it Must be Done. How does Arsenal come down from a big European Night and get back to business in the league?
Last season, this fixture came directly after the crushing 3-1 mid-week loss–at home–to AS Monaco in the Champions League. Arsenal had been on a good run of form but, in front of our home support, the team had let itself down by failing to take advantage of (what seemed like) a tasty draw in the round of 16 eliminations. Losing 3-1 in the first leg was a ticket out of that competition, and, with Chelsea running away with the Premier League title, getting back into our league campaign was a good deal less exciting for many Gooners. We won that match 2-nil, but many were less than pleased. (I was going to link to Marcus’ assessment of that match here on BK but it appears to have been cleansed from the site.)
This year—actually it’s the same calendar year, just a new season—we go into the fixture on far happier footing, having beaten Bayern Munich on Tuesday. We’ve also scored 6 and conceded none in our past two league matches (at Watford and at home vs Manchester United) and—as long as we play our best 11, we appear a bit of a competitive juggernaut. Solid defending, lightning on the break and able to patiently break down stubborn opponents, as needed.
Everton will test this notion, especially as they’ve had a full week to prepare for the challenge after a very disappointing 3-nil loss at home to ManU. Their manager, Roberto Martinez, one of the best communicators in the league, will have take the lessons from that one on board, and come up with a game plan for eking something from this match.
Moreover, Martinez has slowly built a group of players who bring physicality and culture to the task. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka and John Stones are all choices Martinez can employ down the spine of the team to bring size and strength to the action. Buzzing around them are quality players with pace, including Arouna Kone, Steven Naismith, Gerard Delofeu, Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman. My point: this Everton squad should not be taken lightly, especially as they will have been wounded by the result a week ago at Goodison Park and have shown that they can claim points on their travels. The 3-nil beatdown they gave Southampton looks the best, but they also drew in South Wales at Swansea and took full points at West Brom. When in the mood they can score goals even against strong defences, their three goals vs the defending league champions, Chelsea, being perhaps their best performance of the new season.
How then does Arsenal approach this one?
Manager Arsene Wenger will have some headaches with which to contend. Mostly he will have to get the group to re-focus after the heroics of Tuesday night. Additionally, iron-man Aaron Ramsey is out with a hamstring injury and replacing his balance of running and linking attack with defending will be difficult. Is there additional room to rotate? Are other players in the famed “red-zone,” where they should be protected?
Unfortunately, I think rest and rotation will have to wait until next Tuesday’s Capital One Cup match at Sheffield Wednesday and the only change that I see from Tuesday will be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in for Ramsey.
Bench: Macey, Gabriel, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Giroud, Campbell
Of course, WTF do I know? Others may have different ideas and will want to delve deeper into the squad or even try out some different players in different positions. I just believe that Wenger will not want to fix what ain’t broke (as we say back in the States) and will lean upon his core group to show the home support that they have both the quality and the resolve to keep giving the performances to get the results needed. My hunch is that they may be more pragmatic and direct (and willing to encourage Everton onto the ball just a bit in order to counter at pace) but content to play in whatever style is needed to get the job done.
That’s just my view. What do others believe? Can we come down from the fine midweek result and take care of this business? Can we consolidate all this fine play against a tough league opponent? What’s the best approach, etc., etc.
Have at it…