Burnley – Arsenal —
It Would Be Great to Get Number Eight
Wins, in the league, in a row, that is…
And, as much as Arsenal are clearly in their best run of form in many a season, and a full 16 places separate the teams in the table, the trip to Turf Moor cannot be taken as a guaranteed three points. Burnley need the points as much (or even more) than we do, finding themselves two points from safety at the bottom. Moreover, even if they can’t get a result, they still have far too much to play for to give anything less than their best. Another good performance against another big club and they might conjure the confidence needed to climb out of the relegation places and stay up.
As such, any suggestion that they might be better served resting some of their best players or otherwise reserving their best play for other opponents, will find no traction. Why would they, having held Tottenham a week ago to gain another precious point while taking all three from Manchester City a couple of weeks before that? All told, they’ve claimed 18 of their 26 points in home matches. Our trip up there will be no walk in the park.
A primary reason is the physicality and commitment to the cause which Burnley present. We should remember that, in the reverse fixture, Burnley held out until the 70th minute before succumbing to quick goals from Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers. In the end, it was a bit of a romp–and the best 10 minutes we’ve seen from Theo Walcott and Lukas Poldolski in recent times–Alexis added a third goal in injury time. In front of their home crowd, Burnley will surely be even more resolute. Unlike other teams in that part of the table, Burnley did not go crazy with the riches distributed through the Premier League television contract. Instead, they’re an unsung group who are attempting to hang together through good times and bad. Only leading scorer Danny Ings (whose next goal will be his 10th of the season) gets much in the way of back page transfer speculation.
By contrast, the media (including the most active blog-o-sphere in English football) love to torture Arsenal supporters. Activity in our circles has already jumped to summer transfer speculation and early denouncements on how FA Cups and late rallies in the league are just further variations on the Groundhog’s Day theme; another example of Wenger and his “specialization in failure,” as a certain Chelsea manager has intimated. Still, despite an identical record from a year ago (31 played, 19 won, 6 lost, 6 drawn), I doubt we’ll see in-match comments punctuated by calls for “Wenger Out”, as we did last year in a similarly timed match at Everton (which we lost 3 nil). In truth, we’ve come a long way since that nadir and, for the closer observer at least, the future looks a whole lot brighter.
No, Wenger seems on solid footing and getting as close as possible to Mourinho’s team seems a worthy goal, although, of course, any wobble will bring out those who have staked themselves to the alternative viewpoint. We play Chelsea in two weeks time, which will be the true test, but they also face an always tricky West London Derby against QPR this week and a match with Manchester United before ours. It’s true, we can only play the team which lines up against us, but we must use every trick we can to maintain focus.
Wherever people would like to point the finger of blame (or credit), Gooners must rue a difficult first half of the season and the big disappointment of our recent play–our untimely exit from the Champions League, based on a panicky showing in the first leg, vs AS Monaco. Early on, it was mostly down to the health of our squad–injury ridden in the first half, but now almost fully restored–but, just as it could also be argued that the manager was responsible during the darker times, it might also be suggested that he has done his part to keep the collective together and foster a fine group dynamic. As the results have come our way, we also find an extremely stiff (but healthy) competition for places. At Arsenal the work of the team always comes first, but these final matches may have a real bearing on many players’ futures.
Given that only Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is definitely out with a groin problem (which may require surgery–ouch!), Wenger has almost the entire first team to choose from. Laurent Koscileny faces a “late test,” while Mathieu Debuchy will be “just a bit short”: Wengerspeak for “will not be in the squad at the weekend,” but it is still a very crowded group. This makes me very curious who will make the first 11 and the substitutes bench. My hunch is that the team that beat Liverpool will be largely unchanged, but a player or two returning from long term injury may get a boost by being called into the substitute ranks. Here then is my call for the starting 11.
Substitutes: Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott
Even this group of 18 leaves out several players I’d love to see on the pitch or even just in uniform, including Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby (and I know others have a hankering to see Serge Gnabry). My feeling is that this match will give hints as to how Wenger will rotate for the FA Cup semi-final, next weekend, where surely more players will get a chance to impress before the bigger (or, at least, more symbolic) one vs Chelsea. All told, even if we don’t drop points (or struggle vs Reading in the cup match), it could be an interesting couple of weeks as in suggesting how the squad is shaping up for the longer term. This is how it should be: a privilege to wear the shirt, and a responsibility by our players to take chances as they are given.
Or not. As always, I am not privy to how the mind of the manager is actually working. Perhaps he sees some tired players amongst his regulars and will rotate more this weekend while sporting a stronger squad for the cup match. What say you, fine (or fickle) fellow Gooners? Anything to generate a bit of banter, I say, and a ton (or is it tonne?…) more fun (and a bit more subtle…) than “Wenger Out” (or “Ozil is a lazy lady-part”) or other, more typical, one liners the tweeters (or tweakers…) seem to enjoy with each comment… Let’s hear it from the WBW’s (Would-Be-Wengers) and anybody else who cares about the Arsenal…And, let’s hammer them up in North Lancashire…
Go on then…