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 theย 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 orย 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

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)ย this could become a very special month.

By TotalArsenal.


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

  • Well written T A a good bullish post in what is a very tricky period. The cynic in me wondered if Wenger was trying to get Gabriel ready for the Barca match. I know Mertesaker is a great organiser, but the thought of the Barca forwards running riot with Per chasing them is a worrying thought. Of course if we sit deep enough, not so much of an issue.

    The game that worries me most is Leicester. Man Utd like Arsenal have there own mental hurdles to get over and remain vulnerable in that respect. Leicester on the other hand are either very confident in their own abilities or blissfully unaware of the pressure that will undoubtably build. I would argue that it is a must win, because of the tough fixtures ahead. That said
    I think we have to go into the match with a mustn’t lose mentality. I haven’t seen a great deal of Lesta this season, but I saw the City game and they are lightening quick (well maybe not Huth). We will need to be very disciplined and not get too carried away…… Flamini thinking he is centre forward etc. If we push forward too much we will likely get caught onthe break. Really hope Le Coq is back. Lesta are a little ponderous at the centre of their defence. If as you suggest Theo gets his head right he might be the man for the job.

    Saw an interesting stat this morning at the start of the season you could get 500 to one on Lesta. At the same time you could get 250 to one on Wenger being sacked and being replaced by Piers Morgan. Puts it into perspective really

  • I concur… Good and optimistic post… One at a time of course and lots of twists and turns (ups and downs) await us on what’s sure to be a wild ride… Three in a row at home is a good chance for the team to inspire the fans…or visa versa…or something in the middle…

    Wenger, IMO, has used plenty of the English style (Route One) but nothing like the parts I saw between those guys in the match after ours last Sunday (Chelsea-ManU)… I think we’re much better poised to build from the back if Santi, Jack or even Mikel Arteta were available. Because they aren’t, sending it up to the big fella makes plenty of sense. Theo, I’m guessing, is more a late sub or one to use (like in that home match vs Bayern) if you know the opposition will be playing with a high back line. Leicester won’t, unless they’re chasing the game, so Giroud starts, I’m pretty sure…Those other matches offer up different problems…

    Anyhow, out the door here… Thanks again for the post…

  • Nice intro, TA. ๐Ÿ™‚ A really, really big game against The Foxes.

    There is a club in Italy called Chievo Verona. For years they had been mocked by their rivals Hellas Verona. They used to say that Chievo would compete in Serie A on a day when donkeys would fly. Chievo eventually got promoted to Serie A and nicknamed themselves The Flying Donkeys.

    This digression is made because we are about to face The Flying Foxes.

    I know, everybody will say “Mahrez and Vardy!” but I will say: “Robert Huth and Ngolo Kante”. Remember Huth? He used to be the less ugly half of The Orcs’ central defence. As a young player, he was the weakest link in Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea (at least that’s how I remember him – I was always hoping for him to play so that they can concede) which means he and Petr ฤŒech are likely to share a few words before the game. Huth has scored the winner against Spuds at White Hart Lane and a brace at the Etihad. That means – especially with Atkinson in charge – we have to avoid stupid fouls and indirect free-kicks that were foundation of our defeats against West Ham, Chavs away and West Brom respectively. Kante is the other guy to watch – a player who leads the league in interceptions and is a midfield dynamo who doesn’t stop working. If you take a pill ๐Ÿ˜€ and imagine how would a child of Alexis and Claude Makelele look like on the football pitch, it’s Kante. So, let’s not get hit on the Kante-attack.

    Arsene has a great record against Ranieri: W9D6L1. That one defeat took place in 2003-04 Champions League match. Chelsea won 2:1 and knocked us out of Champions League. We had beaten them three times that season before that though.

    We have beaten them this season already. Our central midfield was Arteta-Cazorla after Flamini got injured which means we’ll have a completely different game on Sunday.

    The score-line can deceive as Leicester could have easily gone two goals up but we looked like the champions on that day. Leicester have lost just one league game since that day – a 1:0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool.

    Theo or Ollie? Both of them scored in the reverse fixture. Theo’s case is a weird one. He has scored just three goals and picked three assists but look at this: a goal against Stoke at home, a goal against Leicester away and a goal against Manchester City at home with two assists against Manchester United at home. So, it looks like he knows what to do in the big games. Ollie, however, adds height and physical dimension that we might need at the set-pieces.

    However, I reckon, just like in the reverse fixture, Alexis will be the key. He has scored six league goals and three of those were against Leicester. He has distributed those six goals over three league games (Leicester, United, Watford) and we have won each one with a three-goal margin. So, let Alexis score the first goal and at least two more will come. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Finally, Nacho. Mahrez was found in his back pocket after the reverse fixture while Nacho managed to get an assist to his name (actually, TWO, but the first one was a simple throw-in after which Alexis scored a long-range effort). I will add that Bellerin also played a huge role in Alexis’ goal that completed our come-back on that day so our full-backs will have to be at their best in order to repeat the leason for The Flying Foxes.

  • Thanks for the post, a good read, and some interesting comments too.

    I am happy to accept winning in a style with less flare than we are used to, however, I thought we were quite wasteful on Sunday. Giving the ball away time and again. Something we need to improve against our upcoming opponents. We need to get the quick accurate passing going again, when it works no one can live with us (IMHO)

    I also think Flamini has had his day and can only be a last resort if we have more injuries. Served us well but just seems to take too many risks. With Coq back and ElNeny available this should put MF third choice.


  • Thanks and welcome Flattop. Yes our passing game needs improving. The Cherries sat themselves up to clutter the midfield and disturb our passing, and we were not using the right sided enough (and the Ox in the process).

    Flamini did well I thought, but yes we cannot rely on him to play game after game after game.


    TA ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi Retsub ๐Ÿ™‚

    IMHO, the only way to beat Barca is for us to sit deep(er) and take them on the rebound/counter. We need to be able to pass through them from in front of our D to the midfield and then release Sanchez or Theo (or Danny). The BFG is good at this as long as we keep fast players around him. Yes Gabriel is quicker but the calm and disciplined BFG is needed to organise the troops.

    I am not so worried about the Leicester game as the boys have been warned about them so many times now. We know what they did against the Oilers of the North so I reckon we will not underestimate them. Like you, I hope Le Coq is fully back for that one.

  • 17HT ๐Ÿ™‚

    “โ€ฆ I think weโ€™re much better poised to build from the back if Santi, Jack or even Mikel Arteta were available.”

    Agreed, especially when it is tight and we are under a lot of pressure in our own half.

  • Admir ๐Ÿ™‚

    At least they did not call themselves the Dying Flunkies ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice story.

    I guess we need the BFG and Monsieur Handsome from the French Alps to help with the set pieces and Huth in particular. And yes Kante is a fine player, the sort of player I love watching.

    As always, great statistic info and analysis – you have a brain for this and it is very much appreciated here.

  • Admir… That almost looks like a match preview… ๐Ÿ˜€ As I’ve said, we have lots of agreement when it comes to the actual football…

    You perhaps saw the one I wrote about us buying Kante in January…

    The post was a joke AND (of course, as we know…)Wenger won’t spend… Fact of the matter is that with the new TV contract, English clubs can do quite a bit to keep their current players happy… Anyhow, my point is that Kante is maybe THE key player to stop… Kinda like we needed to stop Willian before he made that pass to Costa for the touch and dive which cost the BFG his starting spot… (My bet is that Gabby starts on Sunday…) In the bigger picture, at least we’re spending money to buy Leicester’s recruiter fellow, Wigglesworth. Of course, Gary Lineker is already saying we nicked the wrong guy… It’s only Tuesday and we’re already getting quite the war of words… This really MUST be a big one… ๐Ÿ˜€

    The question of aesthetics is one that’s only asked if the results are (already) there…and those who are critical of our style vs Bournemouth have never tried to play golf in a gale… On the same topic, last night I watched a little Spanish language TV where a panel was asking if this current Barca team are better than Pep’s group which won the CL in 2009 (and 2011) and had the front line of Messi, Eto’o and Henry who scored the 100+ goals that year…My Spanish isn’t that good, but just the fact that they’re asking the question is scary enough, IMO…

    We will benefit (in the home leg, at least) that it’s a two legged affair and that the away goals rule puts the onus on defending. They’ll be plenty happy if they can only get one or two…We should play to limit them as much as possible, so the BFG seems a good call for that one. Now matter how we do (at home) we need to take a similar approach down there too…

  • Head-to-head record between the Premier League top five in 2015-16
    Team P W D L F A GD Pts
    Arsenal 4 3 1 0 11 4 7 10
    Leicester 6 2 3 1 8 8 0 9
    Tottenham 5 1 2 2 6 5 1 5
    Man Utd 4 1 2 1 2 4 -2 5
    Man City 5 0 2 3 3 9 -6 2

  • @TA – when it comes to Per, I am afraid he looked out of depth to deal with Vardy (who scored a brace and could have scored at least two more) in the reverse fixture. We have to win this one and Per’s lack of pace is a major problem. Then again, Gabby and Kos still look way too similar to produce a perfect partnership as the one between Per and Kos used to be (I am also afraid that Per-fect partnership is Past Per-fect but time will tell).

    You probably remember how poor Kos-Ver partnership was. Comparing to Verm, Gabby looks to me like a more dedicated defender but still prone to mistimed tackles and wrong decisions (that’s where Per’s intelligence makes the difference). I think that’s where lies the biggest dilemma for Arsene – what to do with our central defence? Can Chambers be Per v2.0? Can Gabby and Kos work together? Can Per readjust his game? Questions, questions…


    @17 – Barcelona 2009 or Barcelona 2016? I’d say that Barcelona 2016 are stronger. Unlike Barcelona 2009, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona won Champions League 2015 without the referees’ help and when Suarez, Neymar and Messi are on the pitch, they are practically unbeatable. Outscoring them becomes “Mission: Impossible”. And if you forget Iniesta, then you are in a real trouble.

  • TA,

    Regarding the comment on another blog that we played like Big Sam’s team, it acrually bodes well for us.

    I am actually pi**ed, but thinking again it is better that we played more long balls and holding up from the front, as they were quick on the break and we cant pass our way through thick walls.

    This meant that we have different tactics against different teams, and to see the lads play like that is a good sign.

    From two moments of holes in their defense, we converted chances well.

    So, we might see the same tactic against Lester, or we might see them doing that against us, as our defense is not 100% water tight.

    We had off moments defensively, and their defense is well protected by Kante, probably the best in the league right now. Le Coq is quite good when he came on in the second half positionally, so we might see something of a defense vs defense battle to see who holds up better.

    I will wait a little longer to comment on the man*** match.

    Cheers on a non working day for me,

  • The broader picture helps in relating to the smaller more objectively. That’s TA the strategist. The thousand and one factors to consider, however, just overwhelms my poor little brain and I find myself succumbing to just taking care of today and letting tomorrow take care of itself.

    Leicester has the lowest pass completion rate in the Pl, yet they top the table. The story it tells is that they emphasize incisiveness, quick transition. I suspect that Wenger’s biggest dilemma is whether to play his game or to set up to nullify their style and tactics. Maybe I have unwittingly only espousing my own dilemma.

    Do we field a quicker and more combative CD ( Kosh, Gab), or do we tilt towards more intelligence by playing Per for one of the other two?

    Again do we play a quicker and more combative double pivot ( Coq, Flam or El), or do we tilt towards more creativity by playing Ram with one of the above three?

    Should it be OG up front or Theo?

    For me, no answer to any of the questions yet! If it is not resolved, it will be resolved by Sunday afternoon by the boss. The only thing I can predict for sure is that we would witness an end to end stuff.

    Our mentality playing at home should be ….. ” must win”.

  • Admir

    Per’s lack of pace is a disadvantage but not a major problem. We seldom pay for it and our second to best defensive record in the league is partly due to him. I am dreaming of us buying a Sol Campbell CB in the summer, though. Power, speed, heart, intelligence and organisation skills.

  • PE,

    It is a bit of a random post and of course it remains OGAAT. I read so many down and doomed comments on other blogs so felt the need to point out the obvious: a feast of games in three competition awaits us in fab Feb! You, and 84 yesterday, are asking the right questions re the Leicester game and it is hard to play an in form counter attacking team.

  • TA,

    We have to press them up high, and score 2 quick goals that will break their morale first.

    However, we cannot afford to sit back later on, as we have done so many times the last season and this season. They will surely come back at us if we do that.

    We have to keep the pressure and have Le Coq starting, to shore up the defense, along with Per. Though he is slow in running back, we need his height, his positioning and his man management skills to huge effect.

    So, for me, Elneny and Le Coq has to play in DM area, and Rambo play on the right midfield. Theo’s pace can set defenders shaking with fear, but we also need the hold up play of Ollie. Alexis also does hold up the ball well, but I will a little split between Theo and Ollie up front.

    The rest of the positions are almost fixed for me, so here goes:

    Bellerin, Per, Bos, Nacho
    Elneny, Le Coq
    Rambo, Ozil, Alexis


  • (FYI all– I live in Houston TX USA, and have been a diehard Gooner since 2005.)
    An oddity, personally for me, in this weekend’s clash.

    Prior to the start of this season I told my-better-half that in addition to– of course– AFC being my fave club, that a team located in Leicester had managed to stay in the BPL– avoiding relegation their first season.

    Told her that they were to be my second-fave club– as my grandfather was born in Leicestershire (in 1892!). I didn’t think too much of it when the Foxes bolted from the gate early-on– but as time and matches have whizzed by– I’m really pleased to see them do so well.

    Well enough of that. I’d go for another 5-2 spanking on Saturday!

    But it would please me if Arsenal and Leicester finished 1-2 (in particular to ensure Spuds and City no better than 3-4). Go Arsenal! (Then– Go Foxes!)


  • Houston we have a problem! ๐Ÿ™‚

    What Leicester are doing is great for football and yes a 1-2 would be great.

    What is the weather like in Euston around this time of the year, JW1?

  • TA, you may have spot on with Elneny. He is yet to adjust to English football (take a look at Burnley’s goal in FA Cup and you’ll notice three moments where Elneny could have cleared/minimized the danger: a lost header, a poor clearance and no closing down of the crosser) and I don’t see Wenger testing him against the leaders. Furthermore, it would mean a bizarre punishment of Ox for…er…scoring a league goal in over a year.

  • A B you have to be careful of other teams sharing your affection? Just before Christmas my Daugter bought home a nice lad. We get on very well with him and he spent Boxing Day with us (0 – 4 Southampton). He’s also been around for Stoke 0 – 0 and Southampton 0 -0. Now as much as I love my daughter, this clearly can’t be allowed to continue. The big problem I have,is do I just ban him from the house on match days or do I make her find a more suitable boyfriend? Either way I sense trouble ahead.

  • @retsub1, how about this:

    give him another chance. Go with your daughter at her boyfriend’s place. You’ll meet his parents and see whether he is a nice lad at his own soil too (remember, when you visit your in-laws, there is usually a “park-the-bus”/handbrake strategy in order not to screw up anything ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Schedule the visit for the North London Derby.

    If we lose, he probably is not the right son-in-law for you anyway. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ If we win, maybe his form at your home will improve as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Thanks Admir will take your advice, but if it goes wrong, my daughter will be after you. Lol

  • @retsub1,

    I agree with Admir.

    However, let’s test water (local lingo) with other league games. Spuds game is not good to screw up if anything goes wrong.

    Aaannndddd, do not use this to gauge your future son-in-law. Although I am just 32 this year (that’s why TA calls me 84, short for 1984), and not married at the moment, I feel that its whether he is a good guy for your daughter or not, rather than the luck that he brings to our team.

    Somehow I feel that Admir is joking there, but its just myself wanting to say something ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Hahaha Retsubster! ๐Ÿ™‚

    You are right to be very wary of him. You have to look him in the eye very unexpectedly, say when you are both doing the Sunday dishes, and ask him straight in the face: ‘son, are you a Spud?’ If he blinks, you know he needs kicking out with the dishes bubbles still sticking to his hands; and your daughter needs a year’s house arrest!

  • Funny stuff, retsub… I’d go with blaming Wenger, if, of course, you like the boyfriend… ๐Ÿ˜€

    It could be a funny story to help get through the Bould//Rodgers/AvB/Tony Adams years…before the wedding, which might come with Mourinho at the helm…

    More smileys… this time the one with the wide eye and open mouth which I write like this ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    Hey TA, my (long) weekend plans are such that I’ve been working on the match preview. I don’t know if you’ve got any other posts coming. Hopefully I can finish it up here soon (or, more likely this afternoon) and leave it in the drafts for you to publish as you like… Also, I don’t envision any sort of live blog for this one given the Noon-time (4 am here) start…

  • Amazing… it took my smiley which I wrote like this: ;-o, except without the comma…

  • Oh and I guess I used a colon and not a semi-colon… TA, whatever happened to the “Using Smileys” post? I see you using some and lord knows I could probably do better with more weapons in my, er, arsenal… ๐Ÿ˜€

  • 17HT ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have nothing to write about and we could do the preview tonight… I will do a live blog on Sunday if I get the time (game will be on TV). What do you think about issuing it say at ten tonight (UK time)?

  • TA, 10 o’clock tonight (2 pm my time) sounds about right and it will give me some time to try and hunt around for photos… I can probably issue it, too…

    I’ll surely wake up for the match, just not for the line-ups and putting a live-blog post out…

    Cheers, on both counts…

    Back to this one… These matches are VERY big. Of course, we need to take them one at a time, but, esp. given the injury news today (Welbeck could play in the FA Cup match, Santi and Jack seem up and running if not back in full training…) IF we can get the results we need we might be looking OK for the run-in…

    AW, except, of course, when results go against us, is somewhat a master at generating at least a bit of hope, IMO… ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  • 84 don’t worry I am only kidding. Of course if it all goes pear shaped at the weekend and he is around I may have to re-think and banish him to the garden

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