A short but sharp match preview as we all know what is at stake here: pride, NLD bragging rights, a six point gap, and leading the table before the November interlull. I reckon it has been a great achievement to get level with Pep’s City and now we have the chance to overtake them, which would just be bliss. Of course Pool will have something to say about who will lead the table at the end of the day, but we must just concentrate on our challenge. It is about time that we beat the Spuds again, but it will not be easy despite their recent form.
Thanking The Guardian for picture.
Wenger has been able to rest the players who do most of the running for us: Nacho, Bellerin, Iwobi, Ox, Elneny and Theo. It is not entirely clear who of those are deemed fit to play as Arsenal.com has not updated its info re this since Thursday. It is to be expected that the Spuds will mainly play compact at the back with a desire to spring a counter as soon as we make a mistake. They will also press us high when they can but always in such a way that there is very little chance we can break them easily. Pochettino has his teams play a lot like Mourinho’s old Chelsea: they are hard to break down and score against and rely heavily on an in-form striker or two to win games for them. The latter they do not have currently and let’s hope this will remain the case today. We must play with care but also take the initiative and without any doubt will give away a few chances today, so our defensive discipline and their ability to take their chances will be a key factor.
Having said that, Arsenal have an in-form strike force and a strong midfield to boss the Spuds in their own half, and can create chances in the process. But we will have to take those opportunities early on to have a really good chance to win. If we are not leading by say 30-35 minutes it could become a tricky one for us.
I reckon, subject to fitness, that Arsene knows 9 of his 11 starters. The two areas where he will have some doubt is who to play next to Coquelin and whether to play Theo, Ox or Rambo on the right. We need to be solid in the double DM pivot with a strong focus on defensive duties and athleticism to cover the box to box challenges. Santi could play a big part in helping Ozil to crack open the Spuds’ bus but he may not be fit enough to play. I also doubt whether he is the right player to play as B2B in today’s game. For me, it is either Xhaka, Elneny or Ramsey. I would go for the Egyptian and play Rambo on the right ‘wing’ position. But I expect Wenger to play his strongest and most exciting team to watch.
Whatever team will play, I am sure they will give their all for all the reasons given above; and let’s hope we will beat the Spuddies playing football the Arsenal way. Ooh to be…
Swansea, home or away, have not been easy opponents for us in recent years and I don’t expect tomorrow’s game to be a walk in the park either. All games after international games are hard, but luckily we play at home which should give us a better chance to take three points. The Swans will be reenergised by the arrival of another new manager, the American Bob Bradley. The players will want to make an impression on him and I figure they will give us a game. Anything less than 100% commitment may cost us points tomorrow.
So we have to hit the road running and play energetic and dominant football, take our chances when they come and don’t get lulled in a false sense of security. The team that can do the job will likely be:
Cech in goal, full backs Nacho and Hector Vector, and King Koz and Mustafi as our CBs…. Cannot see Arsene messing with this back five. Coquelin is fit again and Santi was rested for two weeks, so I reckon that will be our double DM pivot. Always hard to leave out Alexis but with a late game on Thursday, followed by a long flight, I reckon Wenger will start Perez and put Sanchez on the bench. Walcott is as fit as a fiddle after two dreamy international games, Ozil is ready to rock again and Wenger may rest Iwobi and start Ox.
It is all about backbone, leadership and squad depth…. and plenty of pairs of these of course! 🙂
Like many, I don’t like international breaks but the good thing is it gives Arsene and the team an opportunity to work towards a deadline and then take stock. In the last few weeks post the September interlull, Arsenal have been solid and moved up the table considerably. There are still important games to come: Basel at home and Burnley away. And after a very encouraging, successful game against the Chavs, we now have to be careful not to underestimate our opponents and work really hard to get vital wins before the next break.
Whether we will depends on the maturity and ability to focus by the players as much as anything else.
The team to beat is, of course, Pep City. Some believe he is only as good as the players he had at his disposal, which of course have been the pick of the world or there about ever since he started to coach, but I am a firm believer that the vision to develop a system/style of football and then be able to get the players to execute it, is what really makes a great manager. In the short term, a manager can take over a great team and have success on the basis of what was established by their predecessor, but in the mid to long term it is the manager’s ability to implement a competitive system of football and gather the required players to execute it which will make the difference. And Guardiola is already having an added positive impact on what is mostly Pellegrini’s squad.
Of course it is early days and MC have not had a hard start to the season in terms of the teams they have faced, other than MU away of course. We will have to see how they will fare against Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester and if they can win all those games than they are further then us right now.
We are five points behind and that really is a few too many to feel comfortable at this stage. We need them to drop points and let’s see whether it will happen against our North London rivals this weekend. I am not underestimating the Spuds this time round, even though they are very capable of farcically imploding towards the last six weeks of the season once again. So I am not wanting a Spuds win against the Northern Oilers: a draw would be just fine.
But as always, we need to focus on our game and try to get as many wins as possible by the OGAAT principle: one game at a time. To achieve this we need a strong backbone and leadership in the team, and we also need squad depth.
The question is whether Arsenal have this now. The best way to establish this is to see how we will deal with adversity, but other than the first game of the season against Pool we did not really have to deal with much of it. Although it is fair to say we did well when Arsenal went behind against PSG and somehow managed to get back in the game in the second half, helped by Lady Luck it has to be said.
What really encouraged me was the way that Koz and Mustafi, supported behind them by the cool and experienced Cech and in front of them by the beastly Coq, controlled the game, both technically AND psychologically. And when le Coq went off injured, Xhaka did very well in replacing him both technically and in terms of presence on the pitch. And the latter is as important as anything.
On top of this, we had Ozil and Alexis leading the attack with both intelligence and a guttural hunger. And our wing-backs, Nacho and Bellerin, were also dominating proceedings with their feet and their personas. To complete it all, Santi, Theo and Iwobi had strong presence and hunger without ever looking to hide behind their team mates. That is what I loved more than anything else about our team on Saturday.
Our first team against Chelsea:
These players now more or less are our first team players, and after the Chelsea demolition there is good reason to believe we have the backbone and leadership to go all the way this season in the PL, and maybe even in the CL. However, we all know that fatigue, injuries and possibly suspensions will affect our team.
Just as well then that Wenger did not sell anybody whilst still adding to the squad, which will allow him to rotate and also deal with unexpected setbacks, like this Saturday when Coquelin had to come off. This is just as important as having a strong core of leaders and winners in the team.
Yesterday we had Gibbs, Perez, Giroud, Ospina, Ox, Holding and Xhaka on the bench: seven players who all deserve to be there if not a place in the starting eleven.
Ramsey, Gabriel, BFG, Elneny, Debuchy and Welbeck were not on the bench, and they are all fighters for the cause with leadership qualities. Once they are fit, our options for the bench are mouth watering; and can you imagine what availability of all would mean for Wenger’s possible strongest first eleven team?
Our bench could be, when all are fit: Perez, Giroud, Welbeck, Ramsey/Xhaka, Gibbs, BFG/Gabriel and Ospina!! Would this not be the best bench in the premier league?!
So there you are, we have a strong core with backbone and leadership skills and a squad depth that makes you dizzy with first team selection possibilities. As dizzy as looking at the ceiling of the wonderful Sagrada Familia…
Bring on our next opponent is all that’s left to say!
Best all-round CF in the PL, Giroud bags two more goals! Thanking The Guardian for picture.
I have more or less given up on predicting the starting eleven. The squad is big and Arsene needs to keep a lot of players happy; but he also needs to field a team that has a very good chance to get a result and for that he needs to choose his players carefully.
Against PSG Arsene surprised us with selecting Coquelin and Santi for their second starts in four days, leaving Xhaka and Elneny on the bench. He also opted to start with Giroud and Perez on the bench, giving rough diamonds Ox and Iwobi a chance to shine at the highest platform of club football. Arsene knows a lot more about his players than us, and I have peace with his choices, even though I would have preferred a different line up on Tuesday.
Against Hull I expect a tight game with a lot of possession for the boys in red and white and the Tigers attacking us mainly on the counter. So a good game to bring in Ollie as he can help us crack open the Hullish parked busses.
On the wings I would like us to play Perez and Alexis, and give Theo a chance to come on if the game was to open up properly, and if he is indeed fit enough to play. Ozil needs another game to play himself into form and the prospect of playing with Giroud, Perez and Alexis should surely excite him.
The double pivot is a harder choice to make. If Hull will indeed park the bus for most of the game, then Santi is a good one to have in terms of supporting Ozil in finding gaps. But Santi already played two games this week and we don’t want to see him get injured. Maybe it is time for Xhaka and Elneny to start this game. Both can push up and support the creative side of things, and both are good to keep the Tigers hemmed into their own half.
The back four pick themselves again, although I would not be surprised to see either Debuchy or Gibbs, or even both, get a start.
Imagine everybody is fit in the squad: what would be your first team?
My first team would probably be this one:
I would happily replace Ramsey with Elneny but I feel that the Welshman is a bit further in his development and deserves a place in the first 11 now. I would also be happy to play Alexis as our CF as Arsene has done recently. That would mean that Giroud would be on the bench and one of Theo, Iwobi or Ramsey (with Elneny or Santi taking his place) to take Alexis’ place on the wing.
It is fair to say that I don’t know much about Perez and Mustafi but I am assuming that Wenger has bought them to improve the first team rather than place them in the wider squad. Perez’s goals and assists stats are favourable compared to Theo, The Ox etc, so I think he will play in our strongest possible team, and most likely on the wing. I am also assuming that Wenger could only entice Mustafi to Arsenal with the promise that he will normally start rather than be on the bench. However, it could be that he needs time to settle in and both Holding and the BFG are very good alternatives to have.
So for me the above line up is about the strongest we could field IF everybody is fit.
And what would the bench look like?
Well wow, our bench would look awesome if Wenger could pick from the squad with a full health bill.
Ospina would be Cech’s cover. A good goalie with a lot of confidence. For central defensive cover we could put on our bench Holding, the BFG or Gabriel: all fine options if you ask me. For full back cover I would put Gibbs on the bench.
For midfield cover we can pick from Elneny, Jack, Coquelin and Santi. It would be really hard to leave any of these players out… In fact, I feel they should all play when fully fit… but there is no space for them.
For attack we can pick from Walcott, Welbeck, Iwobi, Gnabry, Ox and Akpom. Again it would be very hard to leave some of these players out.
We can only pick seven from the above mentioned players for the bench, and if I had to chose it would probably be: Ospina, BFG, Gibbs, Elneny, Jack, Santi, Welbeck.
What the above demonstrates is that we have a very strong squad now and I cannot wait to see them all in action this season. It is a squad with the depth, hunger and quality to win silverware.
What would be your strongest first team and strongest bench if everybody would be fit?
I know you are all scanning the Newsnow Arsenal news aggregator and other media to find out whether we have finally signed Elneny now or any other new players. I must admit to also look regularly even though I don’t expect Arsene to buy anybody this month (other than Elneny).
The key issue for our manager is not lack of quality in the squad but availability of his players. The loss to injury of Le Coq and Santi made us all worried about our strength in depth in midfield, especially with Rosicky, Arteta (till recently) and Jack also out. However, we coped really well and even managed to move ahead of our opponents during the busy festive season. Flamini has been good, Chambers offers a glimpse of hope as a potential DM and Rambo is getting better by every game.
If all players are fit there is so much quality available for our midfield that Wenger could give himself more problems than he would wish for by buying more midfielders. Let’s assume that Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini will all leave this summer as their contracts will end then, and that Elneny will finally be signed and introduced to the squad this month. This still leaves us with: Rambo, Jack, Ozil, Santi, Le Coq, Elneny, Chambers, Campbell and the Ox as well as a few youngsters who are showing promise either on loan or in the Reserve Team.
I reckon we have four midfield spots available, assuming that Wenger will regularly play a midfielder on one of the ‘mid-wings’ rather than two more typical wingers i.e. Theo and Alexis. This gives us more balance and defensive robustness, especially against the tougher opponents. Four spots for nine pretty brilliant, either established or promising, talents, and that is excluding the promising youths who are knocking on the first team door louder and louder.
If all are fit, it will be hard for Wenger to leave one of Rambo, Jack, Ozil, Santi and Le Coq out; yet, he cannot play them all, unless we revert back to 4-5-1-like possession football. It looks like Wenger has changed the style of play to 4-2-1-3 or 4-1-4-1, depending on how you look at it; therefore a return to 4-5-1 is less likely.
It all comes down to what we do with the box to box midfielder position – the one next to the ‘classical DM’. With Santi next to Le Coq (or Flamini) we have a lower team centre of gravity, as Santi is less mobile but very able to connect midfield with attack through making space for himself and playing a great attacking ball in a flash. With Rambo next to the Le Coq or Flamini we have a typical, Gerrard-like and Lampard-like, box to box midfielder who motors up and down to find space and fill gaps, and connect with his fellow midfielders and attackers continuously all over the pitch.
Ozil surely is our first choice man in the hole in 2016. The only one who would be capable of dethroning the bionic German is Jack, but for that he will need to stay fit and get in the form of his life, which we all know is a big ask currently. Let’s face it, a fit Ozil is a given.
To get the best out of Ozil we need a perfect balance between mobility and anchor points – even though these anchor points need to be mobile as well, albeit it less vertical and more horizontal.
The two anchor points above the defence are the holding DM – think Le Coq – and the holding CF – think Ollie. We could opt to play with a fluid/mobile CF or no holding DM but two all-round central midfielders, and Wenger has definitely been experimenting with both scenarios over the last couple of years. It would not surprise me if we end up without a holding DM or a holding CF as our plan-A eventually, or maybe even without both, but I don’t think we will see this happen in the first half of 2016 at least. What is interesting is that Elneny is described as a holding midfielder who can play football as well, which could be an indication that we are moving towards two footballing midfielders in the double DM-pivot rather sooner than later.
The big question for now is: does Ozil function better with Santi or Rambo next to the holding DM. Both have their merits and Rambo is the most complete midfielder we have in the squad, other than Jack perhaps. With Santi and Jack out injured, Wenger does not have to worry about this question a lot, but when they are all back it will be a challenge for him. We are, however, lucky to have such a quality dilemma to be resolved, although adding more midfielders could really complicate things. Competition is good but too much of it could become counterproductive.
I hear the likes of FL08 say that rotation is the answer to using the available quality as best as possible… and they have a point. If all are fit, it is still tempting to have an established first eleven in which some play almost constantly and others provide an opportunity for resting them. Most managers will opt for this as the benefits of a cohesive and telepathically connecting first eleven are huge. But, given the large number of injuries in midfield and the quality of players available, we really need to rotate more; and then do it in such a way that we don’t lose much, if any, of the cohesion and telepathy an unambiguous first choice eleven would bring.
For the DM role we have: Le Coq, Elneny, Chambers(?), Bielik etc
For the B2B role we have: Rambo, Santi, Jack and the Ox
For the man in the hole we have: Ozil, Jack, Santi, Ox/Iwobi/Zelalem???
If all are fit for say the Barcelona game (which I know is very unlikely), or our likely PL championship decider against Citeh at the end of the season, I would be tempted to play:
But I would also get excited playing:
Or what about:
Elneny, (Campbell), Chambers and the Ox, by working their socks off and starting to make a real difference are all capable of playing themselves into our first choice midfield as well, even though I have my doubt about the Ox doing this without going on loan for a while. On top of that, till at least the end of this season we will be able to play Flamini, Rosicky and Arteta too…. if they are fit of course.
Fine fellow Gooners, we are blessed with the available quality and quantity of midfield players and it will be hard for Wenger to choose his first team midfielders when most or all are fully fit to play.