She wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May

15 May

2005: Viera sprints forward and slots the ball high and past a diving Carrol from the penalty spot. Arsenal have beaten Manchester United on penalties and as the tall Frenchman veers away to celebrate with his teammates, I’m not sure that any of the fans in the stadium that day believed it would be 9 years before  such elation could be felt again. Indeed that Wembley would be the name for an altogether different stadium. 

Seems only fitting then doesn’t it to bookmark the barren spell with another FA Cup final? A chance to silence the critics so to speak, but more importantly, a chance for Wenger to show that his eye-catching brand of football can still hold firm in the modern game. There’s no doubting it’s a game with a lot at stake, but perhaps none more so than for the manager who must be desperate to get this over-sized gorilla off his back and see out the remainder of his time at Arsenal on a high. 

So, as it’s Arsenal’s biggest game in years, we couldn’t just take it lightly, so for this preview we’ve drafted in a hardcore Hull fan to give us the inside track on Saturday’s opponents. The usual rabble are also here to discuss our path to the FA Cup and chances of silverware this weekend. As the nerves are kicking in, hopefully this will provide some light distraction…

The stage is set!

The stage is set!

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MrMckee

Where to start? Well, 5 weeks after that 5-3 semi-final blockbuster, the ‘Tigers’ (Hull City AFC) will once again descend their orange army on London in a bid to win the FA Cup…what an impossible thought.

 History will tell you Hull City enjoy a Wembley day out. A Dean Windass volley in the Championship Play-Off Final in 2008, sending Hull to the Premiership for the first time in its (then) 104-year history, will be fresh in the fans memories and will put the Tigers in a buoyant mood. It’s the time old cliché, but what’s there to lose?

Taxi-For-Maxi

First things first, this is no banker for Arsenal. Let’s just take a moment to remember one Obafemi Martins – not nice granted, but pin that scoreline up on the wall pre match and remind this team it’s a job far from done.

The league win in Hull a couple of weeks ago provides a nice psychological advantage sure, but as we know it all goes out the window for a Cup final. 

A moment to forget and a moment to motivate this time around!

A moment to forget but a moment to draw focus this time around!

 Team-Player-Tom

Too right. The tigers shouldn’t be underestimated; the Birmingham fiasco still stands strong in the memory and a similar slip up (or cock-up at the back!) would be devastating.

The Premier League game against Hull showed that an on song Arsenal will always be too strong for the Tigers, who produced more of a whimper than a roar at the KC. What’s more, the returning Ramsey and Ozil have lifted the squad in recent weeks and with their influence and intricate football we should be much better placed to create chances. This is a team desperate for a trophy after limping out of the title race (quite literally) and if they each learn their lines properly the script is set for a scintillating Saturday. 

Let's hope neither will be saying bye on the final whistle!

Let’s hope neither will be saying bye on the final whistle!

Nick-A-Win

Don’t remind me! It was a mad March for Arsenal when the wheels came off with tough away games and injuries to key players, a run that even sent Wenger tumbling at the train station! When push came to shove in the big games we lacked tactical nous and a bit of extra quality in the final third. That’s one for Wenger to mull over in the next few months as you feel some quality signings in the right areas and we are not far away from really challenging at the top!  Back to the cup final though and if we were to lose it would be au revoir for Mr Wenger! Unfortunately that’s the precarious nature of his position at the moment. Football’s a fickle business. 

Maybe if we had bought a striker last summer after months of trying to get that ‘Villa’ in Spain or the £40 million and £1 Luis Suarez, to then losing out on Higuain, who knows we might have had a say in the title race! Giroud has been good at what he has done this season, scoring on and off the pitch, but he isn’t world class for me! 

Missing In Action

Missing In Action

Team-Player-Tom

There is no doubt this team has been sucker punched by a series of injuries; the sick bay seems to have been chock-a-block since Christmas, and it is hard to envisage any squad surviving at the top after losing players like Ramsey, Ozil and Walcott. With that in mind, and accounting for the anxiety that accompanied the season opener, fourth spot with ten points daylight from Tottenham doesn’t seem the worst result, right?

Hull face somewhat of a crisis themselves this week with key players cup tied, so the proverbial boot is on the other foot. In fact, neither Long or Jelavíc will be lacing up this weekend. 

Mr Mckee

An obvious blow to Hull is their 2 cup-tied January signings which will leave the City attack a little lacking, so Bruce will almost certainly be looking to keep the game as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm! One to watch out for is Sone Aluko whose pace could surprise a few of the Arsenal boys and result in some dangerous free-kicks on the edge of the area. Tom Huddlestone will be only too happy to oblige against his old nemesis if given the chance of converting one! 

 As Bruce says, “The pressure will be on Arsenal because they have not won anything for a while.”

So Bruce is playing it down. Hull is only a ’little horse’, more of a My Little Pony if truth be told, but we did see how dangerous another little horse was this season.

If you believe in statistics, of the 8 games played against the top 4 this season, Hull have lost 7, conceded 16 goals, and scored just 3, all coming in an impressive 3-1 win against Liverpool.  So it’s decided then. The impossible can’t happen…can it?

 Team-Player-Tom

Victory in the cup for Arsenal will mark a significant milestone for the club, laying down a solid foundation for future silverware and finally putting to bed the (mostly sub par) jokes about the state of the team trophy room. 

A return to the glory days perhaps?

A return to the glory days perhaps?

Touchline Tom

It’s around this time that those fans who have stumped up in the thousands for tickets to the game must really be hoping they get to see Arsenal lift a trophy. I’m a little more optimistic and think this could be the start of a new era for the boys, so my money will be spent on beers and throat sweets this time around. 

I can’t say I have a problem with Hull as a team and I certainly think this game will throw up the usual drama that accompanies such occasions. Wenger has looked close to cracking numerous times, but much like the team this season, has addressed issues and kicked on again. I wonder what a trophy would do for his confidence and not just the players on the field? Lessons must have been learnt and come Saturday at 17.30pm (not an early kick-off thank goodness!) we need to put in a performance akin to those first 20 minutes against Bayern Munich at home. We can mix it with the best, but now it’s time to be the best and win a trophy, 9 years on… 

Mr Mckee

In truth, realistic Hull fans will settle for cheesy chips, a nice cuppa and a fun day out, dreaming of next season’s Europa League away trips to far-flung corners of Europe with the inevitable booze-up, missed flight and Friday morning hung-over phone call to the boss blaming Dave for whole thing. But when the day comes and the players walk out past that famous trophy/the oldest football cup in the world, even the most realistic Tigers fans will sense a chance of glory.

Hull’s official slogan  –  Dare to Dream 

Nick-A-Win

Arsenal won’t have a better chance of lifting that all elusive trophy and ending the 9 year wait for silverware! It’s going to be a great day and hopefully an even better night celebrating the win! Hull City will of course be up for it on the day but I feel Wenger and his band of merry men will tame the Tigers under the Wembley arch! With key players returning and with Ramsey carrying on from where he left off before his injury you just feel it’s going to be our day! Win the FA cup and hopefully this will inspire us onto winning more trophies next season! COYG!!!

More of the same please! Minus the penalty shoot out..

More of the same please! Minus the penalty shoot out..

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Get involved in the pre-match chat and tweet us @backpagebanter

So merry ‘cross the Mersey as Arsenal look to stay top?

7 Feb

The next run of fixtures is a bit like that first day back at school after the summer. We knew it was coming, it was somewhere there in the back of our minds while we enjoyed a few blissful weeks on top of the world and yet, it was just ever-so-tempting to ignore the reality until the last day.

Well today is that day and tomorrow the real work begins for this Arsenal team. Wenger chose not to replace any of the current crop’s school clothing in January and has even prepared a few kids for their first year in the big League along the way, but regardless of any of of that, the next run of games will reveal a lot about a team that has remained perennial underdogs. Few think we will win the League, despite our record suggesting otherwise! But I really believe that will help us in the next few games. I watched the City v Chelsea match, albeit in Fulham which made me kind of want Chelsea to slip up, but the sheer expectation on City to roll over their opponents seemed to hinder them. It’s an expectation that isn’t on Arsenal. We haven’t spent millions on chopping and changing a team until it (kind of) works. Nor have we belied the beliefs of the club in the face of such spending. We have tightened at the back and relied on the quality of a team in general. They say the best team wins the League and, you know what, I think we might just have found that.

Thoughts lads?

He who laughs last...

He who laughs last…

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Nick-A-Win

Arsenal enter the decisive part of their season with games coming thicker and faster than the custard we used to get served at school (thanks for reminding me about school Tom!).

It’s safe to say we have ground out the results in the last couple of weeks, but all that matters is the two-point cushion that we have afforded ourselves at the top of the Premier League. It’s easy to criticise recent performances, however I can’t help but feel that in the past we wouldn’t have taken any points from those games. A big reason behind bucking that trend has been the back five. With Per and Kos at the back I genuinely back them to win almost every 50/50. On the odd occasion when a mistake is made… well, the goalkeeper and full backs have been on hand to cover.

People talk a lot about partnerships – SAS at Liverpool, Fernandinho and Toure at City (FAT) – but I don’t think any of these come close to Arsenal’s centre back pairing (PAK/LAP… Ok, it doesn’t work as a letter anagram but still!). In terms of understanding of each other’s game, their relationship on field is second to none.

The next test will be going on to win the big games, backed by that defensive stability and BOY have we got a lot of them coming up. Liverpool have only won one of the last 13 games against Arsenal and none of the last six at Anfield. The only team to stop SAS in the 11 games they have played this season? Arsenal.

 Team-Player-Tom

Returning to the Palace game and credit has to be given to them. They have become a much more stable outfit under Pulis. They were organised, disciplined and the return of Chamakh gave a real threat up top. Despite sticking with that woeful haircut, Marouane the Moroccan has been resurgent this campaign and could just keep the Eagles flying in the top flight come May. In a season that has consistently seen shock results, the Arsenal showed a maturity and patience to ensure that this one was a routine win. A big three points with Chelsea drawing with West Ham.

The Ox’s towering performance in that very game proved he has the ability to command that central spot. Despite a lengthy layoff, he showed strength, vision and tenacity all wrapped up in a very well spoken post-match interview. He was joined in a magical midfield with Mesut, Mikel and a scintillating Santi who has continued a superb spell of games. The sparkling Spaniard has shown the form that endeared him to the Emirates faithful when he first made the move from Malaga. His dribbling has been straight out of the top drawer and his little lift to find Chambo was electric. With Wilshere on the mend and Gnabry and Rosicky showing an appetite for action, Arsene will have some selection headaches over the next run of games.

Player of the month!

Player of the month!

Taxi-For-Maxi

You  have to say Chelsea’s perfect away display on Monday somewhat atoned for the points dropped against the Hammers and the Premiership title race is ever so perfectly poised with 14 games to go and 2 points separating the realistic challengers (sorry United fans, it really is game over now). The Gooners have remained top for the majority of the season, but come 6pm on Sunday you’ll have done very well if that is maintained.

 Team-Player-Tom

Liverpool will have a point to prove after an unsatisfactory point against West Brom. There is no denying they have two superb strikers in Suarez and Sturridge, but Arsenal will look to their dominant display in the reverse fixture as a source of encouragement on Saturday. Three points on the road would do wonders for confidence heading into the three tough home tests that follow.

Nick-A-Win

Midfield is an area we can and should dominate, with Liverpool lacking a natural defensive midfielder after Lucas’ injury. It’s a shame there’s no Ramsey tomorrow because he stole the show in the reverse fixture at the Emirates. Hat tricks have been a popular occurrence in these games with 5 hat tricks scored in this fixture, the most trebles in any fixture in premier league history. What a day it would be for big Olly Giroud to bag one this weekend after Wenger decided in his wisdom against bringing in a striker. Still, at least he thought of the medical team and is keeping them busy with our new Spineless Swede. There are always goals in this fixture so expect plenty this weekend, but it’s the kind of game we need to go and win and make a statement to the rest of the League. 

Old and new to battle it out

Old and new to battle it out

Taxi-For-Maxi

Wenger has to do a job very much akin to Mourinho at the Etihad. Suffocate the goalscoring threat before it has a chance to do the damage. That means getting right in the faces of Coutinho, Gerrard and Suarez before they even get a sniff in the penalty area. Something the missing Flamini might have relished.

This could be exactly the sort of fixture that brings out the best in Arsenal. Liverpool will be under pressure to make the running and if Arsenal can weather the inevitable, and proverbial, storm whilst counter attacking as swiftly as they can do, the game should open up nicely for the creative names to make their mark on the game. Mesut is surely due a big game no? Could this be just the ticket for him? Let’s hope so.

A very difficult game on paper where normally you’d take a point but given the circumstances and the ‘must win’ nature of every game there’s no reason why, if set up correctly, Arsenal can’t go and produce one of those ‘perfect away performances’. Step up Monsieur Wenger.

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Monday Night Under The Lights

12 Jan

I think it’s fair to say Arsenal will approach this game in the right mindset, only too aware of how capable Villa’s faster players (Benteke, Agbonlahor, Delph) are of causing damage. Ironically little time has been spent looking back at the opening fixture of the season which saw Arsenal convincingly beaten. I suppose the arrival of Germany’s best player (as voted for by zee Germans) and the team storming their way to top of the League has somewhat rendered that game irrelevant. However, tomorrow night is not the time to revisit a performance that saw us lose 3-1 to the Midlands outfit. As we get together on the backpagebanter sofa this evening, City have just beaten Newcastle meaning both they and Chelsea now sit above us in the League. Gauntlet laid? Time to respond…

2 big injuries in a season leaves little to smile about

2 big injuries in a season leaves little to smile about

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Nick-A-Win

A happy Sunday evening to you all and after a short time away in the wilderness a lot has happened since we last all gathered on the sofa. Santi Clause Cazorla delivered, our North London rivals were spanked, Lord Bendtner came to the rescue (and then needed rescuing) and Theo waved us all goodbye for the remainder of the season. Somewhere in amongst all that we remained top of the league, have entered the January “lack of” transfer window and been given a favourable home tie to Coventry in the FA Cup.

Speaking quickly though about Walcott’s injury and it’s hard to look it any other way than as a massive blow. The only silver lining being that we have already managed without him for much of the season. 

Team-Player-Tom

Theo has sparkled since returning to the roster and his injury is a blow across the Arsenals ranks, especially at the Emirates where teams have a tendency to play two tight banks of four leaving little room for the tika taka that flows on the road. His pace and penetration have been game changing in his short spell back in the side and we can only hope he comes back stronger soon!

His absence will however give an opportunity to a couple other kids looking to emulate Walcott’s success as a pace man. The challenge has been laid down to Chamberlain and Gnabry, both of whom while freakishly similar in stature, have showed genuine promise and now look set to get some serious game time to unleash their potential. The Ox has taken some criticism over consistency and could really benefit from a warm reception as he returns from injury. He has every attribute needed to develop into an Arsenal hero with pace, strength and power all centred behind a good football mind and I’m excited to watch his progression. Likewise anyone who follows the Arsenal next-gen squad will be all too aware of Serge’s fantastic talent and with rumours of Dortmund circling it would be nice to see him get some more game time. 

backpagebanter

Unleash the OX!!!

Taxi-For-Maxi

 The Ox’s return is very timely indeed and even without a January signing you are still nicely equipped providing you get lucky with injuries and suspensions. Adding some depth to the squad will certainly help though around March/April time when the City steamroller will no doubt be in full flow. They’ll keep winning, and you are maybe just one big signing away from doing the same thing.

Nick-A-Win

We need a striker with pace and an eye for goal to give us that strength in-depth and extra quality to really push on in the second half of the season. The transfer rumour mill is in full flow and all I can say is don’t board a plane as a professional footballer during this time. Even if you are just visiting your gran! Whether Wenger will make his move for a striker remains to be seen.

So, moving onto something we do know is happening: Monday night’s game at Villa. I have to say the weekend has been slightly less enjoyable without Arsenal. I know I’ve personally seen more daylight as a result, something that cannot be said at the top of the Premier League table with all our rivals winning! I still fancy us to regain top spot although with Villa as one of the many teams around the 20-point mark, they will be giving everything playing at home. That said, I’m going for a comfortable 3-0 win for the Gunners as Giroud returns to the team and possibly an even bigger goalscorer in Aaron Ramsey. 

Team-Player Tom

Monday Night Football always ensures the beers keep flowing past the weekend and Arsenal have an opportunity to consolidate against an inconsistent Villa outfit. Returning defenders for them will be massive, while the physio room at the Emirates is starting to fill up at an alarming rate. With no meaningful transfer noise it is essential that we don’t lose any more personnel over the next few fixtures. The returning Ramsey will look to rejuvenate the midfield and there is no doubt that his tenacity will be 100% even if he’s not fully up to pace.

If Draxler does indeed make the move to the Grove (some speculation you don’t want to ignore) it would be tantalising to watch them link up with Ozil and Wilshere as one of the most dazzling young midfield units ever assembled.

Taxi-For-Maxi

The opening day game of the season seems a lifetime ago now doesn’t it? Could even the most optimistic Gooner have expected what was to follow after defeat against Villa? In reality, no they couldn’t!

The Gunners just simply have to keep on winning now with a two-pronged offensive from City’s offside specialists and Chelsea’s defensive machine.

Aston Villa are an incredibly unpredictable side, having suffered at the hands of Sheffield United last weekend and Arsenal should be taking this to the home side. Arsenal’s record at Villa Park in recent history is as good as it gets with a 14 match unbeaten run currently on the spin, their last defeat at Villa Park was back in the 98/98 season! Since then Villa’s only successes have come at Arsenal bizarrely. Let’s hope for none of that come tomorrow evening.

Time to step up after a winter break

Time to step up after a winter break

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Arsenal look to blow Chelsea away and give Mourinho the Xmas blues!

23 Dec

It’s Monday, it’s nearly Christmas and AVB has already been sacked. Can only mean one thing right? Time for the boys in red and white to go out there and knock the stuffing out of Chelsea, regain top spot and give us all a reason to enjoy the sherry and laugh at the Spuds! Games don’t come bigger than this SO shelter from that wind, light the fire and join us on the sofa as we preview this Christmas cracker of a fixture!

Let's hope for Superheroes tonight!

Let’s hope for Superheroes tonight!

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Team-Player Tom

After months of glory, the Arsenal find themselves batting on a somewhat sticky wicket for the first time since defeat to Villa in the season opener. Successive defeats in Naples and Manchester have slightly rocked confidence around the Emirates – not ideal with another blockbuster looming tonight. However, I find myself questioning if this is all a bit of an overreaction – if we should take a step back to assess where we are before going gun ho’ on the crisis talks.

I am all for ambition, the fourth place trophy Arsenal have been gunning for in recent years has always seemed too low to set the sights for a team and manager with such pedigree. However, it is worth remembering what we have come from and the realistic targets that we should look to achieve this season before opening fire on the team for amassing just one point from the last three games. Qualification from the ‘group of death’ looked unlikely at the Champions League draw and the tinge of disappointment that accompanied the second place finish, should serve as testament to just what a season we’ve been having so far. Likewise, although the six goals at City were tough to take we can still go back to the top of the table with a win against Chelsea, a feat even the most staunch optimist would have been unlikely to foresee in September.

Nick-A-Win

I also think we can take some positives from the game against City. The fact we scored 3 at the Etihad and arguably should have had two more, shows that even tired legs can still create enough to win us games. With Chelsea’s indifferent form and a shaky defence Arsenal might just nick this one boys! Bear in mind Chelsea’s strike force are nothing in comparison to City’s, it’s shaping up to be a thrilling game as neither side dares to lose with the famous omen of being top at Xmas looming. 

Fringe players with plenty to prove!

Fringe players with plenty to prove!

Taxi-For-Maxi

 Holding the league summit going into Christmas is a massive psychological boost. The assignment at the Etihad was an uphill battle from the start. A team firing on all cylinders, willing to make a statement of intent and they duly stepped up with a display as clinical as you’ll see this season. This time round it’s Arsenals turn to make that statement being the home side and what better way to get over the City game than to defeat Chelsea. I do feel this will be a more cagey encounter with Chelsea coming to frustrate the free-flowing midfield Arsenal possess and I believe a score draw is most likely with 1-1 my prediction – a result that probably benefits Chelsea far more than Arsenal. Yet with all the other teams winning over the weekend, you feel a win for Arsenal has become far more important. 

Touchline Tom

Last week City proved that home form is so important to a shot at the title and to be honest post ‘Villa-gate’ Arsenal boast a similar record at home, one that will only increase with victory over Chelsea. I think we have all seen how significant confidence can be in football. Take Ramsey this season for example, or United’s failure to gain any real kind of momentum so far. Even Chelsea’s back-four look short of confidence when protecting a lead. It’s hard to say quite what a win tonight would do for Arsenal – the chance to overcome a manager who has proven a thorn in our side on too many occasions, beating one of the big boys and returning to the top of the League. For that reason, I actually believe this game could not have come at a better time for us. I just hope the lads understand the significance of a win (of that extra bit of confidence) with a tough footballing schedule lying in wait. 

Nick-A-Win

I agree about being a good time to play the Blues. Some of Chelsea’s players don’t know whether they’re coming or going. Ashley Cole had made up his mind though after Chelsea’s Xmas bash was cancelled and he headed to gate crash Arsenal’s, which has to be some sort of Xmas joke! Mourinho has inherited a different team with a different style and he certainly doesn’t know his best 11 yet. From the City game we may have lost Koscielny, although there are suggestions that he might have recovered in time. We also welcome back Podolski too who will be a great option to have off the bench if needed. We’ve missed him in some games what with his hammer of a left foot and eye for goal. He’s certainly a better option than Bentdner off the bench that’s for sure. Cazorla too is a player who hasn’t quite hit top form yet, but there are always enough glimpses in games to suggest he is not far from regaining top form.

Time to silence Mourinho!

Time to silence Mourinho!

Team-Player-Tom

Certainly the fans being hyper critical of Ozil, Wilshere, Giroud and co. should possibly take a moment to consider firstly any actual justification for their disparagement and secondly (and probably more importantly) the ramifications of doing so.

The fans frustration at the departures of Nasri, Van Persia and Song in particular are well documented and widely shared. However, in the same way we expected loyalty from the players we chanted for, shouldn’t they expect a similar level of faithfulness from us? If Ramsey were to accept one of the many offers that will surely come his way this summer, would fans really have any standing to criticise him after subjecting him to torrents of negative chanting/moaning over the last few seasons?

Like many regrets in life the hope is that we learn from them – never make the same mistake twice. But we somehow seem to be teetering on the edge of repeating history (ridiculous considering both our current standing and that of our rivals). There is absolutely no doubt that Ozil has transformed this Arsenal team, both in terms of the physical skill level he brings to the table, and also with the wave of positivity that swept the German maestro into North London. He is a sublime player who has everything in the locker. He has proved the difference in several games this campaign and even when he looks quiet he can slice a back-four apart with his precision passing. This of course is not even beginning to account for the usual transition period a foreign player is afforded when moving to premiership football.

Likewise Giroud has been leading the line with the poise of a £40million man, taking the pressure of being the lone striker and embracing it, whilst any attack on Wilshere is clearly made in ignorance of the many matches last season in which he personally got the gunners over the line. All three are players we should cherish and each deserves more than a little patience from the home support.

I do honestly believe three points against Chelsea at home are very attainable, but if things don’t go our way let’s maybe hold the verbal abuse back until we’ve had time to consider it fully. And then we can all have a laugh at Spurs. Merry Christmas!

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Give us a follow for more Arsenal chat @backpagebanter

Arsenal sky high ahead of a clash with the Bluebirds

29 Nov

Hard to believe we have manoeuvred the banana skin that is November with such aplomb. Even more so when you consider the press decide to pick up on Flamini’s sleeves instead of really praising Arsenal for their start to the season. Top of one of the toughest Champions League groups I have ever seen and with a four point gap over teams that many believed would walk away with the Premier League, we can’t really ask for any more.

I suppose we should expect this now though. Despite the limited funds, the development of young players (many of them English now might I add), the manner in which we play football and our persistence in a good manager, the majority of the English press seem desperate for Arsenal to fall at every hurdle. Anyway, while we keep winning they will keep having to write nonsense about the lengths of a player’s sleeves. Eventually people will stop reading. So, that being said, let’s get the views of some spirited Gooners ahead of Cardiff…

Flamini needs a few tricks up his 'sleeves' on Saturday!

Flamini needs a few tricks up his ‘sleeves’ on Saturday!

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Team-Player Tom

After a woeful week of Internationals the Arsenal made sure it was back to business at the Emirates with a steady, if not wholly scintillating, dispatching of the Saints. An on-song Lallana was kept quiet by Szczesny whose superb form has seen just one goal conceded in six games. His maturity since the start on the season has been astounding and welcomed gratefully by all connected with the club – memories of lapses in concentration are now being replaced by focused performances for the full 90, Boruc take note! Partner that with the BFG who hasn’t conceded a goal in all competitions for over a month now and it’s starting to look a formidable task for many teams to score a goal.

It was a strange game on Saturday. A few misplaced passes from the midfield showed some of the tell-tale  signs that the players had been away with lesser capable players shall we say, but nitpicking is a luxury we can have at the top of the table and overall it was a solid performance where points may prove more memorable than the game.

It’s also been some time since Arsenal headed into a Champions League game with such short odds, but the Basel double over Chelsea is proof that no game can be taken for granted these days. Luckily SuperJack saw off any home fears of an upset within a minute and the game never looked in doubt after that. BT’s bid for Champions League rights may mean having to pay a little more per month but with ITV out of the picture surely it will be curtains for Townsend and Tyldesley? For whom the job ‘say what you see’ seems a step too much. Awful commentary compounded by piss poor punditry from Roy ‘charisma’ Keane wasn’t however enough to dampen my spirits on what I thought was an excellent performance from the boys. Another strong stand from the defence bolstered by the returning Flamini allowed the midfield to get creative.

Nick-A-Win

So following those two games, Arsenal go into the this off the back of two, 2-0 wins and look a side with many more gears still to explore as we place one frosty foot into December and the busy festive period. As you say Tom, the lads seem to be getting the job done in games right now and not just controlling games possession wise for a full 90 minutes with nothing to show for it. Teams can have the ball (where we want them to have it) but we are far more ruthless in attack and there are far fewer gaps at the back! 

The luxury Wenger has right now too is he can shuffle his midfield and still have a very strong team. The bench last night against Marseille possessed the likes of Cazorla, Walcott and Arteta – with Podolski not too far away after returning to training. For the first time in a long while we have had a good run of results in November. And let’s not forget a certain Welsh wizard who returns to his home City and will no doubt want to put in a good performance. He has been mightily unlucky not to have continued his fine goal-scoring form the past few games with a combination of post and legs keeping him out on a number of occasions. Importantly, he is still finding himself in those positions that can hurt teams.  

Will it be a triumphant return home for Welsh born Ramsey?

Will it be a triumphant return home for Welsh-born Ramsey?

It was tash-tastic for the Cardiff owner against United!

It was tash-tastic for the Cardiff owner against United!

 Team-Player Tom

Wilshere has been somewhat overshadowed of late and will rightly take the superlatives from Tuesday night. However Ramsey, Rosicky and an apparently ‘off form’ Ozil all played their part and at times combined beautifully going forward. Before looking to Cardiff I’d like to put in a special mention for Nacho Man. Monreal showed exactly the kind of determination and focus that Wenger would have been looking for and although Gibbs will certainly return to the team sheet, he will do so knowing that an able deputy is waiting in the wings. Pace, passing and positioning have all improved since he joined, despite limited pitch time and he has an attitude that will endear him to fans for as long as he wants to stay. 

Touchline Tom

I tweeted the other day about just how impressive Ramsey has been this season. When you consider his age, just 22 years old, the young Welshman from Caerphilly has so much potential it is scary. To compare him to Fabregas would be wrong as they are both very different types of players. I lost count of the times against Marseille that he was back winning tackles in our half, almost as many times as he was getting on the end of moves in the opposition half! He has really cemented his position in this Arsenal side and bar Wilshere, who is starting to regain some of the composure we normally associate with his play, there are few players in the League who can fulfil the role Ramsey is at the minute.  

You can be sure on Saturday when the Cardiff manager begins to warn his players of the threats Arsenal possess, keeping Ramsey at bay will be top of the priority. A telling reflection when you consider the likes of Cazorla, Ozil and Walcott could all feature. 

Nick-A-Win

Just a quick word on Cardiff though, who play with a good spirit and have some dangerous players in the likes of Frazer Campbell, Jordon Mutch and Peter Whittingham. Unlike United, I just feel that if Arsenal manage to get into their rhythm early on it will all be a bit too Mutch for Cardiff to handle (here all week boys)! No, in all seriousness, Campbell caused United’s back four real problems and his pace and trickery is something our defenders haven’t faced for a few games. Now is not the time to start dropping points with a tricky run of games over the festive period. With our neighbours unable to stick the ball in the net even during warm up, it is likely that we will need a win to maintain our lead over last season’s Champions. 

 My prediction for the weekend Boys though is a 3-1 Arsenal win with a Olly Giroud double and an Aaron Ramey screamer! COYG!! 

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Arsenal united as they look to extend their lead at the top!

9 Nov

It’s been a while since I have enjoyed seeing real fear etched across United fan’s faces before a crunch game with the Arsenal. Realistically, the Gunners can open the gap at the top to 11 points on Sunday – no mean feat at this stage of the season and I think their fans are more than aware of that. Purple nosed Fergie is no longer at the helm and will be chewing his gum from the stands. Those that have chosen to support Moyes seem to betray their own logic at times and I’m personally still not convinced he is the man for such a noteworthy position. Wenger no doubt though will have been making notes of his own, with flaws and weaknesses to expose in the Red Devils that just haven’t been there in the past. 

We all know a few United supporters in our midst and unfortunately we have all had to suffer their taunts with defeats at the feet of Ronaldo, Rooney, RVP and co. in previous seasons. Arsenal players must be aware of this too and if Wednesday night was an example in tactical perfection, then Sunday must combine that with heart and spirit. Talking of spirit and there is plenty of it in this weekend’s preview –  scroll down and join us on the BackPageBanter sofa as we discuss this Super Sunday clash of the titans… 

I could stand here all day!

I could stand here all day! I’m not going anywhere.

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Team-Player Tom

Sitting sipping a Stella at the Gunners Pub in North London with Touchline Tom was always going to be a pleasure – daylight at the top of the Prem and a seriously tasty chicken wrap in hand, things were shaping up nicely even before kick off. What unfolded at the Westfalenstadion was nothing short of magical. Performances across the park showed confidence, camaraderie and courage on a night to make every Gooner proud, capped off of course by the customary goal from Rocket Ramsey.

Negotiating through 180 minutes of top-level football without conceding is a big achievement and will be a huge boost for the back line. Each one has raised the bar this season with Sagna and Gibbs finding a perfect balance of attack and defence that sometimes left them exposed last campaign. In Dortmund it was Mertesacker who stole the show, being on the money from start to finish. In true historic German form he dominated the Polish Lewandowski, keeping a hugely talented striker quiet in a raucous Dortmund arena. He is in scintillating form and no doubt the BFG will be looking to put the Per back into Super Sunday at Old Trafford, reminding Robin that he couldn’t give a crap what the little boy inside him thinks! 

Nick-A-Win

I think that spring in every Gooner’s step has just increased quite a bit in the past week! A famous win in Dortmund and, as you said Tom, the defence is finally looking well-drilled – marshalled superbly by Mertesacker and Koscielny, or should I say Adams and Keown? It seems funny that with so much attacking talent in our side, some of the best performances this season have been built on from the back. It seems we are finally learning from our mistakes! 

Taxi-For-Maxi

Well, well, well indeed and how about that for a productive few days, eh Mr Wenger? Liverpool and Dortmund put to the sword quite brilliantly; the latter totally against the odds. However now it’s a perennial bogey side that lies in wait, albeit with Wenger’s arch nemesis no longer in toe.

Keown and Adams

Keown and Adams

Nick-A-Win

No Fergie time this weekend though as Wenger will face a very different challenge in the shape of Moyes and to be honest I expect we all might be laughing before the game at his team selection, which has baffled me at times this season.

Looking at the record books, when we do win at Old Trafford it’s by the 1 goal and I wouldn’t be complaining if that were the case again this Sunday! What a feat it would be that the 3 games we have had this week against the big sides could see 3 clean sheets too! With super inexcusably large question marks over our defence in recent seasons, I think that would shut up most of the doubters!

Taxi-For-Maxi

Manchester United’s season has been under the microscope more than any other in world football and I agree that Mr. Moyes is yet to convince even the most ardent United fan’s he’s the man for the job. Wenger will smell blood, with their first victory at Old Trafford since 2006 a very real possibility. In fact it was a certain Togan international who scored a late winner on that day and the days of that doughnut scoring such crucial goals certainly seems a while ago!

If anything I’d 8-2 be a United fan more than ever right now! You’d expect Shrek and Van Pursestrings to lead the United line but it’s at the back where Arsenal can really win this battle. United’s defense has been shaky all season and with Stoke and West Brom getting joy at Old Trafford, you have to fancy this Arsenal outfit to cause some damage.

Well, at least we know one of them doesn't talk about little boys!

Well, at least we know one of them doesn’t talk about little boys!

Team-Player-Tom

As Moyes’ Red Devils continue to stutter and perform poorly this season, there is no doubt this will be the biggest opportunity in years to put a few past United. They have looked understandably shell-shocked this season and the exit of Sir Alex has exposed a weak midfield unit that have struggled to find any kind of fluency in assisting their two danger men.

Despite their flaws, they are still a volatile outfit and will be looking to use the game to signal intentions of a comeback. It’s been a while since this fixture was referred to as a six pointer but the stakes this weekend can’t really be quantified by points. A win for the Arsenal would rubber stamp their start to the season – successive wins against Liverpool, Dortmund and United would surely validate their claim as title contenders.

Despite new rivalries being bred from the financial powerhouses of Chelsea and City, United is still the clash I look for at the start of the season. It’s the fixture that dominated my childhood and I’m sure the butterflies will be building by the time I tuck into my roast on Sunday. 

Touchline Tom

 I don’t know about keeping the ball but Arsenal players are definitely having a ball at the minute! An away game against mid-table opposition is always tricky as the opposition look to secure Europa League places, but Arsenal must surely recognise the significance of this game and what it could mean for the rest of the season. A win would really show United players just how off the pace they have been this season – a psychological effect that could play its part in future games. I’m sure we will hear a lot of 8-2 jokes this weekend chaps, but I would firmly encourage the response that United may be lower than 8th come Sunday evening. With work starting again on Monday, wouldn’t it be nice to have that upper hand back again?

Nick-A-Win

We have only won 3 times at Old Trafford in the Premier league era. Certainly if its 8-2 again I’ll eat my hat boys! I think our midfield will be too strong for theirs especially if Moyes goes with a 4-4-2. The form Ramsey is in and with the likes of Cazorla and Ozil buzzing around too, United will have their work cut out in the middle of the park.

This Sunday Arsenal can make a big statement about the shift in power at the top. Mind you, a draw would still be a good result and would stop the awful run of defeats at Old Trafford! Whether there’s another episode of pizza gate down the tunnel, or Kos shouting in RVP’s face, this one will get the fans going and beers flowing in pubs across the country! 

Wrong seat Fergie, you sit down with the fans.

Wrong seat Fergie, you sit down with the fans.

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German Revenge Part II

5 Nov

5 points clear at the top is a nice little gap to have before playing Manchester United, especially when facing the quality of opposition that we will be shortly (referring to Dortmund here of course!) I’m not going to sit here and claim we will win the League, but you’d be mad not to be enjoying the style and manner of our performances this season. If the Liverpool game was hurdle no.1 this month, then Arsenal positively soared over it  – an encouraging sign ahead of the rest.

We all know Dortmund came to the Emirates and stole 3 points last time, but I think it would be wrong of people to suggest we were outclassed on the pitch. We weren’t as ruthless as we had been in previous games, but we certainly didn’t let them have many chances and on another day, probably playing in a Poland shirt, Lewandowski would have blazed his shot over the bar. These are the fine margins against the top teams and it will be interesting to see which side fortune favours on Wednesday night. It will also be interesting to hear what the Gooners on today’s sofa made of Liverpool and, perhaps more importantly, this crunch game with zee Germans!

A slick performance needed from the man with the slick hair!

A slick performance needed from the man with the slick hair!

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Nick-A-Win

Good afternoon gentleman and what a weekend it’s been. Arsenal 5 points clear and I turned 25 in style! Is this the season Arsenal return to the summit of the English game? A great win against an in-form Liverpool and Wenger went home with a smile like a Cheshire cat!

On a weekend of fireworks a rocket from Ramsey stole the show as the Spanish magician Cazorla too was at his fleet-footed best! Suarez and Sturridge had been responsible for 14 of Liverpool’s 17 league goals this season but big Per and Koscielny had them firmly in their back pockets.  

Team-Player-Tom

Well we can’t start without discussing the Pool game. With Wenger’s new button up number ensuring he won the style awards over black on black on black Brendon Rodgers, the battle was half won in my eyes before a ball was even kicked. The customary air of anxiety before a big game was somewhat alleviated and the players looked confident stepping out at the Emirates. Critics have pointed to the lack of big names on the Arsenal ‘beaten’ list so far this season, so it was nice to add a top of the table clash to keep a few quiet. 

Rambo’s resurgence continued with a dominant display in midfield, casting a shadow over his idol Gerrard in the process. It reminded me of the display Fabregas put in against Juventus when he came up against Viera, a kind of ‘coming of age’ game that showed he is finally fulfilling his massive potential. 

There were some concerns over Flamini’s absence, but together with Arteta he marshaled the middle of the pitch, limiting Liverpool’s build up play and providing a quality platform to feed the in-form Cazorla. Despite not being on the score sheet, Giroud put in another cracking shift, holding the ball up well and will be high in confidence as Arsenal take to the skies and head to zee Germans. 

Nick-A-Win

 Mikel Arteta does indeed deserve some special praise. In the absence of Flamini he did a sound job in the middle of the park. In the first half alone he had more touches (67), competed in more duels (11), made more tackles (5) and completed more passes (57) than any other player on the pitch!  

Time to shine back home

Time to shine back home

Taxi-For-Maxi

It will be short and sweet from me today chaps – a bit like a certain goalscorer on Saturday night! Nevertheless it’s part two of the Anglo-German thriller and the return content promises so much after the first clash. Last year’s finalists have proved that despite the loss of some key personnel, their ability to keep hold of manager Mr. Klopp has probably proved more important than any other player moving out the door. A win is a win and despite not dominating the last tie, Dortmund proved they are more than capable of breaching the Gunner’s back line. All eyes will be on this one that’s for sure – as I know they were on Saturday as Arsenal gained some more breathing space at the top of the League.  

Team-Player-Tom

Arsenal’s own German contingent will be looking to mark a return to the Fatherland with a win, and after keeping the pesky Suarez quiet on the weekend Mertesacker will be keen to give Lewandowski the same treatment. The striker is a huge threat and fresh from a hat trick will be a handful for Per and Kos. If they can simultaneously keep a clean sheet AND convince him to join them in North London in January it will be a job well done!

Gnabry has looked exciting when given the opportunity this season and his fearless style of direct attack could be crucial in unlocking what is sure to be a well regimented Dortmund defence. Rosicky was in fine form against Liverpool and with his experience will be the favourite to retain his starting spot, but the young German could be a great impact sub for the final twenty minutes should he recover in time.

Hands up if you scored today

“Alright you won without me, not listening anymore!”

Arsenal-v-Liverpool-2670355

Hands up if you scored today?

Nick-A-Win

The question is, can Wenger outfox his younger counterpart? The winner from this game surely takes top spot in the group! It will be a carnival atmosphere at the Westfalenstadion which is rocking on big Champion’s League nights!

A draw wouldn’t be the worst result but Wenger never sets his sides out like that so expect an attacking line up. At the Emirates we kept them pretty quiet and were punished by a mistake and a superb counter-attack. Hopefully the rumours that Gibbs and Wilshere will miss the game aren’t true as their English spirit and grit will be needed in Germany. 

Touchline Tom

I have to say I wasn’t too worried by Dortmund’s victory at the Emirates. At one point I remember sitting there thinking we had totally outclassed last year’s runner’s up in terms of possession and had we been a bit sharper, may have put the game out of sight before the final ten minutes.

Klopp spoke over the weekend about his team’s work rate off the ball and while I agree that is a great feature of his side, it’s just as important to retain possession. With big games either side of this one for Arsenal, it is crucial that we keep the ball and don’t spend the game chasing shadows. Dortmund aren’t the ‘wurst’ at holding onto the ball that’s for sure! 

Team-Player Tom

Oh dear. . . but I agree. Despite being on the wrong end of the result last time out, Arsenal will be positive heading to Dortmund. A slightly naïve attacking attitude cost the boys at the Emirates, but they proved they can damage Dortmund and it should be a fantastic midweek showdown. It’s all set for a great European night so let’s hope the boys can pull off another big result to put us in the driving seat in the group. 

More of this on Wednesday lads!

More of this on Wednesday lads!

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