Coq and Alexis to tame the Foxes | Ideal 11 against Barcelona | Make or Break February

Four games in February that could make or break our season.

Arsenal are back on track… well maybe not totally, but that away win at Bournemouth was very welcome. We played some good football, scored two fine goals, kept a clean sheet and reduced the gap with Leicester Smester to five points; and we got ahead of mega-spenders Citeh in the process. It was crucial that we did that and as supporters we should be happy. Are we though? Well I am, and what anybody else thinks is their business. Although…on another blog somebody called our performance on Sunday ‘Sam Allerdicesque’; I rest my case.

We all know that Coquelin and Alexis are vital players to see the season out victoriously. And the good news is that since their return we won against Burnley, got a point from the Saints game (should have been three) and won at Bournemouth, even though they did not play all the time in those matches. Clearly, both players are not yet at their best but they are getting there, and I am hopeful that they will be a lot sharper when we play the Foxes at THOF. It may take longer than that but with a bit of luck they will be fully fit when it matters most.

Wenger has been giving the key players who have played for us most of the season a rest recently. Some believe the BFG is being punished for his red card against the Chavs but I reckon Per is simply getting some much needed rest. Will he be back this weekend? I reckon so. Gabriel is slowly getting there but Per’s organisation and leadership skills will be much needed in the tougher games.

It will be interesting to see what will happen with Theo in the next few weeks. For years I have defended Walcott on this and other blogs, pointing out time and again that his assists and goals stats are very good. We know about his limitations but his qualities and stats easily outweigh these. However, we need to see him get back to scoring and assisting and scaring the life out of opposition defenders as soon as possible. And at the moment he appears to be in a mental cul de sac. February will hopefully see a turning point for him.

Looking at February, this is a crucial month for the Gunners. We have four games left: three home games in a row and a tricky away game in manky Manchester just before the month finishes. After Leicester we play Hull at home for the FA Cup and then we host Barcelona. With those games in mind, it is no wonder that the boys put the foot off the gas paddle against the Cherries and just secured the win without conceding once. We were lethal twice in just 88 seconds and after that we were in control of almost the entire game. If you felt you were not entertained enough by the Gunners on Sunday, I’d say get used to it or go and watch some darts. We have a championship to win and it ain’t going to be beautiful all the time – that’s for next season! :)

We do not need to win against Leicester but we cannot afford to lose. The Foxes will play with not a care in the world as they are still not feeling much pressure: they are over-performing by a country mile and will just play their game… as they did so successfully against the Northern Oilers last weekend. Their hardest games are against the lesser lights of the PL; despite winning against Pool and Citeh recently, they, just like Arsenal (and Citeh), only won five out of their last ten games. So a draw would not be the end of the world but of course we should aim to win, and I reckon we can as long as we play compact and composed (and the supporters will need to understand this and just… support).

The Hull game at home is a perfect opportunity to reach the last eight of the FA Cup and yet rest a few players for the clash with Barcelona. We cannot afford to underestimate Hull but Wenger will have a quality squad to choose from.


There is no doubt in my mind that Arsene has been thinking and preparing a lot for the Barcelona game. What is at stake here is our status in Europe and with that our attractiveness for future big signings (as well as keeping our stars at the club). Wenger knows that we have to play at our best, and cleverest, to have a chance against the Catalans and I cannot wait to see the home game. The practice we had against Guardiola’s Bayernlona will really help here and the good news is that we should be able to field a really strong team, possibly our strongest: Cech, Bellerin, BFG, Koz, Monreal, Coquelin, Flamini/Campbell, Rambo, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud/Theo (depending on tactics). With a bit of luck Welbeck will be available as well. I guess we will not see Santi or Jack play this month, but they might make the return match in March.

The last game of the month will be a big test of character for Arsenal. Old Trafford has been a difficult ground for us in recent years and we need to replicate that fine FA Cup win of last season (Nacho Monreal you HERO! :) ) and show it was not a one-off. We will be knackered after the Barca game but a good result should also give us the impetus and belief we can beat them and give Louis van Gaal finally his P45 (he will thank us for this eventually :) ).

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

So fine fellow Gooners, there is so much to look forward to in February and with the right support, the right mentality by the players and a bit of luck (especially on the injury front) this could become a very special month.

By TotalArsenal.


Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Ozil and Ox Juice the Cherries | Clean Sheet Cech | FlamRam Boss Midfield: Match Review

Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal

The surprising win by the Foxes against the Northern Oilers – who looked anything but Pepped up yesterday – made our game against the Cherries even more a must-win. An eight points gap is never good, and definitely not with just 14 games to go. So the three points needed to be taken today by hook or by crook. Arsene left the BFG, Coquelin and Theo out and opted for Gabriel, ‘Monsieur Passion’ Le Flam and the Ox. The BFG and Coquelin exclusions were not a total surprise but not starting with Campbell or Theo and preferring the Ox, was – well at least to me.


Bournemouth, managed by the talented and agreeable Eddie Howe, had put up a large midfield with the aim to deny us space and frustrate our game, and initially this worked a treat for them. We tried to penetrate them from our left and at times it looked like a rugby match (without the physical contact), as so many players were attacking or defending a small area of the pitch. As a visual spectacle, this was not helped by the cacophony of colours on display: the ball yellow and pink, our away shirt blue and gold and the Cherries’ shirts black and red stripes. The Sky camera angles did not helped much either with giving us a clear picture of how our attacks from the left were going.

Out of nothing, Monsieur Passion decided to go into the tackle with both feet. They were probably not enough off the ground to give a straight red but the referee was nevertheless a bit lenient in giving the Flame a yellow rather than a red card. Was this a moment of madness or an attempt to bring back focus and passion into the Arsenal team by our old-hand defensive midfielder? You tell me!

Even though the Bournemouth ground, Dean Court, holds only 11000 spectators, there was a loud atmosphere; and the romantic in me thinks it is good to see that clubs with such small stadiums can still make it all the way into the PL. But the Gunners were not affected by the noise of the crowd and slowly played themselves into the game. And, as we got used to during the first half of the season, we took control after a quarter of the game had gone. And by blitz, as we found the net twice in just two minutes, squeezing almost all the juice out of the Cherries instantly with two fine goals.

For the first goal, Bellerin moved towards the middle of the pitch with a nice cameo, dutifully giving the ball to the omnipresent Rambo; the Welsh endurance bunny puts a teasing ball into the box and both Alexis and Giroud are ready to lay it back towards the perfectly positioned Ozil around the penalty spot; the taller one reaches it first and the lay-off is good but not easy for most midfielders; but Mesut, who no doubt had flashbacks last week of his missed opportunities against the Saints, hits the perfect volley, ever so slightly off the ground, leaving the boots-to-neck all green coloured Boric with no chance to save his effort. A sumptuous goal by magic Mesut, and the away fans sang with full gusto the beloved Ozil song.

For the second goal we needed a bit more luck. Sanchez, who was positioned a lot in centre today, had not managed to control a fine pass towards him around the ‘D’, but the hasty clearance landed into the feet of the well positioned Rambo, who saw that the Ox was making a good attacking run towards the left side of the Cherries’ box; the Ox takes one touch and puts in a fine diagonal shot, come cross, into Boric’s right corner, leaving the green man with no chance to save it. The Ox paid Wenger back for his confidence in him and I am really pleased he has finally found the net again.

Two nil to the Arsenal and what’s to do now: defend and wait for more chances on the counter or push on for more goals with the risk of letting them back into the game?

We lost a bit of focus after our second goal but the Cherries did not have the imagination and quality to become more dangerous, even though Gabriel, who had a decent game overall, almost gave a helping hand with some indecisive defending against Pugh. The Brazilian was saved by a great, just-in-time tackle in the box from Hector Vector, who had devoured some Cherry ground to get there. In general, we were set up well defensively, especially in the centre and in front of our ‘D’, not allowing Bournemouth any wiggle room and us dealing well with their occasional pressing game. Afobe tried his best to get the midfield closer to the goal with some fine link-up play, but they just did not have enough quality to really hurt us in the first half.

There is not too much to say about the second half. I don’t think Bournemouth really believed they could get something from this game, but they certainly tried. The Gunners left the initiative to the Cherries and did not bust a gut going forward to get a third goal. They sensed their chances would come to score again and were happy to sit back in the meantime. The players worked hard all over the pitch to disturb any momentum Bournemouth could build up and we saw out the game well, partly due to some fine alert goalkeeping by ‘Clean Sheet Cech’.

So, very good win and vital three points to get us back on track. We have no further injuries and Alexis has had another game to get back to full sharpness, which is clearly still missing. But this was also a good game for our Double DM-pivot: Flamini was disciplined (accept for that one moment of madness) and energetic, and Rambo was at his very best today, showing us all what an athletic and aware box to box midfielder can be capable of in the modern game. Aaron needs to play himself in form which takes time, and I am hoping that he reached a tipping point in today’s game.


Gabriel grabbing his chance

We should also praise Gabriel today: except for the one moment of weakness in the first half, he was solid and positioned himself really well. Does this mean he is to replace the BFG permanently? I don’t think so, even though some will want this. Per needed a rest and Wenger has been giving his key players a rest recently, so expect him to be back soon with Koz to form our first choice central defence.

Bring on those Foxes!

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

AFC Bournemouth-Arsenal: Match Preview, Projected Line-Up. Must Win, Must Play


With the visit of league leaders Leicester City looming, Arsenal simply must get back to scoring goals and winning matches.  Trips to the South Coast aren’t usually the easiest but somehow we have to find a way. How?

Probably by trying to pick up where we left off in the reverse fixture.

In that one, Mesut Ozil created 10 chances but we only scored two goals.  The first was Gabriel heading home an Ozil corner, the second Ozil put in himself on a lovely 1-2 with Olivier Giroud.

Since that match, the last one of the 2015 Calendar year, Arsenal have struggled in league play. After scraping past Newcastle with a fortunate 1-nil win in very heavy weather, the Gunners have drawn three times and lost once, grabbing only three points from the twelve on offer and tumbling from the top of the league to 4th place.  With Leicester City’s stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City today, we simply must take the full points at Bournemouth.

AFC Bournemouth actually come into this one as the team in better form.  Since our match, they’ve drawn at Leicester City and Sunderland, won at home vs Norwich and, most recently, beaten Crystal Palace in Croydon.  (They did lose at West Ham back on 12 January).  All told, that’s eight points from fifteen in 2016 and they now find themselves seven points clear of the relegation places.

Part of this strong form in the new year can be ascribed to the arrival of former Arsenal youth player Benik Afobe from Wolverhampton in the January transfer window.  While Arsenal have failed to score in our last three matches, Afobe alone has scored three times, more than justifying his ten million pound transfer fee, a Bournemouth record.

Stopping Afobe will be essential as Eddie Howe’s group, much as they did in the reverse fixture, tend to come out and play, enjoying the smooth pitch at the Vitality stadium.  Arsenal will have to show defensive solidity, win the midfield battles and control possession better than they did on Tuesday vs Southampton.  Most of all, they will have to convert their scoring chances.

At this point we need much more of the three Fs: functionality, fluidity and finishing, or else Gooners will likely be employing other words that begin with that letter.  How do we get there?

Most likely by dropping one whose name also begins with an F: Mathieu Flamini.  The 31 year old Corsican has been a key element in keeping Arsenal afloat after November injuries to Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Alexis Sanchez.  With the latter pair available for selection, manager Arsene Wenger most likely needs both of them in the starting group.

Picking that group correctly and Arsenal commanding the match from the opening kick-off seems essential.  Perhaps it’s actually an easier task away from the Emirates.  The traveling support has seen it all and tends to bring fewer nerves and, on the road, there’s less of a “here we are now, entertain us,” vibe that can take over in the home ground.

I feel far from sure this time, but here’s the group I think Wenger will put out.

Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott

I have to say that I’m quite unsure about some parts of this group.  I thought Mertesacker would come straight back into the team vs Southampton after serving his one match ban for the red card picked up against Chelsea.  That he didn’t perhaps indicates that Wenger has lost some faith in him.  For me, Gabriel hasn’t looked settled in the BFG’s spot.  Then again, he scored vs Bournemouth so maybe he goes again.

Similarly, while Joel Campbell works hard and has done very well since getting his chance, I wonder if he’s really the best choice over on the right.  In the first half of the Southampton match he and Hector Bellerin looked to have their wires crossed with basic possession play down that side.  Could Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a start over there instead? Or maybe Aaron Ramsey plays his football from that starting position, in that ‘free role’ he made his own for much of 2015.

That could mean a chance for Mohammed Elneny, Flamini or Mikel Arteta alongside Coquelin at the rear of our midfield. Arsenal’s only January signing, Elneny, looked lively a week ago in the FA Cup vs Burnley but wasn’t included in the squad vs Southampton and has yet to kick a ball in league play.  Arteta was also left out of that team. Does Wenger include one or both?  Could Flamini go again?

It’s hard to say, but I will suggest that Wenger needs to get his selection right–proven, of course, in the eyes of most, only by the scoreline– and no matter who plays we need the full points and improved confidence ahead of the showdown with Leicester City.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace


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Arsenal miss Carzola: Time to replace Rambo with this Forgotten Maestro


I have never bought the idea of a team knowing how to win ugly. As I see it, a team never wins ugly but can win lucky. A defensive masterclass punctuated by a few counters to achieve victory should not by any stretch of language be described as ugly. Efficiency is beauty, not ugliness. When a team plays ugly it looses, or otherwise wins lucky.

When we suddenly lost Coquelin, Carzola and Sanchez to injuries we expected the worst as far as our title bid was concerned. There was an obvious drop in our performance level. The number of chances we were creating dropped while the chances we were conceding increased. Remarkably we kept pace with the front runners. Some of our performances were below par but we hardly took notice. After all we have made the great acquisition of knowing how to win ugly, a large section of the fan base kept singing. For those matches, as far as I was concerned, we merely won lucky and that kept me nervous about subsequent matches as luck is not a commodity that is secure in anybody’s hands.

Last Tuesday we played against the in-form Southampton. Alexis was back in the team as a starter, and Coquelin was on the bench and came in later as a substitute. For whatever reasons, our performance hit the height that had been lacking over the last two months. We created our 2nd highest chances of the season, just below that of our match against Leicester where we scored 5 goals. We made 22 attempts at goal, 21 of them from within the penalty box, 4 of those from the 6yds box. Southampton had only 3 shots on target, and their goalkeeper Fraser Forster was the MotM with a Whoscored rating of 9.9. Yet some of the fans had the temerity to boo the team. Truly, nothing succeeds as success, and nothing fails as failure.

While the score line left me disappointed, the performance of the team left me elated and I am eagerly awaiting our next fixture and our next, totally convinced that our team will keep giving repeat performances of the Southampton night. The odds are very high that no opposing goalkeeper is ever going to make that 9.9 rating again.

One thing that have shown up over the past 12 years is that Arsenal is poor when leading the pack, but great when playing the catch up. This must be a kind of mental fragility but as at the moment we use the weapon that we have. Five points behind the current table toppers, with two other teams above us might just be sufficient catch-up-stimulus to trigger that transformation, the timing of which could provide us the momentum to breast the tape ahead of the others. Maybe we are just acting the script of Chairman Mao Tse-tung who about 65 years ago described China’s economic transformation program’s collapse as “the backward move before the great leap forward”. That conjures the image of a bull about to charge.

I am bullish, but I know that there is still plenty of work to do. I doubt if there is any one of us that is not missing our brain box Santi Carzola. Him and Jack potentially will be available for at least the 7 matches of April and May, the final run-in games. That is a great cheer as Santi is the perfect link between our defense and our front attacking players. He is able to transmit the ball through the middle third with speed, creativity and precision. That is the kind of environment Ozil thrives on, Walcot too, Alexis all weather. Chances upon chances will be created, but then there are seven games potentially without Santi. My dilemma is whether Ramsey is our best alternative at the moment.

I applaud Ramsey on how he has held the fort admirably. Versatile, unyielding, Ramsey is at his best in the final third. That extra touch of his, is his technique for fashioning his creative play. He is every ounce an offensive player whose enthusiasm and monstrous engine permits an overflow into defensive matters. However as a box to box his transition through that vital middle third is slow. He lacks pace running with the ball, and he is not very fond of making the ball do the running. There is also, always, that extra touch and the turns in the middle third, that permit the opposition to get into shape in their defensive third. In the absence of Carzola and Wilshere in this order, do we have any one else that can do this job as well or better than Rambo? Arteta seems mysteriously erased from everybody’s mind. Let us do some recollections.


Deep lying playmaking was Arteta’s former role before he was converted to a DM because of a gap in our team. Without doubt Arteta is one of the most, if not the most, tactically aware player that we have. He understands roles, and that imbues in him the ability to perform the role with discipline. Technically he is quite gifted, and above all he reads the game very well able to understand the intricate field dynamics of time and space. His legs might not be very much there any more, but making the ball do most of the running Pirloesque and having Coquelin behind him might just enable him give us what we want, which is transmitting the ball quickly and intelligently through the middle third to our front players.

Another area of a concern is in our goal haul. The three teams above us have 20 plus goal strikers. We don’t seem to have one but we would have made up for that lack if we can have three players who could give us 35 plus goals. Giroud is one, Sanchez is another, and I feel the time has come for Walcott to go back to the wide right from where he regularly made two digit number goals as well as impressive assist figures. Welbeck is back to cover Giroud in the striker role.

These are just my tweaks to a team looking all set for a great run. Gunners let’s have your tweaks which, I suspect, must be plenty but limited to what we can do from what we have. COYG!!!

By Pony Eye

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Arsenal 0 – Southampton 0 What remains to be said? What’s left to support?

Plenty I think, but a whole lot less if you poke around the Goonersphere.  Thinking about Piers Morgan dancing naked (if Giroud scores against Barcelona) takes away almost all my poking desire…

I watched the match last night and I actually tried to convey what I saw as it was happening in the live-blog format set up by my partner in crime, Total Arsenal.  This came after I wrote a match preview the day before.  Too much writing, perhaps, on a topic over which I have no control.

This is how I see it:  Arsenal will play a match; Arsene Wenger will put out a team to try and get a result; things will happen in that match and Arsenal will come away with 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and no points for a loss.  Our rivals will also play and come away with their results.

And then we will react.

At the stadium, some fans will boo, others will applaud the effort.

In the Goonersphere, an echo chamber of extreme proportions, so called super-fans will trot out their narratives of self-indulgence and perpetual dissatisfaction.  Had we won our last four league matches it would have been something along the lines of, “Liverpool and Chelsea are woeful this season, and it’s only Stoke and Southampton, so I’m still unimpressed.”   That we’ve dropped points in all those matches means that Wenger is a stingy idiot, placing his faith in players who are obviously not up to it and a thousand variations on the theme.

Predictable as the tides.

Here at Bergkampesque, for the most part, those folks are mostly gone from the comment section.  We do have one who still comes around–I shan’t name names–and I actually have a lot of respect for him.  He’s a very strong writer and I’m pretty sure English isn’t his first language.  Let’s call him BKPC (for Bergkampesque’s Piers Claude)….

PC and I share some VERY similar views on the actual football and our assessments of many of Arsenal’s players are often very much in line, we just differ in our reaction to (those pesky) results.  My inkling is to keep things as level as possible, trying to see the good through my frustrations and seeing areas for improvement even when things go our way (which, if I recall, can happen at Arsenal…)

PC and I had some heated back and forth during and after the disappointing Chelsea match.  In fact, given his reaction to that one, I was awfully surprised that he seemed so excited about our chances in the upcoming Champions League ties against Barcelona.  It’s hard to say how he’s feeling today, but post So’ton comments have seemed to focus on Wenger’s stinginess and a belief that the next manager will be a freer spender.

A day on from the match I will repeat my most boring of retorts.  Management serves at the behest of ownership and WalMart is closing stores, so, if the order to sell comes down, it could be from Sam Walton’s son-in-law, perhaps.  Unless that figure departs, future managers may well be limited by the ambitions of our majority shareholder.  Let’s also recall that Stan Kroenke has just finagled a way to move the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles.  Aren’t there some major European cities who could use a new football team?  With Pep gone to Manchester (and weakening Bayern Munich, we suppose…) why not Arsenal Berlin?  Anybody?

It’s a weakness, getting drawn in like that, and surely PC will show my argument to be a silly one.

We’ve already had back and forth about buying in the Summer window but now the issue (maybe) is the window just closed, I can’t quite tell.  We should have bought but I can’t tell who exactly?  Do we still need back-up for Coquelin, a guy whose only contribution was to be about five minutes late in the only tackle he attempted?   Is getting Schneiderlin away from Man U the answer?  They beat Stoke last night, after all, and will surely overtake us.  Did Schneiderlin play?  Who knows?  Even if he didn’t, even if we’re still above them in the table, it doesn’t matter.  Wenger should have done something, anything, different.

What I get is this:

We watch Arsenal because we want to feel good.

Win = feel good + hope for more winning which will make me feel good again, with caveats or warnings or recipes for how we can win, of course.  Ummmm, feel good (though not quite good enough, unless we KEEP winning)… Me like (but dammit, me still nervous over the next match…)

Lose or draw = Rant; Everything is shite; Blame players, blame manager, blame supporters who think players are good enough, blame everything… Me feel better?  I wonder…

Nothing personal, PC, it’s just what people do.  It’s no better and no worse than the way I choose to cope with my disappointment.  Truly, nothing personal, and, like I say, I agree with many of your observations, assessments, etc.

Still, here at Bergkampesque, the task (I think) is to try and find the beauty in the football.  Personally I saw some last night even if, oh so painfully, the ball never rippled the Southampton net, which would have been the most beautiful sight of all.

I saw players doing what they could for the badge (and, dare I say it, for the manager who believes in them).

I saw world class players: Ozil, Alexis and Cech, trying to do things on their own and by lifting their teammates to try and get that goal.  Alexis to Ozil in the first half was one of the most breathtaking first touches I’ve seen…

I saw players just below that level: Koscielny, Giroud and Monreal, trying to do what they could to supply what was required.

I saw young players from diverse cultures: Gabriel, Campbell and Bellerin, perhaps intimidated by the wrath they knew would come their way if they screwed up in front of the home crowd, trying to make the right choices and execute the correct passes, shots and tackles.  (Even Coquelin, with that very, very late one, was making a decision and trying to realize the vision in his mind…)

And I saw older professionals: Walcott, Ramsey and Flamini, never ones to have every touch come off, do what they could to try and make them work–or make the next one work or, dammit, get that ball they just gave away back under their control.

In a certain way, it WAS beautiful.

There are moments in life, when all is against you, even the dumb luck that makes a shot which (finally) eludes the most in-form goalkeeper (in the world?…) but is cleared off the line by a player who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, where you have to say, “at least I fought the good fight, and, given more time on the clock (or another match…) I will keep fighting it.”

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, blah, blah, blah…

So, if you take comfort in Not.Good.Enough or Should.Have.Bought. or any other truth which you hold dear, More.Power.To.You.

For me, while I would have set the team up differently (see match preview) or may not have full faith in the full range of characters and find myself often quite critical of the football on display (see in-match comments, first half, especially…),  I remain inspired by the fight I see in this Arsenal team and I will be there on Sunday (5:30 am kickoff in my time zone) to do it again, powerless as I will be to control the outcome or my reaction to it.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but, if you return, there must be a reason, there must be something positive you see that says, “This is how I want to spend my time and energy (and, perhaps, my money)…, i.e., there must be something I’m getting from this.”  If not, there are other forms of entertainment with MUCH more plausible happy endings… Hell, if you ‘believe’ in Pep Guardiola, there’s even an English Football team you could start to follow…

But, if you can find that good bit, that glimmer of beauty and draw it out and share it, I want to be the first to salute you and your effort.  I also (somewhat desperately…) encourage you to share it here on Bergkampesque as I’m getting awfully tired of the obverse–almost to the point of believing that most gooners (note the lowercase…) or at least the louder ones who dominate our interweb, perhaps don’t deserve a winning team.

Go on then… :D

by 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 31 Comments

Arsenal v Saints Line Up | Live Blog: No BFG, Theo or Elneny

A big game for Arsenal. A must win if we want to regain momentum and stay near the top. Share your thoughts and insights with us this evening!

line ups

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. Subs: Gibbs, Mertesacker, Ospina, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers, Coquelin.

Southampton: Forster, Cedric Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Wanyama, Mane, Long, Tadic. Subs: Yoshida, Clasie, Martina, Pelle, Juanmi, Stekelenburg, Targett.


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Arsenal-Southampton. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Giroud or Theo (or Both) Up Top? What Will

Wenger Do?  What would you do?

Arsenal seek revenge for the Boxing Day drubbing on the South Coast.  How do we do it?

The transfer window is closed and Arsenal have bought one player, Mohamed Elneny, who Gooners finally got to see in action just a couple of days ago in the FA Cup vs Burnley.  He cost somewhere between 5 and 7.4 million pounds, depending on how his time at Arsenal proceeds.  Compare that with teams like Newcastle and Stoke who spent more than double those amounts.  The message is clear:  Arsene Wenger believes in the squad he has, now it’s all about that group getting results.

Ronald Koeman’s Southampton team handed us our worst defeat of the season, a decidedly one-sided, 4-nil, beat-down on Boxing Day.  Do we fear this team because of that result or does it provide extra motivation for reversing that one?

I think it will be the latter.  The home crowd could help, the addition of Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin should help and the simple pride of the Gunners mean that Southampton should be on their guard.

Moreover, this is just about a must-win match for Arsenal given their disappointing results in the league in January.  After squeaking a 1-nil win at home vs Newcastle they drew at both Liverpool and Stoke City before losing to Chelsea the Sunday before last.  Five points from twelve has taken the team from the top of the league to third.  With a weekend match at the other South Coast club, Bournemouth AFC, followed by a real six-pointer hosting current league leaders Leicester City on St. Valentine’s day, getting this next section of the league campaign off on the correct foot is essential.

Southampton, perhaps still hung over from their great win on Boxing Day, suffered a couple of set-backs, losing at West Ham and Norwich, before reversing course and finding much better form.  Convincing home wins vs Watford (2-nil) and West Brom (3-nil) set the stage to steal the full points from Manchester United up at Old Trafford with another clean sheet in the last round.  Their new signing, Charlie Austin, who cost less than Elneny, got the late winner in that one.

Austin’s smash and grab was big but an even bigger reason for the improved form (and the run of clean sheets) is the return of the Man-Mountain, goalkeeper Fraser Forster.  We all know some of the other strong players up and down the spine of this Saints team.  Virgil van Dijk, Jose Fonte, Victor Wanyama, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane are the sorts of players many teams–including Arsenal–have inquired about over the years.  Shane Long is probably too old and far too cynical for the more refined tastes of many Arsenalistas, but we saw what he can do, especially if a referee turns a blind eye to his, er, gamesmanship.  If we do not show up ready to match Southampton in all parts of the pitch and all elements of the game, they can punish us.  It might also help if referee Lee Mason doesn’t forget his whistle.

How do we insure we get the performance that will get us the result?  For me, it starts at the back.  Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal–all rested vs Burnley–will surely be restored to the squad and will need to perform.  So too will the central triangle of our center backs and our deepest lying midfielder.  Some might argue against Per Mertesacker, but I think he comes right back into the team after serving his one-match ban for the red card Diego Costa won against him in the Chelsea match.  Laurent Koscielny, although he had some iffy moments of his own vs Burnley, surely starts alongside, and Coquelin must reprise his 70+minutes from the cup match.

Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, both rested for that one, will certainly come in, with Ramsey sure to relish the more mobile Coquelin behind him.  The real question comes up front.  I’m guessing that Giroud takes a bench seat, much as he did when sacrificed after we went down to ten men vs Chelsea.  That means Alexis on the right, Theo up top and Joel Campbell wide right.  It looks like this:

Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Elneny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud

Or maybe not.  Elneny could go again and Ramsey could go back to that free role on the right at Campbell’s expense.  Theo could play there as well with Giroud up front in what might be an extremely attacking line-up.  Who knows?  Only Arsene…

What do you think and how would you approach this one?  It feels like a critical match, both to restore some of the pride we shipped down their way the day after Christmas and to get the business end of the season back on a winning trajectory.  Five points separates the top four teams and fifth place, but that same number of points is all that covers one through four.  We need to win our home games if we hope to get back on top.  So, a big atmosphere, plenty of commitment and a strong performance… And a big dose of revenge for the Saints.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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