Continuing Momentum… At a stroll

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It was a mild afternoon for November, but you could tell the winter months were soon to be upon us. I think it will be the last game for a while without my big winter coat.

I must admit, although I consider myself optimistic, I’m never really confident going into games. I think I’ve always been like that, I don’t think it’s due to our relatively recent proneness to losing games we should be winning. That being said, walking up the road to the ground I just couldn’t see anything but an Arsenal win. Obviously we’ve been doing a lot better recently, but there’s still a long way to go. However, I watched West Brom’s game against Liverpool last week, and I just thought they were poorer than most other teams I’ve seen this year. I got the feeling I wasn’t alone in my view; there was a confident buzz around the ground.

The biggest selection question mark was over the central defence partnership. With Thomas Vermaelen back fit and ready for selection, and the good form of Koscielny and Mertesacker, for what feels like the first time in ages, we have options in central defence. Mr Wenger took the decision to play Vermaelen and Koscielny together, which seemed fair as the big German has played almost every game since he got to the club. The other question mark would be over the right back position. Would Johan Djourou get the chance again, or would Arsene show continued faith in young Carl Jenkinson? Jenkinson got the nod.

The Emirates Stadium observed the minute’s silence for next week’s Remembrance Day before the game. I don’t know about you, but a period of reflection before a game always seems to give a sense of perspective.

It was obvious from kick off what West Brom’s game plan was. They were going to stay disciplined with their shape, and not commit much going forward. From watching their game last week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Considering what they did to us last season though, you could rightly accuse them of lack of ambition.

Arsenal took control of the game early on, and were allowed a lion’s share of possession without being able to find the breakthrough. Walcott, Gervinho and Van Persie were interchanging well, making inroads and finding space in amongst the West Brom backline. Santos and Jenkinson, who were not under any pressure defensively at all, had free reign to join in the attacks. You got the impression that it was only a matter of time until we made the breakthrough.

Just over twenty minutes into the game, Arsenal had the ball in the back of the net. It was from a familiar source with our talismanic Dutchman on the score sheet, he won’t get an easier one all season. The architect of the goal was Aaron Ramsey. He played a fantastic defence splitting pass through the inside of West Brom’s left back. Theo was in behind the defence. He bore down on Ben Foster and attempted to put the ball through his legs. The ball caught one of keeper’s legs, but rolled straight into Robin’s stride, and he simply rolled it into the empty net. One-nil to the Arse-a-nal!

I began, although only very briefly, to feel sorry for Simon Cox. He was the only WBA player to have any real attacking responsibility. They just seemed happy to pump the balls into the channels and let him chase them. Even in the rare occasion he made it to the ball ahead of a man in red, there was no one in a striped shirt within 50 yards of him.

Arsenal’s second goal of the game came (indirectly) from a corner. West Brom failed to clear a corner properly. Alex Song put a deep cross into the far post from the left, Robin had timed his run perfectly. Realising the acute angle made it almost impossible to score; he pulled the ball back across goal. Thomas Vermaelen was still up the pitch from the corner side-footed the ball past the flat-footed Ben Foster. Robin who was gifted an easy opportunity for the first goal, did the same for a team mate for the second.

As the whistle blew for half time, I turned round to Darren and said, “Have they had a shot yet?”………they hadn’t!

As the second half got underway, you got the feeling that Arsenal were not going to put West Brom to the sword. Having gone two goals up without getting out of second gear, you got the feeling they were going to finish the game off without getting out of first.

Freed up by West Brom’s reluctance to put Arsenal under any pressure, Jenkinson was making some fantastic runs down the right flank overlapping Theo Walcott. The pleasing aspect with this was the fact that when in the good position, his delivery into the box was fantastic. He was unlucky not to get an assist in the second half.

With only twenty minutes to go, Arsene felt it was time to make a change, and I felt it was right. The game needed some renewed impetus. Arsenal made a double substitution with Benayoun and Rosicky coming on for Ramsey and Gervinho. The change had an immediate impact. Yossi and Tommy Ros were busy and interchanging passing moves.

They were not on the pitch for five minutes when Arsenal added their final goal. Robin Van Persie moved forward with the ball and played it out to Thomas Rosicky, he found Robin in the penalty area. Robin (who obviously has the whereabouts of his team-mates etched in his brain) played the ball out to the edge of the box to the waiting Mikel Arteta. Mikel side footed the ball into the corner of the net to wrap up the game.

West Brom made a final throw of the dice to salvage some pride, but it came to nothing. It was as comfortable a victory as you can ask for.

I was pleased with the performance in general, although I haven’t seen a team as poor as West Brom this season (well…. apart from a certain performance at Old Trafford in August). Along with Wigan, they are looking in serious trouble to me.

Robin continued to look like a world beater with a goal and two assists. Ramsey’s recent good form continued, and he seems to be growing as a player with every performance. I was also particularly pleased for Carl Jenkinson. He’s had a fair amount of criticism this year. He’s definitely not the finished article yet, but his improvement is particularly encouraging. Let’s face it; the lad’s a Gooner….. he’s living the dream, and I for one wish him all the best.

We now enter another teeth pulling International break. I, for one, will just be praying we don’t pick up any injuries. Then it’s Norwich away! I’ve never been to Carrow Road, and I’m really looking forward to it. Still, another weekend…….. another win! What Crisis?

Thanks for reading,

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

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WBA Preview: Let’s not have a repeat of last year

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So this afternoon it’s the turn of Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion to visit the grove and as the title of this post requests lets not have a repeat of last year…

I won’t go into detail on that 2-3 defeat at the hands of a Baggies side that had only just come back up after a spell in the Championship, to find yourselves trailing by three goals at home against a newly promoted side who had seen a first half penalty saved makes for as uncomfortable viewing as any of this seasons defeats doesn’t it?

Chelsea number two Roberto Di Mateo was the man in the West Brom hot seat back then so at least the Italian won’t be able to stage a similar game plan this time around but I’m sure Hodgson will be reminding his players that victory is achievable.

In all honesty I think we’ll be far too strong for the Baggies but then again I said that last season too so what the hell do I know? But given our current form particularly at the Emirates I find it hard to see past a home win, even when I take my Arsenal-tinted glasses off. If I’m honest I don’t really know how Albion are getting on this season, I know that’s fairly lazy of me and usually I would have spent a little time looking at their form and their squad so as to offer you a bit more insight on the fixture, at least I hope that’s what you usually get from my match previews?, but I’ve not really had the time and as I sit writing the first draft of this post I’m upon a train headed for the south coast of England with no form of Internet connectivity. I’ve dredged my brains for some kind of repressed memory I may have that gives an indication of our opponents form but I’ll I’m getting is a vague recollection that West Brom’s “celebrity” fans include Frank Skinner and Adrian Chiles. I don’t particularly like either of those two but if the people in charge at the Hawthorns want to do a swap for Shovel from M People and Piers Morgan I don’t think it’s a deal I could turn down.

Anyway I digress, partially as a distraction technique to cover up the fact I’ve not done my home work but partly because I’m quite adapt at going off on a tangent..

So back to the game and we have no new injury concerns. It’s incredible isn’t it, we seem to have had a real run of our key players staying fit (everybody touch some wood – except you over there, you stop what your doing right now. That call for mass wood touching was not a euphemism you pervert) Kieran Gibbs and Marouane Chamakh remain unavailable but aside from those two and long term absentees Jack Wilshere, Abu Diaby and Bacary Sagna we’re at full strength and I for one think thats pretty flippin’ positive and I’ll be praying that when the players return and we awaken from yet another inter-coma in a couple of weeks time that will still be the case. The boss says that Gibbs and Chamakh should be available again by then so that should strengthen us even further, depending on how you look at it, but the gaffer has made those sorts of predictions before. Take Diaby (some body please take Diaby) the Frenchman has been expected to return after every international break since Euro 2008 or at least that’s how it seems.

With such a wondrous selection of players for Wenger to choose from it’ll be interesting to see the line up this afternoon, I think we’ll see the return of Laurent Koscielny and it could well be Per Mertesacker who makes way. Vermaelen needs game time and Larry had a breather during the week so let Mertz have a break. I know it won’t he the first time we’ve seen Vermaelen and Koscielny paired together but it will be interesting to get a look at the duo marshalling our back line together.

I’ll be surprised if Van Persie dosen’t come back into the side, I don’t think Park was quite as poor against Marseille as some posts have suggested but personally I wouldn’t start the South Korean today. Play Robin from the get go and hopefully with a large chunk of the second half remaining our lead will be comfortable enough that Ju can replace the Dutchman and maybe show the kind of form he did against Bolton in the Carling Cup a few weeks ago. There has been a lot of talk this week of January moves for a striker, it’s something I would welcome especially if it were a player such a Lukas Podolski as some have suggested because I’m a big fan of the German. But for now Wenger is claiming he is quite happy the options he has up front but then again he would wouldn’t he.

Other than Robin & Larry coming back into the starting XI i think the team will stay the same, the boss isn’t going to rest players ahead of their international jaunts so aside from those two I don’t think we’ll see any changes from Tuesday nights European stalemate.

I’ve just remembered something else about WBA – With his hair dyed platinum blonde Peter Odemwingie looks like ’80’s pop star Yazz. That would most likely be more of a benefit to the baggies were they attempting to win promotion from the Championship. Christ, M People & Yazz in one post… I think it’s time for me to wrap this up.

I’m not going to be at the game this afternoon, as you read this I’ll be on a completely separate body of land and the reason for that is related to the fact that I’m 32 years young today – Yep 1979 was a great year for Gooners. All I want in way of a present is an Arsenal win and three more of those precious points.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and keep me updated on events at the grove via Twitter. Dave will be delivering your post match report tomorrow so be sure to check it out.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

A change of attitude

 

Morning all,
 
Well these happy Mondays just keep on coming don’t they…
 
I’m still feeling the joy spread by Saturdays performance and result, it may have been the eighth victory from the last nine games but there is something special about smacking five past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge isn’t there. We’re so often told that we’re nowhere near the level of teams like Chelsea and whilst I’m not going to use one game and one result as apparent proof that we are I’ve found it interesting, not to mention enjoyable, to see the amount of TV shows, newspaper columns etc that have skirted above our performance and quickly turned to suggesting that this is a Chelsea side in crisis.
 
Do these so-called “experts” not worry that it’s becoming abundantly clear that every time a team they deem to be a ‘Big Club’ looses a game or two they revert to the default line of ‘Club in crisis’ or ‘Manager under pressure’. Surely they have the capacity to be a little more insightful than that or a I being naïve? Anyway I don’t want to give the impression that I am defending Chelsea so enough of that.
 
Whilst we’re on such a good run and on a high from Saturday it’s quite good that our two games before the next international break are right on top of us, Marseille tomorrow night & West Brom on Saturday. That those fixtures are at home could also be a blessing and keep this run going, I know we won in France a few weeks ago and tasted a first away league victory on Saturday but it’s at home that we’ve been strongest so far this season and just as a way of keeping momentum going two home fixtures can’t be a bad thing.
 
Winning is a habit and at the moment this side has got a real taste for it and I don’t see why that shouldn’t continue this week. I’ve also been having a think about how this Arsenal side might respond to defeat. We know that teams of the last couple of years have often struggled to get back to winning ways after being beaten and that for Arsene’s talk of mental strength we’ve seen a mental weakness in that department but I just wonder if this side might actually have a bit more about them and have the capacity to put a poor result behind them and move on quickly.
 
I’ve got minimal evidence to support this theory but it is far from inadmissible…
 
Exhibit A – In the wake of Old Trafford.
 
Ok so we saw a few new signings coming in between the trouncing by United and the victory against Swansea but it’s not like these players had much time to really impact on the psyche of the side. I’ll also admit that we didn’t really beat the Welsh side convincingly but in recent seasons we may not have held our lead, in fact it’s not unknown for a newly promoted side to come to the grove and beat us. We also went to Germany and were extremely unlucky not to bring home three Champions League points after Ivan Perisic’s late wonder strike.
 
Exhibit B – After Ewood Park.
 
The shambles that was the 4-3 defeat at the hands of a shockingly poor Blackburn Rovers team still gives me more nightmares than the drubbing in Manchester. We caused our own capitulation that afternoon and gifted Rovers the win, we can point to two own goals being bad luck but in all honesty we know that would be a pretty poor excuse. The victory against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup three days later may not look like much of an achievement on paper but it came at a time when the team, manager and club were under considerable pressure. That pressure was still apparent after the game when the press tried to lambast us for having such a reduced attendance for the game against league two opposition. The reaction to those petty, and inaccurate, reports from the fans and the magnificent PR from the club really kept the spirit and momentum up and played a part in the 3-0 win over Bolton on the following Saturday which was closely followed by victory in Greece against Olympiacos.
 
Exhibit C – The NLD.
 
Back to being the loosing team at White Heart Lane and with two weeks to dwell on it during the last international break it would have been easy for heads to drop. So many of our players were away with their national teams but maybe that was something of a blessing in disguise because when they returned they only had a few days to prepare for the game against Sunderland and whilst the win over the Mackems was far from pretty it was certainly hard fought and was perhaps the axis for the run we have been on since. We went away to France and won, beat Stoke 3-1 and defeated Bolton again, this time the victory came in the league cup and put us into the quarter finals for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Exhibit D – Stamford Bridge.
 
We went 1-0 down early on, we went 2-1 down on the stroke of half time. We were pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go yet still the team kept going, never gave in and finished the game as the winning side.
 
Sure we can look at a couple of those defeats and say they should never have happened but there is little we can do about that now except push on and not let the adversity drag us down like it so often has.
 
The truth is that unless this side can somehow go on an incredible run and avoid defeat for the remainder of the season we will be beaten again. We will need to get back up again. I’m not looking forward to it happening and I’m worried that we might not respond so well the next time it does but we have to be buoyed by this sides persistence and, if Saturday is now a benchmark, never say die attitude. Plus dare we say it… The teams mental strength?
 
Arsene holds his press conference ahead of tomorrow nights game later his afternoon and I think we can expect to see changes to the side – we’ll have a look at that tomorrow but I’ll keep you as updated as I am via Twitter until then.
 
Thanks for reading and enjoy another happy Monday.
 
Paul.

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

A chance of Victory?

As Big Dave Taylor and I sat in the pub on Thursday afternoon after that mornings AGM the bar staff were busy giving the place a Halloween themed makeover, the TV screen directly in front of us, muted and set to Sky Sports news, was seemingly showing images relating to the same three stories over and over again…

Firstly there was the female hockey player who looked like Zara Phillips, then came footage of Arsene Wenger & Stan Kroenke at the event we had earlier attended, then came something to do with this lunchtime’s opponents and their lack of success in convincing a fans group to sell the Stamford Bridge pitch to Roman Abramovich. In truth we paid little attention to the on-screen footage or the stories they were attempting to tell, we were far too busy discussing how tall Georgie Thompson is and occasionally breaking into song as Motown classics flooded out of the bars speakers.

But then the Barclays Premier League table appeared and showed Arsenal sitting in seventh place six points behind Chelsea up in third and immediately my brain began to calculate how much higher we would be able to climb after defeating the west London club and collecting three points this weekend. Yes that’s right, I was working on the assumption that Arsenal would win the game because that is what I always do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to think we can’t be beaten and then surprised when we are. To be honest I can’t really explain to you why I do it? Whoever it is we’re set to face in the league, I always add three points to our current tally when having a pre match look at the current league standings. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done, in the same way I always back one of our strikers to finish as the country’s top goal scorer at the start of every season, always predict we’ll win at least one trophy every season and whilst I don’t always share it (partly so as not to jinx it) in my mind I’m always sure that this is the season Spurs will be relegated. Reality always kicks in and on those occasions when I know we might struggle for the win or gladly take a point I readily accept it.

But since that brief league table maths work out, and it’s almost instant dismissal, I’ve started to hear the voices of the cast of Escape to Victory in my head, you know the bit…

*Spoiler Alert*

At half time in their exhibition match against Ze Germans, John Colby and his team of Allied footballer POW’s, aided by the French Resistance, are escaping into the Paris sewers via the Columbes Stadium baths when suddenly despite freedom being only moments away and trailing the match 4-1 a shout of “But we can win this” comes up from midfielder Doug Clure (Russell Osman)

But we can win this” those five words keep popping into my head and the more I think about it the more possible it seems…

Let’s remember we’re in a rich vein of form, perhaps not in the sense of the football we’ve been playing but certainly in the sense of our recent results and Chelsea are without the suspended Didier Drogba. Since the Ivorian has been at Stamford Bridge we’ve never lost a game against the blues when he hasn’t played.

Ok, we haven’t won away in the league in eight matches and our hosts are unbeaten in their last ten London derbies on home soil but encouragingly Andre Villas-Boas’ side haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games and we’ve got goal scoring sensation Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has bagged 25 goals in 26 Premier League matches in 2011.

When was the last time we won at Stamford Bridge? 2008. Who scored the Gunners goals in that 1-2 victory? Robin Van Persie. Is that a sign? Most likely not, it just me plucking positives from anywhere I can find them.

Would I settle for a point if it were offered to us right now? Perhaps, but then I drift back to 1943, to Paris and the Columbes Stadium. I can hear the cries of the oppressed Parisian crowd as they break through the barriers, storm the German troopers with the sheer size of their number and cover the allied players in coats and hats, moving them towards the gates and streets of the French capital “Victoire” they cheer “Victoire, Victoire, Victoire“…

After his rousing speech at the AGM perhaps our French manager can continue to lead and inspire our own resistance and escape from the early season form that has seen any chance we have of achieving something of merit this season dismissed by many. Perhaps at Stamford Bridge this afternoon Wenger can lead his men to Victoire and those three points…

Thanks for reading – enjoy the game wherever you are watching it.

Paul.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

Last Monday I commented on how Monday’s always seem brighter when the Gooners have had a win at the weekend, but three wins in the space of a week, climbing to the top of our Champions League group and now 7th in the Premier League has given me a real case of the Happy Mondays…

I foolishly suggested yesterday that we all knew what Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be. You would think that after fifteen years I would know better than to try and second guess the man.

The back four was as expected, Johan Djourou came in at right back whilst Mertz, Laurent Koscielny and Andy Santos all kept their places *Well obviously they did, the trio may be in fine form but it’s not like we’re blessed with defenders right now, not any who can stand up anyway. Aaron Ramsey came back into midfield in place of Thomas Rosicky to link up with Mickey Arteta and Alex Song while Theo Walcott kept his place on the right and Gervinho started on the left flank. The biggest surprise was the omission of Robin Van Persie. Wenger may have alluded to resting the front man during his pre match press conference on Friday but I’m assuming not many people took that seriously because it certainly wasn’t widely reported. So with Robin amongst the subs Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season.

There were no defensive replacements on the bench (see above comment marked by *). We’ll assume that the boss considered he could sufficiently re-jig if required.

The two goals aside the first half didn’t provide much in the way of talking points, Stoke seemed fairly happy to dwell in their own area, sometimes sending Peter Crouch forward to test the miasma free air. I guess it’s the kind of thing they work on in their training cave.

The Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but until the 27th minute didn’t seem overly sure what to do with it. Our front line was incredibly static and devoid of inspiration particularly Walcott and Chamakh. I’m not suggesting neither man tried, in fact I thought the Moroccan worked quite hard but without him starting to put the ball in the back of the net or at least show some sort of creative spark he’ll continue to carry that monkey on his back and I’m pretty sure that it’s not at all easy to play football with a monkey perched on your shoulders. Perhaps had Jenkinson been playing he could have picked the forward out with his crossing? In fact down the right hand side we really could have done with either Jenkinson or Sagna, Djourou doesn’t have the pace nor the nous to bomb on in the way our regular right backs do and without a man running on in front of him Theo looked even more lost then has done of late.

Just before the half hour mark the Gunners jolted into life. An Arsenal move on the edge of the Stoke box broke down and the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey who played a lovely ball over the top of the Potters defence for Gervinho to take it down and slot past Begovic to make it one nil. The pass from Rambo was exquisite and the finish by Gervinho was equal to it.

It seemed that we might go on and apply some pressure on the visitors but just five minutes after the opener Stoke were back on level terms.

Referee Lee Mason, who was as consistently poor as he always is, decided that Laurent Koscielny had fouled Peter Crouch even though the defender had cleary out jumped the beanpole and won the header cleanly. Crouch pulls this trick so often that I can’t believe officials haven’t clocked on to it yet, any time anyone jumps above him he collapses to the ground and claims to have been fouled. From the resulting free kick the Gunners decided to parody recent defensive blunders and once the ball had pinged off of a few heads without ever being in danger of being cleared it dropped to Crouch who continued his good scoring record against us.

We should have had the chance to regain our lead from the penalty spot but as I said, Lee Mason was consistently inconsistent and whilst in his eyes a defender cleanly winning the ball is an illegal manoeuvre, flinging two arms around a players neck and hauling him to the ground within the penalty box is perfectly acceptable. That is just what happened when, I think it was Shawcross, performed the kind of tackle on Chamakh that would be deemed high and illegal in Rugby, not that Stoke are that kind of team or Shawcross is that type of player…

So the half came to an end and it all seemed a little flat about the place and when the second half kicked off we were initially treated to more of the same.

It took the initial introduction of Van Persie, on in place of Chamakh, to add some spark and bring us to life. The Dutchman instantly give the team and the crowd a lift, putting Pulis’s knuckle dragging giants under more pressure in the space of sixty seconds then Chamakh had done in sixty-six minutes, and once Arshavin replaced the ineffective Walcott five minutes later meaning a shift to the right for Gervinho, the Gunners really kicked into life and in the 73rd minute regained their lead.

Gervinho made a bursting run into the Stoke box before pulling the ball back for Van Persie who continued his incredible scoring run squeezing the ball between Begovic and the near post. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Gervinho collected from Arshavin, who just like the game against Sunderland was impressive coming from the bench, the Ivorian again stormed into the box and cut back for Van Persie to add to his ever-growing goal tally.

So amongst all the suggestions this morning of us now being a one man team, Van Persie will take all the plaudits and perhaps rightly so but that does seem a little unfair on Gervinho who undoubtedly had his best game since joining the club. A goal, two assists and a 100% pass completion rate backs that up.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to see other players chipping in with a few more goals because we certainly do, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword with Van Persie. We’re now being lauded as a one man team, but if the skipper wasn’t in such a rich vein of form, 29 goals in his last 36 outings for the club, we would be drowning in the weight of newspaper columns telling us we need a prolific striker.

Hopefully Gervinho will be boosted after his performance and can now replicate that form week in week out. I would be interested to see him start on the right in place of Theo but the question becomes ‘Who plays on the left?‘ Despite his impressive cameo appearances in our last two league games Ashavin did nothing during his start in Marseille to suggest he would make the most of a regular starting birth.

It seems that Ju will get a chance to slip on his shooting boots against Bolton in the Carling Cup tomorrow night, we could do with him bagging a goal or two and pushing for more first team involvement. He certainly isn’t going to be overtaking RVP but we do need another striker finding the back of the onion bag when called upon.

Koscielny and Mertesacker were once again fantastic at the back, the boss really will have a big decision to make once Tommy Vermaelen returns. Aaron Ramsey impressed me again, the boy has such a fantastic work ethic and it was brilliant to hear his name ring out around the ground a few times yesterday.  Andy Santos continues to improve and whilst Djourou didn’t set the world alight at right back he certainly didn’t let himself or us down.

It’s all very positive at the moment, not perfect but positive. All any football team wants to do is win games and we’re doing that, as fans we can ask for little more. Of course we will ask for more, we’re never content, but let’s enjoy the positive progression of this side.

I’m taking no joy out of the United result because it came at the hands of City, had Fulham or Everton pitched up at Old Trafford and hammered Fergie’s side I would be in raptures but City… Merh! I’m also not fussed about the Chelsea result because I don’t like Warnock and I don’t like Barton. I’m glad Drogba will miss our game against the blues at the weekend but that’s about as much as I care and anyway our most important game is tomorrow night against the Trotters.

Our form, NLD aside, since the Blackburn defeat has been frankly magnificent and whatever the line up, whoever the oppositions and whatever the competition we need that to continue because it keeps spirits high and helps us improve.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a look towards that league cup match but for now let us bask in the warm glow of yet another victory and dream of those that are to come.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Stoke Preview: No love lost

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I think we’re all aware of the side we’re likely to field against the knuckle dragging skull smashers of Stoke City Rugby Football club so there is little need to go over that again and I’m certainly not going to waste time discussing the likely formation of Pulis’s side – I don’t know much about military formations anyway.

All I’ll say in today’s short is that below are the reasons the team need to win today and why we Gooners need to get right behind our side…

Exhibit A – The “challenge”

Exhibit B – Defending brutality

The above is about as much as you need to know about Pulis & his henchmen…

Don’t forget that immediately after the game you can watch Steve Bould’s U18’s take on their Chelsea counterparts in a friendly. A brilliant opportunity to get a first hand glimpse at some future Gunners…

Thanks for reading, enjoy the game whatever you’re watching it.

Paul.

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