Match preview: Third home game lucky?

Warning: This blog contains the cliche ‘one game at a time’

It’s a glorious, bright spring morning in London: perfect for a trip to the Grove. It makes sense to me that if the man in the street gets an uplift from the joys of a beautiful spring day, then the man on the pitch must do too. We’re all susceptible to the same moods, after all.

Could it be possible that some players perform better with pleasant spring breezes ruffling their hair and the aroma of blossom wafting through their nostrils? I think I might ask @orbinho that, though I do suspect that even his legendary powers of stat-trawling might struggle to find a correlation between nice weather and good performances.

There’s no doubt that the general mood in the corner of the interwebs cordoned off for Arsenal fans is much less fraught than it has been. The win at Blackpool was the catalyst, the potential return of some key players – The Woj, Djourou, Song – another reason. The takeover and the death of Danny Fiszman put a few things into perspective, too, perhaps.

Or maybe we’ve just been forced to accept the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. We want commitment and drive between now and the end of the season, but to expect a seven-game, twenty-one point charge to the title is to expect something we have not seen all season. On top of that, look at our next four games: Liverpool, Spuds, Bolton, Utd. It really is one-game-at-a-time territory.

Should be good fun. I’m excited by the return of the players mentioned, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Song and/or Diaby too. Song has looked tepid in recent games, through injury as much as anything, but when bubbling along he ticks all the right boxes. Let’s hope he’s genuinely fit today. Diaby had a lovely game at Blackpool, but can he do it again against better opposition? Maybe if we all keep an eye on him, the sight of 57,000 eyes trained on him will spook him sufficiently into a commanding performance.

And can we defend better against Carroll than we did when he came with Newcastle? There’s never been a better time to have our defence bolstered.

A goal or two would be nice and stuff. We’ve sat through two consecutive goalless draws – one league goal at home in two months. It’s not too much to ask…

Guardian squad sheet
BBC preview

And finally, congratulations to Petter Randmæl and Johanna Jepekano Nekwaya, winners of the Paul Merson competition. Bad luck the rest of you…

Match preview: Margin for error = practically zero

I was listening to the Guardian’s Football Weekly Extra podcast the other day, and Rob Smyth stuck his neck out by stating he’d be “astonished” if Arsenal didn’t win the league this season. A pretty bold prediction if you ask me. You won’t catch me sticking my neck out on such matters – in fact, if there’s a way of sticking your neck in I’ll be doing that instead.

We’re at that stage of the season where if you make the foolish error of looking at the top three’s run-ins – as I did yesterday – you can get a bit giddy.

But the bottom line is there’s still nearly 20% of the season to go and given this group of players’ relative lack of recent experience of title run-ins, we remain third favourites for a good reason.

Besides, if you ask me it’s a myth to think that our run-in is necessarily easier just because we don’t have to play Man Utd, Chelsea or Liverpool again. Looking at the nine teams we have to play, in their current league positions, five of them are looking over their shoulders at relegation and two are vying for fourth. Only Fulham and Birmingham are mid-table, but even the latter might fancy a sniff at the Zooropa League.

The first of the five is tonight at Hull, second bottom and still nursing sore behinds from a 5-1 mauling at Everton.

However, for all their dismality away from home – feel free to use that word again, if you ever need to – their home record is pretty decent. Their two most recent games were a win against Man City and a draw against Chelsea. There’s also an element of previous between the clubs, and who knows what might surface there.

We’re probably without Fabregas and Song is suspended, but the other doubts should make it, and if we can line up anything like this then it’s a side with huge attacking potency. Any sort of voodoo we can perform to ensure Big Sol is fit would also be welcome.

It’s going to be a tough one, I suspect, assuming Hull have focussed their minds since two of their players had a scrap by the Humber Bridge in front of a Women’s Institute rally. I thought I was hallucinating when I read that. Too weird on too many levels.

That’s it for now – come on you reds!