Arsenal – Liverpool: Time for Theo or Same 11? Line-Up | Preview

Another Must-Win and a Chance to Win Back the Home Support

Early season at the Emirates is ALWAYS a testy time.  The narratives regarding the transfer window are never done and dusted if it’s August, after all.  Add in a traditional and always difficult opponent–Liverpool–unbeaten and yet to give up a goal, plus the disappointment supporters are feeling after a flat opening day performance, and it all makes for a potentially volatile situation.  All that ‘dry powder’ only needs a spark to set it ablaze.

On the other hand, rekindling the rivalry with one of England’s biggest clubs is perhaps exactly what Arsenal–and our home support–need to galvanize the Gunners–and the Gooners–to give their very best.  “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will be the song of the traveling support and a fine one to make them sing–in defiance–as they absorb a defeat at the hands of our club.

That was certainly the refrain back in April, when this fixture was last contested.  In that one, although Arsenal missed a couple of gilt-edged chances–and allowed one at the other end–once the breakthrough was made, it turned into romp.  Width was the answer, and, once we found it, the floodgates opened.  Aaron Ramsey, roaming freely from a wide-right starting berth, put in his fullback, Hector Bellerin, for the first goal.  Mesut Ozil soon doubled the advantage with a stunning free kick and Alexis Sanchez put the tie out of reach with the third goal of the half.  Liverpool supporters had to walk together just for their half-time refreshments.

Given that we don’t play until Monday night, here’s the long version…

That was a fun day out but it hasn’t always been so easy nor so definitive, of course, and we shouldn’t expect anything less than a true challenge under the Monday night lights.

In fact, it was only 4 short years ago, in another early season showdown, that Liverpool put the hurt to us.  I’m remembering the very desultory nil-2 home loss back in August of 2011, Samir Nasri’s last appearance in an Arsenal shirt, and memorable for Emmanuel Frimpong’s sending off.  Frimpong, like Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel, who had to come on when Laurent Koscielny hobbled off early in the match, were ALL making league debuts and it was a period of great transition at the club.  Soon it was overshadowed by the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford.  Football is a game that is always in flux.  We’ve come a long way as a club in those 4 years, yet the old wounds are never far from the surface.

Give this one a watch if you want to see the other side of the coin. The homemade quality of the vid, I think, adds to the sense of just how badly we were feeling our way through the darkness of those times…

This time around, Liverpool are the team in transition.  With two victories and two clean sheets, however, it’s ‘so far, so good’ for our opponents, making it a great test for BOTH teams.

With that mentality they should be both unpredictable and playing with little to lose.  This time, instead of Nasri off to Man City, the big move in that direction is that of Raheem Sterling.  He was likely the most dangerous player in the April match and took away our clean sheet by winning a penalty against Bellerin.  With the absurd money earned from the Sterling transfer (and saved from the departure of Steven Gerrard and his big contract), manager Brendan Rodgers has bought the big Belgian center-forward Christian Benteke from Aston Villa while also acquiring James Milner from the Northern Oilers on a free.  Those two will be at the center of the new Liverpool attack as will Brazilian Phillipe Coutinho who probably has created Pool’s best moment of the young season, scoring a late winner with a shot from distance in their opener at Stoke City.  As we’ve given up goals from outside the box and at set pieces, testing our still settling central defense and new keeper, Petr Cech, with similar shots will surely be on the cards.  We should also be on the alert for attacks down our left side from young winger Jordan Ibe and/or the fullback behind him, another new signing, Nathan Clyne, picked up from Southampton.

As such, Arsenal might need to keep our own wide players leaning just a hair towards defending our own goal before allowing their attacking instincts to take over.  On the ball, it will be important to keep the pitch spread while working hard so that we can win the battles in the center of the pitch.  This is where Liverpool might be most vulnerable as they attempt to replace the presence of their iconic leader, Gerrard.  New Captain Jordan Henderson has been given that charge but he usually requires a bit of help, often in the form of the very competent (but ever cynical), Brazilian Lucas Leiva.  Both, however, are fitness doubts going into the match, meaning Rodgers might have to re-jig and use players like Emre Can to fill in or, perhaps, Milner or Adam Lallana in a deeper than usual spot.

Given these limitations Rodgers might also opt for 3 central defenders.  Martin Skrtl and Dejan Lovren are solid defenders but could possibly use the help of Mamadou Sakho (who played ahead of our own Laurent Koscielny in France’s World Cup squad) or former Gunner, Kolo Toure.

It makes sense to me, given that our attack had periods of real menace in our 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace.  I believe Arsene Wenger will set out an unchanged 11, but, you never know, and this could be a spot where Theo Walcott gets a chance up front alone or as part of a front 3 with Alexis and Olivier Giroud.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a starter in the opening match, is another option, wide right.  The partnership of Ramsey, starting from that spot but clearly in a free role, though with an eye to combine with Bellerin–and help him at the defensive end–doesn’t fit with many fans more rigid ideas about positions and formations, but, I think, serves our purposes best, especially in these tougher, tighter matches.  Here then is the team I believe Wenger will put out.

Bench = Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Gabriel, Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Of course, Wenger may have some other tricks up his sleeve and he might be keen to try out some other options just to avoid being seen as too predictable too early in the season. Could there be some changes elsewhere in the line-up?  Might Captain Mikel Arteta–who looked a calming force late on at Palace–get a start in place of Coquelin?  Could Wenger change things up in the back line or try something really off the wall?  Your guess is as good as mine, but–even if we’re not quite firing on all cylinders–I believe this line-up, which, except for Cech in as keeper–is the same as we played in April, seems unbroken enough to avoid fixing.

But, that’s just me.  What say the (other) Would-be-Wengers?  Is this a time to keep to a conservative approach (and line-up) or is it early enough in the season to give it a real go and show the players and fans that the opener was just a one-off and that we can take it to a bigger club like Liverpool?  Should the manager stick with tried and true or go younger and deeper (not to mention faster and harder… 🙂 …) from the opening kick?  Have at it… After all, somehow we have to make it through the rest of the weekend and all the way to Monday night before we see the real thing.

by 17highburyterrace

Cech behind Gabriel and Koz | Le Coq behind Jack, Mesut and Santi: Lyon Preview – Line-up

Arsenal’s home cup friendly against Lyon promises to be another fine test. I will be checking on the team’s ability to dominate the game around the Southern France’s team ‘D-area’, as we have been so impressive in doing this in the cup final, and recently, against Everton.  The Toffees were simply played off the pitch, but maybe this was down to fitness issues or a lack of hunger. The Gunners were hungry all right, which, as described in the match review, was a very nice surprise for me.

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Against Lyon, managed by former Gunner Garde, we are likely to be tested a bit more. I have not seen Lyon play a lot recently so cannot give you much insight on our opponent.  I expect us to play another 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, with the aim to play our attack minded midfielders as near to the Lyon box as possible and with high levels of possession of the ball.

We will want to dominate and try out our intricate passes to penetrate the Les Gones’ defence with real menace. The FBs, take your pick from Gibbs, Nacho, Bellerina and Debuchy, will provide the width, and therefore threat, to go behind the defence and add that much needed dimension to our attacking play. It is this interplay between the four central midfielders, the CF and the FBs that will be the basis of our attacking success against those teams that want to sit back, or indeed, are forced to do so. And Wenger is right to want to see more goals from the rest of the team and believe that we are capable of scoring ten more goals in the PL – from 71 to 81 – in the coming season (see Arsenal.com). This is a point I have been making for quite a long time now: forget about Wenger wanting to buy a super striker and replace Giroud; our goals need to come from all over the team, which makes us unpredictable/hard to plan against.

Furthermore, I am interested in how we will line up at the back and in central midfield. It would be good to see a bit more of Gabriel, either with Koz or the BFG. I guess Wenger will play a near full strength team tomorrow, so Cech is a near given and Coquelin will be our holding DM; unless of course, Wenger wants to experiment with two all-round midfielders, who are not as good defensively as Francis but add more from an attacking point of view (see also 17ht fine post on this topic). I need my DM fix and would always play with one in front of the defence, but Jack-Rambo combo would also be nice.

Alas, we can over analyse this; it is just a friendly and Wenger will use it as a way for players to get match fitness, with maybe one or two youngsters being thrown into the mix, either at the start or later on. So here is my predicted starting eleven:  Cech, Debuchy, Gabriel, Koz, Nacho, Le Coq, Santi, Ozil, Jack, Rambo, Giroud.

arsenal v lyon

We could see Theo instead of Le Coq, with Ramsey moving into the deeper midfield role.

Enjoy the game fine fellow Gooners.

By TotalArsenal.

Cech between the poles, Toral LM, Walcott RM: Arsenal v Everton Line-Up & Preview

Preview for Arsenal vs Everton (KickOff  Saturday 8.30pm SGT, 1.30pm BST, 8.30am EST) 

Thanks to www.Arsenal.com for training picture
Thanks to http://www.Arsenal.com for training picture

Most likely line-up for Arsenal:

Arsenal v Everton July 15

This match will be an important one for Le Prof to win, as he gears his team to two more games in the Emirates Cup before the Community Shield; thus, he will field the strongest team possible.

I believe that Everton will do the same, and Martinez had started his first team on Wednesday, thus they are better prepared (albeit more tired) whilst our first team (minus defenders) would play the first game of the season.

So this will be a tight match, and I feel that we are better equipped with Santi (definitely fantastic with his on the pool heading skills) and Ozil taking the playmaker roles, and the playful Giroud leading the front-line.

Everton were not that good in the midfield area on Wednesday, from what I saw in the second half against a Stoke team less resilient than they usually are. If they manage to shake off the cobwebs and the passing mistakes, it will be a good test for the Gunners. Stones and Tim Howard are the better Everton players in my opinion.

Back to our lads. On the left midfield area we are a little short: I am not sure about Wilshere starting as he played quite a fair bit on Wednesday. Toral has a good left foot and vision, thus he might be given the nod.

As this is a must win game for the lads (to get momentum), I expect a faster game from the first team, and hope that the cobwebs stuck to the Everton players stick to them for the whole game.

Your turn guys 🙂

By JK

The CoCa wall – with Rambo, Ozil, Alexis behind OG: Hull Line-Up | Preview

A Monday Night in May. Where Does Motivation Come From as the Season Winds Down?

A trip to Hull. On a Monday night. The League Title celebrated the day before in South London. Can this Arsenal team find the motivation to play professionally and put the hurt to a team playing for survival? It’s a real question but one which I think we can answer in the affirmative.

Hull-Citys-KC-Stadium-001

Let’s make no bones about it, Hull will test us. Their recent wins at Crystal Palace and, in their own KC Stadium, against Liverpool, have stopped their late season fall towards the relegation zone. The teams looking for a way up and out of that part of the table have targeted Hull and their very difficult final matches, including this one. With those wins, however, Hull have reversed their slide and now look a good bet to stay up. They can afford to drop points to us, but why should they? The easiest time to play well–and spring another upset–is when you’re already doing so. If you can do it in front of your home support, all the better.

Luckily, Arsenal have enough experience playing Steve Bruce’s team to take nothing for granted. Last season, in this same fixture, also played late on, we survived an early (mostly) aerial onslaught and then won 3-nil on a goal from Aaron Ramsey and a brace from Lukas Poldolski. Hull brought a similar style to the FA Cup final at Wembley and their two early goals from set pieces meant Arsenal needed goals from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Kolscielny to level things in regular time. That got us to extra time, where Aaron Ramsey was able to slot home so that Arsenal could lift its first trophy in almost a decade.

While those matches might be a template for Hull’s approach to Monday’s match, they’ve also shown that they can hurt us from open play. In the reverse fixture played back in October, Arsenal were lucky to escape with a single point. It looked like it might be an easy one, but, after an early Alexis goal, Hull were able to equalize quickly through Mohamed Diame and then frustrate us for the remainder of the first half. Taking advantage of slack defending immediately after the half time talk, a quick cross from Ahmed Elmohamady found the head of Abel Hernandez to make it 2-1. From there, Hull proved extremely difficult to break down and only a 91st minute goal, made when Alexis was able to break through their lines to find Danny Welbeck, grabbed us the consolation point.

That match was a real low point for Arsenal this past Autumn, and we were missing several players who have now become fixtures in our first 11. Since the beginning of 2015 things have been much better and we were able to beat Hull in rather routine and convincing fashion (2-nil) when the finalists faced each other in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Already, at that time, Bruce seemed to be girding his group for the relegation battle they now face. With their two recent wins they sit on 34 points and cannot fall into the bottom 3 no matter the result of this one. For this we should be grateful. Their fine recent play has come through patience and commitment along with the emergence of a new scoring threat in Dame N’Doye. They will not be easy to break down and we must beware their threat on the break.
They are also very good at frustrating through their use of the entire pitch. Former Spurs Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore can control the ball from deeper central positions and Elmohamady is always dangerous on the wing. Beware also experienced players like Gaston Ramirez and Sone Aluko. We may catch a break as Diame and Nikita Jelavic are listed as injury doubts and the imposing defender Curtis Davies is definitely out. What Hull might lack in pace they make up for in size and graft; they will look to slow the match through set pieces and take advantage of the lack of height our current #1, David Ospina, presents at these opportunities.

Arsenal, by contrast, and for the first time in several seasons, do not seem in particular danger of relegation from our own minimum standard: qualification for next season’s Champions League tournament via a top-four finish. Currently, we sit six points clear of 5th place Liverpool with this match to play and an additional game in hand. With another FA Cup final on the horizon and in a tight race for 2nd place with the two Manchester teams, Arsenal would be well minded to play with full professionalism to find a way through another team set out to stop us.

It’s tempting to believe that doing so against Hull might prove easier than in our last match vs. Chelsea. We must, however, bring a similar effort and not let our guard down, thinking Hull will be a pushover. Against Chelsea, and in other matches against stout defenders, notably AS Monaco in the Champions League, we’ve had trouble maintaining spacing and remaining patient in attack. I think we’ll go with a largely unchanged line-up but there must be a full commitment to using the entire pitch with players moving smartly to cover for others going central or forward in attack and then taking the chances as they are offered. High balls in to our focal point, CF Olivier Giroud, should be alternated with tighter combinations and balls to his feet. Most of all, our remaining attackers must keep running, chasing the loose balls and filling spaces to pounce on opportunities, while remaining committed to preventing Hull from moving with the ball in the other direction. Using the full backs and deeper lying midfielders with intelligence and an eye for getting back quickly will be key.

As such, my guess is that we’ll go with an unchanged line-up from the one used in our previous three league matches, though we may see early subs if Hull are able to frustrate us or if we fall behind. Ideally a couple of early goals might allow a chance to work in players coming off long-term injuries who might need a chance to prove themselves as the run-in continues.

First 11:

ars v hull May 15

Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Flamini, Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott

As always, that’s just my best guess. Could Arsene Wenger, fearing a let down after the Chelsea match, ring the changes to perhaps suggest that nobody’s place is safe? I believe our ability to play a consistent group has been a key in our improved form this winter and into the spring. Still, given our reasonably secure position in the table, it may be time to start thinking more deeply about the future and give players a chance to contribute ahead of the Cup final, not to mention the summer transfer window. My hunch is that such rotation begins next week, at our home stadium, against a mid-table team with nothing to play for (Swansea).

My opinion, of course, matters exactly the same as other Gooners’, and not at all compared to Wenger’s. Other Gooners may have (very) different ideas: Please share yours. Hull away, I think, is an opportunity to further refine our solid balance between defending and attacking and continue to grow understanding and connection amongst our core group of players. Finishing as high up the table as possible is important, as is preparing in professional fashion for the FA Cup final and showing the best that Arsenal can be.

Go on then…
By: 17highburyterrace

Welbeck and Gabriel to start | Can we make it eight in a row? Burnley v Arsenal Line-Up and Preview

Burnley – Arsenal —  

It Would Be Great to Get Number Eight

Wins, in the league, in a row, that is…

Turf Moor
Turf Moor

And, as much as Arsenal are clearly in their best run of form in many a season, and a full 16 places separate the teams in the table, the trip to Turf Moor cannot be taken as a guaranteed three points.  Burnley need the points as much (or even more) than we do, finding themselves two points from safety at the bottom.  Moreover, even if they can’t get a result, they still have far too much to play for to give anything less than their best.  Another good performance against another big club and they might conjure the confidence needed to climb out of the relegation places and stay up.

As such, any suggestion that they might be better served resting some of their best players or otherwise reserving their best play for other opponents, will find no traction.  Why would they, having held Tottenham a week ago to gain another precious point while taking all three from Manchester City a couple of weeks before that?  All told, they’ve claimed 18 of their 26 points in home matches.  Our trip up there will be no walk in the park.

A primary reason is the physicality and commitment to the cause which Burnley present.   We should remember that, in the reverse fixture, Burnley held out until the 70th minute before succumbing to quick goals from Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers.  In the end, it was a bit of a romp–and the best 10 minutes we’ve seen from Theo Walcott and Lukas Poldolski in recent times–Alexis added a third goal in injury time.   In front of their home crowd, Burnley will surely be even more resolute.  Unlike other teams in that part of the table, Burnley did not go crazy with the riches distributed through the Premier League television contract.  Instead, they’re an unsung group who are attempting to hang together through good times and bad.  Only leading scorer Danny Ings (whose next goal will be his 10th of the season) gets much in the way of back page transfer speculation.

By contrast, the media (including the most active blog-o-sphere in English football) love to torture Arsenal supporters.  Activity in our circles has already jumped to summer transfer speculation and early denouncements on how FA Cups and late rallies in the league are just further variations on the Groundhog’s Day theme; another example of Wenger and his “specialization in failure,” as a certain Chelsea manager has intimated.  Still, despite an identical record from a year ago (31 played, 19 won, 6 lost, 6 drawn), I doubt we’ll see in-match comments punctuated by calls for “Wenger Out”, as we did last year in a similarly timed match at Everton (which we lost 3 nil).  In truth, we’ve come a long way since that nadir and, for the closer observer at least, the future looks a whole lot brighter.

No, Wenger seems on solid footing and getting as close as possible to Mourinho’s team seems a worthy goal, although, of course, any wobble will bring out those who have staked themselves to the alternative viewpoint.  We play Chelsea in two weeks time, which will be the true test, but they also face an always tricky West London Derby against QPR this week and a match with Manchester United before ours.  It’s true, we can only play the team which lines up against us, but we must use every trick we can to maintain focus.

Wherever people would like to point the finger of blame (or credit), Gooners must rue a difficult first half of the season and the big disappointment of our recent play–our untimely exit from the Champions League, based on a panicky showing in the first leg, vs AS Monaco.  Early on, it was mostly down to the health of our squad–injury ridden in the first half, but now almost fully restored–but, just as it could also be argued that the manager was responsible during the darker times, it might also be suggested that he has done his part to keep the collective together and foster a fine group dynamic.  As the results have come our way, we also find an extremely stiff (but healthy) competition for places.   At Arsenal the work of the team always comes first, but these final matches may have a real bearing on many players’ futures.

Given that only Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is definitely out with a groin problem (which may require surgery–ouch!), Wenger has almost the entire first team to choose from.  Laurent Koscileny faces a “late test,” while Mathieu Debuchy will be “just a bit short”: Wengerspeak for “will not be in the squad at the weekend,” but it is still a very crowded group.  This makes me very curious who will make the first 11 and the substitutes bench.   My hunch is that the team that beat Liverpool will be largely unchanged, but a player or two returning from long term injury may get a boost by being called into the substitute ranks.  Here then is my call for the starting 11.

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Substitutes:  Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott 

Even this group of 18 leaves out several players I’d love to see on the pitch or even just in uniform, including Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby (and I know others have a hankering to see Serge Gnabry).  My feeling is that this match will give hints as to how Wenger will rotate for the FA Cup semi-final, next weekend, where surely more players will get a chance to impress before the bigger (or, at least, more symbolic) one vs Chelsea.  All told, even if we don’t drop points (or struggle vs Reading in the cup match), it could be an interesting couple of weeks as in suggesting how the squad is shaping up for the longer term.  This is how it should be: a privilege to wear the shirt, and a responsibility by our players to take chances as they are given.

Or not.  As always, I am not privy to how the mind of the manager is actually working.  Perhaps he sees some tired players amongst his regulars and will rotate more this weekend while sporting a stronger squad for the cup match.  What say you, fine (or fickle) fellow Gooners?  Anything to generate a bit of banter, I say, and a ton (or is it tonne?…) more fun (and a bit more subtle…) than “Wenger Out” (or “Ozil is a lazy lady-part”) or other, more typical, one liners the tweeters (or tweakers…) seem to enjoy with each comment… Let’s hear it from the WBW’s (Would-Be-Wengers) and anybody else who cares about the Arsenal…And, let’s hammer them up in North Lancashire…

Go on then…

😀

By 17highburyterrace

Arsenal – Liverpool: A Defining Moment in the Progression of Two Big Clubs?

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Finally this break for international football is ending and we can get back to real football–Arsenal football–and the final 8 matches of the Premier League season.  Not only that, but we do so with a highly anticipated match in our home stadium.  Liverpool, on exquisite form–at least until their most recent match vs Manchester United–were looking a real threat to grab a coveted top 4 position and try and do a bit better with another go-round in the Champions League.  With that 2-nil defeat at home, and the loss of two real leaders in Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtl to red card suspensions, they find themselves very much on the outside, looking in.  Five points is not an insurmountable number but failing to get a result against either of their two nearest rivals (ManU and now us) could prove a psychological hurdle.

As such, I expect Pool, despite their depletions, to bring full commitment to the task and a nothing-to-lose attitude.  After an even worse early season than our own, with many calling for changes in management, Liverpool regrouped around defensive solidity.  Their matches haven’t been easy on the eyes and their fall out of Europe was rather spectacular (they failed to make it out of their CL group and lost over two legs to Besiktas of Istanbul), but they have also risen steadily up the English table.  Their away form has been particularly impressive and this match will represent an attempt to add to their amazing total of six consecutive away clean sheets.  If they could do that–and perhaps nick something in the other direction–they could be right back in the fray.

Arsenal, however, should be ready for this one.  Our squad is deeper, we haven’t suffered too badly over the international break, and we even have additional players returning to full fitness for the run in.  Competition for places has not been stronger at the club in recent memory and several players are hitting top form as the season comes to its climax.  This match could move us further towards a return to CL football, and set the stage for our next, even more massive, home match, two weeks hence, against Chelsea.

Of course, anything can happen on the day, so, as always, focus and patience will be watchwords.  I believe Arsenal have the quality to win this one, but commitment to overcoming whatever the opponent–and fate–have on offer will  be the true task.

Unlike our match at Anfield, which finished with a very disappointing draw from an injury time Skrtl header, I don’t believe Arsenal will set out to defend.  In that one, Liverpool had 73% of the possession in the first 15 minutes and had the better chances as the half wore on, but it was not until a Phillipe Coutinho effort in the 45th minute that they took the lead.  Arsenal responded instantly to equalize from a scrambled set piece, with Mathieu Debuchy getting the final touch.  In the 2nd half, still playing on the break, Arsenal took the advantage with a well executed counterattack: Olivier Giroud finished the goal through keeper Brad Jones’ legs after a calm 1-2 with Santi Cazorla and good work from Kieran Gibbs to spring the play forward.  Arsenal defended stoutly and Liverpool were further weakened when substitute, Fabio Borini took two yellow cards and reduced the home team to ten men.  It appeared we would escape with all the points, until a late corner was conceded and defenders missed their assignments and Skrtl powered home the demoralizing equalizer.

It should be noted, however, that Liverpool are a changed and much improved side since that match which served to open the festive period.  Simon Mingolet has been outstanding since returning to the #1 position.  Coutinho, in addition to some spectacular goals, has learned the value of a pass.  Raheem Sterling, mooted in the press as a future Arsenal player (or perhaps swapped with our own Theo Walcott) might be keen to impress.  Even Mario Balotelli has added beyond the presence of his physicality (and reputation).  Jordan Henderson has been given the armband by manager Brendan Rodgers and improved his play substantially, which will make the loss of Gerrard less damaging.  Adam Llalana might also play in a deeper mid-field role if he can recover from a groin injury.  Skrtl may be harder to replace but Kolo Toure, who might be given the job, will be keen to show Arsenal fans that he’s still a solid defender.  Rodgers may also opt for a central back 3 with wingbacks.  Players like Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno can get forward quickly and still be dangerous from these deeper positions.  Given the way the other match ended, set pieces will always present a problem.

I doubt Arsenal will sit back as they did at Anfield and will rather try and take the game to Liverpool.  Alexis Sanchez, a man who only can play at full effort, needs to recover quickly from disappointing international displays with the Chilean National team.  If it had only been the 1-nil defeat to Brazil (at our own stadium) I would not be concerned.  Losing 2-nil to Iran, however, along with his struggling for form since the new year is more worrying.  Still, I think this is too big a match to rest him.  On the other hand, Mesut Ozil has been talking big about winning a future Balon d’Or, and perhaps paces himself better for the long haul.  He’ll be keen to back up such a bold claim with assists or goals.  Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey will also want to return strong.  Olivier Giroud, who continued his run of goals on duty with France, has stated a goal to finish ahead of Alexis as high scorer at the club this season.  In other words, despite Alexis’ difficulties and the fact that Danny Welbeck took a knock on duty with England, confidence in attack should be strong.

Defence may present some selection issues.  There’s no reason to drop David Ospina between the sticks, but Arsene Wenger may have a decision to make at center back.  Laurent Koscielny will surely play, but, Per Mertesacker, to many, is too slow and represents our past, while Brazilian Gabriel Paulista, fresh off his debut with the Selecao, will likely represent the future.  Mathieu Debuchy has recovered from his second major injury of the season but likely will wait at least a match before slotting back in at right back, having played in a mid-week Under 21 match.  This means Hector Bellerin likely plays in that position.  Fellow Spaniard Nacho Monreal seems to have made the left back position his, but Kieran Gibbs, having played and practiced with the large Liverpool contingent on the English National team, might also get the call.  Ahead of the back line, Francis Coquelin seems un-droppable.  It’s amazing to think that it was his late appearance as a sub in the reverse fixture which served as his first in Arsenal colours since his return from a loan spell at Charlton.

Here then is my call for the starting 11:

 

arsenal v pool April 15

Subs: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott

What do fellow Gooners think?  Might Wenger try and go a bit deeper into the squad or, like me, will he want his absolute strongest group out there?  In addition to the ever-present need to get a result and perform well in front of the always nervous home support, beating Liverpool would also bode well for our chances in the FA Cup.  They still have a replay in the quarterfinals (and a semi-final to win if they get through) but they are by far the highest rated opponent we could face at Wembley.  All in all, it’s a great chance for the team to make a real statement against another big club.

Go on then…

 

By: 17highburyterrace

Four Points behind Chelsea? Barcodes v Gunners Preview & Line-up

Newcastle – Arsenal  Match Preview

 How does Arsenal respond to coming up short in Monaco?

d14-02-12 Spurs H P1

From the glamour of Monte Carlo and European nights, Arsenal must travel to the furthest reaches of its own league and (somehow) get back to the more mundane task of trying to wrest 3 points from the always stubborn Magpies of Newcastle. 

In the return leg of our Champions League round of 16 tie in Monaco, Arsenal played with spirit and determination and scored two goals, but it was not enough.  We can debate about the away goals rule or whether Arsenal was naive (or just wasteful) in the first leg or whether English football just isn’t at the requisite level to compete with the best of the continent.  In the end, however, the only way to get back into the Champions league is to finish in the top 4 back home in the Premier league.  It may not be as exciting as an elimination match in the world’s biggest club competition, but going to Tyneside and replicating the effort and performance we saw on the Cote d’Azure–and bringing back full points from our trip to Newcastle–is probably, in the end, just as important.

Somehow we have to see what happened in Monaco not as the massive disappointment it is but as another gritty win in a tough away stadium.  Before that match we did likewise at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarterfinals and we’ve had other good road wins, most notably on the other side of Manchester at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City.  In fact, with the exception of the very disappointing loss to a team just up the road (and the new year’s day loss at Southampton) Arsenal have been perfect on their travels in 2015.   Our form even has some wondering if it’s possible to close the 7 point gap (plus a game in hand) on league leaders Chelsea.

Personally, I think that gap is probably too large, but I’m certainly open to seeing Chelsea drop points, come back to the chasing pack and open up the title race.  They dropped a pair of points a week ago vs Southhampton after their own exit from the Champions league, and now have to travel to relegation-threatened Hull City, so why not?

More realistic, and probably more to the point, is our own path towards getting back into the big tournament.  Our good run of league results has us well positioned in 3rd place just a point behind (last year’s league champions) Manchester City, but other teams are queuing up for the run-in.  Manchester United sit only a point behind us, but they have to travel to Anfield and face down the most in-form of all the English clubs, Liverpool, in a real 6 pointer.  Their hosts only trail them by 2 points and could thus leapfrog them into the CL spots.  We can only play our own match, of course.  As such, if we can win at Newcastle, all looks good heading into the two week international break.   If we drop points up there, however, we drop into the fray and the time away goes from a nice respite to (our more usual?) Arsenal angst.  With our next league match at home vs Liverpool, things could get even more uncomfortable.

As such, the importance of putting our disappointments into the rear view and giving our very best in Newcastle is extreme.  Luckily the opponent is struggling with injuries, suspensions and a run of bad results.  Moreover, sitting in 11th place, they can afford further bad results without dropping into a real relegation battle.   Still, it would be wise to beware the wounded animal and Newcastle teams (and their supporters) always offer a prideful effort.  Underestimating them would be a mistake.

Hosting Arsenal with all the circumstances they currently face, in fact, should allow Newcastle to play in an unfettered, attacking, nothing to lose manner.  Papiss Demba Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini, the (spitting) head and tail (and hairstyle) of their outfield spine will be missing through suspension.  Additionally, defenders Paul Dummett, Massaido Haidara and Steven Taylor are out injured, along with midfielders Rolando Aarons, Mehdi Abeid, Siem de Jong and Cheick Tiote.   Interim manager John Carver is suggesting, in fact, that he may not even be able to fill out his bench, claiming that he has only 13 outfield players (and two keepers) fit enough to wear the barcode kit.

Even if true, I’d still expect Newcastle to offer a game plan based on resistance but with a stronger urge to attack and a hope to simply outscore us.  In other words, we cannot take them too lightly or hope to ease into the match.  Players like Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez are fine attacking players who can score goals if given the chance.  Remy Caballa is a very tricky ball handler and Yoan Goufran, while not as flashy, is a player who always puts in a shift, as does Jack Colback.  Gabriel Obertan and Emmanuel Riviere, on their day, can also be a handful for any defender; Sammy Ameobi may not be as stout as his older brother Shola (recently transferred to Crystal Palace) but is tall enough to present a target for crosses.   Their back line will be makeshift, but at least they have Argentine international Jonas Gutierrez back from his battle with testicular cancer.   The balance of the team is heavy in attack, so, just as we might ask Jonas himself, will one ball be enough?

Cancer jokes are probably a step too far, but Arsenal must fight a disease of their own–complacency.  Can the group cope with their European disappointment, get back to business and beat Newcastle?  Focus and determination would seem the best prescriptive antidotes, but will we bring them?  Who will Arsene Wenger use to fight off any sense of self-pity amongst the collective and move us forward?

My guess is that we will see a largely unchanged squad from Tuesday night.  Luckily, nobody took more than psychological knocks in that match but certainly many looked tired and Wenger will have to have a keen eye for those who seem more hungover than others.  Tomas Rosicky who missed both the Monaco and West Ham matches due to illness, is back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays at least some role on the day.

Here’s my best guess for a starting 11.

ars v new March 15

Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Cazorla, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott

That’s only one change from Tuesday (Aaron Ramsey for Santi Cazorla) but then again I’m not privy to watching the lads in training and trying to note who might really not be up for another big effort.  Many pundits are noting that Alexis has not played as well in the new year and has only scored a single goal in his last 11 appearances.  Even off the boil he presents such a threat that I cannot see sitting him ahead of the international break.   (If he were to get a bench seat, would his spot be taken by Walcott or Rosicky?)  It’s also possible that Giroud rests.  Wenger brought him off the bench the last time we traveled in England, in the FA Cup match at Manchester United.  I don’t see that particular change but, by the same token, it seems harsh to suggest a bench place for Santi Cazorla given his great play in a slightly deeper role.  Ramsey’s recent goals, however, would seem to merit a place in the team. along, perhaps, with the greater physicality and excellent workrate he offers.  Maybe Welbeck (or Alexis and/or Giroud) sits so both Santi and AR can play, which perhaps is a more defensive scheme and a wise thought in light of so many attackers in the Newcastle squad.  As always, what (the f**k) do I know?

Not too much probably.  What do YOU know?  What do others think about this match and the larger issues about this Arsenal team–our exit from the Champions league and our chances back in England?  At this point we only have 9 league matches remaining–and the adventure(s) at Wembley in the FA Cup.  How far can we go (up or down)?  Does it matter?  Comments on the blog have really dropped off, perhaps due to our fearless leader (Total Arsenal) being pre-occupied with real world responsibilities (aka a job…) and not posting.  Are we bored with our club, with football, or (maybe) with life?  What’s up people?

Personally, I’m glad we’ve got a match (and I rather dread the International break), but that’s just me… Hopefully our Gunners (and you Gooners) feel likewise…

By 17highburyterrace

Coquelin & Rambo DMs, Alexis & Ozil on Wings: MU v Arsenal Preview and Line-Up

Manchester United-Arsenal — FA Cup Quarterfinal —

Match Preview

Tine to Defend the Cup and Make a Statement

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

On the back of our most dominating performance of the season, a sumptuous 2-nil victory over Championship leaders and Man City beaters, Middlesbrough, Arsenal drew Manchester United, away, in the quarter-final round of the FA Cup.  It didn’t seem like a just reward at the time and, as the match approaches, its significance only increases.

Whichever team prevails in this one will be favoured to win the next two at Wembley and raise the cup.  Additionally, as the clubs are separated by only a point in the Premier League standings, the result tomorrow will surely set a tone for the ongoing battle there as well.  United Manager Louis van Gaal says he would trade cup progression for a top 4 finish in the league, but there’s no reason, given their lighter, Europe-free schedule, that United will not give everything they’ve got.

Arsene Wenger has similarly noted the tightness of the race for Champions League qualification, but he too will understand the wider implications of getting a result at Old Trafford–including a draw which would force a replay back in North London.  While both managers have gone to pains to play down the importance of this one, the FA Cup surely represents the most realistic chance at silverware for both clubs this season.

Our record in traveling to Old Trafford does not make for pretty viewing.  In our last 10 matches we’ve drawn only once, losing all the rest, and we actually haven’t won there since the Autumn of 2006.  During this run we’ve played there twice in the FA Cup.  In 2008, we were leading the league, but played a much changed team and were well beaten, 4-nil.  More recently in 2011, in this same quarterfinal round, we lost 2-nil.  To be clear, even if we’ve taken the more recent trophies in this competition, winning a year ago and in 2005, on penalties over the Red Devils at Wembley, (Man U most recently raised the cup the year before in 2004) United have dominated us in this period, finishing above us in the league every single year except the most recent one.

Even as they transition out of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and attempt to rebuild under Van Gaal, we have yet to actually assert our superiority in head to head battle.  Last year, during the disastrous season with David Moyes at the helm, ManU beat us 1-nil in the league match-up at Old Trafford, while the reverse fixture was a desultory nil-nil at our home ground.  This season, in our one meeting, at the Emirates, although dominating play early on, United scored with their first shot on goal.  Suicidal pressing forward in desperate search for an equalizer resulted in a 2nd breakaway goal which sealed our fate.

But that’s all history, of course, and tomorrow’s match represents a chance to wipe the slate clean and prove ourselves the superior team.  With the exception of our 2-1 loss in the North London Derby, 2015 has shown that Arsenal can travel to hostile environs and still get results, the blueprint being the trip to East Manchester and the 2-nil victory at Man City.  We only had a third of the possession in that one, but still managed to control the match and prevail.   Yeoman efforts from more attacking players like Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla helped protect less experienced defenders; Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, to create a dominating defensive display.  David Ospina, newly established in goal for league matches, hardly had a save to make.

This being a cup match, however, there will be changes in personnel.  Wojciech Szczesny, demoted from the league matches, if passed fit after a midweek illness, will get his chance between the sticks.  Gabriel Paulista most likely would have started in one of the center back positions, as he did vs Boro in the previous round, but a mid-week hamstring pull rules him out, meaning our Big F**king German, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny will surely get the call.  Spaniard Nacho Monreal seems recovered from a mild back strain so he likely pairs with his young countryman, Bellerin, at the other fullback position.  Coquelin, broken nose protected by an ominous looking white mask, surely will go at defensive mid.

The more difficult calls are up front.  It seems impossible to sit Olivier Giroud, who has scored the opener in our two most recent matches and brings so much shape to our attack while also presenting a real target when we have to kick out of our own half.  Likewise, Alexis Sanchez, who finally broke a 6 match goal drought in midweek at Queens Park Rangers, brings too much energy for a bench seat.  Santi Cazorla, sitting deeper in that match, also seems the key figure linking our rearguard to our attack.  Mesut Ozil, at the heart of the action in recent matches, also appears undroppable.  This leaves a single starting position open and my call goes to Aaron Ramsey.  Back from a recurring hamstring problem, his ball carrying and greater physicality looked the part in settling the result in midweek after QPR pulled a goal back.

This starting line-up does seem harsh on others who have been playing well, including Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, who is returning to Old Trafford for the first time since his deadline day transfer away last summer.  Theo Walcott has also been a contributor, especially at the sharp end of our attack, and it’s always possible that Wenger might mix things up and start him.  Still, this is the 11 I think will start.

ars v manure March 15

(Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck)

Man United will also go with a very strong line-up and will likely stay with their most valuable player this season, goalkeeper David De Gea.  Despite the tactical innovations for which Van Gaal is famous, most notably playing 3 at the back this past summer in getting a weaker than usual Dutch National team to the semi-finals of the World Cup, experiments with similar tactics have not yielded good results at United.  If ever there was a match to go back to that plan, however, it might be this one, given that center back Johnny Evans begins the first of 6 matches out, suspended for a spitting incident.  Luke Shaw, the young left back bought from Southampton over the summer, is also nursing a hamstring strain, so it may actually be difficult for Van Gaal to field four defenders.  Traditional wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have, at times, at least, been used as wing-backs, and I suspect they might be deployed in similar fashion for this one.  If they are, a deeper lying set of mid-fielders, two of Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera will likely back up a front three of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney.

Unfortunately, for all who like more than a bit of pantomime (or real) villainy, Robin van Judas, er, Persie is injured for this one.   Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini are also attacking players Van Gaal might choose in his first 11 or bring off the bench if United needs goals.

Despite the high stakes in a cup match of this sort, I expect a cagey battle with both teams looking to assert control in midfield and not unhappy to let the other group have possession.  United should be the team more determined to attack in front of their home crowd.  While neither team would relish a replay, I think Wenger will be at greater pains to suggest to his squad that such a result is not a bad one and that fore-aft balance is critical given all the skill players United can throw at us.  In other words, I doubt this one will be hell for leather from the outset.  An early goal, especially if Arsenal can get it, might open things up considerably.

But my voice is just a single one.  How do other Gooners feel about this cup tie?  Who do you think will play and how will the match play out?  What would you do if you were in charge?  Is this match as critical as I’m portraying it or just another in a long line of tough ones?  Should we go all out for the cup or keep our focus on the league and the very difficult return leg of the Champions League eliminations at Monaco in less than 10 days time?  These questions (and others you might frame) need answers… Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

BFG & Nacho return | Ox & Rambo in DM pivot: Predicted Line-Up and Preview

Queens Park Rangers – Arsenal

Stumbling Block or Springboard to Showdown at Old Trafford?

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Spring must be in the air because the fixtures are coming thick and fast.  Tomorrow night, in a midweek league fixture, Arsenal travel to West London and the intimate confines of Loftus Road to take on Queens Park Rangers.

Have our opponents been watching our struggles or have they been taking the small pockets of nice weather to get a jump on their golf games?  That’s right, as Arsenal have strained to find a silver lining to the Champions League thrashing meted out by AS Monaco last Wednesday and a tepid or at least somewhat nervous 2 nil victory over Everton, QPR have done nothing.  Instead, they will have to look back to their late loss 10 days ago at relegation rival Hull City to remember what playing football is all about.

They might also, like Arsenal, have one eye on their next match, a make-up game with Capital One Cup losers, er, runners up, Tottenham.  With so many former Spurs in the QPR line-up, trying to stick it to travelers from North London might be more tempting if they’re dressed in white.

If Spurs are a cock on a ball, QPR could, right now at least, be seen as a bit of a headless fowl.  Despite the big money that owner and Formula One backer, Tony Fernandes, has poured into the club, along with the excitement of bouncing back up to the Premier League from the Championship (through the playoffs, no less), QPR are once again in a big fight to avoid relegation.  Only out of the bottom three by virtue of goal differential, they lost the coolest head in the courtroom, their manager, Harry Redknapp, citing the need for knee surgery(?!?).  As many injuries as Arsenal have endured, including ones I suspect Arsene Wenger tells his players they’ve suddenly gotten, at least our manager has never used his own injuries as an excuse to jump ship.

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Redknapp has been gone a month, and in that time QPR haven’t been miserable, losing by one goal margins vs Southampton and at Hull, but taking all the points at Sunderland.  Still, they’ve yet to attract a full-time manager who might believe they will stay up.  Caretaker Manager, Chris Ramsey, then, will likely have his work cut out for him to get his group up for these matches.  The disappointment of the late loss at Hull may be offset by the 10 days of rest, but he still faces these matches missing several key players.

Amongst those who will not suit up, Leroy Fer is a dynamic midfielder if not quite the spark plug (or lightening rod) Joey Barton represents.  Barton is serving the first of a 3 match ban for trying to “manage” a conference with the referee and several Hull players in that most recent match.   Does that mean Ramsey will opt for former Spurs Abel Taarabt and Niko Krancjar, or will he believe there could be motivation for Karl Henry and Armand Traore, both of whom played at Arsenal?  Up front he’ll surely employ Charlie Austin, the former bricklayer who has been more like a hod-carrier for the Hoops.  Not the fastest or most physically imposing center forward, Austin, nonetheless, has a poacher’s instincts and reacts without hesitation to loose balls in the box, scoring 14 goals in 23 league appearances.  With a return like that, it’s no surprise that he’s also recently made noise about being another key figure who might not be willing to stay aboard if the club sank back down to the Championship.

With the game in hand, my bet is that Ramsey is more focused on trying to keep both sets of North Londoners out and playing for every precious point he can grab.  They are reasonably strong at the back.  Former England #1 Rob Green and Rio Ferdinand bring decades of experience to the task and former Spur, Steven Caulker, is not a rookie himself.  Arsenal must beware of the center backs (and Austin) at set pieces.  Giving away needless corners or fouls in our half should be avoided.

How then will Arsenal set up for this challenge?  On such short rest surely there must be changes.  Wenger may also want to give players one final look before what could be a season-defining trip to Old Trafford.  A win or even a draw in the FA Cup Quarterfinal (setting up a replay back in North London) would set a positive tone for the remainder of the run in.  As we need a clear 3 goal win in Monaco to advance in the Champions league and sit 9 points off Chelsea in the league (they also have a game in hand), defending the FA Cup is surely our best shot at silverware.   Calling out the starting line-up for this one then becomes extremely tricky.

At the back, off a clean sheet, I think the South American axis of Ospina and Gabriel continues, but perhaps the armband is returned to our Big F**king German, Per Mertesacker; after all, those achilles tendons of Laurent Koscielny must be sore.  At the full back positions, it’s hard to drop Bellerin and Gibbs after the clean sheet, but I think it’s also tough on Nacho Monreal who, despite a few early slips on the pitch at Crystal Palace, hasn’t done enough wrong to lose his spot in the first 11.  The big question is who comes in for Francis Coquelin after our only truly defensive midfielder suffered a broken nose in the most recent match.  Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have played in these positions (and often subbed for one another).  Might they get a run out side by side?

Aaron Ramsey has been passed fit and it should be remembered that he went straight into the starting 11 after his last sizable layoff, helping to keep Manchester City scoreless on their home pitch.   Coquelin, however, could be fitted for a mask to protect his broken nose.  Up front, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez have started the past 5 matches, while Olivier Giroud started the previous 4.  In that one, vs Leicester City, Theo Walcott started and scored.  Now however, he seems out of favour with the manager; and Danny Welbeck, rested vs Everton might also get a spot back.  Many were impressed by the Ox’s play in the wide right position and would like to see him right back out there.  Some will want even deeper rotation and calls for Chuba Akpom will surely be registered.

Options abound, but here is the group I predict.  

ars v qpr mar 15

(Subs: Szczesny, Chambers, Gibbs, Koscielny, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott)

It’s really anybody’s guess who will play.  In truth, getting the points is what really matters, and another group effort, likely built on a disciplined defensive platform as we showed vs Everton, is what’s needed most.

Can we get it?  

Who would you play and why? 

Should Wenger prioritize the league matches or do we keep our best players well rested for the match at Old Trafford?

By 17highburyterrace

Theo and Nacho for Welbeck and Gibbs: Preview & Predicted Line-Up

Arsenal – Everton  Match Preview

The Show Must Go On 

 

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Every time Arsenal disappoints a portion of our Gooners souls are crushed.  In drawing AS Monaco in the round of 16 many Gooners believed we finally had a chance to get a bit deeper into the Champions League eliminations.  If we could beat them in a bit of style, draw a team in the quarters who maybe didn’t quite have their feet totally under themselves, well, who knows, anything is possible in football.

Wednesday night may have proved that adage, but not as expected.  Hopeful Gooners didn’t see it coming, but we witnessed a nervous performance and a capitulation which took us aback.  Moderate early dominance led to a realization that our opponent was well organized and difficult to break down.  A lucky (and deflected) strike from distance gave them the away goal and the upper hand in the tie.  There was no initial panic but we made no headway as we played out the first 45.

After halftime there seemed increased desire but still no equalizer.  We pushed and we pushed but maybe we pushed too much.  A simple loss of possession high up the pitch led to missed tackles and chasing on the break.  2-nil.  More chances, many rushed, all squandered, until, finally, substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got one back.  Those who had stayed in the stadium had a little something to get excited about.  Except they didn’t.  Too eager from the kickoff, the Ox made another dash at goal but left the ball behind.  Again the break was on and Monaco finished it, and most likely our Champions League hopes, in ruthless fashion.

Now, with just three days of rest to find perspective and regroup, Arsenal face always tough Everton in front of our none-too-happy home support.  It will not be an easy match. In fact, we haven’t beaten this club (in the league) in our last 5 attempts, but a reaction is necessary.  Arsenal need a result and a performance, both to maintain their position in the league and to restore a bit of belief amongst the players and the fans.

It could be argued we’re playing Everton at a good time.  They actually come into the match on even less rest due to their Europa League exploits.   At least they will be riding a wave of confidence, having beaten BSC Young Boys (Switzerland) 3-1 and completing a 7-2 aggregate win over two legs.  For winning that they will face two more Thursday matches against Dinamo Kiev, one of which will require travel to war-torn Ukraine.  All of that will be only for a chance to get to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.  Still, given that they’re in the bottom half of the league table, winning that tournament is their best chance of getting into next year’s Champions League.

It’s a far cry from the scare the Toffees gave us a season ago, when losing to them in a desultory 3-0 at Goodison Park in April shunted them into (and us out of) the top four Champions League places.  We were able to win our remaining six matches (including the FA Cup final) while they stumbled, but it still remains an indication of the threat posed by the Blues.  Roberto Martinez’ team may need to prioritize their progress in Europe but they will surely do so fighting for every scrap of confidence they can find.  Nothing would help more than a composed performance and stealing points against wounded Arsenal.

As such, I expect a composed and committed performance from Everton.  Can we match it?  In my opinion, composure is what we lacked in the mid-week loss.  Some might have seen a lack of spirit or passion in that performance, but I saw players, if anything, trying too hard, rushing their chances and losing their discipline, especially when it came to positioning as the match wore on.  Monaco was playing us to absorb our attack and spring on the counter and we obliged by stepping into the trap.  A similar dynamic will likely play out in the Everton match.  As much as we need to make a statement in front of our home fans, it must be done in methodical fashion.  Patience, never the long-suit amongst Gooners, could be a watch-word.

Everton’s most recent league match, at home, against attack-minded Leicester City, showed that they can be broken down.  In that one, the visitors, despite going behind against the run of play, scored two goals in the 2nd half and were unlucky to leave Goodison with only a point, a late own-goal rescuing the draw for the home team.  They may switch things up against us, but their rearguard, featuring American keeper Tim Howard and all British back four (Phil Jagielka, John Stones or Sylvain Distin , Leyton Baines and Seamus Coleman) can be breached.  Martinez typically allows the fullbacks freedom to get forward but then packs the center of the pitch with midfielders known as much for their defending as their attack.  Gareth Barry is the most notorious for his cynicism but James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic, while possessing a bit more trickery and pace, are players who play with commitment and defensive focus.  Ross Barkley, the talented but hot-tempered English youngster can be dangerous, both in getting forward on the dribble and spotting the through-ball.  Up front, the focus is on the big man Romelu Lukaku, but keying on him comes with the peril of ignoring more consistent finishers like Stephen Naismith and Kevin Mirallas.   Despite their struggles this season and their likely desire to focus on Europe, we should not believe that Everton will be pushovers.

How will Arsene Wenger try and get our boys up for this challenge and who will he pick to do the job?  While some Gooners will call for wholesale changes after the Monaco match, I seriously doubt Wenger will answer those calls.  Many are pointing fingers at David Ospina and want Wojcheik Szczesny back in goal.  Others are still having nightmares from the failures of our two tallest (and slowest?) players, Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker, and wish to leave them out.  Still others lament over the work ethic (or lack thereof) of Mesut Ozil, or the fact that Santi Cazorla was unable to put a definitive stamp on the CL match.  Sorry, I don’t see any of them being dropped.

Time for the god of speed  to step it up.
Time for the god of speed to step it up.

Instead, I believe our indiscipline was mainly at the full-back positions so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nacho Monreal in for Kieran Gibbs.  Hector Bellerin may also make way for Calum Chambers, although he may be seen as the better alternative for containing Baines.  With Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini still unavailable and Jack Wilshere undergoing a minor surgery, Francis Coquelin will have to reprise his role in defensive midfield.  Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came on in his stead on Wednesday, is unlikely to get his spot.  While he got us on the board in midweek, his over-eagerness also was at the heart of Monaco’s late killer.  On the other hand, Theo Walcott, who came on for the ineffectual Giroud, I think, may finally get a start.  If he does, my bet is that it’s at the expense of Welbeck rather than big Ollie, who helps so much in giving our offense its shape and defending at set pieces.

Here then is my best guess at our first 11.

ars v everton Feb 15

(Subs = Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Welbeck)

As matches following tough CL games go, Everton is not a great opponent to face.  Additionally, while a home tie would seem to favour us, the hostility of the disappointed support will always be lurking and ready to rear its ugly head should we concede early or even look less than fully in control.  We need to start the match well and make early chances count.  Full focus will be expected and required.

Can we get the needed reaction and all three points? 

Will Wenger go with a largely unchanged group or try out some of his more rested players? 

Is this a time to rotate or does he wait for Wednesday at QPR? 

Who would you play and why?

This is a big one.  We have no choice but to get right back on top of the horse which bucked us off.   We simply must.  Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace