30th January 2016: Arsenal beat Burnley to progress in FA Cup

Evening all. Alexis Sanchez made a match-winning return to Arsenal’s starting line-up this afternoon by grabbing an assist before scoring our second, as we beat Burnley 2-1 at Emirates stadium to progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Our right-back on the day, Calum Chambers, had given us the lead in the 19th minute when he finished first-time – Carlos Alberto-esque – with the outside of his right foot after latching onto Sanchez’s nut-megged pass following a fine team move. But the visitors drew level with half an hour played, when a sustained attack on our penalty area eventually ended with Sam Vokes heading Tendayi Darikwa’s cross past David Ospina.

Eight minutes into the second half however, Sanchez applied an emphatic finish to a breakneck Arsenal counter-attack, calmly half-volleying home Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s right-wing cross from close-rage. That settled the tie and keeps us firmly in contention to become the first club to win three FA Cups in a row since Blackburn Rovers in the 19th Century.

Those of you who read yesterday’s post will have noticed me playing Arsenal Manager by offering my prediction for today’s starting selection. In the end, I was just the one player wide of the mark, with Joel Campbell an unused substitute against the Clarets and Francis Coquelin instead making his first start since recovering from the knee injury he sustained back in November.

But Mohamed Elneny did start to make his full debut for the club and put in a busy, if unspectacular, shift in a box-to-box role. I tuned in on Setanta Sports and their commentators and studio pundits were blabbering on about how Elneny was ‘a typical Arsenal defensive midfielder’ because he was more a number 10, straying all over the pitch, running wide to provide overlaps and generally far too advanced and adventurous for their liking.

They wanted a defensive midfielder to be more disciplined, hold his position in front of our defence and not involve himself further up the pitch, which to be fair, is reasonable enough. Except it obviously escaped their attention that although Elneny’s best position may well be defensive midfield in the long-term, that wasn’t his assignment today, because, erm, Coquelin was doing that job. Elneny had clearly been afforded the freedom to play in more of a number 8 role by Arsene Wenger, and he did well considering this was his first game at a new club in a new country.

The Egyptian was industrious, kept his passing simple and successful for the most part, and showed he’s more than willing to shoot given a glimpse of goal – something too many of our players shy away from too often in my opinion.

I did think he looked a little weak in the one-on-one dual, but I’m sure once we get him on a personalized strength-building programme similar to the one Mesut Ozil benefited from, he’ll be better equipped for the physicality of the English game. Overall then, a very promising first outing in Arsenal colours for the former Basel man as far as I’m concerned and here’s what Arsene made of his latest signing’s display:

I felt he started a bit cautious, played a bit secure. He became more adventurous. It will take him some time to adjust to the power side of our game here, but the intelligence, the mobility and the technical level are good.

Elsewhere in our side I thought Kieran Gibbs was lively and played pretty well, Sanchez was his usual irrepressible self and Coquelin was understandably a little rusty, yet still as effective and aggressive in his defending as we’ve become accustomed to. Oliver Giroud on the other hand, apart from a good lay-off in the build-up to our winner, had a game to forget with little coming off for him.

Back to positives though and I thought Alex Iwobi was very impressive again, as he was in the last round against Sunderland, with the youngster heavily involved in the moves for both of our goals today. He’s quick, passes well, has great awareness and also showed great tenacity in competing for the ball in midfield.

A little like the Ox and Tomas Rosicky, he also appears to have the ability to ‘accelerate’ our play, by carrying the ball smoothly and directly forward to set us on the attack. Very, very promising indeed but as one of numerous young talents attached to the club and obviously striving to achieve regular first-team involvement, you do wonder how we’ll incorporate them all.

For instance, Chuba Akpom, who’s out on loan at Hull, grabbed his-ever first hat-trick at senior level today, as the Tigers beat League One Bury in the FA Cup, to provide a reminder of his talents. Then there’s Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Gedion Zelalem, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley, Serge Gnabry, our two new Nigerian starlets and despite being the oldest of the lot, the one I rate highest of all, Wellington Silva.

Still, it’s a good problem to have, as I’m sure Arsene will feel, and it’s good to know we have genuine quality bubbling under the surface of the first-team squad should we need it.

Until Sunday.

29th January 2016: Next up, it’s the Clarets in the Cup

Happy Friday folks. So FA Cup fourth-round weekend is upon us and we’ll be looking to take a step closer to winning the competition for the third season running when we host Burnley at Emirates stadium tomorrow afternoon.

But despite residing a league lower in the Championship, Arsene Wenger has pointed out that Sean Dyche’s team has Premier League-class players, and cited our loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup earlier this season in suggesting Arsenal won’t be underestimating the Clarets. Speaking at his pre-match press conference this morning, the boss said:

I saw them on Monday night beat Derby 4-1 and I realised when I watched them that all their players played in the Premier League, we played against most of them. They have Gray up front who is very efficient, they have other players like Barton, Arfield, Boyd – they have all played in the Premier League. They have Vokes up front with Gray, they have good players. We know that we have learnt in the Premier League that the teams who have come up from the Championship, it is not like 10 years ago – they compete at the right level. We have learnt something this season, we went to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup and got quite a severe defeat. We have to show we have learnt from that. We have to be humble enough to accept that and to think it’s not because we turn up at the Emirates and play against Burnley that we will win the game. We have to earn the right to go through this round and qualify. If you don’t do that, we’ll have a bad surprise.

Joey Barton in particular, is a player we’ll have to guard against in my opinion. Not because he’s a good footballer or anything you understand. I mean, he may have been decent earlier in his career, but at 33, he’s clearly past his prime.

No, we’ll have to watch him because as a player, he’s a nasty, spiteful, mouthy bast*rd in the Diego Costa mould, who’s very good at drawing retaliation and getting opponents sent off (I’m thinking Abou Diaby at St James’ Park in the 4-4 draw in 2011), if he isn’t being dismissed himself for something, that is.

Of course, it’s still a game we’re strong favourites to win, even if we’ll be rotating our squad. And speaking of how we might line-up, Arsene revealed today that David Ospina will replace Petr Cech in goal but stopped short of confirming that Mohamed Elneny would be handed a full debut, or whether Francis Coquelin would come straight back into the starting selection following his injury layoff. He said:

I will make some changes, not many. We spoke about Elneny, maybe I will give him a chance to play. Coquelin I have to think about. I will play with a team that is a Premier League team. Coquelin gives us defensive stability in midfield so he will compete with the players we have in this area. Before he was injured he had a very good spell in the team and the results were good, including his defensive records. He is now in a position where he can compete again for his position. It is a possibility [that Elneny will start]. He is naturally a box-to-box player who is a bit more defensive-minded than your usual box-to-box midfielder, so he can play in several positions in front of the defence or go box to box. He has good technique, good vision, he is very mobile and agile.

You would imagine we’ll be a little cautious with Coquelin, given his importance as our number one defensive midfielder, so I’m guessing the Frenchman will start on the bench with Elneny starting as our defensive shield in front of the defence. Tomorrow’s team is more difficult to predict than it has been for a while now due to players returning from injury, but I’ll have a go anyway because, well, it’s quite fun:


Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs;


Campbell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Sanchez;


Per Mertesacker is of course suspended after his red card against Chelsea and he’ll surely be replaced by Gabriel. With Mathieu Debuchy’s future at the club still very uncertain ahead of the transfer deadline on Monday, I doubt he’ll be involved, so I’ve gone with Calum Chambers at right back, to give Hector Bellerin a rest.

Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal at left-back is a given I reckon, and I’ve picked the same two attacking midfielders centrally, in the Ox and Alex Iwobi, who started there in the third round against Sunderland. I suppose Rosicky might start but given how long he’s been out injured, I’m guessing we’ll ease him back to competitive football with some minutes as a substitute.

As for who plays upfront, Olivier Giroud was sacrificed early against Chelsea after we went down to ten men and against physical Championship opponents, I’d be inclined to start him, rather than say give Theo Walcott the striker’s role.

Finally, on the the flanks I’ve gone with Campbell and Sanchez because the former would provide more defensive support for Chambers behind him than others, and Sanchez’s cameo last weekend, whilst impressive, suggested to me at least that he could do with some game time to regain match-sharpness.

Right, I’m done playing Arsenal Manager for now. Let’s see who the boss picks and how they preform come 3pm tomorrow.

Back post-match.

28th January 2016: Squad takes three steps closer to full strength

Welcome back. With the winter transfer window coming to a close in a few days’ time, it’s looking increasingly likely that Mohamed Elneny will be the only addition to our first-term squad this month.

But when you consider today’s update from Arsene Wenger on our injury list, which confirmed that Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all back in full training, it’s difficult to highlight an area in which we’re lacking in options, even if you could argue we can be improved in terms of quality.

That said, with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla still on the treatment table, I suppose our best two ‘passers’ from the middle of the park are unavailable, if you assume that Elneny will be more of a defensive option and Mikel Arteta is no longer up to the task. So if pushed, I’d say that’s the one potentially problem-position we need to find a solution for in the short-term, until Jack and Santi are ready to return.

Who knows, perhaps Elneny will show he can step in and circulate the ball like Cazorla, or Aaron Ramsey can alter my perception that passing is his weakest attribute by playing it around like Andrea Pirlo in his pomp. However we look to cover for Cazorla’s absence though, I think our results in January suggest we need to try something other than the Mathieu Flamini-Ramsey combination in there.

Anyway, here’s what Arsene said about team news ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Burnley at Emirates stadium when he spoke to the official site:

Mertesacker is out because of the red card, and everybody else is available, apart from Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. After that it is just a question of selection and decision-making, that is the key. Jack and Santi are progressing well but they are at least a few weeks away. But these two apart, it is just about competitiveness and match fitness. Danny Welbeck is not completely ready but he is not far. He needs a game or two because he’s been out since last April. The Stoke [under-21] game is too soon because he only had one session with the team, and that is too short. Francis is available to play now because he has passed two weeks of full training. Tomas is also available for selection.

I’m sure we’ll get more clues as to which players might start against Burnley when the boss holds his press conference tomorrow morning, but we’ll no doubt be rotating the squad quite a bit, especially when you consider we host Southampton in the league on Tuesday.

Elsewhere Per Mertesacker, who as the boss mentions above will be suspended this weekend after falling victim to Diego Costa, er, falling over thin air, has been speaking to the Arsenal Weekly podcast about leadership, energy, managing the loss of players to injury, the squad’s development, mental strength aaaaaaaaaaaand team spirit – i.e the usual. He said:

There’s always a balance between having good leaders and a good team, but everyone needs to lead. Everyone needs to lead, to talk and give energy to the squad. It’s a balance and you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times, you just have to get the team going at times. In general we have a good balance in the team and a good squad. We’ve still got players coming back from injury but we’ve never complained about it, that is the main reason for our success. Players have stepped up, brought their energy and we’ve got the results as well. We won¹t look back on players being injured as a negative because other players have stepped up, especially this season. We’ve kept the same squad and we have obviously made some great additions over the past two years. In general, the team spirit has grown a lot. We are competing at the top and that’s something that was not always the case when I joined. The team is much stronger and mentally stronger as well. There are a few steps to go, the season is always long and to get consistency is never easy. There are challenges ahead of us but they make us even stronger, and I must say that the team spirit in the squad is huge at the minute.

Hands up who instantly pictured William Gallas lecturing his Arsenal team-mates in a pre-game huddle some years back when they read “you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times”?

Well I did, and it just reminded me that even if Gallas was arguably a better centre-half than Mertesacker, he didn’t have half the personality the German does. Sometimes, that can be more valuable to a team than ability.

Back on Friday.

27th January 2016: Bellerin on Barca + Iwobi on working hard to wow Wenger

Evening all. A very quick post today because Arsenal-related news is as scarce out there at the moment as goals at Old Trafford this season.

Luckily then, Hector Bellerin, our brilliant Cockney Catalan right-back, has been discussing a variety of subjects with Amuse, including how he feels about Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League encounters with his former club Barcelona. He said:

Excited. My family as well! I played for Barcelona for eight years, so it’s a massive thing for me and my family, who have been watching me since I was young. The day the draw was announced I started getting texts and calls from everyone. It’s crazy how a game moves so many people. We’re very excited – it’s going to be a hard game, but if we did it against Bayern, then we can do it against Barcelona. We have a great team mentality and our confidence is very high, so we fancy anyone at the moment.

This interview was conducted after we’d just drawn away at Stoke in the the league but there’s no reason why the team’s mentality or confidence should be much different now, despite our loss to Chelsea since then. Because a) Diego Costa cheated again and b) losing by a single goal having had to play most of the match with a numerical disadvantage shouldn’t knock anybody’s confidence – the opposite ought to be true.

All of which is to say I agree with Hector – we should approach the Barcelona games with confidence and belief that we can emerge victors. In my opinion, they remain the best team in Europe with everyone one fit, but we’re capable of beating the best, as we’ve proved a number of times in the recent past by grabbing wins over the likes of Barca themselves, and as Bellerin points out, Bayern Munich, who unlike the Catalans, we’ve now managed to defeat both at Emirates stadium and in Germany.

That tie is still about a month away though so moving on and another young Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, has been speaking about his fledgling career, this time with Arsenal Player, saying:

I grew up in a footballing environment. My dad, my uncle and my whole family loves football. I played with a local team with Chuba Akpom so I grew up with a footballing life. I see it helps me [to be related to Jay-Jay Okocha] and it gives me guidance, [it shows] what I need to work on and what I need advice on so it has helped me over the years. I don’t see it as pressure [to be related to him] but he is someone I look up to as motivation as I try to be better than him. I had a few doubts when I was younger, especially when I was 13 to 14 years old. I was questioning whether I was good enough at that age as I… had to work on a few things. I didn’t let it get to me but I stayed focused and try to prove to them why I should get another contract. It is very hard. You need to train well every day and you have to be in the boss’ eye and his mind all the time so that is what I’m trying to do all the time. I was just hoping to go out and learn but to play for Arsenal’s first team means so much [to me] because when I play I think about all I have done to get to where I am and I feel so happy to do it. I had a few chances like against Swansea where I came on and against Bayern Munich. I got to play 90 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday. I got a few chances and now I’m hoping to get some more. I don’t know what to expect nowadays but playing at the Allianz Arena with the world’s best players was just crazy. I’m taking it as it comes. You have to always be prepared as you never know when that chance will come.

Despite playing out wide for our academy teams and in the Emirates Cup last summer, the club have been experimenting with Iwobi as a central midfielder, culminating in him making his first competitive start in an Arsenal shirt in that position in the FA Cup against Sunderland recently.

The fact he played so well against he Black Cats bodes well for the future and with so much competition at the club, his versatility might prove crucial if he’s to carve out a long-term career at the club. Good luck to him and I’ve really liked what I’ve see from him the few times I’ve seen him play so far.

Right, I think I’ll leave it there for today.

Back tomorrow.

26th January 2016: Koscielny on Giroud, Giroud on Giroud + my opinion of Wellington Silva

Man it’s windy where I am today. The snow-storm that caused so much damage to the east coast of the United States has arrived in London, minus the snow, but bringing blustery conditions that seem to to have set off every car alarm within a 10-mile radius of me. Soooooooo annoying.

Not as annoying as Diego Costa’s face, and constant cheating, mind, but then who or what is? Certainly not Olivier Giroud, as far as his compatriot Laurent Koscielny’s concerned anyway – quite the opposite in fact. Laurent has been raving about the striker’s qualities, saying Giroud is ‘the best’ when he keeps his game simple. He told Arsenal Player:

When he plays simple, he’s the best. He’s tall, he’s big and when you try to find him, he keeps the ball. No defender can pass him. He’s so massive and that’s one of the best qualities for a striker. When he can play like this, with one or two touches and staying in the box – which is where we want him – we can score in the air. I think Olivier has a work rate for the team which is very high. He’s not just a forward, he’s always there [when we have] free-kicks or corners against us. He’s the first guy who tries to head the ball. It’s important that he can give assists too. You can see now that he smells the situations well – when he needs to shoot quickly, or control the ball, like he did against Liverpool with his second goal. I think he’s in good form this season and I hope he will stay in that form until the end of the season.

High praise indeed and given his contribution to Arsenal’s cause not just this season, but since he arrived at the club from Montpellier in 2012, Giroud deserves it. He’ll never be quick, a nifty dribbler, or, flicks aside, be able to combine at speed with team-mates in tight spaces, but he does possess pretty much every other attribute you’d want in a forward.

He’s a big, strong, scores goals for us at a rate of just under 1 every 2 appearances, is great in the air in both boxes, helps to release pressure on our defence by holding the ball up, works his socks off and, at times, has a great first touch. All that said, I’d still like a more mobile forward if not to replace Giroud, at least share the sole-striker’s role with him, because there are games where Giroud’s ineffective and a a different style of player at the tip of our attack is needed.

And Giroud himself has also been speaking with Arsenal Player, explaining that having to work his way up through the lower leagues in French football has been the making of him as a top-level professional footballer. He said:

It is harder to get noticed when you come from a small club but it’s all about playing and when you don’t get your chance, you need to go to another club to get enough playing time. I succeeded in doing that on loan and I always used to score goals. Afterwards I succeeded step by step to play better and better and reach my level today. I definitely feel tougher because the beginning of my career was different to than if I played for Marseille, PSG or Lyon. When you have to face difficulties it always helps you in the future when you have to be strong and have to face your responsibilities. It definitely helped me in my career and that’s why I can say that I am tougher today. I thought I could play at this level when I played for Montpellier and won the league. I wanted to reach this level then and today I am proud of that. I don’t want to stop here and I always want more because when all this stops I don’t want to regret anything. I really want to give everything to my limit.

As I mentioned earlier, if there’s one thing Giroud doesn’t lack it’s a world class work ethic, and that has to be the foundation for any player, whether they’re as naturally gifted as Wellington Silva, or more modestly talented with a ball at their feet like say, Mathieu Flamini.

Speaking of our Brazilian winger, having just turned 23 and returned from a two-month injury layoff with a torn hamstring, he’s wowing Bolton fans with his ability and work-rate in equal measure. The alleged past problems with professionalism that appear to taint his reputation in the minds of so many simply don’t exist anymore, if they ever even did to any alarming extent.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s an outrageously skillful footballer who luckily for us, is also a team player like compatriot Neymar, knowing when to pass and when to go it alone, rather than an over-the-top and largely ineffective show pony like Adel Taarabt or Yannick Bolasie, who perform step-overs for fun but rarely tap into their team’s pattern-of-play with any meaningful consistency.

A friend of mine recently asked why Bolton were doing so badly in the Championship at the moment if Wellington was as good as I believe he is, and my answer was simple: he’s amazing but his team-mates aren’t and he’s a footballer – not Superman. Put him alongside better team-mates on a similar wave-length, playing on better surfaces, and I’m confident he’ll confirm his class with goals, assists and overall performances.

It’s a bold prediction but I’ll make it anyway: I think Wellington will prove himself a better winger than any player we currently have who can play wide with the exception of Alexis Sanchez. He may even be suitable more centrally, either in the number 10 role or up front, given a chance.

If you haven’t guessed, I can’t wait to see him pull on the red and white and if we end up selling him before he’s given a chance like so many expect us to, I’d be amazed and devastated, because I think he has the sort of potential that is very rare, even for a Brazilian. Thankfully then, it seems Arsene Wenger rates him as highly as I do, so it’s likely he’ll get his chance at some stage fairly soon – hopefully next season.

See you tomorrow.


25th January 2016: Last-man rule + reaction to Chelsea loss

Welcome back. I’ll start by pointing out that I don’t really feel like discussing yesterday’s game against Chelsea because it was highly annoying, hugely frustrating and f*cking boring to be honest, after the contest was cruelly corroded by the dismissal of Per Mertesacker after just 18 minutes.

I’d been looking forward to this fixture for quite some time too, but the game was ruined by that early red card and it got me thinking about the rule that ensures a player is sent off if he’s the last defender and commits a foul. People have suggested that when such an incident takes place in the box, the combined punishment of a red card and the concession of a penalty is too severe on the offending player and team.

So (and I’ll admit I wouldn’t be talking about this if the shoe was on the other foot yesterday), rather than dismissing a player, would a more suitable punishment not be a yellow card and a penalty conceded, even if the foul takes place outside of the box? I mean, Per denied Diego Costa a goal-scoring opportunity (if you pretend he actually made contact with the cheating striker) right? A penalty would give him that opportunity back and karmic balance would be restored.

And crucially, the match wouldn’t be ruined for the watching world. Anyway, just a thought, but it’s something that’s bugged me about the rules ever-since Jens Lehmann in Paris against Barcelona in what what the biggest game in our history, even if that particular incident was slightly different, with the ‘keeper committing the offence.

Seeing as I’ve ended up talking about our latest defeat to that despicable lot though, I may as well take a look at some of the reaction from Arsene Wenger and a couple of the players. First up it’s the boss who expressed his frustration at how the game turned out when he spoke to Arsenal Player:

It was disappointing as we couldn’t really play with our real team for 90 minutes. I was very disappointed because in recent games we have lost we have had really harsh decisions against us [like] at Southampton and today. We had such high expectations today. To lose the game the way we did is really frustrating today and difficult to accept. The difficulty was that we went straight away down at 1-0 and we had to attack without being at 0-0 which means you expose yourself at 10 men, but what can you do? I think we had a good attitude and fantastic spirit despite the negative result today, I think we should come out [of this] with even more belief.

Meanwhile, Hector Bellerin gave his take on the game, stressed the squad will not dwell on the defeat and instead look to get straight back to winning ways in our next game:

It is difficult because [even though we were] playing with 10 men we thought in the second half that we wouldn’t give up, and we had some chances to get a better score. It couldn’t be done and it was a bit unlucky on our part. We need to keep our heads up and move onto the next game. We can’t just be thinking about the result today. We need to focus on the next game and it does not matter about the trend, we are not thinking about that. We are just thinking about winning and getting ahead. We always think of it. We take it game by game and when it comes to May we will see where we are.

And finally, the thoughts of Petr Cech, who feels despite the obvious disadvantage of having had to play with a man less for most of the match, we played well and could easily have snatched an unlikely point. He said:

We are disappointed because we lost a game at home. We wanted to compete, we wanted to take advantage of playing at home, but unfortunately the decisive moment came quite early on in the game. Unfortunately Chelsea took advantage of that and scored. From there, they tried to control the game and playing 11 against 10 for 70 minutes is always an advantage [for Chelsea]. I thought that, even with 10 men, we came back very strongly in the second half. We could have actually scored the equaliser but we were missing a little bit of the last touch inside the box and around the box. There were always moments where we almost got there, but we didn’t find a real opportunity to put the ball in the net.

Right, I really, really don’t want to talk about or discuss that game anymore. It’s done, dusted and we need to move on.

Danny Welbeck should resume full training tomorrow, Francis Coquelin is already back in full training and we’re just three points off the top of the table. We’ve given ourselves a great platform from which we can make this a season to remember for the right reasons, rather than yet another that promised much but delivered little. It’s in our hands.

Back on Tuesday.

24th January 2016: Ten-man Arsenal beaten by Chelsea

So our Chelsea hoodoo continued this afternoon after Per Mertesacker was sent off just 18 minutes into the contest and Diego Costa scored the only goal of the game five minutes later to secure all three points for the Blues at Emirates stadium.

If I’m honest, after conceding the goal having just been reduced to ten men, I was seriously concerned about us potentially getting a battering. So considering how the rest of the match played out, I was pretty pleased with the overall team effort, if not the performance of individuals.

Theo Walcott has taken a lot of flak online from what I’ve seen, and rightly so in my opinion, but he was far from alone in playing badly. I thought Aaron Ramsey, for example, was very, very poor in the middle of the park and his display again underlined just how much we miss Santi Cazorla’s distribution and game-running capabilities in that position.

Mathieu Flamini was just, well, Mathieu Flamini, and I don’t expect much more from him, but I do expect Ramsey to be able to find a team-mate with a pass every now and again and to not get caught in possession every time he receives the ball, as he seemed to today.

At the back, Laurent Koscielny had a poor start to the game but I think that can be put down to nerves and I thought he got better as the game wore on. Meanwhile, his partner Per reminded us why opponents like assigning even remotely mobile attackers to play off of his shoulder, by reacting to a through ball played past him in what seemed like slow-mo speed.

Unsurprisingly, the German defender only succeeded in getting himself sent off after sliding for a ball he was never going to reach – especially after he disorientated himself at the last second by looking to see if he’d be saved by an offside flag – and Costa took full advantage, hitting the deck and rolling around like the big feigning f*cktard he is.

As for the fullbacks, Nacho Monreal could have done more to close down the cross that led to their goal and Hector Bellerin was steady and tried hard but with our team looking disjointed and lacking any kind of fluency, he wasn’t as effective raiding forward as he usually is.

In truth, when you’re reduced to ten men so early in a game, especially against quality opposition like today, it’s an almost impossible task to take anything from the game and if you avoid doing serious damage to your goal difference, it’s a big plus. And that’s what we can cling to today if nothing else. As I said earlier, we might have been beaten by three or four goals and that would also have been a much bigger blow to our confidence than the narrow defeat we ended up with.

As it is, I think the squad should be able to compartmentalize this game for what it was; another defeat to Chelsea yes, but also the second one this season against them where we’ve had at least one man less for a large portion of the game.

On the bright side, we’re still level on points with Manchester City, we’re getting players back fit and with the FA Cup next weekend, we now have nine days to get our team balance right before we resume our title chase by entertaining Southampton a week on Tuesday.

One final point on today’s game before I go though, and it’s about the apparently widespread disillusionment over Olivier Giroud being the man to make way for Gabriel after Mertesacker was sent off. Personally, I called that switch and still think it was the right one.

Arsene decided we’d need pace out wide to best implement the counter-attacking game-plan we’d be forced to adopt with a man less, and although he could have taken off Walcott or Campbell and moved Ozil wide, taking Giroud off allowed us to keep Ozil in a free-ish role in the middle of the park, which I think was hugely responsible for us enjoying as much possession as we did in the end, and keeping ourselves firmly in reach of a draw right until the end.

Until tomorrow.

23rd January 2016: Premier League Preview – Can we record a rare win over Chelsea?

Evening all. We welcome Chelsea to Emirates stadium tomorrow aiming to secure our first league win over the Blues since October 2011, as well as reclaim top spot in the table after Leicester beat Stoke this afternoon to leapfrog above us.

On that occasion at Stamford Bridge, some Dutch striker bagged a hat-trick for us, John Terry reproduced his Moscow special by slipping on his a*se, and even our fattest ever player – Andre Santos – got in on the act by helping himself to a goal.

But our last league win over Chelsea on home soil was in December 2010, when goals by Alex Song, some Spanish midfielder and Theo Walcott helped us to a 3-1 success over the then Double holders. Chelsea go into tomorrow’s game as kind of double holders again, having won the Premier League and League Cup last season, so perhaps that’ll prove a good omen for us. It’s been too long since we turned them over in the Premier League, so hopefully tomorrows’s the day we set that wretched record right.

Speaking of which, Arsene Wenger says that much like our wins over other rivals such as as the two Manchester clubs this season, taking three points from Chelsea would suggest his team are progressing nicely in terms of performing in the ‘bigger’ games:

It is another one where we can show we have moved forward. It is another game where people look at us and see how we behave because, even if Chelsea are not in the best position, you look at their squad. It is a big game because of the quality of players on the pitch and it has a big importance to us because we play at Emirates Stadium and we know it will be important to win these types of games. We have certainly proved our battling potential [this season] through big solidarity, through great togetherness and as well because we are ambitious and we have more experience than in the past. One of the advantages of having experienced players is that they know that sometimes it’s just about battling and not always only about playing well.

As for how we’ll line-up tomorrow afternoon, Mesut Ozil will no doubt replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from last weekend’s starting selection at Stoke, but then it gets a little more uncertain, depending on the availability of Alexis Sanchez. If the Chilean is deemed fit to start, any one of Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell or Olivier Giroud could conceivably make way for him. Sanchez for Walcott would be a straight swap, Sanchez for Campbell would mean Theo switching flanks to the right and Sanchez for Giroud would mean Walcott upfront.

Personally, I’m not sure what I’d go with if I was picking the team. I think if it’s a choice between Walcott and Campbell based on recent form it has to the Costa Rican who gets the nod. On the other hand, Theo has a good goal-scoring record against Chelsea. Dropping Giroud to play Walcott would be more than a little harsh on the Frenchman, who’s been in fine form recently, but Walcott running off of Terry’s shoulder is also a very exciting prospect.

Elsewhere though, you’d imagine we’ll be unchanged, unless Mohamed Elneny’s showed in training that he’s ready to replace Mathieu Flamini, or Arsene Wenger wants Gabriel on the pitch to counteract Diego Costa’s nastiness with some Brazilian aggression of his own, and gives Per Mertesacker a little rest. I doubt it though.

On a personal level, and against my better judgement, I’ll be watching the game with two Chelsea-supporting ‘friends’, who decided to get the ‘banter’ going a day early by texting me pics like Wayne Bridge celebrating his winner at Highbury in the Champions League quarters in 2004, Cashley Cole lifting the European Cup and also one of Arsene when he tripped and fell at a train station on the way home from an away game.

Now, I could have reminded them about the fact we’ve been English champions on 13 occasions compared to their pitiful five triumphs and such like, but I found the following, which I think, although slightly out-of-date, sums our opponents up more succinctly in the closing paragraph than I ever could:

Back post-match.


22nd January 2016: Elneny endears and promises endeavour

Happy Friday folks. I’ll start today with our new signing Mohamed Elneny, who has been speaking with Arsenal Player about his move to the Gunners and the Premier League.

Encouragingly, the Egyptian midfielder sounds like he’s got his feet firmly on the ground, is eager to improve and impress, and endeared himself to Gooners everywhere by labeling his new club ‘the best team in the Premier League’. He said:

I expect it to be a massive shift in my career and a big starting point. I would like to achieve a lot and prove to myself and everyone that I am capable of playing in the Premier League and any league around the world. Hopefully I can develop my skills more and more. I always work hard to develop all aspects of my skills to benefit the club I play for. As I mentioned before, Arsenal is a big club and I have to live up to this responsibility. That’s why I work hard to develop myself continuously. I can see that Arsenal are having one of their best seasons, that makes me very enthusiastic to play with the best team in the Premier League, both now and in the past. That is why I am very keen to accept this responsibility. I am very aware of this and I am well prepared for this task.

Having been an unused substitute for our game at Stoke last weekend, Elneny is of course yet to make his debut for Arsenal and it would have been nice to hear what Arsene thinks of his new recruit’s physical readiness for Premier League football. I mean, because of the winter break in Switzerland, Elneny hasn’t played a competitive game since early December.

Perhaps that might have been a better question for reporters to have put to Arsene at his press conference yesterday, rather than ‘are Chelsea specialists in failure?’. But of course, an update on Elneny’s match-fitness isn’t nearly as important to some sections of the press (Sky) as trying to instigate bad blood between Arsenal and Chelsea before they meet on Sunday.

Even if Elneny is ready to compete for a starting place though, my guess would be that the FA Cup game against Burnley next weekend might be deemed a better time to hand him his full debut by the boss, rather than in a high-pressure London derby. Then again, who knows? If he’s ready, he’s ready, and he could be our secret weapon to catch Chelsea’s midfield off-guard and run rings around the likes of John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic. We’ll see.

Moving on and as we prepare to play the first of three home games in our next four Premier League fixtures, Laurent Koscielny has been discussing the importance for taking maximum points at Emirates stadium if Arsenal are to be crowned champions. The defender told Arsenal Player:

If you want to win the Premier League, you need to win all your home games. Our seven away games will be very difficult because we play against Man City, Man United, Tottenham, West Ham, Everton, so we need to do the job well at home so we have the points. We take each game and we will see. We want to play and win all games. We are in a period where we play many different competitions, we play the Champions League, the FA Cup, Premier League. This weekend is an important game and next weekend too, because it is the FA Cup and we won it twice and we want to continue like this. In February March, we will have Champions League so we need to take it game by game and that’s it.

You obviously don’t have to win all your home games to win the title but you know what Koscielny means. We have difficult tests ahead away from home so winning all our games at Emirates stadium from now until the end of the season would obviously help our cause no end.

Back tomorrow with a preview.


21st January 2016: Ozil fit and Sanchez might be, to face Chelsea on Sunday

Evening all. Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news as we prepare to welcome Chelsea to Emirates stadium on Sunday and the big update is that Mesut Ozil is fit and ready to return after sitting out our trip to Stoke last weekend due to foot inflammation.

And although the boss was more cautious about the availability of Alexis Sanchez, by the sound of things, the Chilean is also likely to play some part at least against Guus Hiddink’s side. Here’s what Arsene said when he spoke at his pre-game press conference this morning:

Compared to last week we have no big problems from the squad that was available to face Stoke. The good news is that Ozil will certainly be available. For Alexis the next few days will be decisive but I think this time he will make it to be available for selection. The doubt is that he has been out for a long time and [there is] the risk of a setback if you try to go too early. To be clear on all the tests is one thing, after he is clear on training is another thing, and after that the intensity of a big game which you can never repeat in a training session. You can make sure after a certain amount of time that the risk is minimal. I am cautious with him because we cannot afford a setback with him. A setback would mean a very long period out so we don’t want to take this gamble. The signs he has shown in training this week are positive.

The boss also updated us on the recoveries from injury of Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky, saying:

Coquelin is back in full training today and he is ahead of schedule. He has still a few steps to go through. Welbeck will be in full training next week so that is positive news. It is possible Rosicky will play in the under-21 game [on Friday]. He was a bit sick at the beginning of the week but we planned for him to play tomorrow night. We have a few players coming back because we go into a very important period now for us.

Which leaves just Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere as our only two players whose returns are seemingly not yet in sight, which is clearly a huge boost to our chase for both the Premier League and Champions League titles.

My hope is that Cazorla, in particular, can recover in time to be fit for the first-leg against Barcelona on Febraury 23rd because I think having Coquelin and the Spaniard in tandem in the middle will significantly improve our chances of success against the reigning European champions.

But first things first, it’s Chelsea at home, the first of three home fixtures in our next four in the Premier League, as we try to stay top of the table. Although the Blues are hilariously in the middle of the worst title defence in living memory, hovering precariously four points and four places above the relegation zone as they are, Arsene still considers them ‘direct rivals’ and thinks they’ll escape the drop. He said:

If you are looking purely at the mathematics [they could get relegated] but the team has too much potential. Nobody can predict this. The confidence can go quickly and for them the bad luck is that the league is more difficult for everybody. Once you lack a bit of confidence it can happen to anyone. The lack of confidence is linked with one or two unexpected bad results. The confidence in our job goes quickly, maybe quicker than ever because the pressure from the environment and the media is bigger than ever so you suffer a bit quicker than before. They are not in this title race but [look at] the quality of their team. I think this season there have been exceptional circumstances for them and they will be back – I consider them direct rivals.

Which is right. They still have quality, the same squad by and large that made them champions last season and so it’s far from a foregone conclusion that we’ll saunter to three points on Sunday.

I expect us to win, but you can be sure Chelsea will be up for this one more that most others this season so we’ll need a top performance to take all three points and keep them firmly rooted in a scrap to survive.

Until tomorrow.