0017 – Licenced to Roam

August 16, 2014

Excited? You should be because this season is going to be epic and it starts today

Let’s be honest a managerless Crystal Palace should be lambs to the slaughter but we found out in last season’s opener that opening games throw up strange results. Mr Pulis did well with an average side and as usual forced his team to play kick and run (with an emphasis on the kick). How will CP play today? Who knows. Who cares, as long as they don’t injure any of our heroes.

Palace have big men all over the pitch; Chamakh, Hangeland, Jedinak, Dann, Puncheon etc, all decent players and all hard workers which they will need to be. It has to be said that Palace have a decent front-line. Chamakh may not have achieved much at the Emirates but he is showing he can perform swell at a mid-table club. I wish him well in the coming days but hope he has a stinker today.

Jedinak has been much touted after a fine season – good enough for a top 4 club? Not according to their managers!

Enough of the opposition, let’s get onto the men in the white hats ……

To be honest I have no idea who will start this afternoon. I doubt anyone outside of Mr Wenger and his coaching staff do – such is the wealth of talent available. The only players I can be sure won’t play are Theo, Abou and Ryo.

Let’s start with the defence.: I am sure Merts will play. I cannot see heim as the type of chap who would holiday  in a 5 star Las Vegas hotel surrounded by bottles of Champagne after along night in the casino, then spending his daytime flaked out by the pool having his pale body massaged with Factor 50 by a bevy of hookers. Can you?

No, I see him resting and preparing himself for today’s kick-off. He is a German after all.

If I am wrong and Merts has spent the summer on the sauce, it will be exciting to see how Chambers copes; his Wembley appearance was superb which brings heavy expectations onto such young shoulders. Midweek I went to Malmo to see their top of the table clash with another Swedish team (an exciting 3-2 victory to Malmo). The reason being that I am friends with their fitness trainer – Young Ben. Ben was assistant fitness trainer at Southampton and he tells me that Arsenal have signed a monster player who is is not only a better footballer than Luke Shaw but also in far better physical condition. He says that €16m was cheap for someone who will be a future England Captain – oh and he told me that Shaw has a history of niggling muscle knack.

Koscielny: Now I cannot understand at all how Sakho started for France ahead of Kos. What an insult to our beak nosed Gaul. No surprise that France did not concede a goal whilst Kos played and then lost to Germany when the idiot Deschamps picked Sakho ahead of our boy. Mr Wenger would not make such an error and as such (if fit) our usual CB pairing will start.


Actually the defence picks itself doesn’t it? TPIG, the shiny new right back and Gibbs make up the numbers in what is a tight and effective first choice defence. Problems will only arise when injuries and exhaustion hit.

Midfield. This is where it starts to get difficult. Arteta and Ramsey are automatic starters. Ramsey!! What a fantastic player this lad is. The finish at Wembley last week was the work of a top class striker and this from a box to box midfielder. Ramsey has it all and, sad as I feel about it, not signing Fabregas was the right decision – Ramsey is the better player (as is Ozil 🙂 ).

Wilshere ? Of course.

And the Ox? This lad needs games – give him them and he will develop into one of the best players in the PL. He has everything except aerial ability. Great shot, explosive pace, an eye for a pass, tactical awareness. BUT where does he fit into the side? Thankfully this is Mr Wenger’s problem, but in my opinion he is too good to spend this season on the bench.

Will Ozil start? Probably not but he is ready and I would like to see our little genius and World Cup Winners medal owner line up on the right or behind the striker. If not, Santi, who had a fine game last week, is hardly a poor replacement – he would walk into almost any other side in the world but I fear this could be a frustrating season for him as there is so much competition in the attacking third.

Sanchez is a definite starter and I predict he will score on his full home debut. This man is the dogs and was the plum PL signing of the summer. I was surprised he didn’t go to Liverpool as a Suarez replacement (hahahahaha – let’s see how well you do this season Mr Rodgers) but clearly the prospect of living in Toxteth and rooming with Jordan Henderson was not particularly attractive. Hampstead and OG made AFC an obvious choice. I expect him to start from the left today – the TH14 position. He will be our secret agent 0017 – with licence to roam.


0017 – One for the Ladies

OG gets the CF shirt. Until Sanogo improves, Theo gets fit or OG hits a bad patch of form he must start.

My Team:


Debuchy     BFG     Kos     Gibbs

Ramsey    Wilshere      Arteta

Ozil      Giroud      Sanchez

At last we have a super strong bench. Chambers, Monreal, Cazorla, Sanogo, Ox, Pod etc

I hate to put a bok on today but I cannot see anything but an Arsenal win. CP did surprisingly well to get 11th place last season but let’s be honest, they spawned it as other teams went into free fall. The chances of another opening day Aston Villa are unlikely as the lads will be determined not to get suckered again.

The World Cup players apart, our boys have had a full pre-season and on the evidence of the Community Shield are in fine fettle. You lucky, lucky folk who are going to the game will have a fine time.

I will be in Peaches pocket. Actually today I am going to the Southern Cross in Løngangstrædet Copenhagen to watch the game with California Gooner. See you there.


N:B. I have yet to think of a season theme. Any ideas will be welcomed and then discarded 🙂

written by Big Raddy

Crystal Palace: Another Must Win

February 2, 2014

Let’s get this out the way at the beginning because it is so distasteful to write ….. Pulis is doing a fine job at Palace. Who would have thought it?

Right that’s done.

And now for another unpleasant chore, a retrospective of Arsenal’s  January Transfer window. I will be brief, in my opinion it was ……..  how can I put this? Dire.

I know there are extenuating circumstances but the Draxler Affair was a comedy which ended with the player himself stating (I say “stating” but who knows if he did) that he wanted to come but Schalke refused to sell. AW saying it was all a media sham and Shalke winning all round. But who knows what is true? The club have never been open in their dealings and as we all know tradition is paramount at THOF. Any long-term fan knows that until a transfer is announced by the club everything you read and hear is supposition and gossip.

Crystal Palace on the other hand have been very active, bringing in 5 players. At least one will start today, Jason Puncheon, who is in excellent form following his joke penalty at Shite Hart Lane. And of course today heralds “The Return of the Chamakh” ( whatever happened to that Mark Morrison?). I always liked Chamakh but he is at his level now; an inability to reach the standard required by Arsenal was not down to lack of effort but lack of talent and he cannot be blamed for that. Bet he scores now!!

I have already sullied my keyboard with my first sentence so will not  linger on their manager. Suffice to say, he is an odious fellow who will hopefully return to South London pointless and humiliated.

Arsenal:  Usual stuff – who starts given our mounting injury list (which thanks to our bizarre TW signing now has a Swede in the treatment room).

Please Mr Wenger can we see more than 60 seconds of Podolski? Whilst I understand the need to balance the team by playing Gnabry on the right and Santi on the left I would much prefer to see  (for the final 30 mins) Ozil go right, Santi central and Poldi on the left.

Can we go into a game which is likely to be a midfield battleground with only Arteta to put his “foot in”? Micky suggests playing Vermaelen a in midfield and this makes much sense to me – won’t happen though.

I expect Rosicky to start. He has been a major plus this season. I recall a conversation with kelsey a few seasons ago when we both wrote off Tomas’s career and questioned why AFC didn’t pay him off ! I am excited to see whether Rosicky plays in a Mask. Would he be the first Masked Gooner?

The recurrence of Ramsey’s thigh knack is hugely annoying but it gives The Ox a chance to show us why he will be so integral to the team in future years. Important games ahead and his work will be under scrutiny.

My Team:

a v cp

This should be enough to win today. We have quality on the bench which has been further strengthened by the absence of Park.

The origins of The Crystal Palace are obvious(see pic)  but prior to the building of this wonderful example of English Victorian ingenuity and engineering it was just a part of Penge Common. And what is Penge apart from where Tony Hancock came from (look him up)


Penge was another of the towns established by those hardy travellers the Anglo-Saxons. It was original called Penceat which means edge of the wood thanks to it being on the periphery of a dense forest.

Crystal Palace was built for the 1851 Great Exhibition which was hugely popular. In just 6 months over 6m people visited which was a third of the population of England! It was the first building with public flushing toilets and it cost one penny to visit them – almost a million did which is remarkable because you could buy a decent central midfielder for a penny in those days – anyway – this is where the expression “To spend a penny” comes from!! (for our foreign readers this is slang for going to the toilet)

It burned down in 1936.

On paper this should be a win for the good guys, but who knows? We haven’t been playing our fluent brand of Wengerball in recent weeks – perhaps not since the Ramsey injury. This is the last “easy” game before the “Death Cluster” (™ RL) we must take three points and return to our rightful place at the Top of the League.


written by Big Raddy

Arsene Wenger’s Magic Hat?

December 11, 2012

Bradford. Seems an age since they were in the Premiership, and yet it was only 11 years ago. Today they sit 65 places below us. having had 17 (yes – 17!) managers since Mr Wenger came to Arsenal; Chairman Julian Rhodes has employed 9 managers since 2004! Current manager Phil Parkinson was an Arsenal scout and remains a fan.

Checking through some of the stats (kelsey kindly provided many yesterday) one fact stands out, tonight is Bradford’s 31st game of the season (we have played 24). That is a heavy workload and one must ask how is it economically viable? Plus, how can they do it with such a small squad?


The Romford Pele scored the last time we played Bradford(PL )

Having beaten Wigan in the last round Bradford will be looking to add an even bigger scalp tonight, can they do so? What do you think? Could a weakened Arsenal team really lose up in the frozen North? Even playing second strings AW will field a team full of current Internationals, however tonight will be about fight and spirit, not just talent and skill. Put these two teams on an indoor training pitch and AFC would win every time but tonight Bradford will be spurred on by 23,000 fans, their biggest crowd for 50 years, and they will not go down without a fight. The question is can we match their passion?

My Team:

bradford v arse

Whether the above team has enough attacking potency  is open to question and perhaps we will see Ox start in place of Eisfeld. We are likely to get a sub appearance from Gnabry – a young player who is very highly rated by Mr Wenger. This could be the final game for Arshavin and Chamakh with both available for sale in January.

Today’s English explorer: Augustine Courtauld. (1904-1959) This young chap was another ice specialist. Trained as a stockbroker and son of the industrialist and art collector, Samuel Courtauld (the Courtauld Institute)   he was typical of the English loony explorers. Greenland was Courtauld’s area  and he once spent  5 months on his own during a Greenland winter observing weather conditions. The highest peak in the Arctic region is named after him, Mount Augustine.


Preparing the Valley Parade pitch for the visit of Arsenal

It would be a monkey off the back should we win this cup. OK it isn’t the silverware we would choose but nonetheless it is a trophy and one all the PL clubs compete in. Furthermore, it was George Graham’s first trophy and one which was the springboard to greater glory.

Embarrassing if we lose, a semi-final if we win. Well worth fighting for.

Written by Big Raddy

Brittania Revisited

April 29, 2012

A third trip to the Britannia in three seasons brought with it some mixed emotions. The 2009/10 game was played in February, a month after being beaten by the Stokies in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Ramsey’s leg snapped like a twig but the team responded magnificently to record a fine 3-1 victory.

2010/11 at the Britannia saw Arsenal in end of season free-fall and another defeat ensued. What would 2012 bring? Stoke always raise their game against us, refusing to lie down to superior footballing ability. The touchlines are narrowed, local aircraft given warnings of possible collisions with footballs and Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army gives the pre-match, rabble-rousing speech. Could Arsenal resist the bite of the cold steel? Anxious and expectant, the Arsenal away fans gathered in the Potteries.

(photo courtesy of Stuart MacFarlane)

After an easy drive along the A50 we arrived in plenty of time to find a parking spot at a local bowls club which would enable a smooth getaway at the end of the game. A brief chat with a couple of Stokies in the pub before the game elicited the information that they were pleased not to be in Europe again as it had ruined their season. Mid-table mediocrity seemed to be the height of their ambition…..oh, and beating Wenger’s Arsenal, of course. Arsenal are lacking a player who puts his foot in was their considered opinion whereas none of their players minded being kicked!

We had a fairly good view but were much too close to the inbred hoards and soon realised the aggression between the two sets of supporters was going to colour how we would remember the game.

The first half began and it soon became obvious that only one team had any desire to play any real football. The first booking came in the first couple of minutes as Whitehead fouled Song. The Gunners began the game at a canter and Benayoun should have done better, scuffing a left foot shot after clever interplay with Robin. Then it was the Dutchman himself who drew a fine save from Begovic with a glanced header at the near post.

Stoke scored from their first effort on goal with a pinpoint cross from Etherington which found the head of the Human Pylon. Even with Vermaelen and Koscielny leaping front and back of Crouch, they still stood little chance of stopping the goal. “One Nil to the Rugby team” sang the Stoke crowd. If I was a Rugby player, I would have been offended.

Arsenal quickly responded with another straightforward goal in its simplicity, van Persie slotting home after good work from Rosicky. “He scores when he want” and “By far the greatest team” followed.

The first half petered out from that point onwards. Gervinho had a chance to shoot after a lovely through ball from Sagna but put his effort way over the bar. Another chance nearly came to Gervinho who just failed to get his immense forehead onto a whipped-in cross.

My brother went for a half-time pie and heard the following conversation in the queue in front him. Arsenal supporter, ‘What flavour pies have you got?’ Girl behind the counter, ‘Chicken Balti, Steak and Ale…. Arsenal Supporter, ‘Have you got any Meat and Potato? ‘Yes’ came the reply. Arsenal fan, ‘I had one of those last year and it was farkin horrible’. Cue the laughter from the serving assistants behind the counter. The news that Newcastle were getting thumped certainly improved the atmosphere behind the goal during the half-time break.

The second half began with the boys kicking towards us. Surely things would improve and we would earn the crucial three points. As far as the football is concerned, I thought the second forty five was pretty poor. Arsenal probed and prodded. Shots were blocked. Robin slipped on a couple of occasions when he might have sneaked a shot on goal. There were a few decent looking free-kick opportunities for the good guys but none really troubled the Stoke keeper.

At the other end Szczesny made a fine blocking save from a vicious drive and a long throw header was cleared close to the Arsenal goal line. There was a brief rendition of ‘We can’t spell his name, we can’t spell his name, Wojciech Szczęsny, we can’t spell his name’.

The other dominant impression from standing behind the goal in the second half was how hideous the Stoke fans were. They finally found their voice after Shawcross lunged in on Benayoun. They sang ‘He breaks things when he wants, he breaks things when he wants, Ryan Shawcross, he breaks things when he wants’. (It could have been ‘legs’ rather than ‘things’, it was difficult to understand the accent). Looking across at their fans there were gestures of breaking a stick in two hands which I found quite sickening. Hideous miscreants.

Yossi had a good shout for a penalty ignored by Foy who looked across at his linesman to see a totally blank expression and so he waved play on. The last twenty minutes were a pantomime starring Arsene Wenger. He began waving his arms in the air at the injustice of the penalty decision and other decisions which followed. The Stoke crowd began to imitate him by waving their arms in the air at every opportunity while singing, ‘ Let’s all do the Wenger’ and if an Arsenal player committed a foul singing, ‘He didn’t see a thing, he didn’t see a thing , Arsene Wenger, he didn’t see a thing.’

Arsène needed someone to tell him to sit down as he may as well have been the Stoke cheerleader, such was his influence in stirring the Stoke crowd to generate more noise.

At the final whistle, I felt disappointed that we hadn’t been able to rise above the overall poor quality of the game and produce a few moments of real class to win us the three points. A hard-fought point would have to suffice, a point which looks better in the light of Newcastle’s zero points. Whether it’ll look so good after Sunday’s fixtures, only time will tell.


I don’t really do ratings but I’d say that Benayoun and Rosicky seemed to have decent first halves. The defence were resolute throughout, Sagna looking dangerous assisting the attack in the first half, too. Szczesny couldn’t do much about the goal. Sometimes I wish he would catch instead of punch, especially in the second half when the aerial bombardment was in full force. I’d probably give them all a 7, with Tomas, Yossi and Bacary 7.5.

P.S. The Man of the Match was announced over the tannoy as Dean Whitehead. Sums it all up really!

Written by chas

Money Can’t Buy you Love

November 29, 2011

Today’s discussion is likely to revolve around who will play tonight, but I would like to start by investigating whether we should care about tonight’s result.

It would be fair to say that the fans are evenly split as to whether AW should put out a strong team in order to get into the semi’s, hopefully to  put last  year’s Wembley nightmare behind us, and those who think the team need to concentrate upon other targets. Both arguments have their merits, the silverware hoodoo needs to be dealt with and we are just 3 games from lifting a Cup, on the other hand, how valuable is the CC? Does it really count as silverware? Would Birmingham have preferred to lose the final and stay in the PL?  Their form fell apart after their victory and though I am not a Bluenose and haven’t discussed it with them, but my guess is that they would prefer to be in the Prem. Who won the CC two seasons ago?

My opinion is that we must stick to the principle of playing a young team in the CC and seeing how well they can perform. Taking it seriously didn’t work so why not have some fun and damn the consequences.

Best Forgotten

Man City are in a different situation, their squad players will be desperate to show Mancini they are worthy of a first team start. On Sunday Balotelli and Dzeko were on the bench! There is no need to talk about the quality of their squad, we all know it, even their cheapest reserve cost more than our most expensive signing (almost). They are playing really good football and are a joy to watch – if it is not AFC who win the PL I want it to be City because Mancini sends his teams out to entertain.  Yes, they are solid in midfield and are not averse to a physical battle but they also have magic in the team which will hopefully be left up the M60 tonight.

Team selection is difficult. Do we have another RB to deputise for JD/Kos? Or another LB?

Mr Wenger has stated that he will play a team which has a chance to progress and could well play a couple of regular first teamers, Santos being the most likely, Not an easy game tonight and perhaps this will spur Chamakh on, he must want to play against the best and tonight he has the opportunity. The Ox is just bursting to show he deserves a starting role and it is no coincidence that Theo is playing the best football of his career following Alex’s arrival. Park will score…..

Today’s Gooner? Step forward Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Born in the East End, The Arsenal was George’s second love (God then Arsenal)

Sporting the Raspberry kit (badge hidden to look more holy)

We have home advantage, we have a fine squad of young, hungry players, we have the North Bank. Can we beat the best reserve team in World football? Of course we can!

Written by BigRaddy

Give Chamakh more starts, and Arsenal might be all right again.

October 5, 2011



A passionate defence of an underrated Gunner, who deserves more respect!

Marouane Chamakh is an enigma to me. My gut feeling tells me he is a very important player for us, and yet his performances to date have been regarded as unimpressive.

Unimpressive if you compare him to Robin van Persie, and look at the hard stats of ‘total goals scored’ and ‘goals scored per game’; unimpressive if you study his body language – he seems uninterested, and unhappy with himself, and isolated and lost amongst his teammates. But statistics and perceptions are not all and everything, and I have learned to trust my gut feeling a bit more over the years.

Recently, the super-gelled Moroccan has come under some fierce criticism from fellow Gooners, and I feel a need to stand up for him. I believe Chamakh is a vital player for Arsenal and – here comes the controversial part – not as a sub, or a so called bench warmer, a squad player, no: Marouane’s real importance for Arsenal is to lead our attack from the start far more regularly.

I can imagine you saying now: you are a mad man: have you seen him recently? He just scored one goal and missed many opportunities – he is rubbish, get rid of him. Chamakh started three games for Arsenal this season: Udinese, Shrewsbury and Olympiakos, all three home games, and all three we won. RvP started 9 games in the same period of which we only won 3, drew 2 and lost 4. I can imagine you saying now: RvP has been (one of) our best player(s) and our bad start to the season has nothing to do with him: our problems lay somewhere else. I would ago along with that for now: it is early days and we have had to endure a topsy-turvy start to this season, so it would be wrong to pull any conclusions yet. Still, it is not unremarkable that we won 3 out of 3 when Marouane started for us in recent games.

I am not that keen on statistics. In fact, I can hardly listen to SKY Sports live commentary anymore, for the simple fact that statistics are thrown at us constantly, and very often these are totally useless and distract us from watching the game in peace. They like to use stats to have an indirect dig at Arsenal, cleverly leaving it to us to pull their (readily projected) conclusions. However, I realise I cannot say on this blog that Marouane Chamakh should get more starts, simply based on my gut feeling. So, I did some statistical homework regarding the previous season, and this is what I found:

Marouane Chamakh:

Started:  27 games (all competitions/ Arsenal only).

Team Goals during MC games started:   65 goals – on average 2.41 team goals per game.

Individual goals during MC games started: 11 goals – on average 0.41 individual goals per game.

Games won during MC games started: 16 wins – of all games started with MC 59% were won.

Games drew during MC games started: 6 draws.

Games lost during MC games started: 5 defeats.

Robin van Persie:

Started:  26 games (all competitions/ Arsenal only).

Team Goals during RvP games started: 48 goals – on average 1.85 team goals per game.

Individual goals during RvP games started: 18 goals – on average 0.69 individual goals per game.

Games won during RvP games started: 13 wins – of all games started with RvP 50% were won.

Games drew during RvP games started: 6 draws.

Games lost during RvP games started: 7 defeats.

So my gut feeling was right all along: Chamakh is an important player for us and compares well with Robin van Persie.

In fact, when Chamakh started for Arsenal during the 2010-2011 season, we scored significantly more goals (2.41 goals per game compared to 1.85 for RvP) and we won more games (59% compared to 50%) than when RvP started during that same period. Yet, the latter one is loved and respected and the former is, shall we say, less appreciated. You might say that MC is a striker and he should be judged on his goal scoring record, but for me that does not matter anywhere near as much as his contributions to us winning games. And btw, 0.41 goals per game is not bad at all. RvP’s 0.69 goals per started game is of course phenomenal, but if Arsenal – as a team – score less goals and win less games then this is, overall, less valuable to us.

For me, there are two reasons why Chamakh is less appreciated. Firstly, he is far less effective as a substitute. Marouane is simply not a super-sub and will probably never be one, but this is having a big impact on how he is perceived. Secondly, his contributions to our team are far less visible then those of RvP. He works hard and often with his back towards the goal, linking well with his fellow attacking midfielders, creating space and opportunities for them. This will not get him into the big headlines, as strikers are almost entirely judges on goals and assists – the curse of statistics.

When RvP plays, other attacking players appear to work hard to get him in goal-scoring positions – in a way ‘outsourcing’ the responsibility of scoring goals to him only. When Chamakh plays in games from the start, there appears to be more collective responsibility for scoring goals and he works hard to allow the midfield to move forward into the danger area, and to put his fellow attackers in positions to score goals. Of course, like every other Gooner, I would like him to be more selfish and hungry at times, but as the stats above indicate, his role and contributions to our team are more valuable to us than we think.

To give you an illustration of this: the other day, against Olympiakos, Chamakh was heavily criticised for his performance. He did not score, wasted a couple of good opportunities, and he did also not have any direct assists. Yet, both goals would not have happened if it was not for him. For the first one, he took defenders with him into the box, whilst the Ox was left with space to take, relatively unhindered, a shot from the best possible position (he took it well, mind you!). For the second one, he created the space for Santos to take a shot to the near post of the goalkeeper, who had no choice but to get a bit closer to Chamakh, so Santos could not play him in. You might say, I am clutching at straws, but football is a team sport and it’s often those sort of relatively small things that can make a real difference to whether goals are scored or not, or whether we win or lose.

Chamakh deserves more respect from us and, I for one, hope that he will get to start a lot more games for Arsenal this season.

Chamakh oh Chamakh
Not scoring, yet winning still
unveil your merit!



March 8, 2011

What do you expect from tonight? Will we estacionar el autobus? Will we start gung-ho, try to score early and then work on the counter, or try to play keepball and settle slowly? Or do you expect Barcelona to blow us away early and give us a lesson?

All my non-Arsenal friends are predicting that Arsenal will get a hammering tonight and that we were fortunate to win at the Grove. To them I say “ Pish Tosh and a bottle of Pinosh”. Beating Barca was one of the great Arsenal performances and I see no reason why we cannot progress at the Camp Nou.

I have read the suggestion that we would be better off losing tonight; that we cannot win the CL because there are too many English teams in it and it is less shameful to lose to Barca than, say Chelsea. Again I say “pish”. We have beaten the Chavs on aggregate this season, thrown away a win against Spurs and were unlucky at Old Trafford. We are better than Bayern. In fact, the only fear I have is Real. We can win this Cup.

But first we have to get a result tonight ….

One of the key questions to be answered tonight will be which team is most affected by their missing players? Will we be able to take advantage of the absence of Piquet and Puyol without our most effective strike force? How damaging will be the loss of Song? (he is 50/50 as I write, and I am assuming he will not be risked.)

Should Song be out, who should take his place as our defensive shield? In a perfect world it would be Ramsey or even better, a fit Vermaelen. As it is AW has to decide between Denilson, Diaby and Rosicky. I expect Mr Wenger to take a safety first stance and play Denilson, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rosicky get a start in place of Nasri or Arshavin. AW must have been hoping for more from Diaby, who would be ideal if he could just play with more intelligence. Diaby is without question the most frustrating member of the squad; tonight should be a night where he showcases his huge talent but I doubt he can be trusted in so important a fixture.

Wilshere established himself as the coming man at the Grove – I hope he can keep his cool at Camp Nou. His booking for what appeared to be dissent on Saturday was a worry and hopefully not a portent of a young man developing arrogance. Self confidence is an absolute in a player of JW’s undoubted skills, but the glare of the media on one so young can turn heads. I hope AW can keep him grounded. One thing for sure is that Barca will not take him so lightly again.

Our defence is solid at the moment and I am delighted to see Sagna return (though Eboue did well in the first game). This is the best back 4 we have had for 5 years; youth, experience, physical power and ability on the ball. Have we ever seen our CB’s propel the team as we saw JD and Kos do on Saturday?

Upfront we have problems.  RvP is in the squad, but is unlikely to start. In his absence and on the evidence of Saturday, I would play Chamakh as a lone striker. I love Nik but it appears he requires more time than the Barca defence will allow him (though he has scored at Camp Nou). Chamakh has been publicly praised by AW and I expect him to start. The news has just been released that RvP is travelling with the squad – I wouldn’t risk him, but what a sub!  With 20 minutes to go at the end of a tight game, Robin could make a huge impact.

Our most important players? Fabregas and Szczesny. Fab will be so excited about tonight, the opportunity to show his wonderful talents in his home town stadium.  He will control the tempo of our game. What a night for our 20 y.o. GK. To play at his age in what is the glamour tie in World football is unimaginable. He seems to be unflappable which he will need to be. There is no question that he will be by far the busier keeper and should he perform to his highest ability we have a chance. If he freezes, we are sunk.

My team:

My fear is that should we be 2 down at any time in the game we haven’t the weapons to get back into the game. Without RvP in the starting line-up we lack bite – we need a big night from Nasri and Fabregas. If we score (and have the luck) we will win.

Barcelona is home to many interesting chaps.  Picasso, Dali, Jean Miro`, Gaudi, Jose Carreras, Montserat Caballe`, Pablo Casals, Victoria de los Angeles among others, but does not appear to have any proper Rockers. Perhaps it is a weather thing?

Will I be nervous tonight? Will I be envious of Brigham who is at the game tonight? What do you think?