Monthly Archives: November 2013

We can’t underestimate Cardiff if we want to win today

Get well soon, Pat!

Get well soon, Pat!

Hello and good afternoon all. Today the squad take on Welsh side Cardiff who have been largely impressive against the top sides, especially at home. They’ve beaten Man City and Cardiff whilst taken draws against Man United and Everton. Despite our strong away record I can’t help but feel this is going to be an extremely tough game against an opponent who should not be underestimated.

The team news ahead of the game is that we’re have exactly the same squad available as we had against Marseille plus Gibbs who was feeling a bit under the weather. That squad literally destroyed Marseille and if it can put out the same performance today I’m positive we can get the three points.

Wenger praised Cardiff in yesterday’s conference, saying that they have a special attitude that means they’re always a threat regardless of the score. He said

They look to have good solidarity, good togetherness [and] fantastic support as well, they are all on the same wavelength in the team and are very efficient at home on set-pieces.

Even on Sunday when they were 2-1 down against Man United, many teams could have thought ‘OK, it’s Man United, we will not come back’.

But you always had the feeling that they don’t give up. You could feel that they would come back. They have that special attitude and belief in the side, and that makes them dangerous.

That special attitude also managed to get them the three points against City back in August. It’s the same special attitude that we must be wary of today because even if we’re 2-0 up at 80 minutes, they’ll still be looking to get a draw. Cardiff aren’t a top side but they love playing top sides, that’s what makes them dangerous. Arsene is very much aware of this trait and feels we must do better than both of these teams if we want to compete, saying

They beat City at home. They played a very good game against Man United where possession was 50:50. That’s the challenge for us; to do better than these teams.

And of course we have the warning of their performances against the big teams, so we are in a position where we have a difficult challenge but also a very exciting challenge because we can do better.

It’ll be a tough three points to get no doubt, however when I look at our squad, our form and the way we’ve seen games out so far this season, I can’t help but feel this is another game we can take. When you consider that tomorrows fixtures include Tottenham vs United, Hull vs Liverpool, City vs Swansea and Chelsea vs Southampton, it’s inevitable that one or two of those top teams will drop points – making it all the more essential we capitalise and pick up ours.

My prediction is a very tough 3-1 win. I do get the impression we can take a clean sheet because we’ve been doing so well recently, however they’ve managed to get three against City and two against United, so we can’t rule out a goal completely. We should be aiming to get the first goal and go in at half time ahead, then using the first half of the second to nick another goal before seeing it out in the last 15 minutes or so. It’s a game plan that has worked for us many times in the last few months so it’s one we should adopt today – especially away from home.

Anyway, I’ll have to leave it there as my Mac is about to die on me! Here’s to a positive result and the target of going top of the league by seven points. That’d be good, right?

COME ON YOU GOONERS!

Best wishes to Pat Rice + Some of our fans are never happy

Arsene on the pitch vs Marseille

Arsene on the pitch vs Marseille

We start this mornings blog with some unfortunate news. It has been confirmed by the club that former Arsenal player, coach and assistant manager Pat Rice is currently in hospital receiving cancer treatment. Where the cancer lies, how far along it has developed or what his current condition is can’t be said but I think I speak for everybody when I saw we wish him a speedy recovery.

The man dedicated a remarkable 44 years to the club and in my opinion justifies a statue outside the ground just as much as Henry, Adams and soon enough Bergkamp have. There have been many heroes and legends over the years that in some way, shape or form justify a statue however have any of them served the club as lengthy, professionally and admirably as Pat? I don’t think so.

All the best Pat at this difficult time and regards to his family, friends and loved ones!

Going back to Arsenal there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of actual news going around. There seems to be a lot of focus on Ozil though. At the beginning of the season it was praise, love and affection, a few games of reduced quality later and it’s turned into criticism, bitchiness and dramatisation between fans and pundits.

It’s absolutely ridiculous that people can ever criticise the guy. He’s absolutely world class and is without doubt the most talented player in our team. He has been ill for the past three weeks with the flu and research shows that full fitness and energy levels don’t return for between 2-4 weeks after. It’s no wonder he’s less effective right now – he’s probably still feeling the effects. He missed a penalty, so fucking what? Everybody has missed them, it happens. Get up and get on with it.

I’m not the only one defending the German playmaker though. It seems as though his fellow countryman and bodyguard Per Mertesacker has come out and said we’ll see even more from the man. He said

We are very delighted with him, especially in the transition from defence to offence. He is the one who always goes deep all of the time.

He gets himself into good positions so the goals will come for sure. He moves well between the lines so it is always difficult to defend against him. When the centre back comes out with him, there is always space for others to move into.

He helps us create more chances.

And I’m delighted with him. Three goals and six assists in 14 appearances isn’t shocking form for a 25-year-old is it? I mean everybody is in agreement he’s looking a little off right now, but isn’t that to be expected? It’s his first season in the Premier League, every single player openly admits how hard of a struggle it is, yet a small section of the fan base that are clearly brain dead seem to get on the players backs every single time anyway. Mertesacker is a great example of people slagging him off whilst he adapts before licking his arse a season later.

We’re supporters, can we stop criticising and abusing and start… supporting? I know for some people that is quite hard to comprehend but seriously, it’s just becoming silly.

Jack Wilshere is another example of a player that is in the same situation. He’s not been himself since his injury (which is quite understandable) and for most of this season people have been on his back. He’s not good enough. He’s lost his focus. He’s not the player he was. For fuck sake we have a prime example in Aaron Ramsey of players having injuries and taking a while to become good – but with patience it will happen eventually. Jack scores two against Marseille and people are starting to have faith again? Why did that faith ever disappear?

Some people love to complain just for the sake of complaining. We’re top of the league, top of our Champions League group, we have our team playing the best football in years, the strongest side we’ve had in ages too and a stability, focus and mental strength that’s been missing since the incincibles. Yet people are still fucking moaning. I’m moaning right now – but it’s justified because I’m fed up of having to defend our own players against our own bloody fans.

Speaking of Jacky boy, he was also on Ozil’s side when it comes to the criticism. He made a very good point in highlighting how unselfish he was for the second goal, saying

[For the second goal] it was really unselfish from Mesut. Sometimes after a [missed] penalty you feel like you have to score. But the player he is, he’s been in that situation before and he’s unselfishly passed it across the goal and it was an easy tap-in for me.

That’s one thing that was brilliant about the second goal. Ozil is world class and the majority of world class players would be looking to score in that position – especially after a penalty miss. He didn’t, he opted for an assist instead. Beautifully unselfish play from a guy that really shouldn’t be receiving the criticism some people have been giving him.

Anyway, I’ll leave the blog there for the day. If you fancy some bonus reading check out this fantastic article about how Szczesny is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season. It really addresses some interesting points and uses facts and figures to back them up, too.

Thanks for reading, more tomorrow.

Mature performance seals three points + Flamini’s sleeves

Wilshere celebrating his first goal yesterday after just 33 seconds

Wilshere celebrating his first goal yesterday after just 33 seconds

My prediction prior to yesterday’s game was a comfortable 3-0 win. The game was certainly comfortable  but it turned out to be one of those days where the result could have been 6-0 or 1-0. The final result was 2-0 and I think nobody will have too many complaints because we put on a fantastic performance, kept a clean sheet and more importantly got the three points.

I said after yesterday’s game that the performance was different to the one we put on against Napoli. When we played the Italians I felt we was much better from an attacking point of view – we literally put on probably the best performance we’ve seen from an Arsenal side in years. However, last night was different because although it was a strong offensive performance, I can’t help but feel that Marseille made it easier for us with their positional awareness and closing down.

Pass after pass split their defence and created so many chances that it’s unbelievable we didn’t win by a larger margin. Take away no credit from our players – the majority of the passes were fantastic in themselves. However, against a stronger opponent I very much doubt we’d have found the room to attempt a handful of them.

The first goal came just 33 seconds into the game. Sagna played a nice first touch pass down the wing to a raring Wilshere who took it to the box before cutting in and curling it into the top left corner. It was a great goal and very well taken from a player that isn’t renown for his goalscoring exploits.

We didn’t score again until midway through the second half which was quite unexpected considering how many decent chances we had. One included an Ozil penalty save which really should have been the second goal. It was a poor penalty from him which was slightly expected when he stuttered on his run up. In all honesty Ozil had a fairly poor first half but there’s no doubt he upped his game in the second, highlighted by the assist for the second goal.

Ozil was fed the ball just on the outside of the box in which he pulled it into a waiting Jack Wilshere in the middle who calmly pushed it pass the keeper. It was one of those goals that looked so easy but in reality it was the accuracy of the pass from Ozil and the ability to do it with his first touch that I found anything but easy.

After that we had more opportunities to get the third but unfortunately it never came and it ended 2-0. The boss spoke after the game on a comfortable evening of football, saying

We were in control of the game and overall we were never really under threat tonight. We had a good control – maybe sometimes we were missing the cutting edge to finish the game off early on but we felt so much in control that we just played on, thinking that would come. It came a bit late for my taste but it came.

All the talk of an impressive attacking display kind of overshadows the equally solid defensive one. We never at any point looked under threat, we stopped and broke down their play in midfield but whenever they progressed any further our defence did and won the tackle their job every time.

Wenger went onto warn against complacency in the final group fixture versus Napoli. He said

It’s unbelievable [not to have qualified with 12 points] but it’s reality. We have to finish the job. It is not an easy situation – it is a tricky situation because you can think ‘OK, let’s just not lose big’ but I think that would be a mistake. [We need to] go there, play in a positive way and try to win the game. Everything else would be a dangerous gamble.

Going to Napoli with a laid back approach is the wrong way to go completely. Should Dortmund beat Marseille it would mean Napoli will require a three goal margin over us to qualify which in reality isn’t likely. However – football being football – there’s no reason we should sit back and go for a draw. We should aim for nothing but a win in Naples because I want to top the group by a clear margin and send a message to the rest of Europe that this ‘group of death’ was nothing more than the first test for this team.

Flamini's sleeves were cut off during the half time break

Flamini’s sleeves were cut off during the half-time break

There was a bit of controversy yesterday when at half-time our midfield battler Mathieu Flamini cut off his sleeves to make them short sleeved opposed to long. The boss addressed the matter, saying

I don’t like that and he will not do that again. Yes [it is a club tradition] and I was surprised. We don’t want that.

I believe the club tradition he’s referring to is where the team must all wear the same length shirt as the captain. The entire team plays with long sleeve so the boss clearly feels that Flamini not doing the same is a problem. I believe he’s done this before and it caused problems but I don’t understand why it’s an issue. Little details make a big difference to players and if Flamini is more comfortable and therefore a better player in short sleeve, then why force him to wear otherwise?

Anyway, the important thing is we got another win, we’re in a great position to qualify top and we now have four days to recover as best as possible before we travel to Wales for a tough game against Cardiff. I’ll have more on that game nearer the time but until then we can continue to enjoy our current position in both the league and Europe.

And what a great feeling that is.

Top of the group position is in our hands plus The Mighty Rambo

Wenger and Ramsey in yesterdays pre-match conference

Wenger and Ramsey in yesterdays pre-match conference

Good morning my fellow Gooners. I’ve got a bit of a headache this particular morning but I’m hoping a convincing Arsenal win later tonight will ease my pain. We take on French side Marseille who sit bottom of the group with 0 points and have conceded ten goals in four games. When we played them away from home a few months back we managed to pick up a crucial 2-1 win. That makes it all the more necessary and expected that we pick up all three points today.

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we currently sit joint top on nine points with Italian side Napoli, who will tonight face Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion. Dortmund will be very much aware that a loss or draw tonight will be the end of their competition. For this reason – despite their recent form of three losses in their past three goals – I expect them to grind out a result and win.

Therefore it becomes essential that we beat Marseille because if we don’t then we’ll be forced to travel to Napoli looking to win – which is by no means easy considering they beat Dortmund a few months back. A win tonight and a draw or better against Napoli and we’re through top of the group regardless of the other games, so let’s focus on doing just that.

Ahead of the game the team news seems quite positive. It’s effectively the same squad that was available on Saturday plus the beast that is Flamini returns from his suspension. There was a mention of Podolski who was pictured in training which got some of the fan base excited, however the boss soon clarified what his current condition is. He said

It’s not the first time he’s trained but he is still a few weeks away.

It’s great [to see him back] because he is a quality player. He can score goals, he can play in different positions, like centre forward and on the flanks.

I love Podolski, he’s on my shirt for a reason. He is different to the other players in our squad because he is a constant threat on goal. His powerful strike, precise crossing and all-around German efficiency makes him a useful member of the squad. When he returns he might find it difficult to go straight back into the squad as there’s a genuine competition for places now, however that can only be beneficial for him as it may make him step up and find a new level of performance in his game.

Wenger also went on to clarify the current nature of Henry and Pires currently training with the club, squashing any rumours of a return, saying

They like to come back to Arsenal, to practise, when they can join in, they do. They integrate well with the spirit of the team. Nothing more than that!

They have no real target to bring something, they just want to enjoy themselves and keep their fitness. Usually they don’t practise with the first team because they come in and work on fitness.

I guess that’s that then. Wait, no, it’s not. Pires, yes I understand, but surely Wenger sees the importance of avoiding using Bendtner? Surely he can see that Henry is a better player than him in every way, shape or form? I mean he’s not getting any less controversial either, the guy has just been arrested for criminal damage, probably the criminal damage he’s been doing to his career for the past decade.

Anyway, how about we talk about a positive player instead? Aaron Ramsey aka ‘The Best Midfielder In Europe Right Now’ aka ‘The One Who Everybody Doubted’ aka ‘The Guy That Can’t Stop Scoring’ has been speaking about exactly why he feels he’s doing so well right now. He said

I don’t know [what it is down to], I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, I’m feeling really confident and the team is confident as well so that helps when you’re playing.

I don’t really need to take that much interest in the statistics as long as we’re doing a good job and the team’s playing well – I’m happy with that.

I think confidence in general is helping the entire squad yet alone Ramsey. However I think it’s down to two things primarily: firstly he seems to have overcome the mental barriers that were created from the Shawcross tackle. He isn’t afraid to get stuck in at all now. He’s constantly winning us the ball and is one of the biggest fighters on the pitch every game. Secondly, it’s down to his maturity on the pitch. He’s getting himself into more threatening positions and showing the coolness to finish them.

Wenger praised the Welshmans braveness to fight through his tough time, before highlighting the best thing about him – his age. He said

Of course he’ll get better, he’s 22 years old. I’m 64 and I still think I can improve so why should a guy who is 22, who can play until he is 35, think he is at the top of his game? If he has the right attitude, he will continue to improve.

Gotta love that he’s got at least ten years at the top level of football left in him. He’ll only improve with each game and each season and I can’t help but be excited as to what that might bring.

Good ‘ol Rambo.

Anyway, I think that’s all for today as I’ve gotta shoot off. My predictions for tonight’s game is 3-0. I can’t see us going any higher as the squad will still be fairly tired after the Southampton game, however if we can score two at their place then we should do at least the same at ours. I also cannot see us conceding unless there’s a penalty or controversial decision given.

Here’s to staying top of the group and hopefully a surprise in the Dortmund vs Napoli game too.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!

Don’t underestimate Marseille + Our trophy challenging credentials

Some of the lads showing they mean the business

Some of the lads showing they mean the business

Good morning all, Monday is here which means the beloved weekend has now passed and we face another working week before experiencing another. Fortunately this working week I have Friday off so therefore I only have to bare four days before my weekend and more importantly we have an important Champions League game to help keep us sane.

Tomorrow we face French club Marseille at home in which we’ll be looking to get nothing but three points. Dortmund play Napoli in the other game which I’d expect Dortmund to win, therefore winning against Marseille gives us the chance to stay top of our group before we head to Napoli for the next game. We can still top our group providing we can get at least a point against Napoli however for that to happen we must beat Marseille first.

We can think about the Italians nearer the time because for now our focus needs to be on Marseille. They may be the weakest club in the group and have absolutely no chance of qualifying, but they can’t be underestimated at all. They’re a good side with the potential to score so another solid defensive performance like against Southampton will be required. Santi Cazorla acknowledges their strengths and the importance of getting the win, he said

The main problem I see is that everyone thinks that it’s not going to be an easy game for us to win, there is nothing at stake for Marseille because they have zero points but they are going to make things difficult for us.

We need to understand that it’s a vital match. If we get the right result we can automatically go to the next round.

If we obtained a bad result then it would make things very complicated for us to go to Napoli and win there.

Win and we qualify, leaving just a point to be necessary against Napoli to top the group. Lose or draw and that game becomes a must-win, and pressure like that isn’t something you want to put on your team when you should have beaten Marseille a few weeks prior.

I’ll have more to discuss ahead of the game tomorrow but for now I’d like to return to the positive thinking that’s still very much in the air. After the weekends game against Southampton and the positive comments from their manager about our title chances, Arsene Wenger has expressed his view that the squad are ready for the title fight, saying

This win shows we are ready for a fight when it didn’t go as fluently as we wanted, that is the most pleasing thing. We were tested by being challenged for every single ball and we responded quite well.

We always had the focus and I could never feel that we eased off. They made it very difficult for us.

We could see a good togetherness to help each other out, we knew that we were sometimes in trouble and you felt that they were ready to fight for each other.

That is the solidarity level that was needed. It’s very important.

I think the single most important thing fans want to see in footballers is fight. Fans would rather have a team of lesser talented players that fight to win every game then a bunch of lazy ones that have the potential to do something but rarely do. The thing everybody seems to be applauding about our current side is their work ethic and will to win. Even when we play badly we’re grinding out the three points and that’s what we want to see.

As Wenger points out, there’s certainly a level of togetherness and solidarity in the side now which is absolutely crucial if you want to have a chance of winning the league. We spent several of the last few years with plenty of technical quality but a huge lack of leadership, character and mettle. Chuck in some strength and bite in the forms of Giroud, Flamini and Wilshere, plus some leaders and fighters in Arteta, Mertesacker and Ramsey and you understand how this overall team mentality has been formed.

Title challenge aside, little Santi even believes we can do beautiful things in the Champions League too. The Spanish ball pinging maestro said

We are aware that we can do beautiful things, that we can do important things, last year we went out having won 2-0 at Bayern Munich and this means we are a lot more excited this year about the Champions League.

[The competition] is difficult to win. At the end of the day we have a good team, we’re going through a good patch but in this competition there are the best teams in the world. If you have a bad day you will be out of the tournament.

It’s the best and most consistent team that is going to win. We’re aware that in order to win the Champions League we have to work hard and beat the biggest teams.

The Bayern Munich win certainly created a new level of belief in the squad which has since led to some fantastic results and looking at the Champions League it’s not beyond impossible to go far in it. Winning it requires an extremely special squad – one which usually has an abundance of talent such as Bayern or Barcelona in recent seasons – but as Chelsea showed a lot of fight (and even more luck) can win it for you.

Santi highlighted the importance of beating Dortmund in the group stages too, saying

It was a great victory and it put us in a privileged position, had we lost in Dortmund, it would have been very difficult for us in the table.

Also they hadn’t lost at home for a long time, they didn’t concede any goals to their rival teams and that means that we’ve done things in a really good way and that we can face great teams.

His points further strengthen my comments earlier in the blog that we’re in a great position to go on and win the group now thanks to that win against Dortmund. Going back to our chances of winning the competition itself, I can’t help but feel that if we can beat Bayern and Dortmund at their grounds, then why not go all the way in the competition? We have proved we have the potential but it’s just whether or not we can show it against the other teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona whilst under the pressure of a semi-final or final.

Anyway it’s all stuff for you to process and think about this morning. We’ll have even more to discuss tomorrow when Le Boss gives his thoughts in todays pre-match interview but until then I suggest you try enjoy your Monday (I know, it’s hard). Thanks for reading!

Vital three points thanks to an ever-improving Giroud

Giroud celebrating his goal yesterday

Giroud celebrating his goal yesterday

In yesterday’s blog I said the Southampton game would be one of little opportunities and a solid defensive performance, which led to my prediction of a 2-0 win. I also mentioned that we have Monreal, Rosicky and Walcott available on the bench as options later on in the game. If you didn’t watch the game but you read the blog, then you effectively saw all there is to say about the game – as it’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t catch the first 30 minutes of the game so I missed the goal, however after watching it at half time it surprises me that so many pundits referred to it as “a goalkeeping calamity”. Don’t get me wrong, the goalkeeper made an awful mistake, he should really be looking to clear it, however nobody can take it away from Giroud. Putting him under pressure and making a solid tackle is what caused the goal – not the keeper. A goalkeeping calamity is something Fabianski or Almunia would do – Boruc simply panicked due to a overwhelming Giroud.

Before the goal there was two fantastic chances from our two young starlets. Firstly Wilshere who neatly chipped the ball over the keeper right by the line which unfortunately hit the wrong part of the post and bounced out. The other an extremely skilful and outright cheeky back-heel flick from Aaron Ramsey which also nicked the post and went wide. Had either of them gone in we’d be singing their praises this morning, but they’ll just have to go down as close-but-no-cigar shots.

In the second half the game didn’t particularly open up, it was rather dull for large periods of the game and neither teams looked particularly dangerous. Southampton did have opportunities to get shots off but they never actually looked like scoring. Szczesny made a lot of decent saves, but none that were amazing or close – just necessary.

The game was killed off late when a penalty was awarded for a Mertesacker shirt pull in the box. I often criticise referee’s but that was a great decision, even more so considering how many players get away with it week in, week out. Giroud was handed the responsibility of scoring – because Arteta and Ozil were subbed off earlier – and he stepped up and put it past Boruc to make it 2-0 to the Arsenal.

After game the boss spoke after the game of the solid defensive performance we had and the importance of taking advantage of the chances gifted to us. He said

We played against a good Southampton side today who tried to stop us from playing. They did it well and in the end we couldn’t take our chances but we took advantage of their two mistakes.

They are a team who is very well organised and our technical quality helped us to get away with a win today.

We knew before the game that they’d be hard to break down, you don’t have the best defensive in the league in the Premier League by luck. We did create chances however it was the two mistakes from a goalkeeper and defender that gave us the two goals that eventually led to the three points. I can’t help but feel that it was our defensive performance that won us the game though. Scoring is great but had they’d got the first goal or pulled it back level to 1-1, it’d have been a very different game. Instead we remained focused and determined and therefore went clear at the top by four points.

Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino gave us high praise after the game too, saying

Our keeper does not need to apologise for his mistake. It happens in football. We did our best but I also believe we saw the Premier League Champions today.

Although Premier League Champions is slightly premature it’s still great to see opposing managers acknowledge that we’re genuine title contenders. I was fed up of hearing “Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea” for the past few years whenever people spoke of challengers. Now it’s us, and funnily enough only Chelsea are within touching distance of us.

So who do you think was yesterday’s stand out player? It can’t really go to anybody but Giroud. Despite the obvious two goals he got for the team, his overall performance was fantastic yet again. He seems to grow with every game and he’s turning into quite a beast up top. The manager praised his performance and the improvement he’s made this year, saying

Olivier [Giroud] is a positive character who is always ready for a battle. He is maybe a little bit different to the rest of the team. He gives us so much with his physical presence, with his link play which he has improved tremendously. He has the mental qualities and a positive attitude.

Other strikers will tell you ‘I am not obsessed by scoring goals’ but if they don’t, they are sick! It is a relief on their shoulders. I believe as well that he didn’t expect himself to score so many from the start of the season, but it can only boost his confidence.

I completely agree that Giroud is different to the rest of the team but that’s why it actually works. I think our midfield and attack over the past few years has always been technical ability over power and strength, but Giroud is out of that convention. He offers an irreplaceable physical presence up top which allows us to build up our attack with more pace.

Mentally he’s capable of playing at a club like Arsenal, too. Throughout tough periods last year he always remained positive and determined, which eventually led to goals and asissts. Anybody that doubts the man should take into consideration that two days prior to the game his grandfather passed away. Losing a family member is tough, playing in an important game two days later and getting both of the goals is pure mental strength.

Anyway, we got the three points which now leaves us top of the table still by a bigger margin of four points. Our next three fixtures are Marseille, Cardiff and Hull before a tough tie at home to Everton and an away trip to Napoli. All three of those games we’ll be aiming to get nothing but nine points from, so let’s focus on them for now and then take the Everton and Napoli games as they come. There’s no doubt we can win them all with the way we’re playing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. One game at a time is the true Champion mentality.

And that’s where we want to end up at the end of the season – as Champions.

Difficult Southampton tie, Wilshere no concern and bring back Henry

The King is back again

The King is back again

Good afternoon all. It’s Saturday and after a few weeks without genuinely competitive football we today find ourselves playing against an extremely strong Southampton side. They’ve been somewhat of a revelation since they came back into the league a few years ago, largely down to their impressive style of play.

The sacking of former manager Nigel Adkins was questionable at the time and the decision to replace him with the fairly unknown Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino was dubious to say the least. However his tactics and training techniques have sure paid off as they currently sit third in the table with the best defensive record in the league. They’ve conceded just five goals all season so far which is twice as good as our own record of 10.

They’re an extremely strong and stable team with form on their side and an opponent that cannot be underestimated. Wenger very rightly points out that they cannot be ruled out as top four contenders, saying

You cannot rule anybody out, if they can keep the defensive record they have then they can be very ambitious.

The team plays together now for a long time. They have a very good defensive record, they have the best defence in the league. That is the best basis to be consistent.

Although realistically you can’t see them maintaining their position over the course of the entire season you also can’t rule it out. Stranger things have happened in football, that’s for sure. For us to break down this strong defensive unit that has been built up so far this season, we’re going have to make sure our passing, movement and pressing is at it’s best. There will be no room for errors in this game – particularly in front of goal. I can’t see us getting too many opportunities, so when we do get them it’s vital that we put the ball in the net.

The team news ahead of the game isn’t particularly shocking, it’s very much a team we all expected and one that’s quite similar to the one fielded against United. Today we’ll see the team lineup as follows

Szczesny

Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker Gibbs

Arteta Wilshere

Ramsey Ozil Cazorla

Giroud

That side has more than enough ability to break down Southampton, especially at home. We have a couple of options on the bench too in Rosicky and Monreal, not to mention the return of Theo Walcott whose pace will be deadly if utilised in the final half hour of the game. We’re going to have to be tactically superior today and remain completely focused if we want to pick up all three points. Southampton themselves will be looking to get at least a point, so expecting them to park the bus just because they’ve got a good defensive record is wide of the mark.

A lot of talk has been on Wilshere over the last few days and his injury record so far this season. It’s a bit frustrating because every time he takes a knock or goes down it’s almost as if every newspaper in the country is waiting to write an article on how he’s picked up another injury. However Wenger has said that he has no worries about his fitness long term and it’s all very much precautionary the majority of the time. He said

We play 60 games per year and he will certainly have to be managed, unless his pains go completely then he will be used when needed. If there is an alert on his ankles, we will of course take advice from the medical department and use him when he can really be used.

I have no concern, I have been told by the medical team that there is no concern in the long-term. He is just still recovering from his inflammation. It is hard [to hold Jack back] but we have 25 players in the squad and we can deal with that problem.

I guess what Wenger is trying to highlight is that there’s no need to force him to play through injury. We play a lot of games a season and we have other options in midfield, so why risk Jack’s fitness and health? Providing the medical team give the go-ahead and so does he, then let him play. I think Wilshere is quite clearly still returning to his former self and all we need to do is be patient. He has the talent no doubt, he just needs to find his stride again and it’s nothing more than that – just like Aaron Ramsey has shown.

One player who’s fitness is being tested at the club is the legend himself Thierry Henry. The 36-year-old striker is currently training with the club to maintain his fitness levels whilst the MLS is in its close season and will no doubt be feeling the Arsenal love right now. When he returned a few years back and scored that goal against Leeds, it was a moment of pure magic. It was the kind of stuff footballing stories are born out of. He’s returned again and although there’s no rumours of another return, I can’t help but ask the question would it be all that bad?

Henry is nowhere near the player he was however look at our options. Giroud… Bendtner? I mean ask yourself this – would you rather an aged legend who’ll wear his heart on his sleeve and give everything he’s got when he plays, or a bigheaded brat that doesn’t even know where the goal is? Of course I still want us to sign a striker in January because neither are ideal choices, but I’m just trying to weigh them up against each other.

When Bendtner comes on, the fans belief drops and it wouldn’t surprise me if the teams does as well. When Henry came on against Leeds, the stadium was full of optimism, anticipation and excitement. Henry doesn’t have the legs anymore but he hasn’t lost his ability to finish or read the game – he’d still get goals I have no doubt of it. However the biggest benefit he’d have is purely mental. He’d raise the fans, the players and scare our opponents, by just being on the pitch. That’s invaluable in games and something which you won’t get from Nicklas ‘The Shit That Will Not Flush’ Bendtner.

Anyway, it’s something for you to mull over ahead of the game. I highlighted Santi Cazorla speaking to the press in yesterday’s blog about being excited over Ozil joining but I only linked to a segment of the article. I came across the full interview since and I massively recommend giving it a read. I love Santi, he’s such a happy chap, don’t ya think?

My prediction for the game is 2-0. I get the feeling it’ll be a tough game with limited chances but we’ll take two and put out a strong defensive performance ourself. I think we can all agree that the final scoreline isn’t important nor is the game, just so long as we get all three points.

Here’s to hopefully getting them three points and showing that the United game won’t be stopping our title challenging credentials.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!