The pessimist’s guide to Arsenal’s away run-in

Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog over the years – an admittedly dwindling band – will know that I’m not one of life’s natural optimists when it comes to Arsenal. It would be fair to say that breezy positivity does not drip from my every pore. Mine deep enough and you will find some glistening nuggets, but if there was a new goldrush, and boundless confidence was the lucrative prize, folk would not hop onto their horses and head west to me.

It’s a defence mechanism of course. Expect something less, then when it happens you’re OK with it, because you’d steeled yourself already. Should something good happen, the high is that much better. It’s a lose-win or win double-win situation [needs more work – Ed].

That’s why, now that we’re at the business end of the season and for the first time in a few years we’ve got something to play for in league terms, a certain pragmatic pessimism kicks in. I know there are plenty of you out there who beam confidence about our away run-in, and I admire you, I really do. But I also know there’s a hefty percentage of anxious types who – even if they’re confident-ish – don’t want to jinx our run-in with needless chest-puffing.

This is for you.

Everton

I know we’ve beaten them a fair few times away over the years, and hit five past them last season at Goodison Park, but Wayne Rooney was really annoying when he was about 12 and scored against us and who’s to say something like that won’t happen again with the latest Everton wonderkid *checks Everton squad just in case*? We also lost there two years ago when Ashley Williams handed us nul points with an 86th minute header. They’ve only lost one from five.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

Watford

Watford used to be our bogey team, and I still haven’t forgiven them or John Barnes for beating us at Highbury in the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987. I’m not a bitter man, you understand, and nor do I hold grudges, but I’m still sour about that all these years later.

Oh, and we lost there last year with another heartbreaking late cave-in.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

Wolves

Have you seen Wolves! They’re a bit ropey away from home but they’ve literally nearly beaten practically everyone at home. They’d put four past Real Madrid if they were in the Premier League, probably. They’ve beaten Utd twice, Liverpool, Chelsea and we were lucky to get a 1-1 at the Emirates. Plus, I remember completing Wolves in my Panini ‘79 sticker book, and I’ve had great respect for them ever since. I’m concerned that Steve Bull might put us to the sword.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Leicester

Even I’d have been positive about this one earlier in the season, but since Brendan’s taken over there’s a regrettable air of confidence around Leicester, and they’ve now won four league games in a row. We can’t rely on Bergkamp to magic up the perfect hat-trick, which is a blow. It’s entirely possible that they’ve never forgiven us for robbing Alan Smith off them too.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Burnley

Another side that’s, somewhat frustratingly, reversed its run of poor form. I could wheel out some stereotypes about it being a tough northern outpost, if that helps? In my mind we’ve lost there every season but a cursory google tells me that in fact Sanchez (remember him?) slotted a penalty winner last season in the nine billionth minute. They should be safe by then which will either mean they’ll have one eye on Magaluf, or it’ll mean they’ll be demob happy and playing with all the freedom required. Either way we must avoid a Sean Dyche-shaped revenge job at all costs.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

So  there you go, fellow pessimists. Forewarned is forearmed.

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!