Get Back on the Horse!
Kicked off the horse (and then stomped upon) Arsenal must hoist itself back into the saddle to play Swansea City tonight in a league make-up match. This is a match that we simply must win and win in a bit of style to right the wrongs from Saturday’s indigestible lunchtime date with Chelsea. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time this season where we’ve needed a visible response. After shipping 6 goals against Manchester City in mid-December, we held Chelsea goalless at home in a nil-nil. That same score-line followed our horrific 5-1 loss at Anfield in a similar home match vs another “big” club: Manchester United. Swansea, even though they beat us 2-nil in this same fixture last season, have had a difficult season, replacing (up and coming?) manager Michael Laudrup, with Garry Monk, but still languishing only 4 points above the relegation zone. Arsenal, we thought, was having a much better season but amidst another (all too predictable?) “injury crisis” seems to find itself unraveling at just the wrong time, despite the fact that winning this “game in hand” could see us pull within 4 points of the league leaders–despite the spanking we’ve just received at their hand. Dropping points against Swansea would move us from another single (and isolated) 90 minutes of humiliation into a full blown end-of-season crisis. We need to move on from the Chelsea beating by winning the 3 points we gave away so easily on the weekend.
Additionally, the match has implications for more challenging encounters on the horizon. Manchester City comes to our stadium on Saturday and we must show a certain readiness for that one. After that, Everton away looms. They’ve just beaten the team we play tonight (Swansea, in a 3-2 scoreline) and they are the team who will be hoping we drop points to make that match a true “6-pointer.” We stand 8 points clear but they have a match in hand, so any incentive we give them means our CL spot will be “up for grabs” in Liverpool, to borrow the famous quote of twenty five years ago….
We can only play the matches one at a time, so let’s keep our eyes on the ball and focus on this one.
Swansea come to Ashburton Grove not having won in their last 8 matches, but they may catch a big boost with the return of Miquel Peréz Cuesta, more commonly known as Michu, the man who scored two late goals to beat us in this fixture last season. If he takes the pitch, many will fear his “sounds of silence” goal celebration and it could be an interesting test for our central defenders, given that Captain Tomas Vermaelen will be at the start of “at least 4 matches” alongside Per Mertesacker due to a Laurent Koscielny calf strain. Wilfried Bony, always a handful just because of his raw strength and power, may also prove a threat.
On the other hand, new Swansea manager Garry Monk may try and control the match by keeping possession rather than pressing for goals. In their position, and with so many Arsenal midfielders missing, this could be the best path to nicking a single point or more. In a relegation battle, each point is precious and given our own troubles, the Swans may be sniffing blood in the water. If they can keep us from scoring (as they did in last season’s fixture) putting Michu in as a sub might further inhibit our attack, given that I believe we’ll start with our better attackers on the pitch rather than the bench.
With that, I give you our starting 11. I believe Wenger, a manager who believes or at least wants to believe in his players, will go with the guys who “failed to show up” at Stamford Bridge. As such, the only change will be Vermaelen for Koscielny. I realize this is at odds with those who favor dropping as many as possible, but so it goes. We’ll see.
If there’s some fiddling in between those two extremes it could be a chance for a debut for Kim Källström (in place of Tomáš Rosickỳ). I know nothing about the Swede, but he provides double the umlauts which we’ve been missing since Mesut Özil twanged his hamstring at Bayern Munich. On the other hand, Rosickỳ has three special accents/symbols above the letters in his name…. My expectation is that KK could make his Arsenal debut as a sub if we appeared comfortable in the match; otherwise, his signing is another albatross around our manager’s neck and I doubt the legendary manager, under immense pressure once again, would dare to use him. If we must chase the win, the more expected subs would be Yaya Sanogo and Serge Gnabry. Not a lot of experience scoring late goals, but you never know, and Gnabry’s nice one against the same team in South Wales earlier in the season might prove a lightning-can-strike-twice sort of opportunity…. Flamini and Monreal or Jenkinson might be the more conservative route to help lock up a win.
Predicted starting 11:
In this age of an in-your-face, everyone-is-a-pundit news (and scream) cycle, we went—in the space of 15 minutes—from celebrating Arsene Wenger’s 1000th match as Arsenal Manager to lamenting that it probably meant he was due a few more. Jose Mourinho’s words about Wenger’s “legacy of failure” echoed—without even being uttered—after our 6-nil defeat. Can the manager turn that humiliation into “just 3 points” or will it be the straw that finally cracks the camel’s back, and now, out of (what remains of the concept of) respect, we are consigned to watch the big humped beast fall into full collapse? My hunch is that Wenger is a better “manager” than many of us think and that we will respond to the adversity and build the tiniest of platforms heading into another tough battle against a club with which we aspire to actually compete. Or at least that’s my hope…
What do you think?…
Written by: 17highburyterrace