WEST HAM: A DRESS REHEASAL FOR ATLETICO MADRID AND A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR OUR DEPARTING SERVANT.
Wenger is class. We will immortalize his name. Meanwhile we switch our attention back to West Ham, the job at hand.
Prior to the Newcastle match the vast majority of opinions wanted wholesale changes made to the team. Many even asked that the kids be given a chance as the outcome of the match is irrelevant. To the shock of the observant, when the match was lost, it got everybody reeling and many swung as far as being convinced that Atletico Madrid is going to spank us silly.
There is now an urgent need to re-establish confidence in all before our 1st leg match against Atletico. This is done with a victory against West Ham today. We don’t give a damn anymore about Burnley overtaking us (I privately do and am glad they lost to Chelsea), but we do give a hell of a lot of damn to go into the Atletico match with our confidence intact.
Luckily, Arsenal have four days separating the West Ham encounter with the Atletico one. Nothing stops us from fielding our best available eleven against West Ham particularly after a full week of rest. The risk to injury is more than offset by a regained momentum. Apart from that, it is not desirable to rest the first team players in this match as that would have some of them going a full two weeks without a game. We know how fast the cobwebs can appear.
Mustafi is a curious study. The chorus to yank him off the team has become deafening. Yet the reputable WhoScored rates him our best player and the 12th best in the league. The equally reputable and sophisticated Squawka Perfomance Score Index for those who have played up to 1500 minutes rates him our second best behind Ozil per 90 minutes of play, and the 23rd best in the league. His performance last Sunday suggests that he belongs to that grade of players whose level drop dramatically when fatigued. If all the stress arising from traveling between London to Moscow, playing a match, back to London and then to Newcastle, all within two and half days, can be imagined then we would begin to understand why Cech, Mustafi, Monreal, Lacazette (i.e. those who played in Moscow) performed below par at St James’ Park. Elneny also played in Moscow but his all day street football as he was growing up in Egypt, according to his story, must have made something else of him, which should go a long way in explaining his MOTM performance at Newcastle.
Apart from using the West Ham game to regain our confidence, it makes a lot of sense to use it also as a rehearsal for the Atletico match. Wenger hinted on this. Atletico is a 4:4:2 team who defend compact and transition quickly. In La Liga they have conceded only 18 goals which is the least of any team in the 5 major European Leagues. In comparison we have shipped in 45 goals! We stand no chance against Atletico were we to leak goals against them like we’ve done all season. Something has to be done.
We cannot get away from the fact that our full backs operate as wingbacks. Neither can we pretend that we have a defensive midfielder. Our recipe makes for goal leakages. And because we concede rather easily when the opponent have possession, we take refuge in hoarding the ball when we get it, afraid to lose it. Hence our backwards/sideways passing, so appropriately labelled ‘sterile possession’. In a few words, we leak goals and lack guts or incisiveness in attack.
We need to turn our quasi fullbacks into full fledged wingbacks by employing three central defenders. But that is not all. We need to then show greater courage with the ball. It is better to go down with our guns smoking than in a whimper. This is the least we can do. Anyway, what do I know?
With Ospina back from injury, one wonders whether he’d be returned as the cup goalkeeper at this crucial stage of the competition. It’s a crossroad for me as Cech seems in poor form. Against a counter attacking, ball-over-the-top Atletico team we need a goalkeeper who is quick off his line. He has to act as a sweeper for the team and that’s far from Cech’s cup of tea. Anyway, if Wenger would insist on Ospina as our cup goalkeeper, then there is a need to play him against West Ham to help return him to match fitness.
As for Europa cup-tied Aubameyang, there is a dilemma on whether to play him or not against West Ham. Wenger described this match as more of a preparation for the Atletico game. If it is so, common sense says don’t play him. Across the aisle however, other pressures say that our world-class-most-expensive player’s clock has to be kept ticking. For many, the flame of their long term hope is still flickering because he is in our midst. Another crossroad decision on the table.,
My guess at the line up against West Ham (with an eye on Europa semi) is:
Bench: Cech, Holding, Mailand-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Wilshere, Laca. (All things being equal, game time should be given to Lacazette, Wilshere and maybe Elneny).
What a class act it would be were the whole stadium to give a round of applause in appreciation of the departing gentleman and philosopher, the incomparable servant of the club, the one and only Arsene Wenger.
We are on the threshold of a new challenge. COYG!!!
By Pony Eye.