis of a sound and solid defensive unit. We looked beleaguered and devoid of any confidence at the back and going into every game you wondered what defensive lapse would occur today.

Fast forward to today and you find (this blogger at least) Arsenal fans that are looking at our defence and praising their stinginess when it comes to opposition strikers. We’ve conceded four goals in our final 11 games of the season and our defensive unit has been resolute in ensuring that we get into that top four spot. Most of those clean sheets came with a one goal victory, so it just goes to show how important the defensive side of the game has been. It’s true that our attacking impetus has perhaps been curbed somewhat since this defensive side of the game has been worked on, but in reality I’m sure you’d all agree that shipping very few goals and hoping we out score opposition is certainly more preferable to trying to play catch up after going behind. Although I appreciate that wasn’t the case at the mod point in the season – the 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool is a case in point.

We’ve got the second best defensive record in The Premier League. I’m going to let that sink in for a minute. Second best. As in, there are most other teams in the league that don’t have as many shutouts as we do. The perpetual knocking of Arsenal defensively over the last few seasons has been blown out of the water by some of our displays towards the latter end of the season, and it bodes well if we can continue that form into next season.

But it’s not just the back four that should be praised for the defensive aspect of our game and the improved work. In the latter part of this season the role that Arteta and Ramsey played in screening the back four has been vital in ensuring our solidity. That ability to track runners into the box and close down space in between defence and midfield has been a key component of how we’ve been able to build from the back.

Second best defence in the league. Just say it to yourself out loud.

At left back we’ve seen the arrival of Spanish international Nacho Monreal and, whilst it had many of us scratching our heads at the time and wondering why we hadn’t signed a striker on deadline day, there can be no doubts that Arsene made a good move in bringing the Spaniard in. Whilst doubts over Gibbs’ ability to play a whole season remain, the arrival of Monreal means that not only do we have genuine competition, we have two internationals vying for it. Both have been used effectively this season and both have helped to significantly contribute to our run in. Gibbs provides a bit more pace going forward, but Monreal has an assuredness about his game that puts us at ease about a million times more than Andre Santos ever could.

In the middle of the defence we’ve found our number one partnership, at the expense of the captain, Thomas Vermaelen. I feel for Thomas. The year of his captaincy has coincided with a dip in form that was probably at its worst during the 2-1 defeat at United when he mis-kicked his clearance straight into the feet of That Dutch Bloke. He was dropped for the Bayern game and the form of Koscienly and Mertesacker has meant he never really had a sniff at regaining his place in the side.

Mertesacker has been the one player that affords me a smug grin. All non-Arsenal companions that I have, have made comments about the BFG last season about Wenger buying another dud. It was the same the season before with Koscienly. But between the two of them, they have ended the season in tremendous form. I can say it now because the game has well and truly ended, but I think back to that last game of the season and if truth be told, for the majority of the game the Newcastle front line had slim pickings to feed from both Kos an Mert. They compliment each other so well. Koscienly has the recovery pace and Mertesacker has the positional sense. Unfortunately for Vermaelen, he’s not the strongest in either position and so he finds only a place on the bench right now. I’m sure he’ll be knocking on the managers door in pre-season, but it’s hard to argue your case when you have rivals for your position that are so miserly when it comes to conceding.

At right back we’ve had an interesting turn of events. At the beginning of the season there were real fears about losing Sagna to a free transfer or at the end of the season. As it stands now, there are some sections of Arsenal fans that I have heard say they wouldn’t be too fussed if he departed to Paris Saint Germain in the summer. Personally, I would like him to remain at the club. His form has not been its usual consistent self, but he has still been a valuable cog in that defensive unit. Perhaps the desire to see Carl Jenkinson become first choice has more to do with how far he has come this season, to the extent where he received an international call up for England, and now has many Arsenal fans hoping he can establish himself as first choice in the team next year. It’s understandable; Jenkinson is an Arsenal fan, he’s one of us, so we naturally want to see players who love the club as much as we do in the team. But he is still somewhat raw and with the experience of Sagna in the side, we have been in the fortuitous position that we can be afforded the luxury of questioning who could fill that right back slot, rather than a few years ago when we looked like we had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a square peg in a round hole.

Should we be looking to strengthen in the summer defensively? If I’m completely honest I don’t know. I guess it will come down to whether or not Sagna is moved on. I rate Jenko, but I’m not sure whether or not he’s ready to be the number one choice without a player who can challenge him for his place so if the Frenchman is moved on then i would say a definite ‘yes’. Jenko probably needs another 12 months of games and growth before he is ready. That is why I hope Sagna stays on. His experience will be useful, even if we lose him in the summer next year for free, so on that basis, I hope we don’t need to make reinforcements. There are other areas that are more in need of strengthening.

Have a good one Gooners.

My blogging curse hits Tomas

It’s Friday, it’s Premier League Matchday-Eve, and to that means Le Boss will front up against an army of journos and furry mikes for today’s pre-game presser.

Sometimes I wonder if I should dedicate a section of my blogs each day to praising or ‘bigging-up’ the upcoming opposition, because every time I say something positive about Arsenal, be it injuries or form of players, some sort of karma-curveball is thrown at me. Yesterday I said that apart from Diaby we should be almost at full fitness, with only the question of whether Jack or Theo will come back or not. So of course, when Arsene released some initial information to the official site, we all found out that Tomas Rosicky is a major doubt for the weekend with a knock he picked up during the week. Yes. Tomas Rosicky. The guy that we’ve all been eulogising over. The chap that Arsene has said can have such an impact with the remaining games. Out. Injured. So if I start talking about how Gareth the monkey boy has such amazing recovery from injury to be back so soon, can the football gods hand us a little bit of cosmic karma back please?

I guess we got a little bit of it by watching the Spuds go out on penalties yesterday, so we can’t complain too much, although it will give them the Premier League to focus their attention on between now and the end of the season and we’ve already seen what that clarity has done to our own team. The hope is that whilst they have time to take stock and prepare for the game against Moneychester City, their confidence and also belief is dealt a blow, coupled with the hope that City still believe they have something to play for.

With Tomas, I hope this is a classic Wenger yarn to protect a tired player and keep him ready for the Everton game, I really do. It would be a cruel twist of fate if the poor guy waits patiently for a role in the team, takes his opportunity, only to be thwarted by the brittleness of his own body. So I hope this is a ‘niggle’ rather than any sort of small injury that snowballs into a ‘little setback’.

Of course, what this will mean is that Jack is likely to play I would assume, and in that regard we should be pretty happy that we’ve got a fabulous alternative to the in form Rosicky. Jack and Theo are supposedly 90% there, so I’d expect Wilshire to reassume the position come 3pm. Of course, a good performance from him and Arsene will have quite the selection headache on Tuesday night. Does he recall Rosicky or continue with our charismatic number 10?

I’d hope that there’s going to be an element of squad rotation going on over the next couple of games. We are fortunate that we have some players in form that can slot in to the team and, with Everton playing at the same time as us and with a smaller squad, they probably won’t be able to rotate as much as I hope we can. If Arsene plays his cards right, and gets the right level of rotation, we could find a number of players fresher than our opponents on Tuesday and therefore more susceptible to defeat. I know I’m coming across as slightly presumptuous, especially as we have a really tough game against Norwich on Saturday, but this is a crucial period for us now. A sequence of wins over the next three weeks could almost secure a top four spot I feel, so managing the squad will be of paramount importance. We need to be able to capitalise on an advantages we can gain. Having players fresher than the opponents at this stage of the season has to be one of those we should grab hold of.

We really don’t want to be slipping up against Norwich like we did last season. There simply HAS to be the concentration and commitment to victory that we’ve seen over the last few weeks. Le Boss has been doing his part with players like Vermaelen, talking about how well he took being dropped and what a great man he is. Classic Arsene. Before a big game, inflate the confidence of an individual that perhaps has had some stuffing knocked out of him, in the hope that he rewards the loyalty with a great performance. And with Mertesacker out for one match, this is Vermaelen’s chance to stake a claim, so I hope he tries to grab it with both hands. If he does, then I’d suspect it will mean we’ve picked up three points against Norwich. I hope so, anyway. Mike Dean isn’t reffing tomorrow, is he?

Anyway, a fuller pre-match preview to come tomorrow, so until then I shall take my leave.

Siege mentality needed to get fourth

It’s Friday, it’s my last day at work before I skidaddle off to Singapore and Thailand for a bit of RnR for two weeks, and today is the day that Le Boss gets himself ready to face the baying media. The last time he was in this situation it all ended slightly with an unsavoury and un-Arsene like rounding on a journo. So I’m not sure whether the assembled coyotes will want to tear at the fresh wounds that were opened up from Bayern or simply sit back and let Arsene off for a week. I’d be surprised if it was the latter.

We already got our first snippet of information yesterday, as the official site announced that Arsene had confirmed the absence of Sagna for this weekend as well as Gibbs. Thankfully, the acquisition of Monreal is working so far and he’ll slot comfortably into left back, plus with the amount of games Jenkinson has played this season he’s become more acclimatised to first team football so I doubt there will be many of us that will be too nervous. Certainly not as nervous as a sight of Squillaci trotting out onto the field of play come Saturday 3pm. I thought Jenkinson did well against Sunderland when he played last and, two silly fouls aside, again looked the part. We know what we’re going to get with him and so I hope he puts on another stellar display against the Villains.

I find Jenkinson’s build quite interesting for a full back. He looks like a big unit that should be more adept at a central defensive position, but his ability to get down the by-line and get very good balls into the box is something that we should certainly be utilising more often than we do. It’s for his crossing ability that I hope Arsene opts for Giroud at the weekend. The Frenchman offers more of a physical presence than Walcott and is most certainly better in the air. But more on the match itself tomorrow methinks.

Right now, the biggest topic of debate is the future of Arsene, or lack of if you read some of the reports in the press. I’ve already said my piece about Arsene, and if you read my random thoughts around Arsenal regularly, you’ll know that I am a bit sad because I am coming to terms with the increasing likelihood that there could be a parting of ways. But Arsenal is Arsenal and whatever happens I’ll support the team and those representing it until the end. That is the case for this Saturday and every game that they play. And as fans I think that is the only way to be. Talk of wanting the team to lose is pathetic in my opinion. Support your team or go home. Or become a watcher of non-team sports, for this type of game is not for you.

I’ve found a lot of the recent interviews by players a little worrying as well. Last season, when there were similar mumblings from fans and the media trolls trying to dig up some content to sell their chip paper, I don’t remember seeing many of the players coming out in defence of Le Boss. I am beginning to wonder if that is because the players themselves just thought the noises about Arsene’s time being up last season were complete rubbish and so ignored it. It was a minor inconvenience from people that didn’t really see the bigger picture and so the players treated comments about Arsene ‘losing it’ were just treated with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘what do they know?’. However, already since the Bayern game we have seen Jack, Theo and Thomas Vermaelen come out in defence of the manager. To me it is the clearest indication that the manager is under more pressure now than he’s ever been in his career. Otherwise, why would the players take so much time and give so much media profile by talking about backing the manager?

It’s up to him and his players to prove the doubters wrong, and I hope they do, but I hope that the players don’t start mentally planning for the next boss. I know it’s an extreme statement to make, but the last time I saw players coming out in defence of the manager so much was for Roberto Di Matteo and a host of other Chelski managers they’ve had down the years. I know it is pointless comparing us with the classless chavs, but I just can’t help but see these similarities – much as I don’t want to. The Chelski players are notorious for their ability to oust a manager, and with that comes the mentality of planning for a new one. I seriously doubt any of the Arsenal players want to oust Arsene, but who knows if some of them are wondering what life at Arsenal would be like without him?

Of course, all of these negative noises from various sections of the media, roared on by the bitterness of Stewart Robson and the king of the trollers Adrian Durham from TalkSport, could also serve a more beneficial purpose for the cause. It could create a siege mentality amongst the fans, players and other stakeholders at Arsenal. It could see us all collectively batten down the hatches, surround the king and mount a hell of an offensive before the end of the season. The next few Premier League games will tell that. We have Villa at home and the Spuds away. A proper siege mentality with success would see us get maximum points from those games, although to be fair, if you offered me a win on Saturday followed by a draw at Shite Hart Lane the week after I’d probably take it right now.

Theo, Jack and Thomas are right: it is the players that must now take the responsibility for delivering Champions League football next season. They have to stand up and be counted. They need to get angry. They need to show the fight we saw us get to reach third spot last season. Starting with Aston Villa this weekend.

And we need to give them all the help we can.