26th May 2016: Xhaka did his homework + number changes confirmed

Good evening. Some more from our brand spanking new Gunner Granit Xhaka to begin with tonight, after the midfielder revealed he’d spoken to a trio of former Arsenal stars about the club before signing.

He said:

I spoke with (Havard Nordtveit) about Arsenal and he told me it’s a big club, a family club and it’s very important for me to come here. Philippe (Senderos) played here and I play with him in the national team. Johan (Djourou) and Philippe have only told me positive things. Arsenal is Arsenal. It’s not a small club, it’s a very big club and it’s like a family. It’s very good for me because I love my family and to have another family here is very good.

Nice to see some OGs (Old Gunners ©) praising their former employers and helping us to secure new signings. Whatever your views on Arsene Wenger and the culture at the club, one thing’s for sure – players like being at Arsenal and not just for the pay-packet.

Sure, players have agitated for a move in the past and I’m sure more will in the future, but how many would jump at the chance of a return having found out the hard way that the grass is far from greener elsewhere? Away from the pristine carpet at Emirates stadium, it’s often long, unloved and littered with dog sh*t – just ask Cesc, Samir or Robin, as they turn out at a bus-stop in west London, warm the bench or take to the field in Turkey.

Elsewhere, Arsenal have been readjusting shirt numbers following the departures of Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta. Aaron Ramsey has taken the latter’s number 8 while Alexis Sanchez is our new number 7. The Chilean’s old number 17 goes to Alex Iwobi and Granit Xhaka will wear Ramsey’s old number 16.

The one I’m most looking forward to being allocated though, is the number nine. I just hope it goes to a world-class, big-money new signing and not to Chuba Akpom or Yaya Sanogo, all due respect to the youngsters.

It’d suit Robert Lewandowski rather well if you ask me, although rumours of interest in Alvaro Morata refuse to die down, especially after Juventus’ manager  Massimiliano Allegri suggested the Italian club are preparing for life without the Spanish striker. He said:

The club are working on the transfer market and monitoring possible alternatives. We have a lot of forwards with players who are all in national teams and many young guys. I’ve already given Morata some advice: he needs to stay at Juventus… What did he say? He nodded. I hope he understands, I’m saying this for his own good.

No you’re not Massimiliano, you’re saying it for your own good. Morata’s a quality striker and would be difficult to replace so you want him to stay. Which is fine by me providing you let us have Paulo Dybala – I’m easy either way.

Of the pair, Morata’s probably more suited to the Premier League given his build, but Dybala’s the more naturally gifted as far as I’m concerned and has that hard-to-describe certain south American quality about him. That unpredictable, cut-above-the-rest-of-the-world brilliance.

Interestingly, if reports at the time were accurate, they’re both players we tried hard to sign before they opted to join Juventus. Sometimes, long-held interest by a club and manager can help to secure a deal at the second attempt, a bit like with Mesut Ozil, so hopefully that might be the case again with one of these two this summer.

Back Friday.

8th May 2016: Giroud and Sanchez score to secure draw at City

Welcome back. Arsenal twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 at Manchester City this afternoon and ensure that just a single point against Aston Villa in our final league game of the season will be enough to guarantee a top-three finish.*

As for our hosts, they now face the prospect of welcoming new manager Pep Guardiola to England without Champions League football, with bitter rivals Manchester United just two points behind them but with a game in hand.

Yet City began today’s match like I feared they would – on the front foot and seemingly determined to wave off their departing manager Manuel Pellegrini with a convincing win in what was his last home game in charge of the club.

After dominating possession in the opening exchanges, City’s pressure eventually told when Sergio Aguero gave them the lead on eight minutes. With Arsenal forced to defend deep and appearing unable to get out of their own half, Aguero quite brilliantly fired home a half volley past Petr Cech at the near post.

The fact the ball was slightly behind Aguero as he struck it, and he was using his unfavoured left foot, made it the kind of conversion that demonstrates how valuable it is to have a truly top-draw striker leading your line. Not many other strikers in the world, let alone the Premier League, would have taken that opportunity in my opinion.

Given the spankings we’ve suffered after conceding early in big games in recent years, a lot of fans would have been fearing the worst but remarkably, we were level just two minutes later thanks to the interventions of Gallic Gunners past and present. (Okay, so Nicklas Bendtner would have done, in his sleep, but apart from that ..)

First, Olivier Giroud controlled the ball brilliantly on the left of the box and clipped a hopeful ball in the general direction of Alexis Sanchez at the far post. Former Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy tried to head it back safely to his ‘keeper Joe Hart but misdirected and saw the ball bounce dangerously across his own goal-line, clip the far post, and go out for a corner. Mohamed Elneny took it and Giroud easily escaped the attentions of his marker to head home his first goal in approximately four-and-a-half years.

It was pretty poor game overall in truth, albeit one punctuated by very good goals and the next one arrived after the interval, by which point Danny Welbeck had long left the action after injuring his knee and being replaced by a far-from-match-fit-looking Jack Wilshere.

Kevin de Bruyne was the man to get it, picking the ball up midway inside his own half, running at the retreating Arsenal defence and firing low into Cech’s near post from about 25 yards.  Yes we could and should have defended it better but it was a great goal by a quality player to be fair.

Arsene Wenger responded by introducing Theo Walcott in place of Alex Iwobi and the former should have equalized after making a brilliant out-to-in run from the right to leave himself one-on-one with Hart, but miscued his finish. Yet we did get our second moments later. Sanchez picked up the ball from Nacho Monreal, played it forward to Giroud and continued his run.

The Frenchman, despite being very tightly marked, managed to somehow produce the most perfect first-time layoff back into Sanchez’s path. With the City defence parting like someone in their vicinity had let off a particularly rotten one, the Chilean whipped the ball past Hart and into the bottom corner first-time.

With over 20 minutes still remaining, I expected much more of a City onslaught given how important it was they won the game for their top four hopes, but it never really materialized and aside from a Wilfried Bony volley that rattled our cross-bar, the hosts never looked close to forcing a winner.

With Tottenham losing at home to Southampton earlier in the day, second spot remains in sight but we need Newcastle to beat our neighbours on the final day and for us to be beat Aston Villa. Given the Magpies could well be fighting for their Premier League lives, it’s not out of the question then, but either way, today’s draw means a win over Villa will guarantee us third spot and negate the need for an annoying Champions League play-off. It could be worse.

See you next week.

*our goal difference is 12 better than Manchester United.

21st April 2016: Sanchez brace beats Baggies

Welcome back. Two first-half strikes by Alexis Sanchez were enough to see off West Brom at Emirates stadium earlier this evening as Arsenal got back to winning ways following two consecutive draws.

The win sees us leapfrog Manchester City into third place in the table with what was our 500th Premier League win – a milestone only bettered by Manchester United who have 584. And while were talking statistics, here’s a couple more: We’ve scored in all 20 of our Premier League games against West Brom – the best 100% record in the division.

More revealing though, is the fact Arsenal scored as many goals from outside the box tonight, as we have in our 33 previous Premier League games this season (two), which obviously adds weight to the argument that we don’t try our luck from distance nearly enough and have a tendency to overplay at times.

On the other hand, I’m sure I read somewhere that there’s a very good reason for this – a high percentage of shots from range are unsuccessful. Yet I can’t help but feel that in games when we’re facing a massed defence, we really ought to get shots in whenever possible rather than switching the play constantly and over-probing.

But back to the game tonight and Arsene Wenger made three changes to his starting line-up from last weekend’s disappointing draw with Crystal Palace; Per Mertesacker replaced Gabriel in defence, Aaron Ramsey came in for Francis Coquelin in midfield and Olivier Giroud replaced Danny Welbeck up front.

I have to admit I was kind of distracted in the second half so thankfully all the meaningful action arrived in the opening period. With just 6 minutes played we took the lead when Sanchez turned his marker brilliantly and let fly low into the corner from about 25 yards. We were passing the ball with zip and purpose and although I felt Mesut Ozil was a bit sluggish in his play by his standards, he still managed to dummy the entire stadium on a couple of occasions with typically visionary passes.

We doubled our lead on 38 minutes, when Sanchez guided his free-kick through the West Brom wall, wrong-footing their keeper in the process and reminding everyone that even if we’ve fallen short in the title race again this season, we still have some top quality talent in our ranks.

As I said, I can’t tell you much about the second half other than Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Coquelin all made late substitute appearances as we saw out the game. Afterwards, Arsene said:

We did the job in a serious way. We played well technically and the only regret is we should have scored more goals. The early goal helped us not be be anxious about the consequence of the result. We are in a position where it depends on us to finish in the top three but we want more and we have to fight to do that and if possible do more.

At this stage of the season most fans would now happily take third but although it’s admittedly the most peripheral of outside chances, we could still maintain our proud record of finishing above Tottenham every season since Arsene’s been in charge if we can win all our remaining games. So as well as securing third, the prospect of slipping past Sp*rs into second should be just as much of an incentive, if not more, for the remainder of the campaign.

Up next then, it’s Sunderland away on Sunday and with our hosts battling for Premier League survival, it will no doubt be another testing game, particularly as we’ll have less time to recover having played tonight. The boss holds his press conference a little later than usual tomorrow I think, so I’ll be back with thoughts on that tomorrow evening.

See you then.

20th April 2016: Cazorla back in training, Ozil and Sanchez keen to stay and Mahrez rumours denied

Evening all. Arsene Wenger held his pre-West Brom press conference this morning and amongst other things, revealed that Santi Cazorla is back in ‘normal training’.

Also discussing the latest on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, the boss said:

Everybody is available from our last game against Crystal Palace. We have no big injuries. We will have a final test today. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only one not practising now. He (Cazorla) has joined normal training and he looks okay, of course still a bit short on the competitiveness front. We will try to get him maybe more training, and then join us directly maybe. He (Wilshere) has absorbed well his first obstacle of getting games. That means he has finally got 90 minutes and he has had no setbacks and the positives are that in every game he was sharper. That means he has a good fitness basis. Overall, the progression should be normal. I don’t think he will be available for selection [against West Brom], but from then it is whether I select him or not.

And when asked if the game against the Baggies was important, he offered:

It is important, of course. We want to win our games, instead of focusing the table I think it is very important to focus on the process and quality of what we do. At the moment that is frustrating as there is a lot of quality in our game, but we have not exactly got the wins that we wanted. We have to focus on that. We want to finish as high as we can. It is not a consolation, it is about getting the best out of the team and focusing and giving everything in every single game. We need to show we have the mental level to compete until the end. Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players. We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.

Arsene also cleared up a few other topical uncertainties. He revealed that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were keen to renew their contracts at the club despite reports to the contrary, he himself would definitely see out the final year of his contract next season, and speculation linking Arsenal with a summer move for Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez was wide of the mark. On the latter, he said:

No, and even if there was I would not speak about that at this stage of the season [out of] respect to Leicester.

As you might have guessed from the matter of fact tone and length of today’s blog, I’m pressed for time but also a little short of patience when it comes to words from the Arsenal camp right now.

Let’s see the players and the manager do their talking through football tomorrow evening, go on to secure at least third place in the league and then we can regroup and ideally, address our shortcomings via the transfer market.

Because as Arseblog ruefully noted recently, interest in this season has waned dramatically along with the teams chances of silverware and aside from anything else, I think people are just a bit bored. I know I am.

Back pre or post match depending on my day tomorrow.

Until then.

18th April 2016: A brief Monday round-up

Welcome to a brand new week, in what’s been the same old season.

I would talk more about yesterday’s dismal draw with Crystal Palace at Emirates stadium but I don’t see the point in all honesty. Discussion of familiar failings has been done to death and for me at least, it’s now all about our summer activity and next season.

The fact Tottenham went to Stoke and won 4-0 this evening just adds to the sense of dismay around Arsenal and despite the futility of further wins in terms of our own title challenge, we could really do with a good performance and a win against West Brom on Thursday to wash away some of the hurt. But more on the game against the Baggies in the days to come.

Just a quick round-up for you tonight then and I’ll begin with Jack Wilshere’s goal-scoring appearance for our under 21s earlier. The England international was playing his third second-string game in a row as he strives to regain full fitness and having endured an early injury scare, he recovered to grab us a second-half equaliser as we lost 2-1 at home to West Brom.

Elsewhere the club announced that they won’t be hosting the Emirates Cup this summer due to an extended European Championships and a relaying of our playing surface. Here’s what chief executive Ivan Gazidis had to say:

We know how popular the Emirates Cup is with our fans here in the UK and around the world, so we are disappointed that we will not be hosting it this summer. The shorter pre-season window and the need to relay our pitch has resulted in this decision being taken. We look forward to hosting the tournament in 2017.

I have to say I’m a little gutted. I love the Emirates Cup and it offers a far more realistic chance for us to secure silverware than the actual season. Oh well.

Finally for this evening we have some words from Arsene Wenger on Alexis Sanchez, who apparently, is ‘much sharper’. The boss said:

He is much sharper. He is much more electric in his dribbling and much more confident. He scores goals again. He looks to me to be more comfortable in his movement, especially in his movement in behind. When he plays on the left, he likes to drift in then come back. When he plays on the right, his runs in behind are better.

Whilst I agree a switch of flanks has done Sanchez the world of good in recent weeks, I’d still prefer to see him regularly start from the left.

Right. That’s all I’ve got for you.

Until tomorrow.



6th April 2016: Alexis on injury fears, ambition and Ozil

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. I’ll start this evening with an admittance from our south American superstar Alexis Sanchez that fear of sustaining another injury has hampered his performances since he returned from a two-month spell on the side-lines earlier in the campaign.

The Chilean tore his hamstring in our draw at Norwich at the end of November, and went on to miss 10 games in all competitions before making his comeback from the bench against Chelsea in late Janaury. Since then, Sanchez has struggled for goals and form by the lofty standards he set in his debut campaign.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, in that he failed to have a pre-season with Arsenal after helping Chile to win the Copa America last summer, before being rushed back to action by Arsene Wemger a lot sooner than most people had anticipated. Anyway, here’s what Sanchez had to say:

Before my injury I was 100 per cent fit. I was feeling well. After the injury I wanted to get back but it was hard. I had a setback and when I played a match, I was scared I would get injured again because the thing I like most in the world is playing football and when I can’t play, I feel sad. Football is my passion, my life and I always want to win. If I lose, I always go home sad, I can’t sleep and that upsets me. When I win, my team-mates are happy and enjoy their families the next day. Football is my life. I think I have adapted well to the club but I am never satisfied with what I do. I want to win the Premier League, the Champions League. I always want to win everything.

Despite having returned from injury over two months ago now, I think it’s fair to say Sanchez is still searching for his top gear. But with the Arsenal team a lot more settled and fluent in recent games, his own personal performances also seem to have improved, partly also perhaps because of a switch to the right flank. He’s notched up two assists and a goal in our last three games against Barcelona, Everton and Watford, so the signs are that he’s approaching something close to his best form again.

Arguably his best performance for us this season, aside from his hat-trick at Leicester in September, came in our mauling of Manchester United in October, when Sanchez scored twice in that ruthless opening 20 minutes in which we scored three times at Emirates stadium. And the forward suggested that game must be the blueprint for Arsenal, as well as lauding the quality of Mesut Ozil:

Before that match, we all had hunger and desire to win — you could see that in the eyes of the players before we went on to the pitch. When all the players have that look of hunger of wanting to win things, it’s difficult for another team to beat us. Ozil is a fantastic player. When I’m on top form, 100 per cent fit, because he has such quality, he can give me the ball with ease and that sets me up for scoring.

Needless to say our two most expensive-ever buys are also our two most influential attack-minded players, so hopefully we can keep them fit for the remaining eight games of the season and then tie them down to new contracts because there just aren’t many of their quality available in the market right now.

Finally for today, after promising there was more to come from him in yesterday’s post, Mohamed Elneny has revealed his joy at grabbing his first goal for the club having netted against Barcelona at Camp Nou last month, and also suggested the Premier League title is still within Arsenal’s reach this term. He told Arsenal Player:

I was very happy with it. However, I wasn’t happy with the result of the game as we didn’t qualify for the next round. It is something that you can’t describe afterwards – but I was very happy to score against Barcelona in the Nou Camp – it was a very beautiful feeling. Also, selecting it as Goal of the Month was very good. I hope to score more goals in the future, hopefully to help the team to win the league title this year.

Let’s hope so Mo. In fact, I can picture it now, Elneny smashes home the title-winning goal on the last day of the season against relegated Aston Villa, as Chelsea beat Leicester at Stamford Bridge, with Tottenham having dropped out of the picture entirely after going on a six-game losing streak.

It’s still on. I’m tellin’ ya …

Back tomorrow.

10th March 2016: Positive injury update + Sanchez reveals restlessness

Welcome back. Some good news to begin with today after Arsene Wenger revealed both Gabriel and Per Mertesacker will be fit to face Watford in the FA Cup on Sunday and referred to Aaron Ramsey’s injury as ‘a small alert’.

Given widespread reports were ruling the Welshman out from anywhere between 6 weeks and 6 years following the knock he picked up as a substitute against Hull on Tuesday, Wenger’s words sound promising. Here’s what he had to say about his sidelined stars when he spoke to the official site:

We had a few injuries at Hull – Gabriel, Mertesacker and Ramsey. Mertesacker and Gabriel are very positive, there is nothing wrong there, they are both good. There is a small alert (about Ramsey), we don’t know how bad it is. He (Laurent Koscielny) is not far, he will have tests until Sunday, but it could come too soon. He has a little chance. They (Petr Cech, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla) are all progressing nicely, but this week and next week they have no chance.

Let’s hope that ‘small alert’ remains just that and doesn’t morph into a ‘deafening drill’ because despite not really rating Ramsey as a central midfielder myself, if he is ruled out for a sustained period, we’re currently one injury or suspension to Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny away from having to play Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta  – and that scares me.

Elsewhere, Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled for goals and form since recovering from a hamstring injury sustained late last year, has been telling the official site that he feels ‘guilty’ when he fails to score and suffers sleepless nights as a result. He said:

I think that I’ve adapted really well in terms of fitting into the club and it’s been very good. But at the same time I’m not the kind of person to become complacent or think, ‘That’s it’. I always want to improve and give my absolute all to the team. The truth is that I do enjoy [the responsibility]. When I don’t score goals I feel like I’ve failed the team and I feel guilty. I go home, can’t sleep and I just think I have to play better.

Hopefully his goal against Sp*rs last Saturday will have boosted his confidence and will kick-start a prolific last portion of the campaign for him because if the Chilean can rediscover his best form, I’d feel confident of beating any team in the Premier League.

He’s one of those all-too-rare match-winners who can fashion a goal from nowhere and given how we’ve been struggling for fluency in our overall play these last few months, having that kind of individualistic ability in the team can become even more of an asset to a side.

Finally, from one Arsenal attacker who’s recently ended a goal drought to another, and Olivier Giroud has revealed he nearly missed Tuesday’s win over Hull, in which he bagged a brace, after becoming a father again earlier in the day. Here’s what our Gallic goal-getter told Arsenal Player:

I could have missed the game actually, so I was glad that he arrived during the night. I could have a little rest [after he was born]. I travelled to Hull and I wanted to dedicate these two goals to him. I’m very happy to score. We scored four goals, so that’s a good efficiency up front and at the back, so we can be happy with our performance tonight. It’s always hard for a striker not to score but you have to keep the confidence as high as you can and work hard at training. I’m very pleased to get back on the scoresheet and to smell the first goal. After, it was a good assist from Theo [for the second]. I succeeded to put two in the net and it’s nice for the team. It’s nice for me obviously and now it’s Watford. If we go through, we go to Wembley.

So the big arch awaits Arsenal for what would be the fifth time in three seasons if we can secure a win over Watford. Make it happen lads…

The boss holds his pre-match press conference in the morning so we may find out the full extent of Ramsey’s injury and get a better idea of who will start on Sunday.

See you on Friday.

7th February 2016: Quick-fire double sends Gunners joint-second

That’s much more like it. Despite still not being nearly as fluent in our overall play as we were earlier in the season, two goals in two minutes midway through the first half gave Arsenal a 2-0 win at Bournemouth this afternoon, to see us leapfrog Manchester City in the Premier League table and join second-placed Sp*rs on 48 points.

Our first arrived after 23 minutes when Aaron Ramsey’s lofted ball into the box was won in the air by Giroud, who nodded it down for the on-rushing Mesut Ozil to rifle home first-time on the half-volley using his weaker right foot.

Then just 88 seconds later Arsenal broke forward again, Ramsey toed the ball wide to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right of the hosts’ penalty area and the winger took a touch before finding the net via the far post with an unerring low strike.

After three league games without a goal and four without a win, it was a relief to see us score twice in quick succession and settle any nerves we may have had in what was a crucial fixture given our recent poor form and the emergence of an eight-point gap to leaders Leicester City.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one slightly surprised that Arsene Wenger opted to make just one change to his starting line-up from last Tuesday’s draw with Southampton – the Ox replacing Joel Campbell – but he again went with Mathieu Flamini ahead of Francis Coquelin to partner Ramsey in midfield and the former was involved in the first major talking point of the game.

With eight minutes on the clock Flamini went into a challenge two-footed and despite winning the ball, was lucky to escape with just a caution, because on another day with another referee and against an opponent who didn’t half pull out as the Bornemouth player did today, we’d undoubtedly have been down to ten men and facing a much more difficult task.

It was reckless to say the least and also very unnecessary so hopefully Flamini will watch that incident again and try his best not to be so brainless in future. Aggression is fine and indeed very welcome but today he was just plain stupid and we’re lucky we’re not sitting here ruing a defeat because of an early dismissal like we were after the Chelsea game a couple of weeks ago.

As a spectacle, the game was pretty forgettable and but for our two goals, clear-cut chances were few and far between for both sides. Alexis Sanchez had a pretty poor game by his standards in my opinion, yet still created a coupe of moments of danger with one run to the byline and cross across goal deserving better reactions from his team-mates. Considering the Chilean’s still working his way back to peak match sharpness after a two-month injury lay-off, it’s not surprising he looked a bit below-par and I’m sure he’ll be back to his sizzling best soon enough.

On the opposite flank I felt the Ox had probably his best performance of the season and not just because of his expertly-taken goal. I thought he was far more involved and despite giving the ball away a few times, he drifted infield to great effect at times so should gain a lot of confidence from his display today moving forward.

As I mentioned a the start of this post, we didn’t function smoothly as an attacking unit and I think we still have an issue with circulating the ball from the middle of the park. Ozil dropped deeper with greater frequency to spray the ball around than he has to when Cazorla’s playing but that then obviously limits his presence in the final third.

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else suggest this but maybe we ought to consider playing Ozil alongside Coquelin in a two instead of Ramsey. I think it could work if we then restore the Welshman to wide-right and maybe give Campbell or Alex iwobi the central attacking midfield berth. Innovative and perhaps some would say, stupid, but hey, how many of you would have envisaged Santi deeper before Arsene played him there? I think it could work a treat, especially now that Mesut’s muscled-up since first arriving in England and is clearly more than capable of holding his own in this physically-demanding Premier League.

We have a big problem with passing through midfield at the moment which is the main reason we’re struggling attacking-wise in my opinion and I can’t see Ramsey suddenly learning to pass it like Pirlo. Aaron’s got a great engine and many admirable attributes etc etc etc but I thought he looked a much better player once he moved to the right after the introduction from the bench of Coquelin in place of the Ox today.

Sky Sports gave him their man-of-the-match award and I’ve already seen some stats suggesting Ramsey had a high pass completion rate but that’s where stats can be completely deceiving. I mean, if Ramsey plays a pass out to Nacho Monreal for instance and the full-back gains possession, it goes down as a successful pass.

But he may have played it behind him, or to feet, when a far better pass would have been to play it into his path ahead of him to set us on the attack. That kind of scenario is exactly what I’m talking about when I use the word fluency – a completed pass can still be an infuriatingly move-hampering one.

Still, it’s job very well done for today at least and now we can start looking ahead to next weekend’s visit of leaders Leicester.

See you next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Sunday.

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.