7th November 2015: Premier League Preview – We should have too much for Tottenham

Greetings Gooners. After our obliteration at the hands of Bayern Munich in midweek, we have the chance to prove we haven’t been deterred from our domestic title challenge when we host Tottenham tomorrow.

We’ll be seeking to secure our sixth consecutive Premier League victory by beating Spurs, so cup woes aside, we’re in great form. Our neighbours aren’t in bad nick themselves of course, sitting five points and four places adrift of us in sixth, and unbeaten in their last ten games in the league. So we’re in for a tough game, made all the more testing by our injury troubles at the moment.

I’m expecting Laurent Koscielny to be passed fit given Arsene Wenger gave him such a high percentage chance of doing so yesterday, as well as the fact he was part of full training earlier this morning if these pictures are anything to go by. Whether he comes in to replace Per Mertesacker or Gabriel is anybody’s guess, seeing as neither of them covered themselves in glory with their performances in Germany.

Elsewhere in the team, I think we’ll be unchanged purely because of the lack of options presently available to the boss. That would mean another start for Joel Campbell – his first-ever Premier League one at Emirates stadium – and hopefully he can perform more like he did at Swansea than he managed to against Bayern.

That goes for most of the team though, and against a Spurs side who have the youngest average age in the league at present, we’ll need to match their work-rate first and foremost, which should lead to our undeniably superior quality shining through.

The fixture itself needs no hyping of course, partly because Sky have been doing that for about a month now, but mainly because the two clubs and sets of fans like each other as much as Wayne Rooney does sticking to an athlete’s diet, which ensures the matches are always atmospheric and keenly contested.

The boss has obviously overseen his fair share of them over the years and has been discussing the north London derby with Arsenal Player, saying:

It’s a special game because it’s always special between the two north London clubs. It’s a game with a big importance in the table and psychologically it has a big meaning. It is always a special game and a game where you want to come out on top. I agree about the power, energy and electricity around the game. It’s more the feeling [that stays with you]. I remember when we won the championship there, and our last game in the League Cup was a frenetic game. But the energy, the intensity, the commitment, the happiness when you’re [winning] – that’s what remains with you.

Just very quickly, if I was to name a few of stand-out derby moments they would, in no particular order, be the title-winning game at White Hart Lane in 2004 and the two sublime goals we scored that day, Kanu’s flick and finish in what I think was a 3-1 midweek win in 1999, Thierry’s run from his own half at Highbury, Ian Wright twisting one way then the other, before crossing from the right to Dennis Bergkamp on the left, who took a glorious touch inside his marker before smashing it home, and of course, Tony Adams’ volley in the same game. (Get well soon Tony!)

To be honest, I, like I’m sure you, could go on all day so I’ll leave it there. Alright one more, Emmanuel Adebayor’s flick up and volley at the Lane – WHAT a goal that was, untainted by his subsequent career path, for me anyway. There’s soooo many to choose from dammit. Maybe I’ll dedicate a post to special moments against Spurs before the next derby when I have more time.

Right, hopefully that little trip down memory lane has got you up for the game, not that I’m sure you needed it, and we can add another Gunners victory over our shadow-dwellers to our memories at full-time tomorrow.

Back post-match.

COME ON YOU ARSENAL! 

23rd October 2015: Premier League Preview – Let’s stick it to The Toffees and go top

Welcome back. With the two Manchester clubs not playing until they face each other on Sunday, Arsenal can go top of the Premier League table for the first time this season if we beat Everton in the early evening kick-off tomorrow.

A win against Roberto Martinez’s ninth-placed side would be a landmark 100th against them in the all-time, head-to-head record, and we go into the match unbeaten in 21 home games against The Toffees in all competitions.

Yet despite the fact we can climb to the summit of the standings, Arsene Wenger says it’s too early to be getting carried away in terms of our title chances. Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, he said:

It’s too early. It’s very early. We lost our first game at home against West Ham. After, we went to Crystal Palace and you think it could be a repetition of last year, where after 10 games we were basically out of the race. At a big club, that is always very difficult to handle. At least we are up there with a good number of points and we have made the ground up. Let’s show that we can be in the fight.

Of course, he’s right. We’re nearing the end of October and the fact we’re within touching distance of the leaders represents a big improvement from this time last year, but there’s still an awfully long way to go. It’s a bit of a cliche but we just need to take one game at a time, ensure our preparation and focus is spot on for every game and see where it takes us.

We used up a lot of energy on Tuesday night in beating Bayern Munich but will have had almost four full days to recover by the time we kick-off tomorrow and Arsene revealed fatigue doesn’t appear to be an issue. When he was asked if there was a new-found, feel-good factor around the club after the win over the Germans, he said:

We always have a feel-good factor in our club unless the results are not there. We have always a togetherness but not always the results that we want. Overall we are in a good run and that can help the level of confidence and belief going into the next game. We have a big game in front of us against Everton and we can extend our run. Our focus is on our next game. You know that if you want to play at the top of the Premier League you want to do well in the big games at home. Everton is another big game so the target is for us to take advantage of that. We play in front of everybody so let’s take advantage of it. You gain credibility through consistency and when people think this could be a game where people think we could slip a bit and you respond in a positive way. I believe that [at the] top level, you come out of a big game and show you can focus again and produce the same performance again.

In terms of team news, the boss says Mikel Arteta is out of contention for tomorrow’s game and joins Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and David Ospina on the sidelines, but Gabriel in available again after missing out during the week.

So in terms of how we’ll line up tomorrow, I think we’ll see just one change from Tuesday night starting XI, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing the injured Ramsey. I suppose one or both of the fullbacks could be rotated, Gabriel might come in to give Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny a breather and Olivier Giroud stands a chance of replacing Theo Walcott up top, but I can’t see Arsene making any changes unless he’s forced to.

The team are on a bit of a roll and we have Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup coming up on Wednesday, which would obviously be a far better time to rotate the squad and rest numerous first-choice players.

As for Everton, they’ll be looking to make amends for last Saturday’s home drubbing by Manchester United and have had a whole week to prepare so will no doubt be fresh. Our recent games against them at Emirates stadium have been tight affairs and I’m guessing tomorrow will be no different. That said, if we can get an early goal, who knows? It might be another Man United-style slaying.

If we hadn’t just played such a draining game in the Champions League I’d be very confident of getting the win tomorrow, as it is, I’m just confident. But any hangover from Tuesday should be tempered by the thought of becoming league leaders for the players so let’s hope that extra little incentive helps secure us the win.

Back post-match tomorrow.

COYG!

3rd October 2015: Premier League Preview – Win against United long overdue

Happy Saturday. Unless your name is Jose Mourinho obviously, because then it’s anything but, and there’s a good chance you’ll be getting sacked in the morning, you specialist in verbal diarrhea you. Is he still speaking?

We host Manchester United tomorrow afternoon of course, and having just checked, I’m slightly shocked to find that our last Premier League victory over tomorrow’s opponents came way back in May 2011, when Aaron Ramsey’s carefully-placed low strike secured us a 1-0 win at Emirates stadium.

Since that game, we’ve played them eight times in the league and lost five of those matches, conceding 17 and scoring just 7 times along the way. Of course those aggregate scores are skewed somewhat heavily by that infamous 8-2 at Old Trafford, and we did beat them in our last meeting in the FA Cup, but still, we’re long overdue to put a few past United. Needless to say, tomorrow would be the ideal time to do it as we look to bounce back from our midweek defeat in the Champions League and keep pace with the challengers for the title.

Arsene Wenger spoke about the fixture at his pre-match press conference yesterday (despite the assembled media’s best attempts at keeping the conversation on David Ospina and the Olympiakos defeat), explained why his team will go into the game in confident mood and also pointed out that no team can be identified as likely champions, given the close proximity in points of the teams at at the top of the table. He said:

It is a special fixture because usually Man United are always fighting at the top. It has an even bigger meaning now because there are three points between the teams, and we play at home in a big game. We have just come from a big win at Leicester and we want to continue our run. We are the only team who has beaten [Leicester], so I don’t see why we should not believe we can beat Manchester United. At the moment it is too difficult to say that any team dominates the championship. It is so tight that one point more after seven games does not mean you will suddenly make a big difference in the league. It is settling at the moment and it is a very important time in the Premier League but you cannot come to a conclusion that one team is above everybody else.

In terms of team selection, Laurent Koscielny is ruled out with a hamstring strain but Gabriel is available after serving a one-match suspension for last week’s win at Leicester so barring any last-minute injury concerns, the Brazilian should play alongside Per Mertesacker in central defence and I’m guessing Petr Cech will have recovered sufficiently from the ‘slight alert’ over his calf to take over from Ospina in goal.

Elsewhere, I think the team picks itself. Our two Spanish fullbacks, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in midfield, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Ramsey ahead of them with Theo Walcott again leading the line and looking to score his 13th goal in 14 Premier League starts. I suppose Olivier Giroud has a chance of starting in Theo’s place given the fact he was banned for Tuesday’s game and may therefore be physically fresher but I can’t see it. Theo’s in fine goalscoring form and I’d be amazed if Arsene left him out.

As for the opposition, despite Anthony Martial dominating discussion given his solid start to life at United, Juan Mata has been playing pretty well too and Arsene praised the former Chelsea man’s quality yesterday, as well as highlighting United’s other dangermen, saying:

He is an intelligent player and his position is a bit secondary. What is important is the timing of the moment to get rid of your marker and the quality of your vision, and Mata’s quality of vision is very high. Let’s not forget at Chelsea he was twice voted player of the year so that is a quality he always had. United have a few dangerous players. The danger can come from Martial, Mata and Depay. Maybe Mata has been in top form of late but with these types of games it is important you are focused on defending well as a team as the danger can come from anywhere.

Individuals aside though, I don’t think United have been anything special at all so far this season. I saw them host Wolfsburg on Wednesday evning and thought they were very fortunate to win the game. The Germans were the better team. But then when you make as many squad alterations as United have, finding fluency takes time and hopefully we can capitalise on their lack of familiarity with one another.

Despite losing this fixture last season, we actually played very well and Jack Wilshere’s chance when one-on-one with David de Gea sticks out as one that may have led to a different result at full-time. Taking the lead in these big games, as lots of managers often point out, is vital. So if we can reproduce that same level of intensity in our game but take our chances this time, I expecting us to pick up all three points and show that maybe we’re serious contenders this year after all.

Back post-match.

COYG!

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.

COYG.

11th September 2015: Premier League Preview – Time to Stoke our goal-scoring fire

Evening all. Cloid’s history and the real stuff returns. We’ll be hoping to make it third time lucky, in terms of scoring a goal and winning a game at Emirates Stadium this season, when we host a Stoke City side missing key players tomorrow afternoon.

Mark Hughes’ men, thankfully now trying to emulate the Gunners by playing good football as opposed to bad rugby, will have to make do without long-term injury absentee and club captain Ryan ‘not a malicious bone in his body’ Shawcross, as well as the suspended Ibrahim ‘one-time Arsenal target’ Afellay and Charlie ‘decent left peg but what a prolifically-stampy, choke-holding c*nt’ Adam.

In addition, they have doubts over the involvement of Glen Johnson, Mame Diouf and Marko Arnautovic. Which is all excellent to hear, given the fact Stoke have been somewhat of a pain in the arse for us since they were promoted to the Premier League at the start of the 2008-09 campaign.

Since then, we’ve played them 14 times in the league; winning eight, drawing two and losing four. We also faced them once in the FA Cup in that period, losing 3-1 (although in fairness, our starting 11 that day was very inexperienced, as we fielded the likes of Armand Traore, Craig Eastmond and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas). But all our defeats have been at the Britannia Stadium and so i’m fully expecting us to make it eight wins out of eight on home turf, when we play them tomorrow.

Arsene Wenger chose his words very carefully when asked what he thought of Stoke at his press conference yesterday and I think the boss deserves a lot of credit for not acting on what must have been an over-whelming urge to call them the ghastly, leg-breaking Wimbledon-wannabees they were for so long under former boss Tony Pulis:

They are a team with a good culture of the Premier League, they know how to behave and they have experience. They have been here a long time in the Premier League and they have improved their technical quality. They have Afellay, Bojan, Shaqiri, Diouf up front and Charlie Adam in midfield. They have a lot of technical players that can give you problems. What we want is to focus on our own performance as we want to take off at home now. We had two good away games with positive results in difficult places and we know at home we can be efficient against anybody.

The Potters’ transformation from their Pulis days is pretty remarkable to be fair, and was facilitated by the ability to attract a swathe of quality players like Bojan Krkić and Xherdan Shaqiri – names you would never have thought remotely likely to sign for them a few years ago. But as we all know, money talks and they’ve certainly had some great conversations in the transfer market under Hughes.

Speaking of which, although suffering a bad slump in his development since his breakthrough at Barcelona, would you take Bojan as a central striker for us right now? Something to ponder if Giroud and Walcott keep missing from three yards, as if they’re allergic to the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net.

But despite their new-found fondness of passing a football along the ground, there have been 18 yellow cards issued in the last five meetings between the two teams and Arsene says that’s down to a ‘special motivation’ on their part and he prefers to focus on his own side’s performance:

They have always had good teams and overall when we go to Stoke they are always specially motivated against us. There is a little bit of history because of what happened and overall it was always very difficult for us. For me there was never bad blood, it was just a game that was always very difficult for us to play. But I always focus on playing football and trying to get my team to play as well as we can.

In terms of our selection for tomorrow, you’d imagine Mesut Ozil will come straight back into the side after missing the win at Newcastle with a slight knee injury. I’m guessing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the man to make way, as Aaron Ramsey starts from the right and Ozil resumes the role of number 10. At the back, Per Mertesacker should return to partner Laurent Koscielny at the expense of Gabriel and the only other change to our line-up would perhaps see Olivier Giroud afforded a start instead of Theo Walcott up top.

That said, Theo bagged a brace for England during Cloid, whereas Giroud got booed off the pitch by his own fans so that might play a part in the manager’s thinking. I mean, does he allow Theo to capitalize on any boost in confidence he got from his San Marino-slaying, or let Giroud regain some belief by giving him the nod? Who knows?

Personally, I still think a midfield of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the middle, with Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey lining up left to right in front of them is our best bet. Maybe at times the Ox or Theo would come in for Ramsey but I’d keep the Coquelin-Cazorla combo in the middle for sure. In terms of whether I’d pick Giroud or Walcott to lead the line, that would be based on the specific opponents in question and I haven’t watched any Stoke games so far this season so can’t decide. Let’s see what Arsene goes with.

Back post-match tomorrow.

COYG!