Surely Arsenal are favourites to retain the FA Cup?

A great chance to return to Wembley again in 2015

Although Arsenal have tasted glory in the FA Cup, undoubtedly one of the most prestigious domestic cup competitions in world football, eleven times in their history, they may never get a better opportunity to make it twelve. The unpredictability of football has combined wonderfully with the magic of the FA Cup to produce a number of shock results that saw Chelsea and Manchester City knocked out by lower league opposition. They were joined by a number of top half Premier League teams who have fallen by the wayside, leaving Arsenal with a wonderful chance to repeat the feat of 2002 and 2003 by retaining their FA Cup crown. A home draw against Middlesbrough awaits in the Fifth Round, and while there is plenty of football left to be played in the competition, Arsenal could well retain the cup if they remain on top of their game like they have done in recent weeks.

Potential rivals

It is inevitable for any team who goes on to win the FA Cup will have to beat at least one top club along the way, but the Gunners will look at the teams left in the hat and realise there is a wonderful opportunity to win more silverware. With several bottom half Premier League teams, four Championship clubs and two representatives from League One playing in the Fifth Round next weekend, Arsenal must fancy their chances of reaching another Wembley Final in May. Manchester United and Liverpool may still be in the competition, but neither are entirely at the peak of their powers and both are drawn away whilst the Gunners are at home. Indeed Brendan Rogers team face a particularly tricky tie away at a Crystal Palace side re-vitalised under Alan Pardew and where their tilt at the Premiership efffectively ended in 2014. Continue reading

Tactical de-selection of Ozil and Walcott for North London Derby possible.

Last year’s smash and grab

It was enjoyable to watch Ozil on Sunday versus Aston Villa and to a slightly lesser degree Theo Walcott also. The German looked sharper and decisively impacted the game at key moments with his customary aplomb. Walcott also showed better signs but for me was in large part a passenger in a game in which he should have had a field day.

Ozil back to best v Villa but….

However it is indisputable that in their absence Arsenal have changed in telling ways. The pressing game has improved beyond all recognition and we have demonstrated the ability to win the ball back high up the pitch. We have also seen a sustained period in which our wide players whether deployed in a 4231 or a 4141 have been willing to work extremely hard.  For the most part this has been Ox and Alexis, with Welbeck initially and more recently Giroud as the focal point of our attack. Both have supported the full back admirably and their pace and tenacity has been evident and a feature of our play.

Willing to work as a box to box wide man in a 4?

For me Walcott has to demonstrate he can improve that aspect of his all round game if he is to feature regularly in the starting 11, certainly in games where we set up in a more compact fashion. As much as I admire Walcott I personally see no way he can feature at present in a 442 or 4141 as the player wide on the right. For those with long enough memories it was often the case between 07 and 09/10 that Eboue was preferred on the right flank to Theo for the same reasons. The change to 4231 benefited Theo as much as it did Fabregas back then and I would still see him ahead of Ox when we play that formation.  Even then however I was obvious that his lack of desire to work the flank often saw him drift central on Sunday and left Giroud working back for him which grated with me and those around me in Block 31. Continue reading

The Coquelin and Cazorla combination just works sadly for Ramsey and Wilshere

Form to dance about from Santi!
Form to dance about from Santi!

After my last piece on the confusion between our desire for a defensive midfielder and/or midfield enforcer, my friend and occasional contributor to 1ND2OU Jane Cavendish, left an extremely insightful comment. She augmented what I had been discussing which was the confusion and perhaps the distinction between a DM and a midfield enforcer. I have written frequently that with so few teams playing and old style 442 with a Bergkamp style 10 that the old school DM would ‘knobble,’ the role is far more about game reading and interception. The last piece was suggesting we needed a new DM who combined the best of the midfield physicality and game intelligence and we all know my choice for the role. Jane however set me thinking and here is what she said: Continue reading

Schneiderlin is the perfect player so beware of cheap imitations – But being big does not make you a DM

Beware of cheap imitations
Beware of cheap imitations

So we are into the second week of the January transfer window and still no concrete evidence that Arsenal are moving to address their issues. That is not to say that the club is not working hard and I am sure one of the 100 or so players the media are linking us to may arrive in the coming weeks. The question is will we strengthen in the areas that the whole of football recognise we need to reinforce? There is no question surely that we require a new central defender but for me a least there is some confusion among the fan base on the midfield requirement.

Most of you will instantly think that there is no confusion as we all know what Arsenal need is a purpose built top level defensive midfielder. I would not disagree with this and regular readers or followers of me on twitter will know I have wanted Morgan Schneiderlin for a few years. However Many of the same supporters seem to get excited by any big strong central midfielder being linked and shoehorning them into the ‘DM’ bracket. This is happening now with Sissoko in the same way it happened 12 months ago with Mo Diame and Fellaini.

Needless to say the press seriously don’t help the situation and are the ultimate shoehorners describing every big lad we are linked to as the DM we have been looking for. That is not to say such players cannot play the role if required in the same way that I am sure a fit Diaby (put that in for a bet,) could adapt and play there. I just think Arsenal are at the stage that where the next 2 big signings have to be ‘first name on the team sheet’ players in their actual positions and buying a player to then move him out of his comfort zone, purely because he has some of the attributes is not appropriate right now. Continue reading

Is Aaron Ramsey the surprise new defensive midfielder Arsenal seek?

Could this man be our new DM? Surely not!
Could this man be our new DM? Surely not!

A few years back I wrote a blog suggesting that Mikel Arteta could be our new Claude Makelele and play deep pivot, holding midfielder, DM, call it what you will. At the time the piece was seen as a bit ‘out there’ and not taken too seriously. It was written in June 2012 and in pre season ahead of 12/13 Wenger gave him the role.

My argument at the time was that the DM role, given that most teams weren’t playing a conventional second striker/10 in the Bergkamp, Zola role that the position was no longer about disruption and breaking up play and more one of anticipation and beginning our own play. I would argue that this conversion has largely been a huge success and if we are honest we only have to look at our results without Mikel there and they are worse. However despite his experienced football mind and accurate passing game, his legs, never the swiftest are 2 years older. The ill-advised tactics, in my view at least, of outrageously attacking fullbacks has left this lack of pace from our current captain exposed. I should note we have curtailed the full backs better since November.

MA8 has been superb but...
MA8 has been superb but…

I have for some time advocated Morgan Schneiderlin as his long term successor; again last March this suggestion raised a few eye brows. Whilst most are now converted to the idea of the graceful Frenchman now, having not made a strong enough move in the summer it is hard to see him being allowed to leave this month as the Saints ride high and push for Europe. This being the case with Arteta out injured we are left with 2 fundamental choices – Buy in January a player who is almost definitely going to be our first choice or make do from within the existing squad. (Third choice Kim K Cup Winner!!) Continue reading