Basking like a basking basker from Baskersville

Basking like a basking basker from Baskersville

Morning all.

Still basking? If not, why not? It’s a Monday. Sure it’s grey and rainy (at least it is here) but the warm glow that accompanies a victory like that lasts a long time. Well, at least until midweek when we’ve got another game to contend with.

In the meantime though, there’s some enjoyable back-slappery going on in the wake of the spud pummelling and at the heart of all things good on Saturday was Santi Cazorla. The little Spaniard stepped up when we needed him. It’s fair to say he found some of his early season form again but he did it in a game that really mattered, and that’s also hugely encouraging.

He’s drawn praise this morning from Jack Wilshere, who said:

He was different class. His touch, his vision is a joke. He’s a dream to play with. He never gives the ball away and he’s creative, he’s busy around the pitch,  he’s a joy to play with.

It’s great to have him in the team. A lot of people Jamie Redknapp said they didn’t know about him before, but I’ve heard of him for a few years now. He’s a great player and when you’ve got someone like that in your team, who’s going to bring you in, you just want to get out there.

I don’t think we can underestimate how much good players enjoy playing with other good players. Guys they can trust 100%, give the ball to in tight areas and know they’ll find a way to make the next pass more often than not, and players who can produce and who see the game in its entirety. Nearly 50% of all Cazorla’s passes on Saturday came in the final third of the pitch, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that such a stat occurred in a game in which we’ve scored five goals.

Interestingly, Cazorla and Wilshere traded only 11 passes between them on Saturday (compared with 34 Cazorla and Arteta), which suggests Jack was doing a lot of work in midfield – most of which seemed to entail being fouled by Sandro every couple of minutes. But he did important work in there which allowed Arteta to dictate the game far more than he did against Fulham. Once again he was the hub of the team, completing 97 of 109 passes, so it was quite funny to hear him dismissed on Match of the Day as ‘quiet’. Yes, Cazorla caught the eye but he couldn’t have done it without his compatriot.

[As a small aside regarding Match of the Day, how toe-curling were Hansen and Redknapp, especially when placed either side of the annoyingly likeable Vincent Kompany? The fawning, jokey 'banter' was just appalling and the Man City captain looked kind of embarrassed to be there. That said, Kompany referred to Arsenal as the best team City have played this season, which is interesting, and his dismissal of Twitchy's claim Sp*rs would finish above us was amusing].

Anyway, back to people who we don’t want to see shot into space with their limbs partially removed, and this time it’s Cazorla himself talking about what went down on Saturday and, in particular, his relationship with Jack Wilshere.

Jack has a quality that everyone knows about, and he is a crucial player for us. Every day, he gets better and playing with him gets easier every day, as he improves his level and finds his fitness again.

We have to be patient but he will keep on improving. I am starting to understand Jack a little bit more but that is the same with all of my team-mates. We are getting better with every game.

The part about ‘understanding’ is worth noting too. Not just from Cazorla’s point of view, but from Wilshere’s too. He’s come back into a team very different from the last one he played in. He’d never played a single minute with Arteta, obviously the new arrivals Podolski and Giroud too, and there is going to be a period of adaptation. Relationships on the pitch don’t often happen just like that, for the most part it takes time playing together and working on the training ground and over the next while, all going well, we’ll see how Jack develops as well those around him too.

I know that some will suggest the midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla lacks something physically, and that’s fair comment, I guess. But from a technical point of view it looks very, very good indeed and the more they play together the better they’ll be. There is the worry that there’s too much of the burden on Arteta who isn’t in the first flush of youth to be fair to him, but I think when Wilshere is 100% comfortable in the team and physically back to his best he can take the load off a bit.

One final point from Saturday. While everyone is talking about Theo Walcott and his contract, with the manager saying he won’t be allowed leave in January whatever happens, I’m baffled again as to why there’s such a lack of focus on Bacary Sagna’s situation. I understand why the journalists want to ask about Theo, but Sagna’s consistency and solidity are a contributory factor to Walcott’s form, not to mention how important he is for this team.

Why are we not securing one of our best players with a new deal? Why are we in a situation where he’s got just 18 months left on his contract? If there were concerns about how he’d cope after two leg breaks in one season then surely they’ve been put to one side by now. I like Carl Jenkinson, I think he’s got a very bright future, but I really hope we sort things out with Sagna and he’s not the next player to make up the shortfall in income. Come on Arsenal, sign him up. Quickly.

Right then, that’s yer lot for this Monday. Please continue your basking. Till tomorrow.

Arsenal 5-2 Sp*rs: that was fun

Arsenal 5-2 Sp*rs: that was fun

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Somewhere this morning, in a mock Tudor mansion, with monogrammed front door and gilt edged kitchen cabinets, there’s a man from Togo who doesn’t give a shit about what happened yesterday. This is because he is a footballer, and an idiot, but mostly because he’s a footballer.

Red card? Oh well, I still get paid enough to have my customised Bentley (not David) in which to drive around my entourage who tell me how awesome I am. Lost the game? Meh, there’s another one next week. Or something. I’m suspended? Hurrah, more time for parties and dancing!

But here, and in every Arsenal supporting household this morning, the people who do give a shit will be enjoying Adebayor’s superficial troubles, even if he doesn’t care himself. A former player coming back to score against us isn’t uncommon, a fact of footballing life, but a former player, who raises the ire like few before him, opening the scoring then getting himself sent off and letting us back into the game, well … it’s delightful really.

Thankfully there was no real damage done to Santi Cazorla when he went in studs-up. Howard Webb spotted the nastiness of the challenge and issued the red card, and credit to him for doing so. Then Jack Wilshere got into some pushing and shoving with the horrendous ape boy and the game turned on that moment. None of this ‘it’s more difficult to play against 10 men’ nonsense. Arsenal took Sp*rs apart.

You might speculate all you want about what would have happened if it had stayed 11 v 11, but it doesn’t matter. It didn’t stay 11 v 11. A Sp*rs team that had started brightly, had one disallowed before going ahead, and nearly went 2-0 up before Adebayor’s delicious red card, were blitzed by an Arsenal side who felt, rightly, that the momentum had changed.

1-1 : Per Mertesacker’s defending for their opener wasn’t great, in fairness, but he made up for it with his first Arsenal goal. A header from a Theo Walcott cross, and what a header. If the world ever finds itself a post-apocalyptic wasteland and fields need to be ploughed because all the oxen are dead, you’d better hope Mertesacker survives because he’s got some set of neck muscles on him. His reaction was wonderful and the emphatic finish reminded me somewhat of Sagna’s in this game last season.

2-1 : Regular readers will know I was never a fan of William Gallas. So when Lukas Podolski’s shot deflected off his heel and bobbled into the net to put us ahead I used my imagination to picture myself running onto the pitch, wearing a t-shirt of him sitting down on the Birmingham pitch, standing in front of him, wiggling my hands by my head and LOLing in his face while doing a silly dance. As it was his dejected countenance as he realised it had taken the last touch of him was sufficient.

3-1 : Players fall down too easily these days. Sometimes it’s a good idea to get up again because opponents think as soon as you’ve fallen down it’s going to be a free kick (especially when you’ve been fouled, as Cazorla was. See also, Walcott: Stamford Bridge). The little man carried on, the ref waved play on and he squared it for the HFB to sweep home another fine goal. It was great build up play and a great finish when you consider Vertonghen was trying to rip Giroud’s shirt off him (presumably to get a look at his super hot body).

4-1: Probably the goal of the game. Szczesny lumped it long, Giroud won a great header and flicked it on to Walcott who played it to Podolski. The German went down the left, got his head up, spotted Cazorla running into the area and played a perfect pass for the Spaniard to sidefoot home the goal his performance deserved. Simple, efficient, brilliant.

4-2: Cock off, ape boy.

5-2: The cream on the top of the icing on top of the cake (which is on top of another cake). Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked the ball up, ran with it, squared it to Theo Walcott and he finished past Lloris to give the scoreline a familiar and welcome look. Walcott played well and had spurned chances to get on the score-sheet earlier, so it was good to see him make 200% sure of the game.

And let’s be honest, there was some nervousness when ape boy scored. The glee was turned down a notch and if ape boy wasn’t such a glory-hunting dimwit, he could have easily squared for Defoe to make it 4-3, but he’s a glory-hunting dimwit and Jack Wilshere doesn’t like him and if Jack doesn’t like him that’s good enough for me.

But after that Arsenal controlled it fully. Sensible football, keeping possession for long periods and running down the clock well. Sp*rs were beaten, we knew they beaten, everybody knew they were beaten. Apart from their manager who was clearly watching the match in a different universe because according to him they controlled the game from the first minute to the last. As Arsene Wenger said afterwards:

If our opponents are in control from the first to the last minutes and we win 5-2, then I don’t mind too much.

I hear ya. And look, it’s normal after a game to analyse and to look at the good and the bad. To highlight what we did well and not so well, but not today. Which isn’t to say all our problems have been solved and everything in the garden is rosy, but this morning it doesn’t matter.

Football is supposed to be enjoyable. It’s a roller-coaster of emotion, I know, but some days it’s just not necessary to pore over the minutiae and pick at the bones of a game and a performance. There’s only one thing that matters and that is the fact that we beat Sp*rs, stuck 5 past them, Adebayor got sent off, William Gallas is sad, ape boy got pushed around by wee Jack, Santi Cazorla was brilliant, HFB is scoring goals like a strikerly striker from strikertown USA and the list goes on. Which is a number of things that matter but they’re all just part of the one big thing that matters the most.

If you can’t get off on that this morning then maybe you need to think about spending on your time on something that would be more enjoyable to you. Like self-harm or making Calypso style Phil Collins cover albums.

Arsenal 5. Sp*rs 2. Love it.

Arsenal v Sp*rs – live blog

Arsenal v Sp*rs – live blog

Join us today for live blogging of Arsenal v Sp*rs in the Premier League, kick off 3pm.

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Sp*rs preview: what Bobby Pires said

Sp*rs preview: what Bobby Pires said

So after an interminable week of internationals and other dullery it all kicks off again with a bang this morning.

The North London derby has thrown up some … er … interesting games in the recent past. Trying to predict what might happen today is as difficult as throwing a handful of coins and getting heads and tails right on all of them. What could happen? Anything, that’s what. And that’s because of us, it’s because of them, it’s because of this game, but mostly it’s down to us.

We are a team that is as capable of a great win as we are of a head-scratching defeat and the manager today will be looking for his team to be a bit more solid than they were against Fulham. It looks as if the players having tests have all come through them, and that should mean a return between the sticks for Wojciech Szczesny. Vito Mannone has had a good run in the team but despite that has not done enough to convince anyone he’s the man for the job on a long-term basis, so it’s good to get the Pole back in the goal.

I suspect we’ll see this team: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud

Which, on paper, is about as strong as we get minus a natural left back, but in terms of who we have available it certainly is. And it’s a team good enough to win this game, provided we cut out the silly stuff. That, for me, is the main worry today. We know Sp*rs have players who can hurt us, if we let them, but it’s our tendency to self-harm that’s the bigger concern.

In a game like today the players need to be switched on fully from the start. No goalkeeping blunders, no defensive errors, everyone working hard to ensure that the team maintains shape when we don’t have the ball and, of course, to get it back. The old cliche about form going out the window for a derby game often rings true. And in some ways that might be a good thing for an Arsenal side whose form hasn’t been stellar in recent weeks. Captain Thomas Vermaelen says:

This isn’t a normal game – it’s a special one. We need to get three points on the board, but I think it would give both the fans and the team a massive boost if we won.

While a man who loved a goal or two against Sp*rs, Robert Pires, sums it up perfectly:

It’s always a tough game with a cracking atmosphere. But above all it’s a match you can’t afford to lose, plain and simple.

And that should be the starting point for today, the minimum requirement. While it’s clear we’ll have higher ambitions than that, and we have the players to hurt them at the attacking end of the pitch, it’s got to be built on a solid defensive platform. I’m sure they’ll have looked at our left hand side, seen how vulnerable we are there, and will look to try and exploit that again today. Which means we need to tighten up. Not just the left back, not just Podolski who has to provide some cover, but the whole team who can make it difficult for Sp*rs to do what they want.

As discussed on the Arsecast yesterday, opponents will always think they’ve got a chance with Arsenal. Going two goals down doesn’t mean game over the way it used to, but I thought Gunnerblog made a good point. Sometimes we talk of a striker needing a goal to go in off his arse to break a lean spell, perhaps we need a dodgy clean sheet to instill some kind of belief again. I think we’d all prefer if it were an accomplished defensive performance, but beggars, choosers and all that.

Whatever happens at the back though, I think we’ve got enough from an attacking point of view to win this game. Jack Wilshere’s return in midfield adds some bite and drive, not to mention quality on the ball, and I’m hopeful that his presence will result in more from Arteta and Cazorla who have struggled a bit in recent games. As the link in midfield between the two he’s got the vision and ability to make more happen than others whose displays haven’t really been good enough lately.

Cazorla, in particular, needs to rediscover his early season form, and although I suspect he’ll be well marshalled throughout he’s good enough to impose himself on the game. His goal against United is forgotten because of the result and the drama that followed but it ought not to be overlooked when assessing recent form. Podolski has a goal and an assist in his last two games, Olivier Giroud is really finding some form (6 goals in his last 8 games), while Theo Walcott, although still confusing and frustrating, it’s a statistical wet dream this season.

So we have what it takes to take three points today, from a footballing perspective. It requires improvement but that’s not an impossible task by any means. The players need to remember that they’re in the famous red and white, they need to give everything they’ve got. When legs and lungs are burning, giving that little bit extra could be the difference between winning and losing. Margins are that tight.

Desire, heart, spirit, character, will to win, all those things sound cliched but they’ll be important today. Stand up and be counted, give your all, play for the shirt. Make sure you don’t lack a little bit the sharpness and, for fucks sake, make sure the handbrake, the pesky, irritating, annoying, pain in the arse, handbrake is off. This is the Arsenal you’re playing for, at home, against them. Nothing less than everything is acceptable. Give that and we win.

Come. On. You. Reds.

There’ll be full North London derby live blog coverage, starting around midday. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back shortly for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

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Right, time for breakfast, clear the head, walk the dog, then beat that lot. I think that’s only reasonable.

Returns, travel + Arsecast 255

Returns, travel + Arsecast 255

Right then, we can start looking ahead to tomorrow’s game which, because of the early kick off, is just a little over 24 hours away.

There’s some early team news, some of it promising, some of it not so much but not that unexpected really. It was slightly worrying to read Arsene Wenger refer to Kieran Gibbs as ‘long-term’, in the same breath as lifers like Diaby and Rosicky, but I’m hoping that he just means he’s been out for a while already and isn’t a one/two week knock like some of the others.

There are some fitness tests due to go down today and the participation of Wojciech Szczesny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna are dependent on the results of those. Obviously it’d be better if all of them were fit and able to take part, particularly the goalkeeper who really needs to get back into the side and to establish himself now.

The manager also has to assess the players who have been away and will have been arriving back at various stages yesterday. There was spotlight this week on Santi Cazorla who travelled a long way with Spain but didn’t play in the end. Arsene says:

I believe he didn’t need games. He was overloaded with games so on that front I was happy that he got a little breather.

It is not a complete breather because 20 hours travelling is of course not what we want. It’s the advantage and the disadvantage of being called up in a squad. At least he didn’t get injured and hopefully will recover before Saturday.

Of course the travel is not ideal but, you know, it’s just travel. As Tim Stillman pointed out a couple of weeks ago Neymar played for Brazil in Japan on a Tuesday and returned to play in Brazil the very next day. And probably scored 4 goals, each of which was more elaborate and physically demanding than the last. Then he flew to the South Pole to do a Nike event before playing that very same day in Siberia against a team of robots. On his own. And he won.

At the end of the day Santi’s had a week off, had a little jaunt to Central America with his mates from back home and he ought to be in tip-top shape for tomorrow’s game. It’d be the perfect stage for him to rediscover some of his early season sparkle too. I have no fears that the new boys won’t know what this game means, not just from a footballing point of view, but from the fan’s.

Mikel Arteta can brief Cazorla on how intense the derby games are in England, Mertesacker will have a chat with Podolski while Sagna and Koscielny can tell Giroud all about it. And one of the other things we’ll have tomorrow, that perhaps we’ve been lacking a little bit in seasons past, are guys like Wilshere and Jenkinson in the team/squad and they know as well as anyone what this game means.

And without wanting to heap any pressure on him I think Jack could be the difference tomorrow. No doubt Sp*rs will have looked at recent games and seen that when Arteta is put under pressure, and not allowed as much time to build from the back, that Arsenal struggle a little bit, so if Jack is there to ease that burden then I think it’ll be a positive thing for us. He likes being on the ball, plus he’s got that touch of creativity/forward thinking which can bring others into play more quickly, thus finding more space and time and it should improve us from an attacking point of view.

Of course the attacking side of our is important but more will depend on how we fare at the back. Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t been terribly convincing in his performances at left back but perhaps with Wojciech Szczesny back we might find the spine of our team improved somewhat. Anyway, we’ll hear more from Arsene Wenger after his press conference this morning and we can look ahead to this game in a more in-depth fashion tomorrow.

Which doesn’t leave us a lot more to talk about today but that’s entirely the fault of internationals, politicians and people who can’t keep their noses out of other people’s business. Like the man yesterday who, having witnessed me kicking leaves up in the air for the dog to catch when we were out walking, stopped to chastise me for littering. Seriously.

“They are leaves,” I said.

“They were all piled neatly beside the wall and now they are all over the footpath,” he replied.

“Talk to the fucking trees, mister,” I said. People, eh?

Anyway, onto this week’s Arsecast and joining me to discuss Fulham, the fall-out, the manager, and this weekend’s North London derby are Arse2Mouse and Gunnerblog. How do we fix our defensive issues? What would victory mean for this team and for the boss? Is it going to be another mental derby? Why is an Arsenal game never over? All of those questions are posed and I’m pretty sure we don’t know the answer to any of them but sure have a listen anyway.

Also, there’s your chance to win a pair of stylish slipper socks from our friends at Savile Rogue and the winner of last week’s scarf competition. And remember, you can get 10% off any order from Savile Rogue by using the code ARSEBLOG12 at checkout.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 25mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

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We’ll have all the news as it breaks on Arseblog News, back here tomorrow with a look ahead to the Sp*rs game.

Till then.