I have some time on my hand and feel the need for some therapy so writing about Arsenal usually does the trick. Hard to know where to start however after the tumultuous week or so the Gunners have had. I am ready for change but can’t envisage that happening anytime soon so there is little point dwelling on the Wenger debate at this time. After what can only be described as a disaster in the FA Cup and non-surprising exit from Europe all we have to focus on are the last 9 games in the Premier League and the slim chance we still have of winning it.
I am not sitting here typing with any confidence in that aspiration but we all know stranger things have happened in recent years. What is critical now is that Arsenal gets as close to the 27 possible points available to then beginning with 3 points at Goodison Park tomorrow. A visit to Everton has traditionally been a tricky fixture and they will be confident after their progress to the FA Cup Semi final but their home record this campaign has not been the best.
BetHut recently described the Camp Nou as one of Europe’s Football Fortresses, so to go there 2 goals down and face that atmosphere was always going to be daunting. If the exit was inevitable the level of performance we expected from our team was not. In reality we have seen Arsenal at their brilliant best, at their stubborn best and more often at their capitulating and naïve worst in the last month. Therefore what transpired on Wednesday evening was actually a pleasant surprise. Yes there was a continuation of a lack of confidence in front of goal but huge positives to be taken from the performance of the team, key individuals and in particular our pressing and build up play. It is the positives I am sure Wenger and his players will be looking to build on ahead of tomorrow when anything less than 3 points is failure.
So what are the lessons and the factors to consider ahead of Saturday Lunchtime’s opportunity for the Gunners to send out a signal to Spurs and Leicester that they have not yet thrown in the towel?
Alexis – There were definite signs that our Chilean talisman of last season may be getting his mojo back. I am certain this comes with instructions to play with more freedom, get closer to the striker and in essence go out and be a nuisance. On Wednesday we saw him ostensibly from the right which many have called for. It removed the predictability of him continually cutting on to his right foot to shoot of that we can agree. If he is given this free roaming role tomorrow how he plays it may depend on how the Toffee’s line up. Last week in the 3 behind Lukaku with Lennon on the right there was no natural width of the left with Ross Barkley and Tom Cleverly but of course we know Baines will be overlapping continuously. In conclusion Sanchez cab drift and get closer to his striker but will have to show the old work rate to support Bellerin when we lose possession.
Other Flank – If Alexis does stay on the right or actually even if he does not the next decision is who plays on the other side? Of course this is also dependent on who starts up top but I cannot see Wenger selecting anyone other than Welbeck. So the choice earlier in the season might have been between Ox and Theo but now I firmly believe his decision is between Campbell and Iwobi.
Walcott for whatever reason is contributing a fraction of what he has in the past and if not playing centrally lacks work rate, ball retention and most importantly the creativity the two younger players offer. Both Joel and Alex have developed well this campaign as we all search for good news and I think ultimately the young Nigerian will be a long term Gunner. However having not been involved at all in Barcelona I suspect our grinning Costa Rican will get the nod. Primarily because his energy in working back in support of his own fullback and tracking the runs of either Coleman or Baines gives him the edge.
Centre Backs – It was warming to see Koscienly take to the field on Wednesday evening and to last 90 minutes seemingly unscathed. He looked a tad rusty but superb to shake of the cobwebs in a match that we were never going to win but would be competitive and testing. This gives us our certain CB starter back and leaves Wenger with the decision that divides our supporters. Experience, game reading and distribution from Mertesacker on the one hand. Or better tackling, heading, aggression and clearing from Gabriel on the other. Both have their liabilities and I am not as unhappy with the Brazilian’s distribution as some but I honestly can’t call it myself. Based on recent section when all 3 of his first choices have been available it has been Gabriel over Per so Saturday may be the same. Who knows the tackle on Lukaku with which Gab announced his arrival so emphatically may inspire him.
Lennon – Aaron Lennon ‘a particular favourite’ of the Arsenal faithful has found a rich vein of form at Everton with a consistent run in the team. He has hit 5 gaols in his last 8 starts. He is relishing the challenge of facing Arsenal and in all seriousness on his game he needs to be shackled well. Monreal is arguably the best defensive left back in the Premier League and this promised to be a key battle. However he will often seek to cut in and allow Coleman to overlap as well so Nacho will need support from whichever wide man is ahead of him and the left sided holding midfielder.
Coq/Elneny – We were all surprised to see Coquelin rested in the Camp Nou but if he was nursing a sore calf it did not seems to hinder him when he came on for Flamini. Tomorrow he will resume his partnership with Mo Elneny who can be rightly pleased with his contribution and superbly taken goal. This pairing is pretty much all we have until Wilshere of Santi return, hopefully after the international break and fortunately there are signs that the partnership has merit. Both players have fabulous energy and strength but there are definite signs that the Eygptian has an eye for a pass, a shot and a well-timed run accompanied though with the discipline required for this system.
Ospina – Lastly a note on the much maligned shot stopper who has stepped in at a team morale was low, the pairings ahead of him changeable and has done particularly well.
We need Alexis and Welbeck to find their scoring boots to add to the movement and unpredictability which they give us that Giroud does not. Giroud has become Plan B and a good one but the 4231 with him playing with his back to goal made us easy to defend against, Win tomorrow, hope that the others don’t and then say a silent prayer to whichever God you believe in that one of Cazorla or Wilshire can add the missing ingredient after the break.