281 Comments

The League Table Doesn’t Lie

By: Shotta, @shotta_gooner

 Sports journalism is renowned for clichés that are repeated ad hominem by its practitioners as a substitute for substantive analysis.  It is my observation that that these rhetorical tricks are successfully used because they contain an element of truth which is undeniable. But, more times than not, the assorted hacks and pundits who are supposedly sharing with us these self-evident “truths” are also trying to conceal a lie.

Take Tony Gale, for example, who was doing color commentary on Sunday for my tv feed; just prior to Theo scoring his hat-trick, he was complaining the game showed how much AFC needed to go into the transfer market for world class players, while Walcott and Wilshere, who had just returned from injury, were ripping WBA to shreds in a world-class performance. Yes, every team could do with a world class players but Tony Gale failed to tell the truth, i.e.  Arsenal had very little need to go to the transfer market. On Sunday the lie was immediately exposed, but unfortunately most times it is left unchallenged, leading many to form the wrong conclusions and ultimately to choose a self-defeating course of action

Notwithstanding the instant rebuff of Tony Gale, with the League just ended, I now expect the hacks and their fellow travelers, to use our standing in the league table to form a narrative that Arsenal needs three or four world class transfers. This was famously previewed three-weeks ago by our own Titi Henry from his well remunerated perch on Sky Sports, conveniently reversing his prognostication two weeks earlier. But Henry is not alone in phalanx of famous ex-gunners with the same mantra. In the run-up to Sunday’s  last game of the season, Ray Parlour said the very same while on Talk Sport alongside Adrian Durham, the latter having made a media career by trolling Arsenal supporters.  By the way, Durham’s current windup is that Arsenal did not improve over the past season.

According to the hacks, Arsenal, by finishing 3rd in the table, made no significant improvement over last year when they finished 4thwith 79 points (troll-time on Talk Sport). Chelsea supposedly made much more progress by adding 8 points to last year’s total to win the league. Ergo, the solution is to follow in Chelsea’s footsteps by signing a “world class” forward, midfielder and goal-keeper.

Pos

Team

Pld

W

D

L

GF

GA

GD

Pts

1

Chelsea

38

26

9

3

73

32

41

87

2

Man City

38

24

7

7

83

38

45

79

3

Arsenal

38

22

9

7

71

36

35

75

4

Man Utd

38

20

10

8

62

37

25

70

5

Spurs

38

19

7

12

58

53

5

64

6

Liverpool

38

18

8

12

52

48

4

62

In my day, one of the earliest lessons in high school mathematics was “how to lie with statistics”. Actually it is how to lie with data. By conducting the most elementary analysis, i.e. by comparing the changes in league position of the top 6 of 2014 with that of 2015, unearthed some very revealing information.  Take a gander below.

Manchester City

Yr

W

D

L

GF

GA

GD

Pts

Pos*

2014

27

5

6

102

37

65

86

1

2015

24

7

7

83

38

45

79

2

Difference

-3

2

1

-19

1

-20

-7

-1

% Change

-11%

40%

17%

-19%

3%

-31%

-8%

-5%

Liverpool

2014

26

6

6

101

50

51

84

2

2015

18

8

12

52

48

4

62

6

Difference

-8

2

6

-49

-2

-47

-22

-4

% Change

-30%

40%

100%

-48%

-5%

-72%

-26%

-20%

Chelsea

2014

24

7

7

68

41

27

79

3

2015

26

9

3

73

32

41

87

1

Difference

2

2

-4

5

-9

14

8

2

% Change

8%

33%

-67%

5%

-18%

27%

10%

10%

Arsenal

2014

24

7

7

68

41

27

79

4

2015

22

9

7

71

36

35

75

3

Difference

-2

2

0

3

-5

8

-4

1

% Change

-8%

29%

0%

4%

-12%

30%

-5%

5%

Everton

2014

21

9

8

61

39

22

72

5

2015

12

11

15

48

50

-2

47

11

Difference

-9

2

7

-13

11

-24

-25

-6

% Change

-38%

29%

100%

-19%

27%

-89%

-32%

-30%

Tottenham

2014

21

6

11

55

51

4

69

6

2015

19

7

12

58

53

5

64

5

Difference

-2

1

1

3

2

1

-5

1

% Change

-10%

11%

13%

5%

5%

5%

-7%

5%

Manchester United

2014

19

7

12

64

43

21

64

7

2015

20

10

8

62

37

25

70

4

Difference

1

3

-4

-2

-6

4

6

3

% Change

5%

50%

-36%

-4%

-12%

100%

9%

15%

 Chelsea achieved a 10% improvement in points by realizing 2 more wins (8% gain). A 67% reduction in losses was split between 2 draws and 2 wins. Yet according to the pundits they smashed the League.

Arsenal in contrast had a similar reduction in wins vs Chelsea’s gain but the reduction in losses only showed up in the draw column. We all know the points-allocation in football prioritizes wins. As for the suggestion that the defense is horrible and the goalkeeping porous, there were 9 or 18% less goals conceded over the prior year. The goal difference improved 30% second only, percentage-wise, to United.

City ‘s demise from 1st to 2nd was due to 11% less wins.  The raw numbers would suggest a marginal change of two losses and one draw but the numbers identify the key deficit was in goal-scoring which declined by 19% and their goal difference down by 31%.

The most alarming change in fortunes was on Merseyside. Liverpool is the headliner. To the acclaim of a raft of pundits, many with connection to the club, they splashed the Suarez cash on an array of transfer targets hyped by the media, most notably Mario Balotelli whom they are now quick to disown. A 30% reduction in wins, 100% increase in losses, 48% reduction in goals scored led to a 26% reduction in points, second-only to Everton.  The latter club’s demise was just as catastrophic with 38% less wins and 100% more losses, leaking more and scoring less goals. Yet Roberto Martinez was tagged by the end-of-an-eraists as a Wenger successor.

Finally Manchester United, who won the 2014 transfer sweepstakes, spending £170million on the likes of Falcao, DiMaria (remember him?), Blind, Rojo and Herrera, but only improved by a single more win over the Moyes era. At least they had 36% less losses but turned 3 out of 4 into draws. The end result was a gain of 3 positions in the table. Maybe another £170 million will get them to 1st, failing which they might do a Liverpool.

There is a lot more one could do with this data but I leave that to the readers of PA. Already there is a barrage of mischief and misinformation at large by those trying to discredit the current squad (Giroud, and Ospina seem the favorite targets) and the progress being made by them and Wenger to become truly able to challenge for the title. With rare exceptions the pundits fail to acknowledge that we were handicapped by injuries at the start of the 14-15 season and not by a lack of talent.

But as one other cliché put it: figures never lie, liars figure.

25 Comments

Arsenal Sign Off With Aplomb

A guest post from @foreverheady

So now it’s over. Another league season done and dusted, and one which after promising so much back in August, looked as if it was going to end with a bit of a tired whimper until Jack and Theo decided differently. Saturday, August 16th seems a long time ago now: a family camping holiday saw my pensionable transistor radio greeting Aaron’s late winner against Palace with barely audible crackles, the south-west peninsular apparently not one of 5 Live’s hotspots. But that seemed Ok – the win, not the reception – after the drubbing we had handed City in the Shield and with the promise of all those summer signings bedding in and taking us on from the glories of Wembley. I’d expected us to beat Palace more comfortably, but put it down to summer cobwebs. Little did I know or guess that we were in for a run of injuries almost unparalleled in recent history. No need to go over those again, but although we played well in patches, we just couldn’t build any momentum through the autumn and early winter. We scored some good goals, but let in some soft ones, and at times before Christmas it seemed as if Alexis alone was carrying the flag. We slipped down the table, criticism mounted and one way or another the Club didn’t seem that happy an idea. We were missing our captain terribly.

But gradually, gradually the players returned from injury and an unexpected stroke of serendipity saw the shape of the team finally morph into something to go to war with.  Coquelin came into the heart of the midfield and his arrival seemed to make all the difference, a master class of the defensive arts and a sparkling performance from Cazorla setting up an away win at City that seemed to herald a new seriousness that had seemed oh so far away on New Year’s Day. Despite a disappointing reversal at our near neighbours, the team then put together an impressive winning run that saw us climb inexorably up the table, and which briefly threatened to throw down a challenge to League Leaders Chelsea. It wasn’t that we couldn’t maintain our form in the end: rather that they didn’t lose theirs, but the way they celebrated the hard-won point at The Emirates suggested that they too saw us as their only real threat. And so it came down to the last few games, playing for second or third or fourth, and however hard the players seemed to try you sensed that their heart had slightly gone out of it as they rather unluckily lost to Swansea at home, and then huffed and puffed but couldn’t quite blow down the Sunderland door. One point out of a possible six at home, and a slightly fortunate point away at Old Trafford meant that second place slipped from our grasp, but Third and automatic entry into the Champions League draw was all but mathematically secure as we faced our last opponents of the League season.

Most will have seen the game now, so no need to go over it in detail, but Walcott, Ozil and Wilshere simply blew Sunderland away in a sparkling first half of irresistible pass and move, pass and move. The patterns were intricate, the execution deadly and Theo’s first was a thing of wonder: it was a very good goal indeed, struck with belief and power. His second and then third showed his pace and predatory instincts: they were real striker’s goals and unless he has a real desire to go and play for one of the top European clubs, I think we will be seeing plenty more of him in the seasons to come. There are few strikers in world football better than a fit and confident Walcott. Jack too was outstanding, and what I would call the Rosicky role seems to suit him. He hugged the line when he had to, probed and prompted, and took his goal with glee.  Nine times out of ten it would have ended in Row Z, but somehow that was never going to be the case yesterday, and let’s hope that his wonder strike gives him the confidence to add more goals to his game, for you won’t see many Englishmen play better, and it is good he is playing for The Arsenal. And Ozil tackled and ran, tackled and ran and doing well for this team seems to really matter to him. I had not seen him play before but it was a privilege to do so yesterday. They were all good in that first half, and although a strange May weather pattern saw grey skies and drizzle, they played as if they were bathed in gold.

It was good to see the team parade around the ground and show their human faces a little in the now traditional send off, but it must also have felt strange and a little premature to them. Their season is not yet done, and fairly or unfairly will not be defined by that excellent third place finish, however magnificent an achievement that was given the scale of injuries in the autumn.  They will want to do well at Wembley, for if they do it will set up a Community Shield encounter that I suspect will be far from charitable. If those players want to win next year’s league then they will know it is Chelsea they must be measured against – and for 45 glorious minutes yesterday they showed they are more than capable of doing just that. I am looking forward to next season already!

79 Comments

Arsenal Versus West Brom: The Final Curtain

I was driving down the A367 yesterday afternoon on the way to a garden centre. A part of the ancient Fosse Way, the A367 once rang to the hob nailed Caligae of the Roman Legions but nowadays is home to a series of pedestrian crossings and a seemingly unending sequence of roadworks. In short it’s an venerable right of way which has evolved into a very ordinary traffic clogged artery between two insignificant west country towns in a north eastern backwater of a quiet west country county.

We passed a recreation ground where three young men were idly tossing a rugby ball to one another. Children spun lazily on a roundabout, their mothers sat chatting while a dog walker skirted the edge of the field his German Shepherd trailing behind him sniffing the perimeter fence, the both of them lost in their own thoughts. The scene was bathed in late spring sunshine and was transferred from my retinas to my brain in a matter of seconds as our Vauxhall Zafira rolled quietly past. Why did this image remain with me as I took the right turn into Charlton Road and slowed in anticipation of the new twenty miles an hour limit? It wasn’t, after all, remarkable in any way and was probably being repeated with minor variations in small parks all the way from Porthleven to Barwick-In-Elmet.

It wasn’t so much what I saw as what I didn’t. It wasn’t what was in the field as what wasn’t. Norton Hill Recreation Ground would, on any given Saturday afternoon for the preceding nine months, have been a scene of bustling, earnest endeavour. Twenty two men of varying ages and encompassing a wide spectrum of physical beauty from youthful muscular elegance to forty something balding lumpen middle age would have been grunting and puffing in pursuit of a regulation size five football. Even on the days when they were absent the goal posts would at least stand in mute indication that here, on this uneven muddy rectangle of grass, football has been played, and come the weekend it shall be played again.

No more. The goal posts have been pulled. The only evidence they were ever there at all, two churned brown potholed semi circles which mark the areas of greatest activity: the goal mouths. I realised as I headed towards the compost and camellias that this would be Saturday from now onwards. After today the league season will have ended. Another league season, the forty fifth league season in fact since I first started paying attention to such things and my forty fourth as an Arsenal fan. And do you know what? The feeling of emptiness is precisely the same today as it was when I was six. The long barren summer stretches off into infinity and the hollow chores with which once my mother and now my wife will hope to fill my time are like ashes in my mouth.

Thank God for the FA Cup final. I was an unaffiliated football watcher for the 1969 – 70 season when this all began. I just enjoyed moving teams up and down the little slotted league ladder that came with my Score magazine. Or was it Scorcher? They eventually merged into Scorcher and Score so it’s all the same really. Anyway, when it all came to an abrupt end I had at least Chelsea and Leeds at Wembley to which I could look forward. When the game went to a replay I was ecstatic. The inevitable had been postponed for one more game, there would be more football.

Obviously being a neutral wasn’t enough of a fix for me and I spent the summer deciding who to support and, well, you win nothing for guessing how that decision went. No matter how many times you experience it, that last game feeling never leaves you. Many are of course dead rubbers. The league positions are decided, neither team has anything to which they can aspire nor from which they wish to escape. In other years the very outcome of the league title itself is decided, sometimes European football is the prize and sometimes it’s finishing above the neighbours that excites us most. The truly climactic last games in our recent history have been the title decider at Anfield in 1989 and the home game against Leicester on May 15th 2004 which sealed the unbeaten season.

There will be no such drama this afternoon. The only hint of spice in an otherwise bland footballing stew is the visit of one of football’s most reviled figures. Tony Pulis used to be a bit of a hero to me. A Bristol Rovers stalwart, he was part of the same golden generation as the mercurial Ian Holloway. Pulis then blotted his copybook by moving to Ashton Gate to manage the loathsome red half of the city. However, his tenure there was so brief that he swiftly faded from memory, only resurfacing as the Gothmog of Stoke, lieutenant of Minas Morgul leader of Orcs and all round destroyer of the beautiful game. He sent his players out to kick the opposition and kick them they did. The most famous assault was of course carried out on our own Welsh wonder and it is something of a footballing miracle that he is still with us and still one of the greatest talents in the game.

Should Aaron, Santi and Mesut be rested today to protect them from getting Pulisterised before our big game in six days time, the biggest of our season? I don’t know what Arsène thinks – I’m no more qualified to second guess the greatest mind in football than any other blogger – but personally I wouldn’t let them within a mile of a Pulis team this close to a season defining encounter. To be fair I don’t know if his West Bromwich side plays like Stoke or not. I haven’t seen much of them this season but a glance at their recent results shows them capable of beating Man United and Chelsea, drawing with Liverpool and yet getting stuffed by an execrable Queens Park Rangers side.

Their captain is none other than Darren Fletcher and that is reason enough to protect our most valuable assets. Darren actually feels much the same about his manager as I do. In a newspaper interview he is alleged to have said “From my point of view he is an infectious manager” and I must confess I’d have thought that as good a reason as any to steer well clear. He apparently went on to suggest that the rationale behind his move away from Old Trafford was all down to Arsène snapping up Danny Wellbeck so maybe his judgement isn’t so badly flawed after all.

I don’t think we should read too much into today’s game. That end of season oddness which has pervaded our recent fixtures may will cling on for another ninety minutes. I certainly hope not because I feel the players deserve some recompense for all the hard work they’ve put in for so little reward lately. Drawing two and losing one is not a fair reflection of the football they’ve produced nor the effort they’ve expended. It has however cemented third place and so far the lads have come through their labours unscathed and that’s probably the most important thing. A nice free flowing game with an avalanche of goals for the home team featuring ninety minutes from Tomáš Rosický would suit me just fine but to be honest I’ll just be glad if everyone survives and the cameraman doesn’t waste any time pointing his equipment towards the visitors technical area.

So here we are. My final paragraph warning light has come on so I suppose it’s once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. May I just say it’s been a heck of a ride. The euphoria of last May might have fizzled a bit during our difficult start but the manager never lost his nerve and the team came good. I hope we can all enjoy our afternoon’s entertainment and wrap things up nicely with our accustomed aplomb. I will return for my final match preview next weekend but as far as the league goes this is, as people are so fond of saying, it.

154 Comments

Do You Want Arsenal To Win For You Or Them ?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with this site. What  porpose does it have? I have written dozens of articles and said nothing new, original or educational. The regulars in the comments section , on the whole, know more about football and Arsenal than I do. I cant write like any of the other authors that contribute, so why bother?

Then my friends I read some comments and think “that’s why”. These people are why ! These people are what makes it worth the effort.

From ianspace2014

“My point is I would rather achieve 4th place with OUR team than win the league with an eleven of other peoples players. There is nothing wrong with the Mesuts and Alexis of this world but each player coming in must feel like an ARSENAL player dedicated to us and combining with our youth players.”

Then I read Kelly (alabamagooner)  , she had this to say.

“Finally. Someone is able to express things that Hunter{Ed. Hunter is a regular poster} makes me too mad to articulate. So, I’m going to give it another go, to try to explain to Hunter and to everyone else.

I don’t care if we never win another PL title. There. I said it. If I cared about that, I’d support Chelsea. I have no historical connection to either club, so who cares, right? Just pick Chelsea instead, right? Here’s why I don’t do that: Arsenal mean something to me. The club, and its way of doing things, MEAN something. And that something isn’t to be the biggest bullies in the league, to destroy everyone on sight in some sort of macho rutting contest. What means something to me is to see a group of men work hard to achieve something. To weather the ups and downs together. To clearly care about each other and about their leader. A leader, (I’ll remind Hunter, who to his immense credit may be AW’s biggest fan) who sets this tone as the way he wants his football team to operate. Do I want to Arsenal to win the league? Of course I do! But I want it for them. Not for me. And that’s where I differ from many.

Yes, of course Hunter you are right. There are certainly better players out there than we have. There are better players in every single position. I can’t possibly argue that point with you. But I don’t love them. Of course the pundits say Arsenal need x,y, z players. They don’t care whether we get them or not. They aren’t attached to the team. They aren’t rooting for the team we have to pull together and achieve the very best that they can. I am. That’s the emotion of sport. That’s why I care about it. I hurt for them when they lose, and rejoice for them when they win. It’s not about me. That’s why I never get angry when we lose. Only sad.

We’ll buy players in the summer. We’ll lose players in the summer. I will mourn those who leave, and embrace those who come. But you will never, ever hear me say we should ditch a player we have for a better, flashier model. That’s not the way I see things. If you do…well, ok, that’s your way. You’re a better competitor than me. It’s a good thing I don’t run the club. But I wonder if you enjoy it like I do. If one little passing move that comes off in the midst of a game where nothing is going right can make you cheer and clap your hands. If seeing players and manager smile in training after a horribly disappointing weekend makes you feel everything is ok again. Or if you just want to string them all up until they perform to your exacting standards.

There. I’ve bared my soul…and it’s 3:00 in the morning in England, so no one is even going to read it. A shout into the void.”

And that dear reader is why this site exists. Not as a vehicle for my ego. But for a place that lovers of Arsenal can come and express that love , free from the barracking of entitled fans that demand Arsenal provide them with bragging rights and buy them success and silverware.

We all have hopes and dreams for Arsenal, but when they become expectations and demands that is when we cross the line between real fans and entitled customers.

When we scream for new players, a different manager or demand different tactics, again we are leaving behind the fan aspect and turning into customers playing Football Manager.

Those that shout the loudest , know the least. Its the same in most walks of life. I find the fans that think they have the answers don’t even understand the questions.

Its very obvious that the people who thought we played badly against Swansea and Sunderland don’t understand football or sport at all. But, boy oh boy, can they SHOUT

29 Comments

Sunderland Was Not A Bad Performance !

A guest post from Double Canister.
Sunderland came and earned the point that makes them safe, Arsenal, despite numerous efforts to do more, managed to earn the point that should deliver 3rd place – leaving any chance of closing in on City for second place impossible now on the final day of the season. Wenger made a couple of changes to the team that didn’t weaken it at all, Jack gave a very lively hour of work showing us once again that he still has so much more to give to this club.
We have seen many times before teams who believe they have cracked a system on how to get out of the Emirates with at least a point; frustrate Arsenal: break up attacks, mess around on throw-ins and goal kicks, foul rotationally under the watching eye of a ref who has convinced himself the pitch always needs a slight tilting in the plucky northern underdogs favour (never ever, for the home team!) deep defending in numbers – all that sort of thing.
Sunderland did all of the above, and none very well. I can’t imagine ever seeing a team defending so deep, they were practically lining up the defensive back 6 on the goal line – which explains why some of our shots didn’t go in. Some will criticise the Arsenal team sent out for failing to crack this difficult Makem nut, but I can’t really do so – and neither should any reasonably rational Arsenal supporter. The only realistic way to counter this tactic from away teams at the emirates is to be as patient as hell and keep redoing and redoing the drills and patterns until the bus parking side cracks under the pressure, usually by conceding a penalty or a free kick.
Gibbs and Bellerin could not have had easier days out, both were always right up the top of the pitch acting as auxiliary wingers, and very rarely had to drift back to help out a very comfortable centreback pairing, such was the lack of desire by the visitors to risk leaving their own half of the pitch. When Gibbs or Bellerin had to provide protection their speed made cover for the defence quite easy to deliver. There was no way to counter attack a team who didn’t want to expose their own defensive weaknesses, they had an extra 2 or 3 men between the Arsenal player on the ball and their own overcrowded penalty box, there were no pathways in behind that could be prised opened until the arrival of a very effervescent Theo Walcott. Rosicky’s magic touch for the final 10 minutes could do it either. Perhaps if the Ox was fit something different could have been applied, of one of Arteta imperious quarterback passes over the top.
Were Santi, Ramsey, Alexis and Özil a tad jaded?  perhaps so, Old Trafford is aways a hard away match. Giroud wasn’t delivering but he was living on scraps, as as far as I could see John O’Shea was virtually wearing the same shorts as him. Arsene may be a modern manager but the joys of rotation a squad are alien to him at times, perhaps he really does think the players coming back from injury are not really as match ready as us Gooners down the pub have told ourselves? The same old patterns of disgruntlement could be heard upon leaving the Clockend last night after the game from the never-will-be-happy-ever-again-since-we-left-Highbury gang. Certainly none of the long distance shots came anywhere near the target for us either. near post runs were not being made, the best use of the effective width wasn’t being used. Some days it just doesn’t go to plan for you.
All in all a hard worked draw, plenty of opportunities were there to make it a 1-0 night to the Arsenal, none were forthcoming thanks to the luck and lately found tenacity of the opposition. By the way, by my count that’s the 5th time Arsenal have been inflicted with the presence of Mr. Anthony Taylor of South Manchester this season, a statistical anomaly. He must be pleasing his masters mightily with his performances, but he isn’t making too many friends in the Emirates stands. Some decisions were quite inexplicably given against us, and I think when he booked Ramsey for a nothing challenge the rest of the team got the message and just eased-off a little – no one wants to miss a cup final due to a mendacious PGMOL official’s whimsy. He did however equally miss Koscielny using some part of his upper arm (accidentally?) which deflected a rare Makem shot away from our goal.
From what we can see, there is a fair amount of work still to do to prepare for the cup final, but at least we can sleep easier knowing Darth Pulis can’t cause us too much anguish on the last day of the season. Arsenal had effective control of the whole game last night from minutes 1 to 93, however it does look like goal chances have dried up over the last few weeks, is there something lacking with the team like a killer bite or raw aggression? (Courtesy of Hunter’s recent comments) or is it just tiredness? I say the latter.
Is this progress over the last fee seasons, is the team and squad really moving towards a title challenge and a longer stay in the Champion’s League next season?
I really believe so, but a little bit depends on what Arsenal PLC will do during the summer, a few small adjustments might happen to the squad, more emphasis in rest and medial attention to the team will be one of the best benefits of a longer summer break from the Premier (oh do stop that crap for once and for all will you please, Skysports, BT and BBC) League. The unknowable is what our rivals will do, Man Utd. still have hundreds of millions of US taxpayers money to throw away like they did last Summer, Chelsea will look at ways of making Jose’s team even more mean with the ball, City will be desperate to be back on the glory hunting trail and whoever replaces Brendan Rodgers has a massive headache to content with at Anfield.
I reackon Arsène has the nicest job this summer.
75 Comments

Arsenal Versus Sunderland: Missing The Point

What a different Arsenal team this is from the one which faced Sunderland all those weeks ago. Months ago in fact. I don’t know if your memory stretches all the way back to October when we last played the Black Cats but I had to go and look up the game to remember it – possibly the result of so many hours of footy consumed in the intervening period, possibly the simple degenerative effects of great age, who knows? What I discovered was this starting line up

Szczesny

Gibbs

Mertesacker

Chambers

Monreal

Cazorla

Arteta

Alexis

Flamini

Oxlade-Chamberlain

Welbeck

 

and it made me realise that I have an idea of the Arsenal first team now, an idea I didn’t have for much of the last season or the one before that. Just look at that list. I only count four players who we now consider as first choice and one of those started out of position. What does this tell us? Well not a whole lot to be fair. Just that when Arsène has most of his players fit he isn’t the kind of manager to tinker and rotate for the hell of it. If you get a place in the starting line up then as long as you keep doing the right things you will keep it. In truth the comparisons between the side to which we’ve become accustomed and the one that travelled to the Stadium of Light last year tells us the story of our season.

Back then we were ravaged by injury. Players were on and off the physio’s table, swapping positions, never getting a chance to build partnerships and understandings. There were new faces trying to fit into a disrupted squad and some older faces struggling to find their best form, players were in and out like a dog in a butcher’s doorway. Once things settled down and people began to return from the knackers yard and actually remained fit for more than two games the season took on an entirely different aspect. The embattled, struggling, disparate ensemble of 2014 became the slick, mean winning machine of 2015.

Granted we’ve stumbled in the last couple of games and it would be absolutely peachy if we could get back into the swing and win our final three, that would set up next season just beautifully. As you know I missed the live match on Sunday but I managed to get to the highlights without hearing the score. Sadly some chump did announce that Man U were leading and a glance at the old Timex told me the game was well into the second half so it was pretty much ruined for me as a spectacle. Never mind, it was good to see Theo score albeit through a deflection. Would I have swapped that lucky break for one against Swansea at home? Probably not. If we had to lose against one of those two I’d rather it wasn’t the red Mancs.

By the way if you were listening to the incoherent rambling with which I fill the space in between the music during my radio show you’ll have heard the precise moment at which I remembered that we have a game tonight and I had a blog to write today.  Please accept my apologies therefore if things come across a little rushed and sleep deprived but as I get older I find it harder to function properly on anything less than twelve hours kip per day. How could I have forgotten we were playing? Well I have started to ease away from social media now that all people want to do is fantasise about breaking up our wonderful team and buying everyone else’s players. It’s boring. I can do without reading it and of course I avoid the radio and the papers for the sake of my sanity.

 As far as tonight goes my exhaustive research indicates that Laurent Koscielny’s fitness is in doubt. All I can say is I hope he gets better in time for Wembley. Such an unsung hero deserves the reward of a final, as does young Hector and judging by Arsène’s comments Debuchy’s frustrating first season looks like continuing. He definitely won’t feature tonight and so must be uncertain of playing again before the summer break. Talking of which I am for the first time in a long time looking forward to a bit of time away from the footy. Foreverheady pointed out recently that with the World Cup filling last summer this has been a marathon of football virtually unbroken since August 2013. If Santi looked a little jaded in the first half on Sunday it’s no surprise. I only have to watch him and I’m starting to feel the strain a little. Thank goodness we have the Ashes this summer, it’s just a shame the tour doesn’t start a little earlier.

This is a strange time of year isn’t it? A sort of post pre season period where odd results can and do get thrown up. Aston Villa got tonked the other day as, so I’m told, did Chelsea. There is a sense of players performing with one eye on the deck chair. Blogs are moving over to summer transfer insanity leaving actual football behind them until the autumn and the ribbons are being ironed in preparation for Wembley and the descent of the final curtain. The generously proportioned lady may be gargling the warm honey but our boys still have a job of work to do.

Sunderland certainly won’t come and lie down, they need a point from their last two games to be safe and if they don’t get it against us they have to get it at Stamford Bridge. Of course Hull may do them a favour and lose at Old Trafford but our visitors cannot be certain and so will fight every bit as hard as Swansea did. We will need to be on our game tonight and I’m confident that we will be. Surely we will have better fortune in front of goal than we did last Monday. As much as I love an exciting game I don’t want to go through another night of hammering at the door and fumbling for the key. A first half goal will suit me just fine and of course the over riding prayer is no injuries, please.

Although Sunderland find themselves in danger of going down, they have been in reasonably good nick lately. Of their last six games they’ve lost only one and are unbeaten in their previous four. The league positions can be deceptive, that’s all I’m saying, sides at the bottom can be tough to play against in the final fixtures. Which is why I don’t think we’ll see wholesale rotation tonight. Enforced changes of course but don’t expect to see a Carling Cup line up when we still need a point and are facing a determined, motivated side.

I’m sorry but there really isn’t much more to say. I could guess the starting line up (Theo and Gabriel in, Santi and Kos out) advise Arsène on tactics (score more than the opposition) and tell you next weeks winning lottery numbers (08, 14, 15, 22, 31, 33, 40 bonus ball 19) but you know and I know that all the other Arsenal blogs do that sort of thing so much better than I ever could so what would be the point?

Truth be told I expect a similar experience to that which we enjoyed last Monday evening, and if we can cap the great football with some goals then it’ll be a lot more relaxing to watch. Win tonight and we can all look forward to the visit of Pulis in our pre cup final last game jamboree on Sunday. Actually that scares me more than the thought of losing tonight. The idea of that man sending his troops out to kick our lads before such a massive game is so horrific that I really, really want the job done and dusted tonight. Perhaps then we can encase certain players in bubble wrap and leave them on the shelf on Sunday and let their understudies face West Brom. You never know I might get to see my beloved Tomáš start just one more time. That would be a treat all in itself. Anyhoo,  I’m off to put the coffee on and begin the long countdown to the match.  Hmm, ten hours to go. Maybe I can get in a little power nap between now and kick off – give me a shove if you haven’t heard from me by eight o’ clock would you?

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