Santi and Coquelin in DM-pivot, Welbeck and Alexis on wings: Line-up & Preview

Arsenal-AS Monaco  

Champions League Round of 16, First Leg

No Changes from Saturday?

The past and present are coming together for Arsene on Wednesday night.
The past and present are coming together for Arsene on Wednesday night.

There’s something about being a supporter of Arsenal which is strange.  Maybe it’s the same with all football clubs and all teams in all sports, but I would doubt it.  For Gooners, there’s the game, but there’s also what it means.

Nothing means more than the elimination rounds of the Champions League, the biggest trophy (literally and figuratively) in all of club football.   Arsene Wenger, the longest serving manager of an English club by approximately a factor of 10, has gotten his teams to this stage of the competition every year since the second group stage was eliminated.  It’s a feat which represents an amazing consistency and, as they say, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it.  Still, as so many of Wenger’s detractors might argue, we haven’t won it, so what’s so great about always being in a competition we DON’T actually win?

The answer, of course, is money, but that’s a topic that (ideally) will not be on our minds as our supporters take up their (most-expensive-in-all-of-Europe) seats to watch their team play AS Monaco tomorrow night.  Those same fans will know that just about anything can happen.  Four years ago, in this same round and in memorable fashion, Arsenal came from a goal down to beat FC Barcelona on the strength of goals from Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.  More recently, in the group stage last Autumn, Arsenal blew a three goal lead vs Anderlecht FC, and, with it, the chance to win our group.   “Anything at Arsenal,” (or it’s converse, “No Such Thing as a Sure Thing…”) maybe ought to be our mantra…

Drawing that latter match meant coming 2nd in the group and a possibility of drawing the three tough Spanish clubs (Atletico and Real Madrid and Barca) or Bayern Munich (for the third straight season) or AS Monaco–clearly the most promising option for progressing further.  For once, a bit of luck came our way.

Ah, Monaco…the tiny principality on the French Riviera which conjures up so many images.  For people from the States like me (of a certain age) it will always be the home of actress Grace Kelly who became Princess and later died tragically in a car crash.   Marry that to the image of James Bond playing Baccarat at the Monte Carlo casino and the romance of the tiny tax haven is extreme.  It is this tax-exempt element which has allowed the football club to punch above its weight.  It was a launching point for our manager some 25+ years ago and for one of our greatest players, Thierry Henry, not long after Wenger had departed.  More recently, it has been a gathering place for some very talented (and expensive) footballers.  This past Summer saw the exodus of Colombians Rademal Falcao and James Rodriguez, but Monaco still boasts pedigreed players like Joao Motinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Jeremy Toulalan, Martin Steklenburg and Dimitar Berbatov.  These players are attracted by the relatively higher salaries (or amounts they–and their agents–can keep due to lower taxes) as are younger prospects like French U-21 sensation (and the defensive midfielder many wanted at Arsenal) Geoffrey Kongdogbia, Portuguese mid-fielder Bernado Silva and the exciting Belgian speedster Yannick Ferriera Carrasco.

With players like these, Monaco didn’t win their group with luck alone.  And, even though manager Leonardo Jardim insists his team is not all about defending, surely they will set out to limit our offensive threat and play on the break.  Why shouldn’t they, given that they came only a single goal shy of keeping a perfect record of 6 clean sheets during the group stage of this tournament and are unbeaten in their last 17 matches in all competitions having conceded only 3 goals?   In their most recent match, despite playing with only 10 men for over half the match, they kept a clean sheet and prevailed over Cote d’Azur rival Nice, poaching the winning goal with pressing from the front.

Breaking down such a formidable opponent will not be easy even if Monaco may have to shift personnel due to injury and the suspension of Toulalan.

Arsenal, by contrast, in recent matches at least, have been scoring early and then defending those leads with somewhat mixed results.  In our own league the clean sheets have dried up and a one goal lead at Spurs was not enough.   Against teams closer to the bottom, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, scoring twice in the first half has been a recipe for success even if we haven’t appeared fully convincing defending those leads and seeing them halved as the matches wore on.

Perhaps the best blueprint for this match was the last time we played against a team from another league.  Against Middlesbrough, leaders of the English second division, Arsenal played its most beguiling football of the season and two goals (scored in the space of just a couple of minutes) were enough to add punctuation to a pattern of dominance.  Our reward is a big quarterfinal match-up at Manchester United in the FA Cup.  Monaco tomorrow night represents a big step up in competition, but with the away goals rule in place (a clean sheet being the first priority for the home side) it may also suggest how Arsenal wants to approach our play in these cup ties.  A platform of strong defence, aggressive play from our full backs and dominance in midfield (to carry into return legs) will be the priorities.  As they say, you cannot win the tie in the first leg, but you sure can lose it…

Fitness news suggests all who played at Crystal Palace are available for this one and there are no new injuries in the squad, except that Jack Wilshere (an unused sub at the weekend) will be “short” for this match, even though “he did not have a setback.”  Hmmm.  Amongst the several languages Wenger speaks, “injury news” is the only one which does not have a translation dictionary.  My guess is that Wenger will not change much, if at all, from the weekend.  Here then is my best guess at the line-up.

arse v Monaco Feb 15

(Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott, Akpom)

Keen observers (those still reading…) will note that this is an unchanged line-up from Saturday with the only change being Flamini in Wilshere’s bench seat.  Boring. boring Arsene…

Of course, what (the f**k) do I know?  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Theo out there instead of Welbeck or Gibbs (who was very effective, especially in attack vs Boro) in at left back.  Has Hector Bellerin been dropped or is he truly carrying a knock?  His experience with continental referee styles might be helpful.  There was some suggestion that Szczesny might come back in for Ospina, who seemed hurt in the Palace match before carrying on, but I cannot see that happening as long as the Colombian does enough to keep winning matches.   We have matches coming thick and fast (after this we play Everton on Sunday then QPR next Wednesday), but exerting full dominance in this home leg, including, ideally a clean sheet plus a goal or two, might allow for more rotation in the future.

What do you guys think?  Will Wenger go for the same line-up or is this a chance to ring in the changes?

Regardless, this is as fine a chance to get off on the correct foot in the elimination rounds as we’ve had in several seasons.  The squad seems healthier, deeper and stronger even if the names of the clubs in the final 16 appear as daunting as ever.

Can we get past this round (for the first time in 5 seasons)?  How far can we go in the tournament?  So many questions and the answers start tomorrow night.  Go on, then…

By 17highburyterrace

Ospina, Coquelin, BFG and Nacho returns? Line-Up and Preview

Crystal Palace Match Preview

1st of 4 in London–Can Arsenal win them all?

palace fans

Obviously, matches must be taken one at a time, but to be a top club and meet the expectations of the modern supporter, just winning them isn’t enough.  Points must be taken and they must be taken in a manner that allows fans to feel sufficiently confident about what’s coming down the line.  After all, there’s enough anxiety in our lives as it is.  It’s an inherently outlandish idea–this is sport after all–but such demands do seem to come with the territory.

As such, these next four matches–all featuring no more than coach travel for the squad, and contested against clubs we feel we should beat–are critical.  In this period, which, in terms of playing matches in London also included the previous 4 matches as well, manager Arsene Wenger has a chance to test and tweak all elements of his squad.   Winning the matches is necessary, of course, but so too is finding out which players are best suited to the tactical approaches we take into our biggest tests as the season reaches its climax.  This means competition for starting positions but also noting combinations (of players) who can react to score-lines and mould their tactical play to our advantage.   Before getting into the specifics of the match tomorrow in Croydon, let’s look at the London fixtures and those which lay ahead.

London Fixtures

Previous 4

Aston Villa  (home league win) 5-nil

Tottenham  (away league loss) 1-2 

Leicester City (home league win) 2-1 

Middlesbrough (home FA Cup win) 2-0

Next 4

Crystal Palace (away, league) 

Monaco (home, CL) 

Everton (home, league)

Queens Park Rangers (away, league)

Following 4

Manchester United (away, FA cup)

West Ham (home, league)

Monaco (away, CL)

Newcastle (away, league)

santi short

It should be noted the games are coming thick and fast and these next eight will conclude (with an International break) on March 21–exactly 4 short weeks from tomorrow.   Fasten your seatbelts.  Right there in the middle is the big FA Cup quarterfinal showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford.  We can play for a draw and a home replay in that one, but we’ll be happier with such a result only if we’re confident we can complete the job in London.  Our form leading into it, and the result up there, will be absolutely massive as the fixture list toughens.

Looked at in this manner the pressure on the team is too much.  So, to quote a wise, old (well not so old) Dutch blog owner, “O-GAAT,” meaning, I think, “Please Lord” in his native tongue.  Of course, it’s also an acronym for One Game at a Time, which is exactly how they must be played.

Tomorrow at Crystal Palace, home of the bird (the eagle) and the birds–the American Football styled cheerleaders who greet the players as they take the pitch–Arsenal will face their first hurdle.  Since taking over as manager, Alan Pardew’s team has only lost one in eight matches.  And, while Arsenal have taken nine points from nine since Palace came up a year and a half ago, it would be foolish to underestimate the challenge.  We should also remember that Palace almost stole two points on our ground in the opening match of the season.  An early set piece goal from Brede Hangeland was matched by one from Laurent Koscielny, but only an injury time winner from Aaron Ramsey prevented a real disappointment.

Palace will not be a pushover.  If they were, they’d surely be lower in the table considering all they have endured this season.  In the lead-up to our opening day match they were abandoned by manager Tony Pulis, who wanted a better contract after his manager-of-the-year winning work the previous season.  This was followed by a period of uncertainty before Neil Warnock managed for a stint of less than twenty matches, and now the Pardew takeover.  All told it’s amazing that the club has managed to avoid looking a favourite for the drop, and they have a resiliency which must be respected.

They also have some good players, including a very solid spine in the team.  Keeper Julian Speroni can both command his area well for a smaller keeper and come up with impressive saves.  Center backs Hangeland and Scott Dann are seasoned veterans in the league and deeper lying mids, James MacArthur and Mile Jedinak, if passed fit, are fighters with solid technique.  The latter, whose leadership has helped his mates through this turbulent season, can curl a mean free kick, so Arsenal defenders will have to beware of giving away cheap fouls in bad positions.  In attack, we all know Maroune Chamakh’s frustrating (but relentless and sometimes successful) approach to his craft as well as the pace in guys like Dwight Gayle, Frasier Campbell and Wilfried Zaha.  Yannick Bollasie and Jason Puncheon bring both power and trickery and should not be overlooked as attacking threats.

Pardew (to be aided by his captain, Jedinak, just back from Asian Cup duties with Austrailia) has the group working together; so, assuming this will be a simple trip across the river to collect three points and an exhibition of our more pricey talent, would be foolish in the extreme.  Instead Arsenal have to build upon the good work done last Sunday in advancing to the quarter finals of the FA Cup.  In that one, sublime spacing and build-up play amongst attacking midfielders Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Alexi Sanchez showed Arsenal at its very best.  Free interchanging all over the pitch with each other and line-leaders Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck–while also utilizing our very attack minded fullbacks, Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs–worked a real treat.  Even though the score-line was modest and came in bang-bang fashion, Arsenal were able to keep Championship leaders Middlesbrough pinned in their own half and hanging on for dear life.  It didn’t hurt that Mathieu Flamini, Laurent Kolscielny and debutante Gabriel Paulista were also working very hard to anticipate clearances and keep the pressure at very high levels.  If not for great work from the Boro keeper and CBs to cut out and force more difficult chances in and near their 6 yard box, the score-line could’ve been far more flattering.

Noting that the starting group vs Boro included 7 changes to the squad which took the pitch vs Leicester, it was enough to suggest that competition for places seems to be keeping our players at their best up and down the line-up.  So, despite the excellent display, I would expect a few changes from that line-up – especially at the back, where the first group seems far from set.  Although Wojchiek Szcznesy was hardly troubled in keeping a clean sheet in the cup match, I would expect David Ospina to come back into the team.  Per Mertesacker will also likely take back the arm-band and Nacho Monreal will most likely replace Gibbs at left back.  Hector Bellerin faces a late fitness test so Calum Chambers may retain his place.  Laurent Koscielny probably slides to the left side of central defence and may be the only other rearguard player to keep a starting spot.

Flamini, who likely would’ve been back on the bench in favour of Francis Coquelin, is reported to be struggling with a hamstring injury, but Jack Wilshere seems fully recovered from his longer term ankle problem and will likely feature.  Suggestions are that it still might be too early for him to start a match.  With all the rotation at the back, I think, especially on the strength of the display last Sunday, that the manager may not want to rotate much, if at all, amongst the attackers.

Here then is my best guess at our starting line-up.

arse v CP Feb 15

(Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Wilshere, Rosicky, Walcott, Akpom)

In my opinion the squad is looking very strong and very, very deep.  We still have players out injured, but only Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are long term.  Just getting into the first 18 would seem a real task for guys like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey who are back in training or not far from it.  From a style and dominance perspective, the most recent match seemed a very positive advancement.  It’s all about production, however, and Gooners will not tolerate the slightest hiccup.  On this site, for example, that 2 nil result was seen as a very modest score-line by some, and only two players were singled out for genuine praise in a mid-week post.  Hanging on for a 2-1 victory over Leicester City in our previous league match was widely considered abject.  The less said about losing (after taking an early lead) in the most recent North London derby, the better.

Given this atmosphere I sometimes wonder if squad depth isn’t a bit of a double edged sword.  Obviously, we need it if we wish to compete on multiple fronts, but expectations–amongst supporters at least–seem so high that when score-lines are not lopsided or any frailty is shown, managerial choices are scrutinized at a level that would please a laboratory scientist.  Amongst Gooners–all of whom are would-be managers–there is no such thing as bad luck and fault can always be found.  (On that note, the referee for this match is Mark Clattenburg, one of the better ones, in my opinion, but he’s working on only minimal rest after a midweek Champions League match.  Strange call might play a role…) Excuses are not tolerated and 2nd chances are few and far between.  Here in the Goonersphere, players are measured not only on recent performances and results but against legends from previous decades and names from around the world who we might buy as replacements.  Others maintain a hair-trigger on a metaphorical weapon aimed at the manager’s head.  Suggestions abound for players on the bench, or not even available in the squad, who are seen as superior options to any player who has done less than impeccable work on the pitch.

That’s the reality at any “big club,” I guess, but it works against building a sense of trust amongst players–the 11 on the pitch at any one time and the (proverbial) 12th man on the terraces.  If any mistake will be punished–by our own supporters, no less–a very brittle confidence must be a consequence. This is the dreaded hand-brake Wenger talks about.  Fear of mistakes inhibits our best play.

With his “little knocks” and keeping players “just short,” the manager clearly tries to keep the squad insulated from this atmosphere and collective confidence, we would hope, is high after the previous match.  If circumstances were to cause that confidence to wane, however, a small tremor of anxiety might be enough to set off an avalanche of negativity, hence my belief that tomorrow’s match is for far more than the 3 points on offer.  These matches in London have the potential to lift us up a level and prepare us for tougher travels yet to come.

Still, it only takes the slightest of missteps to sow the seeds of doubt; Crystal Palace tomorrow thus takes on added significance.  Go on…

By 17highburyterrace

Paulista first start | Theo, Santi, Ozil, Rosa behind OG: Preview & Predicted Line-up

Arsenal – Middlesbrough FA Cup 5th Round Match Preview

Minimal changes or Roll the Dice?

What Would Constitute a Win?

Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough
Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough

Following on from the last post on this fine blog, I thought I might try my hand at a little Haiku.  Here goes my attempt at 17 ‘syllables’:

It’s just a game, right?

Misery is in the eye

Of the beholder

Arsenal host Middlesbrough in the marquee time-slot (Sunday, 16:00) of Round 5 of the FA Cup, as they continue in their attempt to defend the trophy they won a season ago.  With so many top clubs already out of the competition a home draw against a club from a lower division seemed a good one.  But is it?

By drawing Middlesbrough at home, a team that got there by beating the Premier League Champions, Manchester City–on their own ground–in the previous round, Arsenal are now the hunted scalp.  To a neutral this is a mouthwatering cup tie and a classic David vs Goliath affair.  To Arsenal supporters it is something altogether different.  Can Arsenal actually “win” this sort of tie?  What sort of match–in terms of result AND performance–will it take to satisfy our support?

Most certainly the 2-1 league win in midweek vs Leicester City, winners of the Championship a year ago but currently sitting bottom of the Premiership, was not enough.  Consensus suggests that we rode our luck in that one and were dominated by the smaller club in the 2nd half.  Injuries to key players Alexis Sanchez (already coming off a couple of missed matches) and Aaron Ramsey added to the sense of gloom.  The three points were nice, but having lost that same quantity to arch-rivals Tottenham at the weekend, they seemed far from sufficient to restore full confidence.

Middlesbrough have no such issues.  They are currently in the exact position Leicester finished a year ago.  They’re top of the Championship and have won six matches on the trot and haven’t lost in ten.  They say that winning is a habit, so my hunch is that our opponents will come believing they can get one.  Simply remaining unbeaten in the calendar year would work a treat as well.   A draw would mean a replay up on Teeside and an additional mid-week fixture.  While Boro would prefer going straight through to the quarterfinals, a tough midweek trip to the Northeast is the last thing Arsenal need, given that the Champions League elimination matches begin later this month.

Moreover, Middlesbrough have been winning by defending first.  In 30 matches this season they have conceded only 20 goals.  In these last ten matches, only three.  Manager Aitor Kananka, a disciple of Jose Mourinho, has got his players working as a group, looking to defend from the front and counterattack at pace.   It worked at the Etihad, so why not at the Emirates?  Winning the match, on the scoreboard alone, may be tough enough.

Beyond the pressure to outscore the opponent there is pressure to rotate players.  Typically, Arsene Wenger uses the domestic cup matches as a chance to rest a few regulars and give others a chance.   No matches until the weekend and the fact that it is our trophy to defend, however, may alter the calculus.  Still, as results and performances fail to satisfy, would-be managers suggest things would be better if we only played _____.  Others, sharper with their tongues and their keyboards, suggest that certain players who have failed (in their eyes) need to be rested, if not benched entirely (or sold).

It makes sense, of course.  After all, something new and something different are what we hope for when gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree.  The festive season is not so far behind us, after all, nor is the season of giving to ourselves–the January transfer window.  We’ve got a big Brazilian defender all ready to go and surely he’ll get his debut.  If Gabriel Paulista comes in to spell the aching Achilles tendons of Laurent Koscielny and plays in tandem with Per Mertesacker, ahead of our dropped (or merely disciplined?) keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal will have one of the tallest central defences in all of football.  Not many have seen Gabriel in action so some may have their doubts.  Will he be a compliment to the other big men or will it be too much of the same (tall, thin) thing?

If those changes are the obvious ones, how many more can Arsenal afford?

Not too many, I think.   It appears that Spaniards Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin have nailed down starting roles as fullbacks, just as Francis Coquelin seems to have done at the defensive midfield position.  Will those three go again or will any (or all) of Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers or Mathieu Flamini be given the nod?  Up front, Olivier Giroud only came on as a sub vs Leicester, so he likely goes straight back in to the first 11 in place of Alexis.  Theo Walcott scored in midweek but many were unimpressed by the remainder of his game.  Is this then a chance for Danny Welbeck?  Some have even suggested that Chuba Akpom might get his first start.   And who will fill out the midfield?  Mesut Ozil is in fine form, but Santi Cazorla’s seems to be on the wane.  Jack Wilshere has been training with the first team for several weeks and should make the bench at least.  Could he go straight into Ramsey’s spot or will Tomas Rosicky, who started there on Tuesday, reprise the role?

My point is that calling the starting 11 is anybody’s guess.  Here’s mine:

ars v middlesbrough Feb 15

(Predicted subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Welbeck, Akpom)

That’s only three changes from Tuesday.  Personally, I think too many more would be too much.  In my opinion, against such an in-form opponent, consistency and predictability are needed.  Players knowing each others’ games and preferences can be a precious commodity.  With only minimal changes the new players can step in, based on what they’ve observed in their teammates.  Needing goals against a team poised on the counter, our ability to balance attack with defending could be the difference maker.  Too many changes might compromise that critical element.

What sort of line-up would you expect and/or prefer?  Also, what would constitute a “win” for you in this cup tie?

In my opinion, and carrying on from my Haiku, too many Gooners, perhaps spoiled by the memories of past glories, seem in it only for the larger triumphs.  Personally, I have faith that further glory lies ahead, but even if it doesn’t there are games to be played and enjoyed.  This season has been a struggle, but, with players coming back from long term injury and the emergence of some real quality in the youth ranks (Chambers, Bellerin, Akpom) and some squad players making claims to starting spots (Monreal, Ospina, Coquelin) we seem on the up.  Gabriel has yet to be seen in action, but his transfer filled a real hole in the squad.  Additionally, we put to bed the notion that Arsenal can only play one way and are always at risk of a drubbing against the bigger clubs.   The very well fought win of our own up at Manchester City less than a month ago, where we had only a third of the possession (but all of the goals), we hoped, seemed a real  turning point.

To be at the highest level, the level to which a club like Arsenal aspires, means that matches against the smaller clubs are expected to be won–and won in style.  Still, they must be played; meaning the result–and the experience–must be risked.  Can a journey with uncertainty and risk be enjoyed or can it only produce anxiety which is then laid to rest only until the next one?  In other words, have supporters gotten to the point where only the destination can be enjoyed?  I would hope the twists and turns, ups and downs, and memories made along the way can be just as satisfying as the moment the trophy is lifted, the confetti flies and the bubbly is uncorked.   Maybe the journey itself IS what it’s all about…

That journey continues tomorrow afternoon at 4, in our stadium, against Middlesbrough, in the 5th round of the FA Cup.  Go on…

By 17highburyterrace

Alexis is back, Ozil in hole, Theo starts? Preview and Line-Up

Arsenal v Leicester City Preview and Line-Up

The best thing to do after a bitter defeat is of course to play a game as soon as possible and win it: the sweet taste of victory would do us all good. The PL bottom team will be visiting tomorrow and with no new injuries and Alexis back to add the chilli flakes, we are in strong position to give our momentum a well-needed and red hot through-start.


However, we cannot be complacent and a fully focussed and passionate performance is required of all eleven Gunners. Despite being at the bottom of the PL, the Foxes have had a few impressive away results this season: a draw at Liverpool, and wins at Stoke and the Spuds (FA cup); and at home they beat Manure with that memorable 5-3 victory, and they also took two points of us.

They have nothing to lose other than their manager, it seems. And as the above results indicate, they could give us a fight tomorrow and might even get something from the game, IF we are not fully focussed. Whether the players will fight for Nigel Pearson, I don’t know. He seems a feisty character to whom I am sure not all will warm. Fact is they are only four points away from safety and also still in the FA cup, so they certainly have all to play for.

But we need to focus on ourselves. There is little time for Arsene and the team to analyse what went wrong on Saturday, and maybe this is a good thing. Let’s put out a balanced, yet more attacking, team and let the cannon roar.

Predicted Line-Up:

ars v lei feb 15

Yep, I am going for our strongest possible team in attack, in terms of assists and goals per game producers/scorers, and yet there is balance. I am sticking with Ramsey as it is key for Arsenal’s remainder of the season that he finds his form. Next to him it could be Flamini or Coquelin, but the younger Frenchie will probably get the nod. In front of those two are my, and I reckon Arsene’s as well, favourite four attackers: Ozil in the middle, Alexis and Theo in the free roles on the wing, and Giroud to be the holding striker and to give structure to our attacks. Santi to get a well-earned rest.

Arsene might rotate a few in defence, which is always hard to predict. But I am going for an unchanged ‘back five’ as Wenger often sends out the same or similar team after we lost a game.

I am expecting a very strong response and a good win: it is up to Arsene and the boys to do us proud again.

COYRRG – Up The Arse!

By TotalArsenal.

Rosicky King of NLD, Le Coq & Rambo, Ozil to add magic: Preview & Line-up

Little Mozart knows how to win a NLD: passion, power, and quality! COYG! :)
Little Mozart knows how to win a NLD: passion, power, and quality! COYG! 🙂

A bit more than 24 hours to go for the NLD. It is fair to say that both sets of fans are feeling confident about this match. A text from a Spud mate read as follows: ‘I hear Sanchez is out and we have Bentaleb back: thing are looking up’. Both teams are on a good run and have a recent, big scalp to their name: The Spuds gave the Chavs a 5-3 hiding and we overcame the Northern Oilers at the Etihad.

It is fair to say the Spuds are going through another transitional season under the new management of Pochettino , and have had with a mixed bag of results until now. For example, they beat Leicester away in the league but succumbed to them in FA cup at home; they beat the Chavs at home but lost there by 3-0; they beat Villa away by 1-2 but then lose to Stoke at home by the same score the week after. In the league they do not score many goals (35, 9 less than Arsenal) but concede a lot (30, 5 more than Arsenal), hence their goal difference is only five, significantly less than the teams above them (Arsenal has a difference of 19). And in the league almost 80% of the Spuds goals are scored by just three players; Kane with 10, Eriksen with 9 and Chadli with 7.

So we know who to keep quiet and I reckon if we deny them space, play compact and attack them on the rebound, we have a very good chance to come away with a result. Should we approach them the same as we did with the Northern Oilers? That is the big question, if you ask me. Inviting them on to us and taking them down on the break is of course attractive. On the other hand, it would also be good to dominate them in their own half and get the job done as soon as possible. We have the players to do either and I wonder how Wenger will approach the game.

Key is of course the role of the three midfielders and whether we press high or not. With either Flamini or Coquelin we will give the back four protection, and then it is up to the other two midfielders to find the balance between supporting the defence and making the transition towards attack. I hope our defence will be allowed to play deep enough to avoid any risks of them being exposed by the Spuds.

They are likely to put a lot of muscle in the centre of midfield with the likes of Dembele, Mason, Bentaleb and Paulinho. To win the battle in midfield we need to match this physicality and overcome them with clever and incisive passing. This also requires a calm head, especially in a NLD, and as such, this is another big test for Coquelin, if indeed he gets the nod by Arsene. The biggest challenges in midfield are for the two players who play in the middle of our second ‘4’ in the 4-1-4-1 formation. Who should play there, and what should be their remit: sit back and keep it tight, or push forward and hem them in their own half?

I reckon Aaron and Santi are the obvious candidates for the two central midfield positions. They are in fine form and know how to execute Wenger’s tactical instructions. They know how to sit deep and make the transition forwards when in possession.

I don’t think Wenger will tweak his back-five for this match, so let’s move on to the front three. The big question is who should replace Sanchez’s goal threat and who can find the best balance in supporting the defence on the flanks, yet offer speed, ingenuity and control of the ball when in possession/on the break.

Giroud is a given, so who to play on the ‘wings’? I reckon we will need Ozil’s quality to unlock defences and add a much needed goal threat. The partnership with Giroud has also been fantastic in the last two games: it has been good to see Mesut and Ollie exchanging goals and assists.

That leaves one position, and it will be either Theo or Rosicky I reckon. Theo offers a great goal and assists threat and Rosa has that passion and offers better additional defensive support.

With Bellerin on the right, whose strength it is to add to our wingplay there, we might not need Theo as much, and either Ozil or Rosa can play in front of the young, blossoming Spaniard. On the other hand, Theo is so confident and has that wow factor, especially on the counter…. I have a feeling that Theo will lose out, but only just.

So my predicted line-up is as follows:

Arsenal v Spuds Jan 15

Let’s play compact, deep enough as a starting point, disciplined and full of passion – and our quality up-front and in the middle to shine through.

Let the mighty red and white cannon blow that skinny chicken of the ball. 🙂

Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners: Make Us Proud!

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil AND Santi, Gabriel debut, Coq sole DM? Preview | Line-up

Arsenal-Aston Villa Match Preview

Paulista could make a surprise start against Villa
Paulista could make a surprise start against Villa

Aston Villa at home.  Gooners would like to think that this is a guaranteed win, a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon and a good chance to start the post January, business end of the season after some good work (a defender, finally…) in the transfer window.  If the win is in sufficient style and by substantial margin it might be enough–even if the big money player (but still a bargain, of course…this is Arsenal, after all…) doesn’t come in at the deadline.

Gooners, however, might also remember that it’s not always so simple.  No matter how much ale has been consumed in the intervening year and a half, August 17, 2013 will always be a day that lives in infamy.  Opening day: an early goal from Olivier Giroud, and all looked fun and games.  But then collapse and a match that finished 1-3.  The margins were tighter than that, of course, and much of the blame might be placed on the (very) bald head of referee Anthony Taylor.  Taylor allowed a very rough match (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered ligament damage on a play that was deemed completely fair) but still called questionable penalties on Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny, the 2nd coming with a yellow card for our defender.  Moments later Taylor gave Kos a 2nd yellow, reducing Arsenal to 10 men.  The team fought hard despite the disadvantage, but, finally, to dash all hopes, a goal on the counter by Antonio Luna sealed our fate.

The parallels are striking.  Somehow Taylor has been assigned the fixture again.  The transfer window is still open.  We are, however, a season and a half on.  Have things changed or will history repeat itself?

I don’t believe it will, but who am I?  This is a new match and Arsenal and Aston Villa come into it very differently than they did in that one.


Arsenal.  This match feels very different.  Instead of only pre-season matches, Arsenal come into this one on a run of four victories in all competitions.   Additionally, important players are coming back from long term injuries and significant transfer business, in the purchase of Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista, has been completed.  There is talk that Alexis Sanchez, by far our most important player this season, is suffering from a tight hamstring and will not be risked.  My guess is that this is Arsene Wenger talk for “Winter Break.”  My other guess is that (irrepressible) Alexis will still get a spot on the bench and a run out if a late goal is needed.  More on the starting team below.

Aston Villa.  Aston Villa are a proud club, by far the biggest of the Birmingham based outfits.  They have suffered from lack of investment from their American owner (does this sound familiar?…) but they are a well run organisation, and their manager Paul Lambert knows how to play the opponent at hand.  Their home form in recent seasons has suffered, perhaps because supporters cannot get truly excited by the fact that Villa are (at best) a solid mid-table club and their best players are constantly linked with moves away from the club.  They can, however, be a very dangerous group in front of their more hard core, traveling fans.  They will play with nothing to lose and will be emboldened by their positive result last time they came to play Arsenal.

Villa have players who can hurt and frustrate.  Up front, Christian Benteke has surmounted injury problems and always represents a threat with his size and power.  Buzzing around him are Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph.  Charles N’Zogbia is a very talented player and Leandro Bacuna  can curl in as mean a free kick as anybody in the league.   Scott Sinclair, a former Arsenal trainee, has joined Villa on loan from Manchester City; the extra motivation of finally getting a match (and playing against the club which let him go) might be something Lambert chooses to try.

At the back, diminutive American keeper Brad Guzan plays much bigger than his stature.  Former Arsenal defender Phillipe Senderos and Dutchman Ron Vlaar both are injury doubts, but ill-tempered former Spur Alan Hutton and Keiran Clark are big guys who can also help protect the small keeper.  Their size plus good organisation in front of the backline–in the form of  Colombian Carlos Sanchez and Man United loanee, Tom Cleverly–means they can be dangerous in transition and can frustrate through possession.  As we saw last time out, with their final goal, (actually with all of them–the two pens were on Villa breaks) they can punish teams playing on the counter.  We cannot give them an easy early goal and we must be extra vigilant to try and avoid corners and set-pieces where strong delivery and (even stronger) Benteke represent their biggest threat.

Still, Villa are not as full of confidence as they could be.   They will take heart, at least in terms of their relegation battle (they sit just 2 points above the bottom 3 with 15 matches to play), that they beat Championship leaders Bournemouth in the FA Cup last weekend.  Still, it’s been over a month since they’ve won in their own league and they are coming off a stretch of 5 league matches without a goal.  Arsenal-away, given the success they’ve had at our stadium and the fact that our defence is far from settled, could be a place where that streak ends, especially if they can lure us forward and spring on the counterattack.  Nonetheless, it’s also a match where Lambert may be satisfied with a good performance and a tight result.

Game Plan

By contrast, Arsenal want both result and performance.  It’s time to build on the win at Manchester City (which will mean little if full points are not taken here) and work in back-from-injury stalwarts Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, who both scored in the FA cup win at Brighton.  Aaron Ramsey, it should be noted, is also just two weeks back from a lengthy period out.  With Alexis injured or at least, “not risked,” and Oxlade-Chamberlain nursing a groin problem, room opens up for all three.  Additionally, with Koscielny unable to play a full schedule due to sore Achilles tendons (and Mertesacker rested in our FA Cup victory at Brighton), new signing Gabriel may be handed a debut start.  Nacho Monreal, having played very well at Man City, including winning the penalty for the decisive goal, I think, gets his spot back at LB from Kieran Gibbs.  Likewise on the right, fellow Spaniard, Hector Bellerin, comes back in at the expense of Calum Chambers.  David Ospina, I think, retains his spot in goal on the strength of three consecutive clean sheets.

arsenal v villa Jan 15

So, there’s your line-up and there’s your preview.  Stepping stone or stumbling block?

We know Villa will see only opportunity on their visit and must be taken seriously.  We also know that things feel better for Arsenal.  Still, the game must be played and feelings–as we saw the last time we hosted this team–can change quickly.  Let’s do it.

By 17highburyterrace

Szczesny back, Nacho & Chambers CBs, Rosa, Ozil & Ox starts? Brighton Preview & Line-up

Some ground and with the best pies.... :)
Some ground and with the best pies…. 🙂

A very good friend of mine is a devout Brighton Supporter, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind putting together a short piece on his beloved team ahead of the cup tie. To protect his anonymity, I am going to refer to him as Asad (Arabic for lion).

For many years Asad and I trawled the Middle-East, visiting clients and prospects.  In countries where we could, we would often share a beer in the evening and talk about our teams.   If ever Asad saw a rich Arab he would suggest we asked him if he would like to invest in the ‘Seagulls’.  At the time Brighton were playing in a rented athletics stadium, and I had the pleasure of attending a couple of games and it was pretty grim.

Asad and I often visited Abu Dhabi and he was a little upset to hear that they were investing in Manchester City.   By chance, Brighton were playing City in a Carling cup match and Asad decided to convince Abu Dhabi they had made the wrong decision.  The following may sound a little far fetched but it is true (I have photographic evidence). With the help of some Arab friends posters were designed in Arabic, saying things like “you bought the wrong club”, and Brighton supporters are better looking than City supporters.   These were then paraded around the ground by Asad and the Brighton cheerleaders shortly before the City game kick off.   99 per cent of the stadium would have had no idea what the posters said, but Asad was reaching out to the Abu Dhabi party who were visiting.  It had some effect because lowly Brighton beat City and kicked them out of the Carling cup.

That night a plan was hatched to wind Asad up.   With the assistance of our friends in our Middle-Eastern office, the following morning Asad arrived at his desk and received a call from one of our Abu Dhabi office telling him that having 1) seen the posters 2) noticed the result and 3) discovered that the City sponsors would be Etihad ( Abu Dhabi’s new airline), it had been decided that Etihad, which translates to ‘Unite’, wasn’t appropriate for City shirts.   The deal was in danger and maybe Brighton would be considered.  They also told him the Abu Dhabi press had got hold of the story and it was causing quite a stir.

A number of us told Asad that we had also heard about it and poor old Asad was jumping with joy.   He telephoned a number of his Seagull supporting friends to tell them the exciting news, while we sat behind him with tears rolling down our faces.  He then decided he would call the Brighton press office to alert them to the news.  An executive decision was quickly made that we would have to end the fun and tell him it was a wind up…….he wasn’t happy.

I have to be honest, I don’t consider to be much of a tactical genius but in order to stimulate conversation this is the way I expect our team to line up on Sunday.

Predicted Line-Up

Keeper. Szs.   I don’t want to give Brighton any clues, so this will be ‘for your eyes only’, but I understand Szs will be given a ‘Licence to Kill’.    Hopefully, he won’t ‘Die Another Day’, but let’s face it, you ‘Only Live Twice’, and If Brighton try the long ball Szs is well equipped to deal with the ‘Skyfall’.

Full backs. Bellerin and Gibbs.   I’d be tempted to rest the BFG and Kos and pair Nacho and Chambers; this might tempt fate, but a BFG rest is long overdue and I get the impression that Kos needs to look after his injuries.

Double DM Pivot. Le Coq is a must for me with Rambo alongside.   It worked so well against City, its got to worth another shot.  Dependent on the way the Seagulls line up, Rambo would be given permission to roam

In midfield. I would go With Little Mozart, the Ox and Ozil.    Rosicky and Ozil need game time and the OX is still in need of a confidence boost.

Giroud up front.


So, now I hand over to  my good friend Asad for an honest appraisal from a Seagull. With TA’s permission I will invite Asad to join the debate to answer any questions etc.

The Mighty Seagulls versus the Gunners.


So, a giant killing this week on the cards? Especially after our surprising victory over Ipswich midweek?

Speak to most Brighton fans and you will find they are more realist than optimist.

This is more of a showcase for our new ground, our wonderful hospitality and don’t forget the pies (best in the League). Brighton supporters will be the ones purchasing the half and half scarves as a reminder that matches like this can happen.

Any Arsenal supporter with a ticket will have a wonderful day and can expect progress into the next round. What can Brighton offer ? We are recovering from an inept Manager and now hopefully a better one that will set us on the correct path. Our goal is not to be relegated and return to playing enjoyable football (dare I say the Arsenal way?).

Key players left the club last season and joined the elite in the Premiership (Upson /Bridcut/Ujjoa / Buckley / Barnes). Their replacements have not been good enough for the third push in succession into the playoffs, but our hopes have risen of better times with the return to the side of young Rohan Ince (he is a Vierra type player- you will like him and perhaps ask like us why he wasn’t picked by Hyppia).

Our top scorer is our centre half which says a lot for our forwards. Craig Mackail-Smith has all the endeavour of Sanchez except he cannot score. Miracles do happen, and perhaps Wenger may field a reserve team but please enjoy the day, the match, the pies, the local ale (Harveys). Come into the North stand at the end of the match and have a drink with our supporters (this really does happen most weeks), and go away hoping we can join the Premiership as it is a great place to come back to again.

Ohhh, forgot my match prediction:

Sadly for the Seagulls, Arsenal will knock The Living daylights out of them.   Two nil to the in form Gunners, with a thunderball from Rambo (sorry wrong film).   Szs to perform like an Octopussy.

Written by: Retsub and Asad.

4-1-4-1 with starts for Ospina, Coq & Ozil, and Alexis up top: Line-Up & Preview

Arsenal at City – We haven’t forgotten history so it won’t repeat!

The saying is that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. That’s good news in my view as we head north to play City and their millions of million pound minions.

So, last year was a disaster and other prior years not so much better with a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 loss *at home* the year before. But, we are a much different team now then those years. Some would argue worse because of the players, some would argue worse because of the injuries, some would argue worse based on objective metrics of Doom (that’s you CM), and so on.

Few would argue better… That’s my job today.

History won’t repeat because we are better than last year. We will be tighter in defence, and we have the (deliberately provocative) “Next Henry” (NH from here on) in attack. More specifically, we also have the opportunity, and the need, to make a statement. A draw would be good, a win better.

History won’t repeat for other reasons also. Make no doubt about it, even if we are the same or similar to last year, City are not. Aguero coming back, Yaya disappeared into the AFCON dimension that makes top African players somewhat unattractive in the TW when you consider losing them every few years at a critical point in a season. So, they are missing some, at least, of their strike talisman, and a big chunk of engine room. Plenty left in the tank but opportunity presents to create a new history.

So, in a rare show of agreeing with Steve and disagreeing with TA, I think that, to quote some ancient heavy metal, “If we’re gonna die!” we should “Die with our boots on!” That means we should focus more on attack than normal in the line-up, even if we come out playing a touch more back and on the counter.

For that, the lineup for me is only lightly changed:


Bellerin – BFG/Koz – Gibb


Ox/TR – Santi – Ozil – TR/Theo


Arse v MC Jan 15

The key is my middle diamond of Coq at the back, driven by Santi and Ozil everywhere, with Ozil a more false 9 and Alexis up front. I am opting for speed and aggression both ways on the wings with Gibbs, if fit, and Bellerin, fronted by Theo, if fit, or TR and the Ox. Both TR and the Ox in particular can drive a game and also come back heavily on defence. I don’t think this is a game for Monreal on the wing with an attack minded person in front, as he doesn’t have the speed to recover like Gibbs.

It’s a 4-1-4-1, but could almost, using Ozil how I want, be a 4-1-3-1-1 where the 4-1-3 looks a lot like last week.

The big question mark is around Coquelin! Here, I disagree with TA. Coq has shown his mettle the last few games in positioning maturity. I think Flamini has the experience but not the speed for this game. However, he’s my very early sub if this looks bad. This is Coquelin’s big day: does he stay, or do we invest in 2 DMs this summer? Today is it, make or break. He’s earned the right to make the decision for Arsene. My call, my opinion, my heresy, call it what you will…

And if he gets that third yellow, the next games he is suspended for we might not need as much DM spirit as the teams we will be playing are not City, and we will be coming off the high of changing history in this one!

Finally, speaking of TWs, there is an alternative line-up based on the ever ongoing discussion on the site around needing lots of new people, and getting rid of those we don’t like. So, the following is based on reading NewsNow and is therefore, based on real journalism and reporting, and thus, obviously true.

Here we go, based on the linkages, we could play this out there, because AW will close all these deals and swoop before all our enemies and rivals. By Sunday… 🙂

It’s a bit more defensively focused than above also, so it is guaranteed to earn us a draw:


BFG – keeping some continuity






Bielik – young but has earned his start based on all the newsprint hyperbole!

Reus – down the center where he really belongs


Yes, I know that is 10 players, not 11, but with this line-up we can’t lose. They all play down the centre, or should, and that is where we are weak. Thus, I didn’t go for Winston Reid as he plays wider and won’t be of any help.

We will destroy City with our highly flexible 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1 formation!!!! Look out, it’s available for a mere 193M pounds if I did my sums off various articles right!!

I am sure there is not so subtle editorial point in there somewhere on my part. 😛

More to the original point, it seems long ago that we were invincible, and TAs recent call for regular bloggers to profile themselves asked your favourite moments, which in turn reminded me of the tension as that year drew to a close. I think many of us have almost forgotten that feeling and year… Good news again then, as we might be doomed to repeat it someday soon!! 🙂

Perhaps starting at City!

Some questions for the game:

  • On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the most stupid, how stupid am I for either of my line-ups?
  • Can aggressive wings with speed and Ozil’s passing get us through City? Will we need more defence than I have up there?
  • Flamini or Coquelin? Has Le Coq earned his “shot”?
  • I am 6’3” and our team is short, should AW hire me for this game?


Ospina to start, Flam-Coq DM pivot, Giroud returns? Preview & Line-Up

Great to have Mesut back again.
Great to have Mesut back again.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer us playing on Saturdays rather than Sundays (let alone Monday night games). However, if and when our direct opponents drop valuable points, as the Spuds and Northern Oilers have just done, it is actually quite nice to still have to play.

Of course, beating the Orcs is a strong motivation of its own. And we owe them one all-right! I really hope Terry’s 5-0 prediction is correct for once: how fecking fantastic would it be to send them home up the M1 and M6 with a fat thumping from the Gunners imprinted in their limited brains? A hat-trick by Ramsey would especially be very sweet.

We are getting players slowly back and Wenger might spring one or two surprises on the starting line-up for us. Will he start all of Flamini, Ramsey, Theo and Ozil, or will he stick to the same eleven he played against Hull? Will he reintroduce Giroud or stick with the slick Alexis in the middle? Will he leave Szczesny on the bench and give Ospina a second game?

This is my predicted line-up:

Ars v Stoke jan 15

I expect us to start solid and Arsene to try out Coquelin once again. The Flam-Coq DM pivot looked good against West Ham and why not give it another go? I have a feeling Ospina will start: he deserves more games and Wenger can test him properly in this one. I also feel Szczesny could do with a break to get his mind focussed again. You never know with Arsene though… he might play Wojciech as to not affect his confidence too much. Giroud up-front again is a given, I reckon.

Let’s hope we will see Theo, Ramsey and maybe even Ozil tomorrow as well at some point.

What is your predicted line-up?

Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners – Let the Cannon Roar, Roar, Roar, Roar, Roar! 

Written by: TotalArsenal. 🙂

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One Hull of an Important Match! Arsenal v Hull Line-Up & Preview

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

Let’s get in to it shall we:

Missing in Action:

Diaby sick bay

Not surprisingly this image still doesn’t need changing.

Arsenal: Jack (ankle), Arteta (calf), Welsh Jesus (hamstring), Flamini (groin – doubt), Ozil (knee – doubt. I think he’ll be on the bench for this one. If things are going well he might get a little run out), Welbeck (thigh – doubt), Giroud (suspended – last match), Sanogo (hamstring/going on loan – doubt), Podolski (groin strain/going to Inter), Diaby (calf strain/figment of our imagination).

Perhaps we can purchase a soft tissue specialist this transfer window.

Hull City: Rosenior (hamstring), Robertson (ankle), Dawson (hamstring), Diame (knee), Snodgrass (knee)

Predicted Line-up:

Football team Hull

Some pretty big question marks over who starts. We know Ospina will start (I can sense BJ doing cartwheels from here. He has it on good authority that Ospina’s feet don’t actually touch the ground and he saves shots with his mind).

Thanks to our rather extensive list of injuries it’s going to be hard to rotate the squad too much. We are down three strikers and Podolski; therefore, Sanchez may have to lead the line again. I wouldn’t mind seeing Akpom given a go. With all the media attention he’s been given this week it wouldn’t surprise me if he was given a run out. Campbell is probably the better option given his stage of development.

In defence Debuchy is likely to be rested. Chambers or Bellerin? Let’s give the Spaniard another go. Then again Chambers may have to start because he’d be in big trouble if we conceded a set piece…land of the midgets. Kozzer or Monreal? I think Kozzer still isn’t 100% and Monreal was doing a good job, so I’d like to see him line-up for this encounter.

In midfield we could go with Chambers and Le Coq again. In my opinion that didn’t work against Southampton. Flamini could come back in but I’d prefer to see Rosicky and Le Coq given the opportunity. The young Frenchman has performed admirably since coming back on loan, so I’d like to see him prove his worth once again. Ozil will make the bench. In a perfect world he could come on at around the 70th minute mark when we have the game in the bag…unfortunately we are Arsenal and that just doesn’t happen.

Walcott is the biggest question mark for me. Does he start? Is he ready? He hasn’t started a match since January 3rd 2014 and he only had 7 touches in 31 minutes against Southampton. I’d prefer a fully fit Campbell to start on the wing so that Walcott can come on for a little run out with Ozil.

Previous Encounters:

Arsenal vs Hull 2-2

After going ahead early thanks to a good finish from Sanchez we left it til late to scrape through with a point.

One of the worst pull backs I’ve ever seen lead to their first goal…shocking non-call. Mertesacker should have showed more intent for their second. A great run from Sanchez setup Welbeck to grab the equaliser.

You can see the highlights below:

Form Guide:               Arsenal:  : WDWWL            Hull: LLWLW

What form? We haven’t won three in a row all season and I honestly don’t know what Arsenal team is going to show up. In the league we are 13 points off top spot. 33 points from 20 games and 12 points behind where we were this time last season. Thankfully, this isn’t the league and we are currently the cup holders!

Hull haven’t had a good time of it this season. They’ve snapped a 10-game winless run by winning 2 of their last 3 games. They are safe from relegation for now.

Arsenal Archive (1)

This week I’ve dipped into the Arsenal Archive and pulled out this video clip. It’s not really an archive…more of a ‘we won a cup so let’s re-live it again’ type of clip (Their first goal was ridiculously lucky). What a goal by Santi!!!! Thank you Welsh Jesus. Enjoy! 🙂

One to watch:

Alexis Sanchez…because he’s a ripper and gets it done. What tough transition? He’s slotted into the premier league and our team seamlessly

Former Everton striker Jelavic. Hull’s leading scorer and can be a handful at times.

Key-Match up:

Arsenal midfield vs Hull City midfield


I have no doubt Bruce will pack the midfield for this encounter. Southampton did it really well against us and without Giroud we tend to lack shape in the oppositions half. We can’t let the ex-spuds Livermore and fat-boy Huddlestone get a stranglehold otherwise we might find the going tough. Flamini and Le Coq need to break up their attacks and the midfielders need to transition the play well from defence to attack. If Alexis is playing up front we can’t afford to have him providing the link-up…he needs to be on the end of it. For this reason I think we need Rosicky to partner Le Coq, just so we have more attacking potency.

Pre-Match Finger:

kid finger

Now I haven’t been around for a while so I’ve got a lot of fingers to hand out. This week’s finger goes to José Mourinho. Jesus Christ he’s a miserable sod. Just because he’s not getting his way at the moment he’s whinging about every little thing, making excuses for everything. His players don’t win penalties apparently…Hazard is being kicked out of the league (he’s diving over a lot of those tackles)…unfair treatment from the refs. Perhaps he’d have better luck if his players didn’t go down with relative ease. Drogba has done it his whole career; Hazard does it on a regular basis; Ivanovic (despite being built like a brick shithouse) flops whenever he gets around the box; even Cahill dives…Tell your players to stay on their feet and the refs might start rewarding you again. It annoys me that he has the wood of Arsene. Nothing would please me more than seeing him whinge and complain about us too.

Frick it, I’m handing out another! My right finger is going to Liverpool manager Rodgers. He accused Alexis of diving when the two teams met recently. First of all I find it very rich that he’s accusing one of our players after he defended Suarez on a regular basis. Secondly, Sanchez doesn’t dive. Thirdly, it was a long way outside the box so it’s not like the free-kick resulted in a penalty. Finally, look what that cheating twerp Sterling did moments later. He handled the ball to get past an on-rushing Szczesny. P*ss off Rodgers…you too Skrtel.

Pre-Match pat on the back:

pat on the back

This week’s pat on back goes to Santi Cazorla.

santi short

He’s really stepped up recently when we’ve needed him too. He’s had midfielders drop off all around him but little Santi has found his first season form. The only thing missing is his shooting foot but that’ll come. Teams have really started to choke us in midfield so players like Santi, Ox, Sanchez and Rosicky are worth their weight in gold. They get the ball and drive forward causing opposition players to gravitate towards them creating space for others. Good job Santi.

Ask the opposition (7)

‘Ask the opposition’ returns again this week. It is designed to get some friendly banter from our opposition fans and get their insight for the match ahead.  This week we’ve got a big group taking part (friendliest bunch I’ve spoken to thus far). The answers were kindly provided by Quill, Brady’s Love Triangle, Mr Hat, John Ex Aberdeen now E.R, Chazz Rheinhold (all from not606) and Ryan from the official Hull supporters club. Let’s see what they’ve written for us this week:

1) How can Hull turn their season around?

Quill: I believe we can, but only if we keep Bruce. Of course, injuries haven’t helped, with Snodgrass being out for the season, and Diame and Dawson also having spells out too. On paper, our team should be comfortable, but paper never won a football match. I think if we get a couple of results go our way, we’ll be fine. We only have to look at Sunderland and Poyet last season for a great example.

brady’s love triangle: Playing forwards when it’s needed, bruce played the perfect game against sunderland but then played the same team at home to leicester.. until the 60th minute when we had all our forwards on we dominated them.. it’s up to bruce really, and if we get diame and dawson back fit and ready, diame has been a huge miss

Mr Hat: Sack Cushionface

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: We just need to get our bigger players back and a consistent team. With Huddlestone, Dawson, Diame and Snodgrass out, we as a club don’t have the depth of squad to lose these players.

Chazz Rheinhold: Get the players back fit and from suspension. Buy a strong championship centre forward. Deeney would be my choice, if we go down, he’ll be the top scorer next season if we do.

Ryan: As Steve Bruce keeps saying, getting our injured and suspended players back is one big thing but I think he also needs to be a bit more adventurous in attack and make better use of the strikers we have. In our recent home defeat to Leicester we started without a striker and intitially struggled to create chances, but once we brought some strikers on in the second half, we suddenly looked like scoring. That game summed up the rut we’re in really.

2) Which player/s would you like in this transfer window?

Quill: Someone to bridge the gap between midfield and attack. We don’t really have a proper playmaker at the club – Ramirez is alright, but lacks pace, and Ben Arfa was just an idiot. Ironically, we do have that type of player already in Snodgrass, but he is out for the season as mentioned above. 

brady’s love triangle: difficult, we spent a lot in the summer, how much will our owners want to dish out? i’d like cattermole from sunderland and danny ings from burnley, neither are likely to happen though

Mr Hat: Messi, Ronaldo or Bale

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: I don’t think we need much, maybe Lennon to replay Ben Arfa, and Cattermole to stiffen up the Midfield

Chazz Rheinhold: Troy Deeney. Not sure we need anyone else.

Ryan: We’ve spent a lot of money for a club our size recently and I don’t think we really need to keep splashing the cash. The squad is a lot better than the one that stayed up and got to the cup final last year, so the problem lies elsewhere. That said, the one position I think we lack is a bit of pace up front to get in behind teams. We let Shane Long go for a really good offer, but we didn’t have much time to replace him. We got Abel Hernandez, but he hasn’t been anything like as good as long so far and doesn’t seem to have the pace we need.

3) What player/position is your weakest?

Quill: Quite a similar question to above. I wouldn’t say any player in particular is our weakest, but if I had to pick an area, it would be the attack. Bar Jelavic and Hernandez, we don’t have strikers who look truly threatening. The Leicester game highlighted our need for more attackers or at least a more creative threat.

brady’s love triangle: centre midfield and forwards, hernandez has yet to spark into life despite being our most expensive signing in our history, livermore and huddlestone don’t have that ‘kick’

Mr Hat: Every position as Cushionface pulls names out of a hat.

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: One in midfield and one up front.

Chazz Rheinhold: Centre midfield. We’ve got ex Spurs in there!! Bit lightweight (no Hudd jokes) and too nice. Shouldnt have bought Livermore, gets through lots of work but not enough bite or drive going forward. Always wants to pass to Hudd.

Ryan: We have reasonably good cover all over. I’d say up front is the weakest. Jelavic is great, but we haven’t got anyone else up to his standard to play alongside him.

4) What tactics are you likely to employ against Arsenal?

Quill: Very likely our 3-5-2 formation. It’s our best formation from a defensive standpoint, and is our best chance of keeping your lot at bay. We’ll likely play very similar to how we did in the 2-2 draw earlier on in the season.

brady’s love triangle: probably a 3-5-2, hoping to dominate arsenal in midfield and get you on the counter.. but bruce who knows?

Mr Hat: Concede at all costs

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: 352 as we did in the league game solid defence and counter attack.

Chazz Rheinhold: I hope Brucey doesnt sit back. He’ll go 3 at the back i reckon. We’ll be out on our feet by Sunday it could be a drubbing for us, we’re running out of players.

Ryan: It’s impossible to say with us. Being an FA Cup game Bruce will probably mix it up a bit meaning fringe players get a game. We play a few different formations at different times.

5) Which Arsenal player would you like and why?

Quill: 100% Alexis Sanchez. The man is awesome. He has been, for me so far this season, the best player in the Prem. Both his ability to score and create, alongside his pace and trickery is exactly what we need at the moment. 

brady’s love triangle: sanchez, world class, being a huge fan of his for quite a while , he could play at any team in the world, he bossed the world cup and ozil, I’ve followed him from his young days, he has the quality, he doesn’t have the forwards to work with though

Mr Hat: Diaby because Bruce manages to have so many players out injured all the time that Diaby will prove the exception to the rule in a fitting twist of ironic comedy

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: The Ox, he has pace, skill and power, though a toss-up with Ramsey.

Chazz Rheinhold: Obviously Sanchez but if not Welbeck. 

Ryan: Easy, Danny Welbeck. We were tenuously linked with him in the summer before he signed for you, it seemed very unlikely at the time and so it proved, but I did think he was exactly what we were missing and would have been an ideal foil for Jelavic.

6) Which player/position do you feel is our weakest?

Quill: Defence. I’m including the goalkeeper in that too. Your defence doesn’t look strong enough, both from a physical standpoint and also a mental one. Even Wenger himself admitted that your defence doesn’t talk enough, which is a massive problem.

brady’s love triangle: well, depends on what level, to compete for the premier league/europe, i’d say, a forward and defender

Mr Hat: London, because you pick up a fan base of Piers Morgan’s

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: Centre back and defensive midfielder.

Chazz Rheinhold: The back four, it seems. Corners free kicks are our best chance of scoring.

Ryan: I don’t know a massive amount about Arsenal but from the outside it always seems like you spend big on attacking players but only get cheap, French youngsters to play in defence. It seems to me that a bit of physicality from teams like Stoke or West Ham is still a weakness for you. I’d say the defence in general is your weakest area.

7) Who should Arsenal sign in the transfer window to improve the squad?

Quill: Again, similar to above, you need a new central defender, someone like Mats Hummels, who has a great technical ability as well as a tactical nous.

brady’s love triangle: martinez of porto

Mr Hat: Messi, Ronaldo or Bale

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: Not sure which person, but the above 2 positions, then you would be a threat in both League and Europe.

Chazz Rheinhold: Sissoko (sp) from Newcastle. He looked fantastic last time i saw him on TV and was a beast against us last season.

Ryan: Based on my previous answer I’d say a powerful, dominant centre half who already knows the PL. He’d need to play the Arsenal way, so maybe Ashley Williams from Swansea. In fact better yet, our very own James Chester is a very under-rated player in the Rio Ferdinand mould. He’s young, rarely makes a mistake, good on the ball and a brilliant tackler but hardly ever has to slide. I’d hate to see him go, but I reckon he could play for a big club one day.

8) What is your prediction for the match?

Quill: My heart says a 3-2 win after coming from 2-0 down just for revenge, but I’m going to be realistic and say 3-1 Arsenal.

brady’s love triangle: 2-1 to arsenal L

Mr Hat: 9-1 Hull city win.

John Ex Aberdeen now E.R: Depend what team Arsene puts out, if 2nd string we may get a draw, if you put out a first team squad, I fear we will lose 2-0

Chazz Rheinhold: Could be 5-0. It’d be good to fluke a draw and get you back up here for a night match.

Ryan: I can’t see anything other than a City loss. I imagine both sides will play a weakened team, but your reserves will be stronger than ours. If it was a league game I might be hopeful we could knick a result again, but I’m not confident for this one. I was disappointed with the draw really, after last year’s cup run whet the appetite!             


I really don’t know to be honest. With the form we are in and against a team that knows how to expose our weaknesses. I think our saving grace is their small squad. Their players would be tired after the packed fixtures. God I hope we win because we need to go on a winning run and it’d be fantastic if we kept the Cup this year. 2-1 to the good guys.

What is your prediction?

What team line-up would you go with?

Who will be our best player on the day?

Who do we need in the transfer window?

Podolski…a flop or not?

Enjoy the game Arsenal fans.

arsenal vs hull

By Oz Gunner