A) Our Title Hopes are Done
B) The World Will End
C) Wenger Should Immediately be Sacked (if not Drawn and Quartered)
D) All of the Above
Many Gooners will go with D but surely the manager himself is looking at the question the other way around. If we can win this match we go back to within three points of the league lead–which, with a win at West Ham today, could be held by Tottenham after Leicester City could only draw yesterday–leaving us in with a chance to catch Spurs early on Saturday.
So… Maybe… All is not lost… Yet…
Not the most inspiring words, but still food for (positive) thought… Perhaps?…
As much as Winston Churchill or Henry the Fifth might have spoken the more inspiring words, I’ll go with this guy:
Elvis joining the Air Force might have been–like the words of those English leaders–a call to arms, or, as it was for the King of Rock and Roll, the end of an era, with little beyond a string of cheaply produced movies and Vegas shows to come before a bloated descent towards an early demise. Papers are reporting, after all, that Arsene Wenger already has a new job lined up: commentating at the European Championships this Summer in his birth country. Cue additional outrage among those Gooners who want him Gone (GWWHoGS?…) over his lack of focus, greed, egomania, etc., etc., etc.
All of that being said, the match tonight is actually more than just a referendum on Arsenal’s manager and (believe it or not) there’s a game to be played.
Swansea City make their second trip to North London in eighty hours. They took a lead on Sunday (while we were shipping one at Old Trafford) and held it until the 70th minute but then gave up a second one to come away empty at White Hart Lane. If they were smart, perhaps they stayed in the Northern part of the capital and prepared for this one where they will hope to improve on that result.
So much has changed since we last played this fixture–and lost it–ten months ago.
Like so many Gooners would like Arsenal to do, Swansea have changed managers. (This was my favorite of all the Arsenal blogging after the disappointing ManU match… Note the title of the blog, not to mention the failure to proofread the title: http://www.afc4life.co.uk/2016/02/29/goodbye-i-am-official-done-with-arsenal/)
Gary Monk, despite having led Swansea to their best league finish last season, was sacked after a series of disappointing results in this wide open Premier League campaign. After a bit of interim-ing, the club settled on Italian Francesco Guidolin. Unfortunately, he has not been able to stop Swansea’s slide toward the relegation zone. Currently they sit in 16th place, on 27 points, just three points clear of trouble.
If blaming the manager isn’t always the answer, then what is? Maybe it’s the players. Guidolin has gone away from using Bafetimbi Gomis, the guy who scored the late winner against us, as his main man up front, and, instead, chosen his fellow Italian, Alberto Paloschi, bought from Chievo in the January window. Paloschi scored against Spurs (and had additional chances in that very open match) but we also should beware Gyllfi Sigurdsson, Andrew Ayew (who looked so promising after his summer arrival from Marseille) and Ki Sung-yueng who can also take chances if they are presented.
Swansea will likely be looking–as they did in that match last May–to defend first. We all know the man in goal, Lukas Fabianski as a great shot stopper but, perhaps, not as commanding in the box as some of the Arsenal goalies we chose to keep. Ashley Williams, the Swansea (and Welsh National team) captain is small but strong and organizes his rearguard effectively. That group, including Neil Taylor, Kyle Naughton, Federico Fernandez and/or Angel Rangel, has done it before. Ahead of them are solid if not physically imposing players like Leon Britton, Jack Cork and Wayne Routledge. If all else fails, Guidolin might throw on (currently out of favor) Jefferson Montero (and Gomis) who tortured our right flank in a come from behind win at the Liberty Stadium in Autumn 2014. I’m sad to tell Gooners who believe we should always beat these “lesser” teams, but our recent record against them isn’t strong. Yes, we won 3-nil in the reverse fixture earlier this season, but the last time we actually beat Swansea (in the league) in our stadium was in September of 2011 when an Andrey Arshavin strike was the difference.
That very fact should indicate that this might not be so easy. Add in the insipid performance up at Old Trafford on Sunday and it’s truly a worry. Of course, if the object is to confirm a narrative about just how poor this Arsenal team–and the leadership of Arsene Wenger–might be, then chops should be licked–not to mention torches dipped in fuel and pitchforks sharpened. Whether or not Wenger’s effigy will be burnt in the pre-match protests I cannot say. If the team does not win the full points I shudder to think of the sticks (figuratively, at the very least) with which he’ll be beaten.
Of course, It won’t be the first time and how much worse can it (actually) get than what he’s already taken? Even if the territory is familiar, Wenger must somehow do it again and elicit a response from his charges. How?
At Old Trafford, starts for Theo Walcott and Gabriel Paulista didn’t pan out. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey looked notably out of sorts and bereft of ideas when they looked up to strike final balls and Mesut Ozil, although he provided an assist (for Danny Welbeck, on another set piece, much as he did with the final kick vs Leicester City in the previous league match) and a goal himself, cut a very frustrated figure. My hunch is that Olivier Giroud returns to the line-up and that Joel Campbell also gets a start, probably for Welbeck, who has played a lot of minutes since returning from his long layoff. A bigger question is who goes in the middle of the park, particularly in the deeper midfield positions and at center back. As much as Gooners were cursing the usual villains, Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Flamini, after they combined to give away a penalty in our Champions League match vs Barcelona (just a week ago) they will have been far from convinced by the options Wenger used to replace them at Manchester United. My guess is that Mertesacker starts and that Flamini at least takes up a bench place.
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Elneny, Flamini, Walcott, Welbeck
Of course, as always, what do I know?
Many will argue that it doesn’t matter who Wenger puts out or even whether or not the game goes our way. He didn’t do enough in the transfer window(s) and this team, like all his other teams, is doomed. Others, perhaps with a more hopeful bent, argue that we need to shake things up more dramatically and have players starting in different positions or bring in some guys I haven’t mentioned.
Where do you stand and who (or what) would you like to see?
Given our spot in the table and the big showdown with cocks on balls from up there in Middlesex, Wenger will have to do something which gets us the win. Or else…
Go on then!!!