5th November 2015: Brutal beating by Bayern must be proven a blip

Welcome back. So I thought we ought to brace ourselves for a Bayern Munich onslaught in yesterday’s pre-game post, but not for a second did I think the Germans would beat us 5-1.

Yet that was before we knew Laurent Koscielny would join Hector Bellerin in missing the match through injury, and although I was still pretty confident with our starting defensive line-up, with Gabriel coming in to partner Per Mertesacker in the middle, in the end, Koscielny proved one first-choice absentee too far.

Our win over Bayern at Emirates stadium a fortnight ago was built on a highly-organised and determined defensive display, but last night, we lacked both organisation and determination I felt.

Gabriel goofed by stupidly stepping up to allow Robert Lewandowski to glance home a headed opener after just ten minutes, and the writing was very much on the wall, even at that early stage of proceedings.

Next up to cock-up was Mertesacker, who repeated his inexplicable ‘defending’ from a week ago against Sheffield Wednesday, by refusing to attempt what appeared an easy block on an opposition shot, allowing Thomas Muller to make it 2-0 from from inside our box just before the half-hour mark.

Then Santi Cazorla was too easily dispossessed some 25 yards from our goal, David Alaba robbing him of the ball before shooting unchallenged, albeit quite brilliantly, beyond Petr Cech’s grasp. Three nil, with the third conceded right on half-time.

The irony was that when we did attack during that first period, we looked dangerous and our hosts vulnerable. Perhaps that was due to the slightly surprising exclusion of Arturo Vidal from his starting team by Pep Guardiola.

The Catalan coach, who revealed during his time as Barcelona boss, that he would lock himself away before a big game to devise a tailored tactical plan to win the match, must have done something similar before last night’s.

At Emirates stadium, he played with a trio in the middle of the park in Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Vidal, with Douglas Costa wide left, and Muller wide right of Lewandowski. But yesterday, he dropped Vidal to the bench, stationed Kingsley Coman very wide on the left flank, Costa very wide on the right one, and played Muller as a support striker off of Lewandowski.

That meant they had one less body in the middle of the park but an extra one in our box and it was too much for our patched up back four to cope with. Their two wide-men also caused our defending to become far more stretched, which in turn allowed them more space centrally.

The fact their full-backs essentially played as auxiliary midfielders, and at times their centre-backs too (!), meant they were susceptible defensively at times, but more importantly, ensured we were pinned back and forced to defend very deep for most of the match.

Anyway, tactical nuances aside, they went four nil up 10 minutes into the second half as Arjen Robben sauntered onto the pitch as a substitute for Coman and casually stroked the ball home at the near post with his first touch of the game. Not one Arsenal defender had, evidently, paid the slightest bit of attention to the fact one of the world’s best players had just entered the action against them.

Our only highlight of the night came in the 69th minute when Alexis Sanchez found Olivier Giroud with a nice pass and the Frenchman acrobatically dispatched the ball past Manuel Neuer with some aplomb. Then just before the final whistle, Costa went through the gears and through the middle of our midfield unchallenged, teed up Muller, and he guided the ball home at the near post with clinical precision.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was far from pleased with his side’s defending but praised Bayern, saying:

You have to give credit to Bayern first for their quality and on top of that we made things quite easy for them. It was a bad defensive performance and we were extremely poor defensively. We were not at the races. The funny thing is that when we went forward we created good chances. We had a chance to score early but with a defensive performance like that, you go nowhere.

To defend our defending for a moment though, this was our sixth game of seven in just 21 days and playing against a side like Bayern requires a lot of concentration if you want to stand a chance to getting a good result. Last night, I thought we were a little fatigued physically, but also mentally, which given our grueling run of games perhaps shouldn’t be surprising.

When you consider we’ve lost Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Bellerin and Koscielny during that period, having to play every three days surely has to be seen as a big contributory factor to their injuries.

Regardless of injury worries however, we can’t allow this loss to affect our promising Premier League form so far this season – a win over Tottenham on Sunday would show we haven’t.

Back Friday.

4th November 2015: Champions League Preview – Braced for Bayern, the brilliant ball hogs

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. So it’s Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena tonight, as Arsenal aim to repeat our feat from a fortnight ago by beating the Bavarians.

Brace yourselves Gooners. Because it’s unlikely to be easy viewing later, what with Pep Guardiola’s penchant for creating football teams that hog a football like Frank Lampard does all-you-can-eat buffets.

If Pep’s Barcelona were the epitome of efficiency in possession, he’s fashioned a Bayern side that exhibits similar levels of exhilarating economy, through quick-witted and rapid-fire ball circulation, with a breathtaking killer instinct to top off their domination of the ball.

Frankly, as an opponent, it must be hellish at times trying to stay focused, composed and motivated amidst a blur of opposition ball retention. A bit like those drills you see in training when four or five players form a circle and pass it around, as one poor sod is tasked with trying to intercept from the middle.

If you’ve ever been the piggy in middle in a situation like that, you’d no doubt admit that after a while of having the ball zipped marginally beyond your reach, it’s hard to fight the urge to simply slide in with abandon and clatter into one of your tormentors.

Yet that’s exactly what we have to make sure we do – avoid losing our heads and stay defensively controlled, as Arsene Wenger highlighted at his pre-game press conference last night. And the boss listed this need to stay mentally robust, as part of a three-point plan if we’re to be successful this evening, telling Arsenal Player:

Firstly we need to convince ourselves that we can do it and after that find a strong defensive performance without diminishing our offensive potential. It’s in three steps – the first hurdle is psychological, the second is to be at the right level defensively as a team and the third is try every time we can to attack.

Watching that interview, and remembering Arsene’s comments after the game between the sides at Emirates stadium last month, you get the impression we didn’t expect Bayern to dominate the ball to the extent they did before the game.

Yet once the match kicked-off and it became apparent we’d enjoy a lot less possession than we’re used to, the boss dropped Mesut Ozil deeper and decided to adopt a full-blown counter-attacking set-up during the course of the first-half.

He also attributed the success of our more direct attacking once Olivier Giroud had replaced Theo Walcott up front, to the latter’s contribution in stretching the Bayern defence earlier in the game.

The inference being that not only had Theo tired their back-line by the time Giroud entered the action, but perhaps having to face a very different type of threat in the brute physicality of Giroud later in the game was too much for them to cope with.

In fact, I remember Rio Ferdinand, speaking after the game on BT Sport and from considerable experience of course, saying how hard it would be for a centre-back to have to adapt late in a game from facing the threat of blistering pace to sheer strength and an aerial battle.

Unfortunately, unless say, we unexpectedly start with Joel Campbell at the tip of our attack and leave Giroud in reserve for the later stages again, we don’t have the personnel to do the same tonight.

But perhaps it can work in reverse. Giroud can soften their defence up a little with aggressive hold-up play, before a more pacey, nimble option comes on to run at drained legs. Although the only options we’d be able to call on would be the raw duo of Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Campbell if he doesn’t start, or a defender like Kirean Gibbs.

Time will tell of course but it’s worth remembering that on our two games against Bayern in Germany over the last couple of years, we’ve won one and drawn one despite fielding, for me at least, two inferior starting XI’s to the one we’re likely to boast tonight.

Encouragingly, our midfield terrier Francis Coquelin, seemed in bullish mood when he spoke alongside Wenger at the pre-game press conference, declaring:

We’re up for it and the team is ready.

Let’s hope so.


3rd November 2015: Bellerin blow ahead of Bayern test

Hello and welcome back. We’ve suffered yet another injury ahead of tomorrow evening’s Champions League game at Bayern Munich, after Arsene Wenger revealed Hector Bellerin has sustained a groin strain.

I suppose if there is one department we can cope with losing a player in at the moment, it’s defence, but the Bellerin news is still a blow considering how well he’s been performing at both ends of the pitch recently. Thankfully, the boss thinks the right-back only has a ‘small problem’ so hopefully, he’ll be back zooming up and down our right flank in no time at all.

Arsene confirmed Mathieu Debuchy will replace Bellerin for the game at the Allianz Arena, and says he’s confident his fellow Frenchman has the necessary match-fitness to come into the side, having played in the Capital One Cup a week ago. Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier this evening, he said:

Debuchy will play and I’m confident. I trust Debuchy, he is a 100 per cent educated player in the box and in training. Fortunately he played a full game against Sheffield Wednesday and physically he should be well.

I’m not quite sure what Arsene means by saying ‘educated player in the box’ there, but I’m assuming he means Debuchy knows how to defend, which at times last season, especially during a couple of stints at centre-back, he showed he can be very good at.

Unfortunately for the former Newcastle man, injuries ruined his first campaign with Arsenal and he’s had to sit back upon his return and watch Bellerin play like a cross between Lillian Thuram, Roberto Carlos and Pele.

It can’t be easy as a seasoned, international pro, to watch a player as young and previously inexperienced as Bellerin keep you out of the team, but now he has a chance to come in for a huge game and if he plays well enough, perhaps stay in.

To win back his place longer term however, he’d probably have to help us keep a clean sheet, make five assists and score a hat-trick, because Bellerin has been quite simply sensational. But Debuchy must at least show desire and determination to give Arsene something to think about when he and Bellerin are next both fit.

I mention ‘desire’ and ‘determination’ because on the rare occasions Debuchy has played this season, he hasn’t seemed completely committed, shall we say. A bit sulky even, at the fact he’s now considered a back-up. Perhaps that’s harsh and he was just rusty given his lack of game-time. We’ll see.

So Debuchy will form one part of our back four and Arsene says we’ll need to be disciplined in our defending against the German champions, ensuring we don’t commit too many fouls. He said:

Defensively discipline will be vital tomorrow, of course, but I think we have players with experience at the back and what is important for us is that we show that discipline. We don’t want to get stupid yellow cards and we don’t want to commit undue fouls. We need to manage a good balance between being committed and not giving fouls away.

If there were any doubts as to how tomorrow’s game will play out, Arsene addresses them here. Bayern will dominate possession and no doubt create numerous chances. We’ll defend deep and in numbers and look to make the most of any attacking forays we can muster.

As in the game between the sides at Emirates stadium a couple of weeks ago, we’ll need a little luck and a lot of endeavour to get another positive result against Pep Guardiola’s side, but when you have players of the calibre of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in your team, you always have a chance of creating chances and and scoring goals, against any opposition and at any ground.

Of course we’ve won at the Allianz Arena in the recent past, which is something Arsene highlighted when discussing his side’s ‘togetherness’ and how Arsenal will approach the game:

We are in a period where we are doing well and that should convince the players that they’re doing something right. We have a good togetherness and I believe we really are a team who stick together when things don’t go well. We will certainly have some uncomfortable moments during the game tomorrow night but that will be a good opportunity to show our togetherness. In good periods of the game, we want to attack. What we want is to play to win. When you’re Arsenal and have won everywhere in Europe, even here, it means we will try to win the game. Are Bayern a great team? Yes, but it’s a good challenge for us as well to show that we have the quality to compete with them.

To be fair, we’ve already shown we can do more than simply ‘compete’ with Bayern, by beating them a coupe of weeks ago but I know what Arsene means.

It’s a shame we’re deprived of the options of players like Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the game, because their pace is obviously ideally suited to the counter attacking game-plan we’ll adopt. That said, Sanchez and Joel Campbell are pretty quick themselves.

Yet whether the latter will play has come under some doubt today. There have been reports that we may play Kieran Gibbs on the left of midfield, switch Sanchez to the right and ‘rest’ Campbell, which I don’t understand at all really.

I mean, Gibbs is quick but is he that much more so than Campbell? Plus Campbell has shown in his last two games just how defensively conscientious he is, something which as already discussed, will be vital tomorrow evening.

Back tomorrow with a preview before the big game.

See you then.

22nd October 2015: Ozil, Walcott and Koscielny disect Bayern win

Evening all. The dust may have settled on our brilliant win over Bayern Munich on Tuesday but the performance and result deserve a little more reflection I feel, so it’s handy a few of the players have been doing just that.

First up it’s Mesut Ozil who discussed the match, said he thought Arsenal were deserved victors and praised the support from the stands, telling Arsenal Player:

Firstly we’re very, very happy. To win against Bayern Munich is really hard and we knew that it would be a tough game but you could see during the match that we created a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half, when Manuel Neuer made some superb saves. But ultimately I think we deserved to win. They had more possession but we had the clearer chances and that’s why we’re really pleased to have got the three points today. We concentrated from the first minute until the last minute. We believed in ourselves and we knew that we had made massive mistakes in the first two games. Today was our last chance – we had to win. We did that and now we’re back in the game. We’re all the happier for that. We showed heart and the fans supported us superbly. The most important thing is the three points. We have to believe in ourselves, keep working hard and then we’ll be on a good path.

The German midfielder also discussed his personal form and his game-settling late goal against Bayern, saying:

I’m really satisfied with my performances. I’m on a good way, I feel at ease and you can see that the team and the manager give me their trust. [For my goal] I had a shot at goal and Manuel saved it brilliantly. After two or three seconds I saw that the referee was signalling a goal and I was relieved. It was clear that we had won the game at that point and I’m pleased with that.

That’s two goals and six assists for the former Real Madrid man in all competitions so far this season and after Arsene Wenger suggested his record signing had more goals in him, and could be a genuine contender for Player of the Year in England, Ozil’s made a quietly impressive start to his third season with the club.

But such is the magnitude of his talent, I’m still left feeling he can contribute even more. More goals, more assists and more games where he is the stand-out performer on the pitch. Of course, his laid-back style means he’s often wrongly perceived to not be putting in the hard yards, but a look at his distance covered stats soon dispels any notions of laziness. He works as hard as anybody, links the play, creates chance after chance and is now, alongside Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, one of the three most influential players in our starting selection.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott gave his take on the Bayern game, highlighting patience as a key ingredient in securing the win and praising team-mate Petr Cech’s performance in goal, saying:

It was just one of those days when we had to be patient. We knew we were not going to have a lot of the ball and we had to go at them on the counter-attack. You can’t just chase them – if you chase the ball you just get passed around and you are going to lose so much energy. There is no need to do that. You just have to bide your time. Once they lose the ball they pressure quite quickly. If you can counteract that first pressure you have a chance. We were getting at them while we could and dropping back while we had to and obviously the goals came at great stages. Everyone did their jobs really well and I have to say Petr in goal was fantastic and made a number of very, very important saves. Everyone worked really hard and deserved it.

The bit about not over-exerting themselves by blindly chasing after Bayern shirts at every opportunity is interesting because there were times on Tuesday night when I was imploring Theo to do just that as the German’s casually knocked the ball between their defensive line. Now I realise it was a very deliberate conservation of energy which of course makes perfect sense. Shows what I know.

Finally, Laurent Koscielny, who added Robert Lewandowski’s name to a long list of the world’s most feared attackers he’s helped to keep from scoring against us, has also been speaking about the game, discussing collective defending and altering the team’s usual style-of-play. He told Arsenal Player:

Defensively we were together like a unit, we defended to help our team-mates and we played on the counter-attack. I think we were good and we had a lot of potential to score. Bayern hadn’t lost a game this season so it was very hard and tough for us but sometimes you need to play differently and everybody in front [of the defence] did their job well – it was very good and we need to keep this for the season. You can see the team were very focused in their defensive job and it is very important to keep this for the rest of the season because for the first two games of the Champions League we did not play very well. But here we saw a very good face of Arsenal and we need to keep this for the other games because I like I said before sometimes it is more difficult but you need to be stronger when you defend.

Right, time to turn our attentions back to the Premier League and Arsene provided an injury update earlier today which confirmed Aaron Ramsey would be out for a while with a hamstring tear, David Ospina will miss out this weekend with the shoulder injury he picked up on international duty, and the three long-termers, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, are still expected back around the New Year.

Back Friday.

21st October 2015: Plan Bs beat Bayern

In yesterday’s pre-game post, I wondered if Arsene Wenger would set us up tactically in the same manner as he did in March 2013 when we emerged 2-0 victors from the Allianz Arena – defend deep and in numbers, and try to hit them on the counter.

In the end, that’s exactly what the manager did at Emirates stadium last night and the result of the game was the same, as we beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to significantly improve our chances of progressing from Champions League group F.

I also highlighted Petr Cech’s presence as a major reason I was confident we could beat the Germans despite having lost the last two encounters between the sides held in London, and at full-time, the former Chelsea goalkeeper was man of the match for many observers. Why the f*ck didn’t I buy a lottery ticket yesterday?

But enough narcissism, because the only people who deserve praise and discussion are the Arsenal management and players, who prepared and executed what is a rarely-used game plan for them, as well as anybody could have hoped.

We accepted Bayern were better than us in possession – and there are very few who are, hence this game-plan being utilized so irregularly – decided we’d need to defend fairly deep, stay concentrated and organised as if our lives depended on it, then spring forward using the pace of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and co, at every opportunity.

I’m sure most reading will have seen the match so I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of proceedings but as expected, their Brazilian winger Douglas Costa was as dangerous as reports of his performances so far this season had suggested he’d be, and this current collection of Bayern players, with the way they recycle the ball and ravenously press to win it back, were easily identifiable as a Pep Guardiola-schooled side – much more so than the one we played the season before last.

Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have left but Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal have more than adequately replaced them in Bayern’s midfield. Add Tiago Alcantara and they now have a trio approaching the passing, ball retention and speed of thought of the all-conquering Pep-constructed midfield of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. So even with the talent of Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in our own engine room, we put pragmatism over pizzazz and reaped the rewards.

After Ozil had an early shot saved by Manuel Neuer, the game settled into the pattern most of the rest of the match would play out in – Bayern had the ball, so we had to show balls. That meant not just hoofing it clear and hoping for the best but bravely trying to play out every time we sensed the time was right.

The effort expended by Arsenal players was nothing short of heroic, all the way through the team and all the way through the match. This extreme endeavour was epitomized by Hector Bellerin’s lung-bursting, stoppage time interception and run forward as the game approached it’s conclusion, to set up our second goal for Ozil.

Before then, Olivier Giroud had come off the bench to perform in the kind of determined, no-nonsense and aggressive manner I wish he would every time he pulled on an Arsenal shirt. One piece of control from a long ball dropping from height to hold up play was simply sublime and he gave us the lead from a free-kick he’d won himself, with the ball going in off a combination of the Frenchman’s face and hand.

I’m Walcott’s biggest fan but if I’m honest, despite causing Bayern a few moments of panic and seeing a header miraculously kept out by Neuer in the first half, I was a little disappointed by Theo’s overall performance. I think he still doubts himself a little too much, still looks to take the safe option a little too often and needs to have far more belief and conviction in his play. That may sound harsh given he still played his part in our win last night but I’m only critical because I think he’s capable of so much more.

Sanchez also didn’t enjoy his best night and compounded his lack of form by twice putting our defence in a perilous position by giving the ball away deep in our half but as usual, ran his socks off before being replaced late on.

Nit-picking done though and aside from what sounds like quite a bad hamstring tear for Aaron Ramsey, it was another great night to be a Gooner. We utilized our Plan B style of play and the game’s all-important first goal was scored by our Plan B striking option from the bench.

Time now to rest up, recuperate and see if we can keep our winning streak going when we host Everton on Saturday, when in all likelihood, our possession-hungry Plan A should be back in town.

Til Thursday.

20th October 2015: Champions League Preview – Can we beat flying Bayern?

Welcome back. In football, there’s ‘in-form’, then there’s Bayern Munich. The German champions, under the stewardship of the creative Catalan coach Pep Guardiola, visit Emirates stadium tonight having won nine out of nine Bundesliga games so far this season.

Whereas we lost at Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Olympiakos in Champions League group F, Bayern beat the latter 3-0 in Greece, before battering the Croatians 5-0 in Germany.

So despite our very encouraging Premier League form heading into tonight’s fixture, and based on the above, you’d probably be forgiven for assuming we have very little chance of a win tonight. Especially when you throw in the fact that on their last two visits to Arsenal, the Bavarians won both games with, if we’re honest, consummate ease.

All that said, we’ll be at full first-team, if not squad, strength this evening and if we play to our potential, can beat any team in Europe in my opinion. Arsene Wenger spoke about a study confirming the importance of scoring the first goal in the Champions League recently, so getting the balance right between keeping it tight at the back and breaching Bayern’s defence will be key.

With that in mind, I wonder if Arsene will set us up tactically more like when we beat Bayern 2-0 at the Allianz Arena in March 2013, when we defended diligently in numbers and broke forward at pace at every opportunity, rather than the more gung-ho attacking whirlwind we were at the start of our last game hosting Bayern and indeed the recent win over Manchester United.

We need to win of course but a winning goal, as Saturday’s victory at Watford reminded us, doesn’t have to be scored early. What’s more important, is that we don’t concede first and Petr Cech’s presence in our side is one big reason I think we have a greater chance of securing a win against Bayern tonight than in previous meetings.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference yesterday, Arsene highlighted his side’s confidence after back-to-back 3-0 successes in the league, bemoaned our two group game losses and spoke about the need to play at our best if we’re to beat Bayern, saying:

The confidence level is there, the needed result is there as well – we know exactly what is required [because] a 0-0 is not even a good result. To score goals, we have to attack. It is true that [we have delivered big results] before, but we want to do it again because we feel a bit that the pain inflicted [in the Champions League] was a bit by ourselves. Maybe subconsciously we thought ‘anyway we will win these [first two games’. Now to correct that we need a great performance. What we want to do is play up to our level – that will be needed because we play against a big team.

I have to say I’m very, very excited about tonight. A lot has been said about perhaps prioritizing the Premier League, having made such a poor start in Europe, by resting players etc but not so much about the possible positive effects on the side a win over such highly-rated opponents would produce confidence and momentum-wise.

I mean, when we host Everton on Saturday, surely it’s better going into that game a little more tired but a lot more confident, than if we’d rested several players tonight and been soundly beaten. As Arsene often points out, belief is easily eroded but very difficult to re-establish.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey, who will have to be typically industrious in getting back to help out Hector Bellerin against one of Bayern’s best attackers this season, the Brazilian Douglas Costa, has been discussing the game and his hope the team can get the home support ‘on our side’, saying:

We’ve done really well away from home [against Bayern Munich]. It’s about starting the game well and getting the momentum and the crowd on our side early on. That’s what we’ll be looking to do to hopefully go on and get the win that we’re looking for. We’ve had some really good performances and results against Bayern, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow. These are the games that you want to be involved in, play in and test yourself in, so we’re looking forward to that. As a professional player you always go into every game wanting to give your absolute best. Unfortunately in the last two Champions League games we were not quite there to get the win, but our focus is now on Bayern and we are really looking forward to playing and going out there to express ourselves.

After scoring his first goal of the season against Watford, tonight would be the ideal time for Aaron to capitalize on the rediscovery of his shooting boots and help fire us back into contention in this group.

See you tomorrow.


19th October 2015: Sanchez and Ozil to start against Bayern Munich + Injecting more ‘pace’ into the team

So we play our second game in a relentless run of seven in just 21 days when we entertain Bayern Munich tomorrow evening, and despite suggesting on Saturday that he may rest Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsene Wenger has revealed both players will indeed be starting in what is realistically, a must-win match if we want to progress from our Champions League group.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference alongside Aaron Ramsey earlier today, the boss discussed team news, saying:

We have Gabriel back available, he is the only player back available. Everybody has recovered from our game on Saturday so it is nearly the same squad. (David) Ospina is out injured. He came back from Colombia with a shoulder problem and he is out. No (Ozil and Sanchez won’t be rested). You would be surprised if I told you that I would rest them tomorrow, so I can tell you certainly not. Normally they should play tomorrow.

That clears that up then. I did think it was a little strange Arsene would even consider leaving arguably our two best attacking players out of such a huge game, mainly because his name isn’t Brendan Rodgers and he’s not one to throw the towel in.

So I’m assuming what he said over the weekend about giving Ozil and Sanchez a breather was more ‘at some point’ than ‘right away’. We have Sheffield Wednesday coming up next midweek in the Capital One Cup and that would obviously be the time to do it.

Arsene was also asked if he thought Bayern were the ‘best team in the world’ and didn’t disagree, although he sort of smudged his answer, saying all the teams in the Champions League were the best in the world – which clearly isn’t the case. I mean, Chelsea are in the competition and they’re battling relegation domestically.

He was then asked how his team could overcome the Bavarians and pointed out that no side is without weakness, saying:

[But] there is no team without weaknesses. If you ask me to come out with them then I would not especially do that but there is no team without weaknesses. What we want is to win the game. We want to defend well, attack well and score the first goal – that is massively important in the big games. You can never promise you will score three goals in 20 minutes [like against Manchester United] because that would be absolutely crazy. What we can do is start in a strong way and that is what we will try to do. We know we play against a top side. We prepared well against Zagreb, we prepared well against Olympiacos but [that was] between two Premier League games where we had to give a lot. We won 5-2 at Leicester, three days later we played against Olympiacos. On top of that things went against us. But on Tuesday everyone will be highly focused.

Speaking of how we might overcome Pep Guardiola’s pass masters, Arsene mentioned after the win at Watford on Saturday that he ‘wants to put pace into this game’. The last time the two sides met at Emirates stadium, despite losing 2-0, we actually came flying out of the blocks, bullied Bayern in the opening exchanges and should have gone 1-0 up, only to see Ozil have a penalty saved and then Wojciech Szczesny sent off after a blatant dive by Grandpa Robben.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started that match and I can’t remember how he played in all honesty, but I do remember Kieran Gibbs performing like a man possessed down our left flank, before being forced off through injury after half an hour’s play. The left-back was crucial in our fast start so when Arsene talks pace, I wonder if he has Gibbs in mind to come in for Nacho Monreal.

Of course the Ox himself is a pacey option but I’m struggling to see who he’d leave out to accommodate him. He’s quicker than Ramsey but he’s been out of form and if he were to play, I’d actually prefer him to start more centrally and try to reproduce his man-of-the-match display from that position against AC Milan a few years back.

Of course Gabriel is quicker than Per Mertesacker (only kidding, but who isn’t) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Brazilian start alongside Laurent Koscielny at the back. All that said though, my inclination would still strongly be to start the same team from Saturday, but Arsene’s got previous in pulling a few selection surprises for big European games (Yaya Sanogo) so I’m intrigued as to what line-up he’ll go with.

Back tomorrow with more pre-game.


27th August 2015: Familiar foes in Champions League

Evening all. The draw for the group stages of the Champions League was made earlier today and we were pitted against Bayern Munich, Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb in Group F, which, looking at Manchester City’s group, I’m not going to complain about too much. Or at all in fact.

Typically, Chelsea and Man United were put in groups their under 9s would top, but ours looks pretty straight forward too, Bayern aside of course. I mean, not to sound complacent or cocky, but if we can’t at least secure second spot in this group then I’d give the entire squad a free transfer because they’d deserve it frankly.

But far from such a shocking scenario occurring, the early-season optimist in me sees no reason why we can’t actually top the group, handing Pep Guardiola’s Bayern a beating or two along the way. I mean, in our four recent meetings with the German champions, we’ve won one and drawn the other of two away games, while our two losses at home had mitigating circumstances.

When they beat us 3-1 at Emirates stadium in February 2013, our team was very different to the one we have now, and by different, I mean much worse. A year later, Wojciech Szczęsny was sent off early on, handing the visitors a numerical advantage for most of the match.

So I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion at all that Bayern will top the group, no matter how likely Owen Hargreaves thinks it is. Time will tell I guess and of course there’s also the possibility that finishing second can provide a more favourable draw in the next round so there’s always that to consider too.

The only side that truly worries me in Europe is Barcelona, with their three footballing freaks up front and an already perfectly balanced midfield now strengthened by this summer’s capture of Arda Turan. Other than the Catalans though, bring them on I say. Surely it has to be our year some season soon, so why not this?

Speaking of the current European champions, Theo Walcott has been talking to the official Arsenal magazine about his memories of facing Lionel Messi and co in the Champions League quarter finals in 2010, and recalled a pretty amusing anecdote about his visit to Camp Nou, saying:

That [home leg] was a great night and a great performance. I also remember something which happened before the return leg in Spain. I was doing the press conference at the Nou Camp the night before the game and I saw Lionel Messi at the top of the stairs. I was chatting to him, then the boss came up to me afterwards and joked, ‘Theo, why didn’t you push him down the stairs?!’. That has never left me, I thought it was brilliant, really funny from the boss. I think he scored four goals the next day as well. It’s things like that that are great memories, because people don’t see that side of it. That home game against Barcelona was definitely something special though.

Yeah, so, on second thoughts, I’m not sure Theo should find Messi scoring four against us funny but I think he was talking just about the stairs bit in fairness. But moving away from the draw in Monaco and onto a former Monaco manager, Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference today as we prepare to travel to Newcastle for Saturday’s Premier League clash.

I’ll talk more about team news in tomorrow’s blog, as well as the usual answers Arsene provided regarding transfers etc, but I do have his thoughts on our pairing with Spurs in the third round of the Capital One Cup. He said:

It’s an interesting draw and we have had some fierce competition with Tottenham over the years, even in the League Cup. It will be interesting but for us it’s an opportunity to go through and we will take the competition seriously.

Interesting. Anyway, I’m afraid it’s just a short post today because I have stuff to do. And by stuff I mean sleep. Early start in the morning, you know how it is.