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.

19th December 2015: This crazy campaign continues …

Welcome back. So we witnessed another interesting set of Premier League results today to say the least, as this crazy 2015-16 campaign continues to amaze and amuse in equal measure.

Leicester City maintained their scarcely believable form this season by winning 3-2 at Everton, to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points. Manchester United lost 2-1 at home to Norwich, and Chelsea’s players, having finally rid themselves of Jose Mourinho’s ghastly leadership, returned to winning ways by beating Sunderland 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.

First, a word on the Foxes and that word is ‘when’. When are they going to stop playing like champions-elect and more like the mid-table/bottom half side they should be? It’s getting silly now. They’re clear at the top and will now definitely be top on Christmas Day, which is often used as some kind of symbolic yardstick as to whether they’ll emerge champions come May.

I still think they’ll drop off because they’re Leicester ffs their squad isn’t good enough to compensate for any absences for the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy for instance, but the longer they continue their run, the more you’re forced to wonder whether we’re witnessing what would be one of the biggest sporting shocks of all time.

I mean, it’s Leicester! They don’t have a super-wealthy benefactor who bought a star-studded squad last summer. They have Robert Huth, who makes Per Mertesacker seem like Usain Bolt, at centre half, and with one game shy of half the season played, they’re top with a five point cushion.

Meanwhile, let’s spare a thought for Untied, who are now nine points off top spot. In fact, not a thought, a good old LOL. All that money wasted away on players like the past-it Bastian Schweinsteiger, the bang-average trio of Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, and in terms of wages, on the scandalously over-paid, over-rated and over-fed Wayne Rooney.

Thank God Arsenal have a manager who’s not just a brilliant, trophy-winning, player-developing, talent-spotting master, but also a supreme economist. Louis van Gaal’s days appear to be numbered, I just hope Bobby Charlton’s stance remains steadfast when it comes to the possibility of hiring Mourinho and they don’t offer the Sacked One a quick return to the Premier League.

And so onto to Chelsea who raced into a two-nil lead against the Black Cats today and reportedly played like reigning champions are expected to, not the disinterested, impotent, porous shambles they’ve been so far this season. No surprise there really, given Mourinho’s long gone and they can now start trying to win games again.

But even after his departure, the ruinous after-effects of the Portuguese’s tenure were evident at the game today. Large sections of their support sang Mourinho’s name, but booed the names of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa as they were announced before kick-off. And there was even at least one placard on show in the stands labeling Fabregas, Costa and Eden Hazard as ‘rats’. In truth, the biggest rodent at the club was removed last Thursday. Time will help them see that, no doubt.

Oh, and Chelsea’s fans also serenaded their players with a chorus of ‘where were you when we were shit?’ after they raced into an early 2-0 lead. Hilarious. Although the players may well throw that question right back at their ‘supporters’, given the lack of atmosphere at Stamford Bridge so far this season, which, ironically, was something Mourinho himself complained about during his latest spell at the club. Long may the civil war continue, not that they’re a threat for the title this term anyway.

What today’s results mean for us though, is that a win over City on Monday would close the gap to Leicester to two points, stretch our lead over City to four, and leave us seven clear of fourth spot. A draw or even a defeat would be far from disastrous but what a boost three points would bring, both psychologically over our likeliest competitors for the crown in City, as well as for the rest of the festive fixtures and the season beyond.

Til tomorrow.

11th November 2015: Wolves, Welbeck and Ozil

A warm Wednesday welcome to you. When the only live football on TV on a midweek evening in November is Chelsea Ladies v Wolfsburg Women, you know you’re in the middle of an international break.

I actually quite like the women’s game, and I’m a big fan of Arsenal’s very own Kelly Smith, who has a left peg in a million, but that said, tonight’s offering on Eurosport was about as enticing as a trip to the dentists.

If it was the Chelsea men’s team versus wolves on the other hand, I might have tuned in. But actual wolves mind, not Wolverhampton Wanderers. Otherwise that too, would have been about as enticing as a trip to the dentists.

I mean, anybody can watch buses being parked just by going to their local garage, but seeing Jose Mourinho and his players being chased all over the Stamford Bridge pitch by a ravenous pack would make for superb entertainment by anybody’s standards.

After the match, Jose would no doubt have blamed an offside wolf’s tail, a distracting howl or Arsene Wenger, but nothing would have be able to detract from the fact his team had been ripped to shreds …

Meeeeeeeeeanwhile, Danny Welbeck, who I think could prove himself the best all-round striker we currently have at the club, if he can just get and stay fit, has been speaking to the Arsenal Weekly podcast about his move from Manchester United in 2014, and how his England team-mates already in north London made the transition easy for him. He said:

It makes it easier for you because, like any situation in life, if you go somewhere and see a familiar face then you can obviously bond with them. Knowing the England boys from international duty and growing up with them in the youth teams made it easy. They integrate you into the group a lot easier with the other lads as well. It was a new challenge but it was an exciting time for me to approach a new situation, move from Manchester to London and all of the stuff that goes with it. It was a whole new city, not completely new as I’d been to London before, but it was weird knowing that I was going to be calling London home and not Manchester. The thing that you miss the most is your family and that’s the most important thing. A lot of my family and friends do come to London to see me anyway. They come to all the home games so I get to see them quite a lot anyway. But I was leaving something that I knew after growing up in Manchester, coming to a new city, it’s an exciting period.

It may sound like a cliche but I think Welbeck has all the attributes to be one of the best around. I know he has a lot of doubters, who bemoan his finishing etc but I think he’s at the perfect club and has the perfect manager to help him become the finished article up front.

Of course first he has to play in order to improve and score the goals that win Arsenal games, so it was very worrying to read unconfirmed reports his injury wasn’t improving, and he may even be side-lined for the rest of the season.

The official update is that he’s still expected back around the turn of the year so fingers crossed those rumours were way wide of the mark and he’s back to provide Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott with competition in the second half of the season.

Elsewhere, Mesut Ozil, who incidentally, has shown signs of a fine mutual understanding with Welbeck in the relatively few times they’ve played together (think Villa Park last season), has been speaking to Arsenal Player about adding more goals to his game:

After training there are a few shooting drills that can help with self-belief. In general, when you look at my chances in front of goal, I’ve taken them well. Every player wants to score goals. I’m intending to score more this season than in previous years. It’s most important for us to perform well and to be successful – I’m looking forward to giving assists or scoring goals. My aim is to score more goals this season than in the last two. I think I’m on a good path and will achieve that.

His assists alone so far this season must have him in contention for the player of the year award, and if he keeps producing them at his current rate, he’ll take some stopping.

Especially when you consider that bar Jamie Vardy, there aren’t many stand-out contenders to be Eden Hazard’s successor. There’s a long, long way to go obviously, but it wouldn’t be the first time one of Arsene’s predictions proved spot on.

Back tomorrow.

2nd November 2015: Arsenal should make a bid for Eden Hazard in January

Evening all. It may technically still be autumn but wintry weather is beginning to take hold, so if you’re feeling a little blue, due to the increasing chill in the air, the shortened days and dark, dreary mornings of this time of year and need cheering up, just take a moment to ponder the predicament of poor old Jose Mourinho. Then laugh out loud.

Because despite lifting the Premier League trophy just a few short months ago, he’s allegedly managed to alienate significant sections of his squad, turn champions into relegation candidates and leave himself perilously close to being sacked according to widespread reports.

Judging by Saturday’s pitiful performance in the loss to Liverpool, some players are purposely doing their utmost to hasten his departure, by flagrantly refusing to play to their potential. The inertia in their defensive line for Liverpool’s third goal for instance, was particularly telling in terms of how little the players cared I thought.

In fact, a well-respected BBC journalist claims he’s been told one Chelsea player ‘would rather lose, than win for Mourinho’. It takes a special kind of manager to be able to achieve such an about-turn in fortunes in such a short period of time. So hats off to Jose.

The hilarious happenings over at Stamford Bridge did make me wonder though. Should Arsenal make a bid for Eden Hazard in January? On the face it, that seems a preposterous suggestion. Why would Chelsea sell? Why would the player want to move and where would Arsenal play him given they have Alexis Sanchez performing so majestically in Hazard’s usual left-sided position?

All very good questions, so let’s take a little look. Well, Chelsea may not want to sell him, particularly to a Premier League rival, but no objective observer could deny relations seem a little strained between Hazard and his manager at present.

So far this season, Mourinho has publicly criticized the reigning player of the year for not contributing enough defensively, just as he did two seasons ago. He’s dropped him to the bench for a couple of games and against Liverpool, substituted Hazard very early in the second period as Chelsea chased a much-needed victory, only to replace him with an inexperienced teenager in the Brazilian Kenedy.

Yet Mourinho continues to hang on in there as Chelsea boss. If they decide to break from tradition by showing faith in the manager and stick with him at least until the end of the season, it raises the possibility that certain players will leave the club instead, whether they’re forced to, or insist upon it.

In such a scenario, Hazard would be high up the list of potential departures given the above, and if he’s the one to instigate a move, he’ll obviously have the ultimate say on where he ends up, as players always do. The prospect of playing alongside the likes of Santi Cazorla, Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, and working under a world-class manager with attacking ideals like Arsene Wenger, would no doubt be extremely appealing.

So that deals with the ‘why would they sell’ and ‘why would he want to move’, so onto the ‘where would we play him?’. My answer would be from the right in a fluid three alongside Ozil and Sanchez. Of course that would have obvious implications on the futures of several of our current players, but nobody could deny Hazard would improve our squad and our first-team. He’s super, super, top, top, quality by anybody’s standards, except evidently, Mourinho’s right now.

We kept our powder dry last summer because no ‘star-quality’ was available in the market, but Arsene is on record as saying he’d sign players for any position providing they improved our line-up. Hazard would certainly do that. His signing would show we’re ruthless and ready to build on what we’ve done in the transfer market in recent summers by snapping up the likes of Ozil, Sanchez and Cech. Hazard would be to us what Luis Figo was to Real Madrid all those years ago in terms of making a statement.

We showed with our pursuit of Luis Suarez in 2013, as well as Cech’s capture a few months ago, that we’re not afraid to approach domestic rivals for their best players when we sense there’s a will to sign on the part of the player. Any move would therefore hinge on the future of Mourinho but if he stays, I’d implore Arsenal to take advantage of the situation and make a concerted effort to lure Hazard from west to north London.

Back tomorrow when I’ll start looking ahead to our game at Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

19th September 2015: The Premier League doesn’t need cheats like Diego Costa

We all know Jose Mourinho’s been called ‘the enemy of football’, but today’s events at Stamford Bridge provided further evidence that Diego Costa is his chief ally in a deplorable and unnecessary war on both the sport and sportmanship alike.

I don’t want to go into too many details because if you’re reading this blog then you’ll no doubt have seen the game and witnessed Costa’s ‘craft’ with your own eyes, but what I will say is that the striker’s antics on a football pitch should no longer be tolerated by football in a country which prides itself on fair play.

When Sky Sports used a caption reading ‘Costa’s crimes’ in a game last season in which the player had cheated (and there really is no other word to describe behavior that consistently infringes the letter of the law yet remains unpunished) throughout the match, his manager was quick to take offence and the broadcaster basically backed down. Costa’s crimes went from being highlighted as unacceptable, to ‘just the way he plays the game’ in the collective conscience of English football.

Typically cunning psychological string-pulling by the Portuguese manager maybe, but we need to wise up now. The time has come to change that Mourinho-influenced mindset and kick scam-artists out of the Premier League. There is enough talent, and variety of it, for the world’s most watched domestic division to do without such atrocious showings of spite and violence on a weekly basis from a footballer who, if we’re all honest, is far from a standout performer with the ball at his feet.

Costa doesn’t add anything special to the game in this country but does an awful lot of damage to it’s reputation and integrity instead. A match delicately poised at 0-0, between two fierce rivals was heading for half time with the promise of a more open second period where true talents like Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez could have decided the game through skill, courage, intelligence etc, but instead, was sabotaged by scandalous skulduggery.

If referees are unwilling to do their jobs and dish out cards for Costa every single time he deserves them (which would see him dismissed most weeks), for fear of a tongue-lashing from the hypocritical Mourinho after the game, then the FA need to make an example retrospectively of the player to lesson the number of future episodes like today’s. Ban him, warn him and tell him he needs to clean up his act.

The Chelsea manager coined the phrase ‘fake result’ when his side were comprehensively beaten by Manchester City earlier this season, but if there’s ever been a more counterfeit score-line than today’s, I’ve yet to see it.

I gave myself a good few hours after the game ended before I wrote this post to ensure it wouldn’t be rooted in rage at the result of the match and the factors influencing it, but all the time in history wouldn’t change my view that analysing the contest has been deemed utterly pointless by pure, unadulterated foul-play. You can’t evaluate a performance that was marred by malpractice.

Diego Costa has to change, or the English game needs to strike him off it’s roster.

Back on Sunday.

18th September 2015: Premier League Preview – Pragmatism over pizzazz needed at the Bridge

Happy Friday night folks. Thanks for popping in. It’s Matchday Eve of course, as we head to Stamford Bridge in the early kick-off tomorrow looking to secure back-to-back wins over Chelsea for the first time since October 2011.

Back then, we memorably beat them 5-3 away from home, having also managed a 3-1 home victory in December 2010. Don’t ask me why there were ten months between games on that occasion, because that’s a question for the fixture generator, but clinching a repeat of our consecutive wins over Chelsea would show that Wednesday night in Croatia was a mere blip and we can consider ourselves genuine title contenders this term, whilst simultaneously handing the Blues what would be a third straight Premier League defeat.

Going into the game, both sides have important players missing; Chelsea will be without the injured Thibaut Courtois and Willian, and have doubts over the fitness of Oscar, Pedro and Falcao, whilst we’re of course unable to call upon the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. Yet, even without those expected to be absent, both teams will feel they have the requisite resources to take all three points.

In a way, Chelsea being 17th in the table on four points gives us added incentive to put pragmatism above pizzazz tomorrow. They have made their worst start to a league campaign since 1986, conceding a league-high 12 goals along the way. They need a win more than at any other time in their recent history. Which means they will be under far more pressure to perform and produce all three points than we are and that should give us an edge in my opinion.

If I were to guess, I’d say Jose Mourinho, facing the threat of losing a third league game in a row for the first time in his managerial career, will revert to what he knows best with renewed vigour – parking the bus, happily conceding possession and relying on mistakes from his opponents and moments of individual brilliance from his star men to win the match. So I hope we don’t fall into that trap and instead mirror his plan – as Rafa Benetiz did so often with success when in charge of Liverpool and we did at the start of last month in the Community Shield.

Encouragingly from that point of view, Arsene Wenger hinted at deploying a contain-and-counter strategy when he spoke at his pre-match press conference this morning. He was asked what his team had to do to be succesful at Stamford Bridge and said:

To be well organised defensively, take every opportunity to attack and play our game

Which sums it up perfectly for me. Our community shield win was based on a very deliberate defensive doggedness, epitomised by a central midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the hard running of Aaron Ramsey to counteract Nemanja Matic and co in their engine room.

So I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Arsene opt for a similar set-up tomorrow. That said, at Wembley, Santi Cazorla played from the left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, with Mesut Ozil behind Theo Walcott centrally, but we now have Alexis Sanchez available, so if Ramsey is moved back into the middle, it will be interesting to see how Arsene lines up the rest. My inclination would be to have Cazorla in the Ozil role behind the striker and ask Ozil to play from the right.

Providing Hector Bellerin with support against Eden Hazard may play an important part in the manager’s thinking too though, and would certainly be one reason to keep Ramsey stationed on the right hand side, so there’s plenty for the boss to consider when positioning his personnel.

Considering the performance against Zagreb on Wednesday night, you’d have thought our team for tomorrow is easy to predict. Petr Cech will return in goal, Bellerin at right-back, Nacho Monreal at left-back, Coquelin in front of the defence and Ramsey to either central or right midfield as discussed above.

The men to make way will almost certainly be David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But the one position still seemingly up for grabs is up front after Arsene revealed he’ll make a descision tomorrow morning:

At the moment I must say that is a decision I still have to make tomorrow morning. I try to use the best solution that gives us the most efficiency offensively. Every game is different and that is why I don’t deny at all the quality of Walcott. I am very happy that he scored so many goals in so many starts. He shows as well that when he comes on, he can score as well, which he did in Zagreb.

Will Arsene prefer the physicality of Giroud or the quicksilver penetration of Walcott? Well, the fact Walcott was rested from the start in midweek and then came on as a substitute to score, would, you’d have thought, increased the likelihood of him getting the nod to begin the game at the Bridge. Plus the England man led our attack in the Community Shield win and grabbed an assist for the winning goal.

That said, if the boss concludes that Chelsea are likely to hold a deep defensive line then he may pull a surprise and give Giroud an opportunity in a big game to put his recent poor form behind him. Frankly, I’m just as undecided as Arsene says he is, although in truth, I think he’s probably made up his mind to go with in-form Theo.

Back post-game tomorrow.