Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea: Answering the post-game FAQs

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I was about to embark on my usual way of reviewing this game by reporting events and squeezing my thoughts in between them, but the variety of arguments and subplots meant that I was better off attacking issues individually, than to conjure jumbled up dysfunctional garble in one post.

Yesterday was odd for many reasons - many people did not know what to feel about Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea's approach and Arsenal's result. And look, such is football. There are things that dazzle and things that bemuse, and yesterday had perhaps more of the latter. What I provide below are not the answers, but just my own views on yesterday's events. It's called having a blog.

So if you wish to clear your mind or want the open mindedness to hear the other side of the debate, feel free to hunt for your query below!


1. Did Arsenal deserve to win the game?
If not anything, this game at least demonstrated that Arsenal had progressed just an inch further. I had said in the preview that Chelsea parking the bus right from the off must not be taken as a given, and that we shouldn't look to bombard men forward from the word go.

Wenger heard my concerns - he seemed to have put a more focused team out there. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were the only players who had the goal of moving forward in their minds. Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla expressed caution, but rightly threw that to the winds once Chelsea retreated in their shell late on. It didn't hurt to see Coquelin and Alexis sticking their foot in and roughhousing Chelsea. We need more of that.

I firmly believe that a final scoreline is always deserved, barring referee interventions. This game certainly had their share of contentious decisions by a referee who refuses to penalize Arsenal. The first one was - in my opinion - definitely not a penalty, the second was stonewall (Szczesny did something similar against Bayern and was sent off), but the Fabregas one tends to divide opinion.

In my opinion, it is a penalty. This is modern football - in the penalty box, if a player goes to snatch the ball but mistimes it, it is always a penalty regardless of the force exerted on the fouled player. I don't like it, but this is what modern football has come to.

The Gary Cahill handball was, in my opinion, a penalty too, but had the referee given all the above decisions, Arsenal were potentially 2-1 down. Basic mathematics dictates that Arsenal actually benefited from the referee's incompetence.

The fact that Arsenal had more of the ball but couldn't win the game is down to our incompetence. You can't excuse Ozil and Cazorla missing chances under the pretext of "Arsenal had more of the ball". Possession doesn't win matches - goals do. We had a shade of fortune with respect to the refereeing but otherwise deserved what we got.

It matters little if Ozil had snuck in the late chance. The way I see it, Wenger knew the way Mourinho was going to set up. He was armed with an entire week of preparation and with in-form players to work a way around an uninspiring Chelsea (at home), but still failed.

Let's face it - we're firmly second best.

2. Should Arsenal be more like Mourinho's boring Chelsea?
Look, I have absolutely no problem with negation football. It's what Arsenal did in the George Graham years and what Chelsea are doing now. I honestly feel that style of play matters little when it comes to trophies. Winning is all that matters in football. I don't remember too many people complaining when Arsenal parked the bus against Manchester City and triumphed. If you place style of play over major honours, you have little reason to moan over Arsenal's trophy drought.

Different situations require different styles of play - it just needs a manager and players who can work that system effectively.

Jose Mourinho, always criticized for grinding wins in any time of the season, actually found the right balance between beautiful football and parking the bus this season. He played the most attractive football in the country for the initial two-thirds of the season, and became pragmatic when it was time to hold nerves. Let's not forget that Jose only truly parked the bus against Arsenal after the 65th minute, when it really mattered.

The greatest criticism that comes toward Jose Mourinho is why he chooses such a boring, almost cowardly approach to games when he has all the billions to spend in the world. You could definitely weigh that argument against him in his Inter Milan and Real Madrid days, but certainly not his second-spell Chelsea ones. While this season his balance between attractive football and ruthless pragmatism was not perfect, it was close enough. And hey, it won him a league title.

Chelsea's final step toward unofficially sealing the league was making sure Arsenal dropped points (which we did), so I see no problem in Chelsea celebrating as if they won the league because yesterday, to be honest, they practically did. And don't kid yourself, you wouldn't be embarrassed of Arsenal if this time next season Per Mertesacker was bouncing around Stamford Bridge after Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw which practically sealed Arsenal as champions.

The least we can do is not be hypocrites, act classy and congratulate Chelsea on winning the league through gritted teeth. Know when you're beaten. We should have done better this league season, but there's still plenty of honour in being runners-up.

3. Was I right in booing/applauding Cesc Fabregas?
Many people have different reasons to hate Cesc Fabregas. For some, he's a mercenary. For some, he's a gold digger. For some, he backstabbed Arsenal when they needed him. Personally I don't care much for Fabregas, but I do want to add another dynamic to this debate.

Take your mind back to summer 2010 and remember the situation when Barcelona had an interest for Fabregas. Wenger told him to stay and give his Project Youth one more chance, didn't he? Fabregas obliged, but after the post-Birmingham collapse he understandably had had enough. Fabregas wanted a club who could satiate his ambitions, and Barcelona provided that.

However, Wenger wasn't willing to hold up his end of the bargain in 2011 because Nasri had allegedly said "if Cesc goes, I go" (or something like that).

Anyway, an angered Fabregas felt betrayed by Wenger went on strike and probably sulked around for precisely this reason. When Wenger realized he couldn't keep Fabregas around, he had accept the lower rate from Barca. And look, many players would have gone on strike if they had a deal and the manager did not hold his end. The days of Tony Adams signing a contract with his eyes closed are long gone. If you want your best players to stay, you lucre them with money and trophies. That's modern football for you.

Even if you want to believe that Fabregas would have backstabbed Arsenal regardless of promises and circumstances, try this. Arsene Wenger rejected Fabregas when he wanted to leave Barcelona. Just as Fabregas apparently rejected Arsenal when we needed him the most, Wenger rejected Fabregas when he needed us the most. Again, that's modern football for you.

I understand that you would want to hate Fabregas because he was once an Arsenal player and is now at Chelsea, but using the 'he forced his way out' angle to justify it probably isn't right. To suit your conscience, a better reason would be his quotes after he signed for Chelsea, clearly saying he CHOSE them after having "considered all the other offers very carefully", which means that he did not have Arsenal in his mind at all after he realized that Wenger did not want him back.

Boo him for choosing an Arsenal rival despite many options, or stay mute because your thoughts are fixated on Ozil and Cazorla. However, in all honesty, I don't believe for a second that when Fabregas was celebrating his goal at San Siro, or Arshavin's against Barcelona, the first thought in his mind was "Stage One: Gaining the trust of the Arsenal faithful to betray them in the future, check!"

4. How many of Thierry Henry's comments were senseless?
Right, time to take this one at a time.

*Henry on Giroud: "I think Giroud is doing extremely well. But can you win the league with him? I wouldn't think so. He does a job, and he does it ever so well, but you can't win the league [with him as striker]."

While others have interpreted this as Thierry not knowing much about Giroud's current form or being hypocritical by swaying along with the mood of the club (he just massively praised Giroud last week), I think differently.

I don't think Henry managed to convey this very well, but I think his point was that Giroud is a fairly decent player but Arsenal need an undoubted world class player as striker to win the league. Look, Giroud is important to Arsenal's attacking approach and is currently playing very well, but you always feel that he's punching above his weight, and will fall to something along the mean in the near future.

It's a crude example, but look at Southampton. Mathematically they were in it for fourth most of this season, but many people perceived that as a team merely on a purple patch, who will go back to their level once their honeymoon period is over. It's the same with Giroud. What Henry was trying to say (I believe) is that while Giroud has done a good impression of a world-class player these past few weeks, in reality he is not one. Arsenal need the real deal, not an aspirant.

*Henry on Arsenal's transfer needs: "I think they need to buy four players - they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a centre back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I'm afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again."

Here's where Henry sounds a bit like a 12 year old kid who just started watching football saying "Get me Messi, Ronaldo and Neuer and we'll win everything." I think he fails to take into account the players that Arsenal do have at present.

Buying a striker is easier said than done - Arsenal have recently bought Welbeck and are unlikely to let him go after one season, especially since Wenger seems to rate him. Maybe Wenger could sell Walcott, push Danny to the wings and make way for a striker, but even so, the market does not seem to be awfully buzzing with forwards.

Defensive midfield and goalkeeper are understandable concerns, but centre back is probably not. Per Mertesacker is an excellent defender in a system not including the offside trap. Laurent Koscielny is almost always reliable. Gabriel Paulista is capable of doing the dirty work and Calum Chambers is a promising lad.

It's easy to admire Thierry's ambition, but he really should have put some thought in what he said.

*Henry on Fabregas and Ozil: "I would have benched Ozil for Fabregas [if the Spaniard had been brought back to Arsenal]. I will single out Mesut Ozil. It was his eight game today against a top four side, he has zero goals and two assists. That is not enough, overall since he’s been at Arsenal he has 14 assists.  Now if you take Cesc Fabregas, he did that in one season with 16 assists."

This is impossible to defend because it seems like Mister Henry has climbed onto the "Ozil is amateur" bandwagon as well. It's a real shame because he's an Arsenal fan and seems to be a person who really understands football, but has passed a hugely uninformed opinion. Loads of Chelsea fans will look back at Henry's comment and use that against Arsenal fans which is unfair, because his comment is truly irrational.

Such criticism on Ozil would have made sense back in October, but it doesn't now. Ozil has been pulling the strings and carrying Arsenal's creative burden for some time now. Even the manner of the criticism does not make sense, for he has taken Ozil's assist record against three teams and compared it to Cesc's assist record in the entire season.

The only reason Wenger should have bought Fabregas in the summer was so that a club like Chelsea could not have gotten their hands on him (again, that's modern football for you), but I'm still relatively happy with how things turned out. Mesut has been at Real Madrid proportions since January. Fabregas has the edge over him in defensive workrate and versatility, but Ozil is creatively superior.

Either this was nostalgia with Cesc getting the better of Henry or he was paid to say this, but either way, it was hugely flawed and I'd love to hear a follow up from anyone in the near future.


Right, that's that. Just as a footnote, I'd like to mention that if you have any feedback about my thoughts I'd prefer them in the Comments section than in a personal email. I'm sure others are interested in your views too :)

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

Mathematically, this match is almost an irrelevance. We won't miss out on Champions League nor snatch the crown from Jose Mourinho's hooked nose based on today's result. Today's not a day for sealing top four or having a go at the title. In the context of the present season, absolutely nothing hinges on this game.

However, today could bear huge implications with respect to next season. There's indeed no use in crying over this season's spilled milk, but we could look to make amends by laying foundations for a title challenge next season. Winning against Chelsea could bring about a big-club perception Arsenal have been lacking for too long.

You don't need an expert to tell you that that's vital. We've been compared among the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, even Everton for too long. Rising to a better class of football clubs does psychological wonders for the club. Smaller teams are too afraid to take a shot at causing an upset. Bigger teams exercise caution. The inferiority complex dictates that most home matches are won before the ball is kicked.

Arsenal terribly need some of the hubris, and breaking Mourinho's curse would go a long way to restoring that. Mourinho's record against Wenger is not a jinx or a curse, it's simply because he's a better manager.  Calling it a curse promotes the "luck" factor and invariably inaction, just like Arsenal's injury woes. Both of them were not down to luck, they were down to incompetence.

However, despite their managerial skills, Arsene still has a chance to put one over Mourinho today. Chelsea know they have won the title and they don't look too bothered about today, whereas Arsenal are in roaring form and know that this match is not about three points. The moral of the players could make all the difference today.

Arsenal and Chelsea have both been on phony runs of form lately, but the players of Chelsea seem to know that their performances have not warranted the results. Conversely, however, Arsenal believing that their run of form have been supported by brilliant performances reeks of ignorance, but provides the confidence that Arsenal needed to smash Liverpool away. That same confidence could help them overturn a skeptical Chelsea, not to mention provide credence to the "Ignorance is bliss" statement.

Having said that, I fear Mourinho may be leading Wenger into a trap. Having a whirl at Chelsea is all well and good and definitely characteristic of a "big team", but it must be exercised with caution. The whole world is rambling on how Mourinho would look to park the bus and hit Arsenal on the break. There is the possibility that, for the sake of catching that particular assumption off-guard, Mourinho might do something different.

Where is the guarantee that Mourinho will set up to merely get a point at the Emirates? Granted, he did that against Manchester United (at Stamford Bridge, no less), but that doesn't mean it's set in stone he'll do the same today. For safety's sake, Arsene at least needs to exercise caution at least for the initial minutes and then have a crack, should it transpire that Jose has indeed employed the expected gameplan. Be brave but not foolhardy, certainly not 6-0 foolhardy.

Most of the team pretty much selects itself. David Ospina should start in goal; I'm guessing Mathieu Debuchy would get the nod over Hector Bellerin; Nacho Monreal will take over from Gibbs, and presuming that Mertesacker won't make it, Gabriel should slot in to partner Koscielny.

I would have preferred Mertesacker to make it today. David Ospina is certainly the better keeper on form, but he still exudes a certain nervousness at set pieces, which Chelsea specialize in. Paulista and Koscielny would amount for terrific pace, but with Chelsea looking to start an aging Didier Drogba, that pace may not be all necessary.

Francis Coquelin is a sure starter in midfield, and based on current form, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis and Giroud would play ahead of him. I don't see it happening, but I hope Cazorla is benched for Theo Walcott. The Spaniard has looked out of touch in recent games, probably because there are too many similar players in that team. Walcott would add a different dimension in terms of width, and his knack of scoring against Chelsea could be crucial today.

However, if Cazorla starts (which seems likely), I'd prefer him on the wing than Ramsey. While both of them do not have the skill set to provide Arsenal width, Cazorla is certainly more tactically aware than Ramsey. I've heard the argument that a more energetic Ramsey could stifle Hazard on the left but it doesn't rub with me, because Ramsey spends half the time in the centre of midfield. While Cazorla tends to drift in, he certainly does not do it to Ramsey proportions.

To me, though, it's only Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil who could make the difference for Arsenal. Mourinho had ensured Azpilicueta was onto Sanchez in the previous encounter which had hugely minimized his impact. Perhaps home support or the danger of having other players in form to mark would mean that Sanchez gets more space to work his magic, but I don't see it happening.

Alexis has been documented as Arsenal's runaway best player by everyone in the footballing world, so much so that they've overestimated his impact to the team. They're wrong - in the second half of the season, Cazorla, Ozil and Giroud have contributed more than Sanchez. However, Jose is likely to jump on the bandwagon and make Sanchez his top priority, which could be of huge advantage to us.

Mesut Ozil could have a screamer today because his run of form hasn't been caught on by the media yet. It's amazing that they still perceive him as some overpaid flop who doesn't run around enough to make the cut for Arsenal, but it could work to our favour today. There is the possibility that Jose could underestimate Ozil's (or even Giroud's) importance for Arsenal. He certainly has the ego to think that.

I have a feeling that Arsenal might draw, but I certainly know that today is winnable. Chelsea are uncertain and they don't have a lot to fight for, but we do. And while today would not have much inkling on this season's Premier League winner, it certainly could on next season's. Today is an important step in future Premier League (or maybe, maybe, Champions League) glory for Arsenal. We need to take it.

P.S. If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned the Cesc Fabregas subplot today, the answer is simple: I don't care much of him. He taught me a valuable lesson about loyalty and trust, but that's about it. He doesn't owe Arsenal anything and nor do we, him. I'd rather focus on the creative players who ply their trade for Arsenal than Chelsea. I suggest you do too.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Reading 1-2 Arsenal (aet): World class makes the difference

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I didn't mind the rotation...
I don't see the virtue in having the likes of Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck and the lot if they aren't going to get a chance to play at least once every three or four games. I get that all of the players who were rotated in did not play well at all (except perhaps Theo), but I more than understand the logic of giving them game time against Reading. If Danny Welbeck doesn't play well against a Championship side, that's his prerogative, unless there was something hugely amiss in the tactical setup.

Personally, however, I would have given the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy, Danny Welbeck (or maybe even Szczesny) a game against Burnley, rather than Reading. In hindsight, it doesn't take a genius to note that yesterday had higher stakes than last week.

Arsene Wenger teams don't thrive under pressure...
Accept it, it's fact. It's not even a particularly monumental one. Parts of yesterday were frustrating and worrying, yes, but they weren't nerve-racking because I was subconsciously aware that Arsenal make a hash out of big occasions. Knowing that Wenger is probably here to stay for two years, it's best if we buckle up and set expectations as per. 

I still don't understand playing Ramsey on the right...
I'd love some clarification for this. All throughout the game Ramsey was drifting way too centrally, crowding the box and not providing an outlet on the right. You can't blame him, it's not in his DNA, so to say.

The result was that we had an in-form player slowly sapped out of confidence, looking bewildered at times. The Ramsey of last year would have taken the two chances he had with a shrug. This one didn't - and the reason why is apparent. Confidence.

Wojciech Szczesny is a confidence player too...
It's funny, I thought Szczesny would wipe his game up when he was given the chance to prove his worth. Now, he didn't have an entirely terrible Southampton-esque game at all, but was still worrying.

Szczesny, to me, seems to have lost his mojo. He's no longer seems like the likeable cheeky prat with the Bendtner levels of ego to shield his self-doubt. True, Reading's equalizer was more down to Gibbs' incompetence than the Polish goalkeeper's, but that doesn't entirely absolve him of blame. He didn't show enough urgency to prevent the ball going over the line, and parried a simple shot all over the place previously.

Ospina thoroughly merits his place above Szczesny, but I wonder if this signals the end of Szczesny at Arsenal. I would hope not, for he's been an Arsenal through-and-through, but if his attitude continues till the end of the season, he may force the manager's hand.

Sanchez wasn't playing well but he made the difference...
...and that's what matters. Alexis sprayed his passes all over the place, buffered in front of goal too often and gave the ball away, yet he popped up when it was necessary - to put away two Ozil passes, even though he had a bit of luck with the second one. In a way, he was the perfect symbolism of how Arsenal played yesterday. 

Mesut Ozil carried the team...
Although I don't think I've said it too many times, I am guilty of having the opinion of Ozil being a fair-weathered footballer. To me, he always felt like the player who would put the icing on many cakes and only work his magic when the conditions suited him. In addition, I didn't think him to be a player having the bottle to carry Arsenal from a hidey hole.

Yesterday was different. Arsenal were sluggish and way too cautious, but Mesut was the only one willing to pull the strings. A person looking at the glass half-empty would say "Well it's only Reading", but be mindful that this was the FA Cup semi finals as well. Ozil didn't slouch under the occasion, especially when his teammates seemed to. It's a vast improvement on last season.

Would it be too much to consider him as Arsenal's second best player of the season?

Theo Walcott was livelier...
I know that Walcott has his limitations and is a bit one-dimensional, but we still need him. I for one don't believe we're elite enough to consider him surplus to requirements. Sure, he may find himself to be below the pecking order when a more dynamic Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shows his face, but until then Wenger should be giving him way more game time, especially when Ramsey on the right doesn't seem to be working out.

I'm not saying that Walcott should be the first on the team sheet or that he's the best forward we have, but I honestly think he's better than Danny Welbeck. If you gave me a choice between a forward who doesn't score goals but is more "involved" and a forward who actually scores goals, I'd gladly pick the latter. I was among the hordes who foolishly joined the Welbeck bandwagon, but I still have the sense to see that the £16m we shelled isn't looking too pretty.

I hope we get Liverpool...
I know they'll be way more difficult to get past than Aston Villa, but I believe they have the tendency to crumble in big games like we do. Besides, I badly want Arsenal to be the reason Gerrard does not get a proper farewell.

Gerrard lost my respect when he called Arsenal a lesser club and blocked the Suarez move. I know he's been a largely classy player and an iconic Premier League figure of a club I happen to like, but I still feel he should get his comeuppance. He's been largely juvenile for a long time now, and I would relish us to have a crack at setting him straight.

If you excuse me, I think I need a psychologist now.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ethan Rowe from BiggestFreeBets previews Arsenal's Wembley venture

Ethan Rowe - tipster from BiggestFreeBets.com and Arsenal fan gives
his view on Arsenal's upcoming match against Reading at
Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final.

Arsenal come into the match arguably the form side in Europe having won their last 8 Premier League matches in a row and winning their last 16 of 18 matches. Mr Wenger knows his side are in great shape to retain the FA Cup and will create history in doing so as Arsenal will have won the competition more than other side. However, a match against Reading isn't a foregone conclusion, especially as we all remember a trip to Wembley in the League Cup Final when they went into the match against Birmingham City only to be on the end of an Obefemi Martins 90th minute winner.

Good for us as Reading have really had a poor season so far and given their terrible league position they will have seen the FA Cup as something of break from their Championship woes. The Royals will come into the match as massive underdogs but will be in good voice at a full Wembley on Saturday evening.

Arsenal will likely field a similar side to the one that ground out a 1-0 win at Turf Moor on the weekend with this season's revelation Francis Coquelin expected to retain his position in the side. Oliver Giroud will lead the attack and will be hoping to add to his goal tally after his run of 6 goals in 6 games came to an end at Burnley. I must say I've been impressed by the performances of our defence something that seems to have been forgotten amongst the goals and fine performances, there seems to something less showy about Ospina in goal and he's growing in confidence with each win and clean sheet to his name.

Forgive me, but I'm still unconvinced by Mesut Ozil and the quality he brings to the Arsenal side. It's fine for him to play in a Real Madrid or Germany team that possess world class places across the whole side but for an Arsenal side that has a splattering of world class players can we really afford a luxury such as Ozil and an expensive luxury at that. I'm confident the German never really dreamed of a move to Arsenal and I've no doubt the player is one of the best players to ever grace a football field, but maybe if it were 10 years ago back in the invincible days the German would have been much more effective in the style of Robert Pires. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Ozil depart - if not this summer, 100% the next.

My next thought is Danny Welbeck - a player who has really impressed in his opening games for Arsenal but has similar to his player style drifted out of the team. It's clear Mr Wenger thinks highly of the England international but Louis van Gaal's comments of the former United player not scoring enough goals seem to be true, although it's undoubted he's a player of immense quality and as an Arsenal fan I'm happy to see him play.  However, I don't seem him as a natural striker and more of the opposite of a Thierry Henry. Is he a striker we can turn into a winger?

It's certainly worth mentioning Aaron Ramsey after he recorded is 150 game for the club and I for one was more than happy to eat my hat after a player I was highly critical in his early years and blossomed into one of the finest midfielders in the modern game. Ramsey hasn't been a prolific as he was last season but with him in the side there are goals coming from areas that we have found tough in recent years and something I'm grateful for. Hopefully Ramsey can enjoy his find Wembley scoring run and grab one against Reading on Saturday.

One thing I'm confident about is another win at Wembley and all eyes will be on a possible meeting with Liverpool; certainly something that will get my pulses racing and give our team the opportunity to get revenge on Liverpool after Michael Owen devastating double. A final against Liverpool would be all the more memorable given it would be Steven Gerrard's last match for Liverpool, something even I can appreciate.

It's clear the semi final will be a fantastic day out for both sets of fans, and for us Arsenal fans who are now becoming regulars at the home of English football (it's starting to feel like a second home!) we'll likely leave North-east London the happier.

I'm thinking we'll win this match comfortably by 2 or 3 goals - I'm going to back Oliver Giroud to find the net in this one, which should hopefully cover the cost of the expensive ticket!

All is left to say is sit back and enjoy the match and fingers crossed we don't make this harder work than it needs to be!

-Ethan Rowe [Follow our website BiggestFreeBets ]

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Jurgen Klopp to leave, should Ivan make his move?

Well, well, well. One of the hottest stories of football is out, and if Arsenal manage to make their move on this, it could be monumental for the future of the club. Ready? Here it comes...

Wellington Silva has a Spanish passport.

Okay, I'll get serious.

The opportunity regarding Jurgen Klopp is huge. I know and I fully understand that he has flaws, but as innumerable clubs would tell you, there aren't many perfect managers out there. I can't be the only one in thinking that at present, he's the better manager to Arsene Wenger. Considering the age, the pedigree and Klopp's experience in German and European football, it's certainly an irresistible opportunity.

I agree that circumstance matters a lot. Arsenal are currently on a high, which means that the sentiment surrounding the club is primarily, yet absurdly, pro-Wenger. Arsene won't break a 2-year £8m contract unless the mood surrounding the club is toxic, which only seems vaguely feasible if Arsenal get spanked by Reading. Manchester City and Real Madrid look likelier to snare Klopp owing to managerial instability in their camps. The possibility of Klopp being an Arsenal manager next season (or indeed, ever) is very slender.

And yet, there is the faint hope that remains that Klopp could be at Arsenal come 2015/16. Perhaps Wenger could call it a day, perhaps the fans could force him to, or perhaps Ivan Gazidis could think the grass is greener on the other side, honourably "relieving" Wenger of his duties. The chances are low, yet they exist. And don't lie, whatever your views on the present manager, there had to come a time when you contemplated if Klopp should be the future manager for Arsenal, whenever that time comes. Wenger's not getting any younger.

But is he the right man to replace Wenger?

Klopp has his faults, sure, but so does Arsene Wenger. He has his merits, but well, so does Wenger. Perhaps our best course could be to weigh both of their traits and faults, even though they may prove futile in the end.

For the extremist pro-Wengerite, should you feel that it's disrespectful in measuring Wenger to someone else, kindly don't read the rest of the post. You may want to bathe in the past, but I'd love to think about our future.

Tactical approach

It's well known that Arsene Wenger isn't the most astute tactically. He's been guilty of "focusing on his own strengths" than looking at the other teamsheet. His teams have been susceptible to tons of schoolboy errors with regards to set-piece defending, even in the glory days. Thierry Henry's autobiography also stated that Wenger had not properly prepared for the Champions League final!

There have been mitigating factors behind the rare times he's shown tactical adaptability. Firstly, all of them were times under pressure, which suggests that Wenger doesn't do pre-game planning unless his neck is on the line. Manchester City was, according to Gunnerblog (a huge pro-Wengerite), a result of player pressure than his own brilliance. The tactic of pressing Liverpool high up the pitch seems like an exception rather than the norm. In any way, Arsenal stopped pressing after the initial minutes. In addition, I have yet to understand the real reason behind shunting Ramsey on the right, and I won't pretend to.

Even if you could find convenient loopholes in my argument to opinionate that Wenger is not as bad tactically as I'm making it out to be, the fact remains that Klopp is a much better tactician. His pressing style and defending as a unit is a promising philosophy, certainly better than possession football, which even Pep Guardiola admitted is behind its time. He sends his team out with a plan and does not believe in the concept of "pre-planned" substitutions, as Wenger appears to.

Arsenal have players like Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Ramsey, Welbeck and many others who have the stamina and the will to press, which could make them ideal for Klopp's philosophy. Perhaps the only flaw in Klopp's pressing approach is that it pushes players to the limit which results in injuries, but hey, we were getting plenty of them under Wenger already weren't we?

Performance under pressure

I need hardly remind how badly Arsenal play under pressure. When the chips are down, there's barely any shape nor plan to go forward with. When confidence is flowing high and there isn't much onus on the team, an Arsene Wenger side is capable of producing truly breathtaking football. But beyond that?

Falling away in the title race in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2014 was not down to lack of money, it was because the manager could not get his team over the line when the spotlight was on them. We've lost to Birmingham, Bradford and Blackburn under pressure. We've thrown away two, three and four goal leads when things started to go wrong. We barely scraped past Wigan Athletic and Hull City when the FA Cup came to the business end. It's no coincidence that Wenger has never defended a league title.

You could perhaps say the same about Borussia Dortmund under Klopp as well, except that Jurgen has managed to defend the Bundesliga title (from Bayern Munich). I'll admit that Klopp sides sometimes tend to dwarf under pressure, but not nearly as much as Wenger sides do. Klopp is still capable of cajoling his troops when things are going wrong. Wenger hardly gets off his seat.

Squad building

Thankfully, Wenger has seemed to learn from the days of Almunia, Eboue, Cygan, Diaby, Denilson, Chamakh, Park et al and now buys players after careful inspection. Sure, that still doesn't hide the fact that Arsenal have Sanogos and Flaminis to get rid of their current squad, but this Arsenal team is still one of the most talented I remember. Wenger's hope was to leave Arsenal with a better team, facilities and infrastructure. He seems to have gotten that together.

I haven't followed Dortmund over the course of seven years, obviously, but it seems that Klopp is a pretty good squad builder himself. At Dortmund, he saw his star players lured away by bigger clubs. That won't happen at Arsenal, Ivan's sponsorship deals have seen to it.

The big stage

Let's not lie - while money has been a factor in Wenger not competing for the league in early years, it wasn't the reason why Arsenal did not win the league last season. Money's not why Arsenal fell to Monaco, nor did not challenge for the league this season. Money wasn't why Blackburn, Birmingham and Bradford defeated Wenger. Putting every single Wenger failure entirely down to lack of money was one of the biggest cons the club pulled. I'm surprised that Arsenal fans - otherwise very intelligent and analytical - did not pull the club out on that cheap trick.

Whisper it quietly, but Wenger cannot perform on the big stage anymore. When he came in the mid-90s, football wasn't global. However, he knew the French market and raised level of competition by his Thierrys and Vieiras as well as introducing a new diet and fitness regime. Back then, he was ahead of the times.

He's not now. Teams know how to play against Arsenal's possession style. Wenger doesn't have that tactical edge over managers in the Champions League - a stage where Arsenal needed to compete this season. We weren't close to winning the league this season; the only reason we're second is because the teams around us - aside from Chelsea - have regressed as well. Arsene is running out of steam.

Wenger's been on the job for 18 years. Think about that for a second. Surely the rigours of the job would be getting to him?

Klopp offers more. He offers progress. He's young, energetic, he offers new ideas and dynamism. He'll come to Arsenal all the wiser from his exploits from Germany and he'll have a plan. It could backfire - sure - but it's definitely worth a go. Klopp's done more than enough to warrant a chance at an elite club, or at least, a club striving to be one.


The only major issue with Klopp is this - he's too much of an ego. I understand that managers need to be egoistic and dominatory for their club to reach the pinnacle. Sir Alex Ferguson was an egoist. Jose Mourinho is an egoist. Arsene Wenger is an egoist.

And therein lies the problem. Arsenal is definitely not a club suited for egoist managers. The Arsenal board of directors do not have the footballing knowledge to demand proper accountability from the manager. Stan Kroenke might not want to risk Wenger leaving and his failsafe Champions League money to come under risk.

Wenger has cut a dictatorial figure at the club - I think we all know that. Andries Jonker and Sir Chips Keswick have said as much. Since most of the board are filled with businessmen who lack footballing knowledge, Wenger’s given a free reign. In terms of transfers, players, positions, formations – Arsene Wenger calls all the shots. Since David Dein's departure, his degree of power even eclipsed Sir Alex Ferguson’s at Manchester United.

Arsenal regressed for a while under this rule. None of Shad Forsythe, Andries Jonker and Steve Bould are given much of an input, because Wenger does not take kindly to criticism. Remember his reaction to Jacqui Oatley’s probing questions and Paul Merson’s post-Anderlecht analysis?

My fear is that Klopp could go the way of Wenger, because I'm not sure he's a manager someone like Ivan Gazidis can control. I don't want a dictatorship at Arsenal, I want a collaboration. I want the likes of Forsythe, Jonker and Bould give Klopp their input, and for Jurgen to take that data and create something special. I don't want Klopp's aim of raw hunger for success skew, to controlling power at Arsenal - like it did with Wenger.

Klopp may go the way of Wenger, he may not. Heck, we may never know, for his chances of ever managing Arsenal don't sound great. But call me crazy (and you will), but I'd be willing to take that risk. As I said, Klopp's not perfect, but he may be worth the gamble.

Again, I don't believe Gazidis has the guts nor the authority to make the change in the first place. This entire discussion may well be pointless. But then again, you can't expect Wenger to stick around and keep performing forever. Arsenal need to make the leap sometime soon.

Why not this June?

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Burnley 0-1 Arsenal: That'll do

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped for something more stylish, but then again, a good, solid 1-0 win in an away Premier League is not the worst thing in the world. It means we stay ahead of pace of the two Manchester clubs and keep Chelsea on their toes. Or one toe, at least.

I won't sugarcoat it when I say the team sheet disappointed me. While I agree that the likes of Ospina, Ozil, Giroud or even the Mertescielny axis at a stretch needed to be there to keep the spine of the team (and most of them were in undroppable form), this really should have been a game where we rested our big guns.

As I said in the preview, while it's apparent that someone like Theo Walcott is not rated by the manager (and for valid reasons), I refuse to believe that he would have produced a substandard performance against a team like Burnley. Surely, going into the second half, his pace would have been an asset?

Strength in depth is not only to make the bench look pretty, it's also to act as backup while the main men are out getting massages. With all respect to Sean Dyche's men (who put up a good fight), it's against inferior oppositions like these where a manager can afford to play squad players. This is a problem Wenger has been guilty of for ages, and also a contributing factor in why our star players tend to get injured more frequently. If you make the same players play all the games, the probability of them getting crocked gets higher, that's basic mathematics.

I know it sounds petty, but it's an important issue nonetheless. The matter has been swept under the rug because we've gotten away unscathed, but imagine if one of our players had turned victim to one of oh-so-many Burnley fouls. The effects it would have had on an upcoming FA Cup semi final could perhaps have been decisive.

Right, anyway. The football.

As expected we dominated the hold of the ball and created a couple of early chances. Heaton made an elementary save to a Sanchez free kick, minutes after which the Chilean could have gotten an early goal but instead blazed it over. The two chances were sandwiched with a decent save from Ospina after a Vokes shot, where Mertesacker's lack of pace was apparent.

Aaron Ramsey got the opener after what seemed like a trillion of deflections. It started when Alexis decided to take matters in his own hands. His shot was deflected onto Ozil, Mesut forced a good save from Heaton, but Aaron pounced on the parry to strike a fine one in the roof of the net.

Amidst all the shower of praises over Ozil, Coquelin, Giroud and the lot, it's easy for Ramsey's resurrection to go under the radar. I reckon that'd suit him, though. He seems like a confidence player - I wouldn't want to burden him with expectations.

Having said that, though, I found Wenger's decision to play him on the right a bit curious. On that, the Welshman said:

"I’m doing a job out there. I like to be involved in the game a lot more in the middle but I’ve had to do a job there. I’ve had a couple of assists and a goal in the last couple of games, so I’m having an impact out there, but I’d like to be more involved in the game!"

Clearly the last few matches would suggest that it hasn't diminished his output, but it's still intriguing why Wenger has shunted him there. It's not as if there's a severe dearth of options  - Walcott and Danny Welbeck can both do "a job" there. Heck, to me, Tomas Rosicky seems a better fit to that role than Ramsey!

I always presumed in the last couple of games that Mesut Ozil would play on the left flank with Alexis on the right, but the manager's apparent alternative is odd. It appears that Coquelin and Cazorla are playing deeper with Ozil in the center and Ramsey on the right. I know that Wenger had played Ramsey on the right flank back in 2012 in an attempt to resurrect his form, but I feel it's unnecessary to stick him out there now. Is this just a mishmash of fitting the most in-form players in eleven slots, or are there bigger tactical balls at play here?

Ramsey's obviously doing a good job out there, but I can't help but feel that we could bring more out of him by playing him in a more favourable position.

Anyway, the rest of the first half trudged on through rare highlights involving an Ospina save from a Trippier free kick and a Cazorla free kick whizzing past the post. Was I the only one to feel that Mike Dean blowing his whistle on a load of fouls disrupted the momentum of the game? Perhaps the game would have been more eventful had he been more ruthless.

Ozil was probably the only highlight of the second half as he lit up Turf Moor with two brilliant pieces of play. The first - a backheel to Sanchez - forced a good save, while the second was a lob to Ramsey who couldn't get his shot away due to a truly brilliant block. If there's one microcosm of how hard Burnley toiled around the pitch, that was it.

Danny Ings tried to create trouble when he hit a cycle kick - again, terrific save from Ospina there - and Mee put in a delicious cross at the death to which no one got their heads to, but other than that I don't remember a moment where Burnley genuinely threatened to equalize.

Indeed, it was us who could have doubled our tally during a four minute spell. Ozil could have played a better pass to Welbeck on 85, four minutes after which a cross from Bellerin was too loopy for Sanchez to get much power on.

Wenger's late substitutions merely compounded the aforementioned lack-of-rotation problem, but apart from that we had enough stomach to see them through. Every point in the Premier League is important, so it's great to see us nabbing all of them. It also makes the Manchester derby a lot more relaxing to watch.

There was the usual post-match gaffle from Wenger and the players about the fighting spirit, but what caught my eye was a show of sense from Per, when he said:

"It [the title] is not in our hands anymore. They [Chelsea, who else?] have a decent lead so it’s very difficult for us. At the moment, we’re just focusing on ourselves and that has made us very strong in recent weeks."

He, and every other rational person, is spot on. I agree that second wasn't the objective at the start of the season, but it's still a goal that deserves merit. It could have been much worse back in January, so while I'm not at all suggesting that second should remain the be-all and end-all of our ambitions, it's nice to see an Arsenal trying for something higher than the absolute minimum i.e. fourth.

What's realistic and gains greater credence than 2nd starts next week. The FA Cup may not be a major trophy in itself, but coupling that with a runners-up finish in the Premier League amounts to progress most clubs would kill for. It shouldn't be where our aspirations halt (although I fear it is) but it's a good starting point.

Saturday would go a long way into satiating that.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Burnley vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

It's important to keep the momentum going, not only because of how the table stacks, but also because there's an FA Cup semi final on the way. Burnley are one of the weakest teams in the league, yes, but any away game in the Premier League has the potential to be quite tricky, as Manchester City found out at Selhurst Park.

And look, this game could be a perfect tune-up on how to approach next week. Both teams - Burnley and Reading - are of a similar ilk, which makes it rather probable that a similar mentality may be required to dispatch away both of them.

Sure, Burnley could be like how Granada were for Real Madrid - earmarking the games they need for survival and entirely giving up on the rest. However, I wouldn't put it past Heisenberg Sean Dyche to look to snatch something away from this game. They've been rather good against the top sides - especially City - and they burst a lung for the smallest half-chance.

This is just one of those games that we need to get through to get to the matches carrying greater credence like against United, Chelsea and next week. However, we shouldn't look to underestimate this opposition. We had a tough time at St. James' and Selhurst Park. There's every chance that today could be akin to those struggles.

Having said that, I'd prefer some rotation. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud are in monstrous form, but are due a breather despite having a week of rest. I understand why players like Theo Walcott are not trusted by Wenger, but surely he's Premier League standard enough to get a game today?

While Ospina is a nailed-on certainty in goal, the right back position could offer the manager some food for thought. Mathieu Debuchy is fully fit and raring to go, while the lad from Barcelona is in fine form. Personally, despite progressing as fast as he runs, I still have minor positional doubts about him. That, coupled with the need to rotate a 20 year old fullback who's played almost every match in the past 3 months means that I hope Debuchy gets the nod today.

Gabriel should act as an ice pack for either Mertesacker or Koscielny today, and I hope Kieran Gibbs gets a chance too. There are doubts about his defensive contribution, but again, he should be more than capable of holding out Burnley. Lest we forget this is the same Gibbs who made acres of strides last season and was the undisputed starting left back for a while.

Francis Coquelin should start in midfield along with Ramsey, but it's the rest of the front four that intrigue me. While I think Arsene will choose the safer option of overplaying Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud, I hope at least two of them are rested. We have players like Rosicky, the returning Wilshere, Walcott and Welbeck to provide much needed backup. There's really no point in having these players if they don't get the nod in matches like today.

My gut says that today could be a close match, simply because there doesn't seem to be enough seriousness coming into the game. Wenger was right when he said that we need to stay focused because the two Manchester clubs are breathing down our necks, and I hope we approach this game with the requisite rubber gloves. Certainly not by showing Burnley too much respect and taking them on the counter, but instead by cautiously imposing our style of play and consolidating once we get the lead.

Right, time to catch the second half of the Everton game. See you on the other side.

Up The Arse!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool: An uncharacteristic ruthless dismantling

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I'll gleefully hold my hands up in guilt for overestimating Liverpool and underestimating ourselves after us absolutely tearing them to shreds. The goals were all audacious and spectacular, yes, but it was the manner of exuberance and ego we showed on the pitch that was far more encouraging.

Make no mistake, although Liverpool were average, we took ruthless advantage of that. It's no exaggeration to say we strangled them to submission right from the off. Were it not for some below-par initial finishing from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, we could have sealed the game in the opening 5 minutes.

Our recent winning streak may have been exaggerated to a degree, but it brought along with it a factor that ultimately proved pivotal in Liverpool's dismantling - confidence. We didn't show Liverpool the respect we showed Tottenham or even Monaco earlier this season, pressing them and hardly letting their back three (especially Kolo Toure) build from the back.

Brendan Rodgers wasn't to be outdone yet, though. I noticed he was penciling notes around the 16th minute, after which he seemed to get his plan across. Having weathered the early storm, Liverpool were confidently playing on the counterattack and growing into the game, taking advantage of Arsene Wenger adopting a high line. It almost worked when Coutinho released Markovic but the Russian (heh) couldn't find Sterling with his pass.

I couldn't have been the only one worried then. Per Mertesacker was drifting toward the wing, Mesut Ozil was losing focus with his touches, Francis Coquelin was forced into making too many last-ditch sliding tackles and Bellerin seemed to be taking too many risks with the ball. With each passing minute, the early Ramsey miss was beginning to feel more and more synonymous to Jack Wilshere's against Manchester United.

I realize the irony when I say that all of those worries were put to rest with a Bellerin risk. Ozil found Ramsey who was drifting to the right for most of the half, Aaron played it on to Bellerin, and for me, he just seemed to have that "Screw this scrappiness, I'm taking the law into my own hands here" moment when he went past Moreno and curled in an absolute beaut with his weaker foot. As much as it is easy to notice Liverpool ineptitude in defence there, it is easier to, well, not give a shit.

With Liverpool rocking, Arsenal took full advantage and found a second. Mesut Ozil won a free kick barely two minutes later and launched a technically sound curler into the far post. Mignolet, who was having a great game until that point, really should have done better because the shot wasn't fiercely struck, but again, who really cares apart from Liverpool?

With Arsenal, 2-0 up is hardly game over but Liverpool didn't seem to think so, as they absolutely lost the plot and failed to keep any sort of structure. After Giroud headed over an Ozil corner, Bellerin (was it?) initiated some world-class football by playing it on to Ramsey. Aaron's turn was sublime, his pass was perfect, and Sanchez gave the perfect cream to ice the cake. Taking the ball on the bounce and getting away from an appalling Kolo Toure challenge, he rifled in one of the fastest and most Podolski-esque shots you would see this season. You can't really fault the goalkeeper for that. I'm surprised he even saw it.

Rodgers tried to save face in the second half by bringing on Daniel Sturridge and employing a 4-1-4-1 with Sterling on the left, but really, even by Arsenal standards this game was done and dusted. Whatever Liverpool were looking to throw at us was so easy to the defence it was almost enjoyable. Indeed, we could have got a fourth in the 54th minute when Mignolet tipped over a Giroud header, but aside from that it was strolling in the garden stuff, with the only minor cause of frustration being Alexis giving the ball away on the counterattack.

They did get a faint lifeline when Sterling was felled in the box and a penalty awarded, which Henderson barely converted. There's a fair case to say that Bellerin should have gotten a second yellow (and I'd agree), but well, he didn't, and today's not a day to focus on what could have been when what actually happened was a 4-1 thumping. Having said that, Bellerin's gamble which failed (but not punished enough) was another reminder that he's merely 20 and will make mistakes. We mustn't look to Harry Kane him for a fall from grace.

After Emre Can was shown the door and Santi hit the post, Giroud made sure Arsenal ended on a high by scoring a pearler from an Alexis pass, ending Liverpool's misery. A terrific performance against an in-form team and some star performers to thank for.

Mesut Ozil, after getting the second goal oozed class. He's a confidence player like Giroud, which is why it was great to see those little flicks and movements when Arsenal in general were cruising. Perhaps what was more heartening to see was Wenger subbing him around the 73rd minute for Danny Welbeck, when the game was over and Ozil needn't be overplayed.

I know it's far from the father of the thought, but Welbeck continues to worry me. I've never expressed on this blog enough my discontent at his sheer lack of end product. Yes, he's a good squad player who puts himself about, but that's about it. Goals are what we need from a forward, which is why I'd prefer Theo Walcott to him.

While Alexis Sanchez won the official MOTM award, I've got to hand it to Francis Coquelin. The man's playing like an absolute beast. He revels in the art of defending and being the lone sweeper, and is currently a prime reason why our 4-1-4-1 is ticking. He'll definitely do a job till the end of the season, but I still feel that we need one more specialist in that position to be absolutely secure. It's an unnecessary risk to be overly reliant on him, and competition on all fronts should be the bedrock of an elite team. Mikel Arteta may be a model professional and all that, but he hardly offers competition for Coquelin.

All in all a fantastic job done by the players and the fans. Many had expected Arsenal to win this game (I confess I wasn't one of them), but the manner in which we made it possible bodes well for what's left of this season. A title challenge is a crazy assumption, but looking to overhaul Manchester City is very much possible, and whichever way you look at it, that's progress.

The psychological impetus of beating a potential FA Cup finalist must also be noted. Liverpool are the only team left in the competition capable of ruining the party for us, but having that edge and relinquishing the 5-1 loss last season would go miles into calming nerves for the big day, should it arrives.

All that's left of this season is a potential second place fight and an FA Cup win, but make no mistake, that's more than most clubs in England. With players returning from injury and the squad looking to have some serious depth, if we keep this up, we could make 2014/15 a very memorable one indeed.

Go on Arsenal.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal vs Liverpool: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

The race for second is much better than the race for fourth, but we're in just as much of a risk of falling as we are of rising.

That sounded like a Batman quote, didn't it?

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be nervous or excited for tomorrow. Our run of form has been encouraging, yet thoroughly overrated. The expectation of defeating Liverpool almost comfortably tends to turn into pressure very quickly, and we don't react favourably to that.

An early goal could be vital here. Once our nerves are settled there's no denying we can devastate almost any opposition. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil, in particular, tend to flourish when the atmosphere is more relaxed. Liverpool have been on a good run but the loss to United would have hurt, and an early breakthrough could turn their confidence to ash.

We must be going for the win. Manchester City are crumbling, and Crystal Palace could take advantage of that. On the other hand, United have a pretty straightforward encounter against Aston Villa. Dispatching away Liverpool will not only keep United at bay and give us a shot at second, but would also do away with Liverpool for good.

I'm wary of Liverpool. They looked like a clueless side earlier this season, but it turned out Rodgers had a plan. Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen are playing well, Sterling and Coutinho give them the extra edge, and they may be missing Martin Skrtel, but Sturridge is seemingly going to make it. It's easy to forget that he almost scored thrice at the Emirates last season.

David Ospina seems set to start in goal, and he should, for he hasn't done anything apocalyptic to warrant a dropping. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal would start in defence, and despite Debuchy returning from injury it seems he may not be match fit enough and Bellerin may get the nod.

The only worry I have about Bellerin is that he tends to drift towards the center a bit too much, but that may work to Arsenal's advantage as Liverpool's presumed left winger - Coutinho - tends to cut inside rather than run down the wings. Alberto Moreno may give him pause for thought though.

I like Bellerin, but if Debuchy is fit enough I hope he's given a start because his experience could bode well for us. This is the business end of the season and an extremely important game, which is why I'd rather not see any mucking about.

Francis Coquelin is the obvious candidate in central defensive midfield, but it's his midfield partner who could win us the game. I really hope that one of Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky are given a role in this game - assuming their fit enough, of course - because this is the kind of game they tend to revel in. Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla are technically sound, yes, but Wilshere or Rosicky add that extra bite and flair in midfield to counter that of Henderson's. It's the manager's call, of course, but I would really prefer seeing a Rosicky or a Wilshere on the pitch.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are somewhat of a given to start, but the question lies as to where to start them. Sanchez should play on the right flank, no doubt, as Bellerin will need defensive support. My gut says Ozil would play on the left with Cazorla in the center, but I really hope that's not the case. Ozil only ever played well once on the left flank (against Aston Villa at home - hardly a barometer of his quality). If Ozil is to start, I don't see any other place to play him than in the hole. If there's no place for him in central attacking midfield, fine, get a Walcott or a Welbeck in there, but please don't diminish his powers out wide.

Giroud's improvement has been fantastic, and we need another performance of that ilk today. There'll be huge pressure on him to cut the mustard, and rightly so. We need an early goal, and we cannot afford to see Giroud have a stinker, like against Monaco. Say what you will about his current form (and I'd probably agree), but Monaco at home was the only other match where the stakes were really high. Giroud has been scoring against big teams this season, which is great, but for me he still has to do more to convince me that he's a reliable Plan A.

We're really wedged in between City and United, and it goes without saying that we need to win all of our games to have a greater comfort zone. This is definitely the time of the season where results are all that counts, even though good performances invariably lead to good results. Take this one game at a time, rest and rotate players whenever necessary, and we could get out of this pivotal stage looking handsome.

This game ought to be really difficult, but it's still winnable. Flying out of the blocks is key, because an early goal will leave them rocking. Maintaining focus is pivotal too. We rode our luck a lot against them in the 2-2 draw against December. Instead of showing them too much respect or give them confidence, we must intimidate and bully them. Because I see little chance of an Arsenal victory if we play on the back foot or keep handing them the initiative.

Come on Arsenal!

Extra reading : Crazy About EPL | Arsenal vs Liverpool : Match Preview and Prediction

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]