Morning all, blizzards and ice safely negotiated on the return to dear old Blighty; it’s safe to say that unlike last week, sitting outside a bar at 11pm in a polo shirt will now only happen if there it is covered by a jumper, coat and accompanied by gloves and suitable head attire. So, Stan, got a spare syrup?
It’s always a bit disorientating writing the first blog once jet lag has been unceremoniously dumped from the system, almost like a tribute act has taken over. Which by coincidence ties in with this morning’s playlist, Joe Strummer’s Eyes, The Clash through the ears of other bands. You can find it here or in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox. Its’ older siblings are on the page of the same name.
So to today’s game, which is after all the reason we are here. It’s as you were in the Premier League; no surprises in yesterday’s results with the teams above and around us achieving the expected results. Only Southampton remain to take the field and I expect their home encounter to go with form. Arsenal need to do the same; only three points will do against a struggling Aston Villa side.
Despite the Premier League’s best intentions by appointing Antony Taylor to officiate, it will be major shock if there is a repeat of last season’s match. Villa are struggling in front of goal and have only scored in the FA Cup since the weekend before Christmas. It’s a long run and one that Arsenal seem well-placed to continue.
The win at Brighton was a useful match for Arsène. Walcott and Özil made scoring returns to the side and they are the two who I think will retain their places, the latter due more to Alexis’ hamstring twang than anything else. It’s the moment Wenger must have thought may never happen; injuries are not irrelevant but are no longer dictating his choices. It’s down to form, pure and simple.
Some players, and Alexis is a prime example, will drop out of the side occasionally and return straightaway when fit, but others – and I think this applies to pretty much the rest of the squad – are dependent upon others losing form. It might be a long wait and something which those who have been around the club for a long time will be unfamiliar with.
For the likes of Gibbs and Szczesny, it’s not about how well they played when given the opportunity but whether Monreal or Ospina have done anything to warrant losing their places in the side. The answer, in my view, is no, they haven’t.
Indeed, I would suggest that Monreal has made a case for being considered the first-choice left back whilst Ospina can point to consecutive clean sheets as his positive contribution to the side. Wojciech has time to sit on the bench to contemplate his misdemeanours, accompanied by a port and mild cigar, the aroma of which might be more palatable for the manager.
Further forward, we are on the cusp of a tantalising spell. Put Alexis into the equation and we certainly have the creativity to provide the chances and with Giroud and Walcott accompanying the Chilean – the emphasis remains on Sanchez as the star turn – the finishing ability to turn chances into goals.
I expect the line-up will be:
With upcoming fixtures across two competitions, Arsenal need the forwards to deliver. Arsène spoke last week of the opportunities and of the fight for the top four places. Southampton continue to defy expectations and remain in the Champions League spots; everyone sits and waits for the fall but it has yet to arrive. Perhaps that is the wrong place to be looking for the team to fall away.
Manchester United have, to me, the trickiest run-in of the challengers – it’s daft to think anyone other than Chelsea or City will finish in the top two – for the remaining Champions League places but it requires Arsenal to take maximum points or as many as possible and hope that total is more than those around them.
The first half has put them on the back foot but a run of one Premier League defeat in seven – four consecutive wins in all competitions – has shifted the momentum. Making it five in a row ahead of the North London Derby next weekend is crucial.
And Arsenal’s biggest enemy is complacency; if the players could leave that to us, everyone will probably be well-satisfied. Three points Gentlemen, as ever, remains this afternoon’s mantra.
From The Vaults
A far from routine win for an off-key Arsenal in their January 1952 win over today’s opponents, most notable for a consideration that has long disappeared from the professional game. Arsenal went into the match on the back of a 1 – 4 reverse at Roker Park which had cost them top spot. Villa meanwhile had lost just one of the last nine; a shame from their point of view that five had been drawn, dropped points explaining their mid-table position at kick-0ff.
I’m not sure how his manager reacted to Stan Lynn’s admission that he put his opponents welfare first but I should imagine that were Villa’s right back to repeat those actions today, he would at best, be on the wrong end of a rocket.
And the opprobrium of today’s massed ranks of pundits with few picking up on his ethos without a condescending smirk and joke about how he won’t be doing that again.