It’s been quite some time since I last wrote, but a combination of an extremely tedious Interlull and my rather stressful two weeks at uni contributed to my total lack of inspiration. Glad to see the back of this fortnight.
In what will be Arsenal’s first game in 13 days we face Watford away and, while it’s a favourable game to get back into shape, we should, as always, find the right balance between urgency and confidence (see what I did there?)
Watford seem to be an odd duck. They have only lost two games out of 8 played (City away and Palace at home, the latter thanks to a penalty), while also maintaining an impressive defensive home record. Their only conceded goal was that penalty, in other three games the Hornets amassed 5 points, beating Swansea and holding Southampton to a goalless draw in the process.
Their main threat emanates from Odion Ighalo, the man who scored 5 goals already. Odion mostly operates as a second striker in a 4-4-2, partnered with Troy Deeney. Our centre-backs should be on alert. Luckily for us, Mertesacker and Gabriel stayed behind and Koscielny nurtured an injury, so all three are ready and firing.
Quite surprisingly, all of our players returned in one piece from international duty. How well they played (and they did play well) is secondary to me as long as no one will have to endure a life-threatening operation in order to sew one of their legs back on. An operation which can keep them out “for a number of weeks”, naturally.
However, I’ll still single out Alexis and Ozil. The former played with a groin injury, scored three times in two games and assisted one more, while the latter provided two assists, the second for the eventual winning goal, one which allowed Germany to top the group.
On top of all this positivity, it’s likely Arteta, Flamini and Koscielny will also be able to make the squad, as all three took part in full training today (Friday).
By the way, while we are on the subject, Wenger gave an update on Wilshere and Welbeck, saying the former can be back in training within a month, while the latter will only return in January. Good to know Jack is ahead of schedule. It really feels like the situation with injuries improved this season. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to keep it this way.
The only change I realistically see Wenger making from the side that swept aside United is Oxlade for Alexis. Mostly because there are lingering doubts the Chilean recovered from injury:
“I cannot do a lot about it (Alexis playing for Chile with an injury). He came off as you have seen against Manchester United with a hip problem, a problem with the rotator muscle and he wanted to go. He played in the last two games and we have to see how he comes back but it is always a tricky situation Chile are trying to qualify for the World Cup and he is an important player for them but they will use him if they can. He is a guy that always wants to play so I knew that was always going to be a tricky situation.”
I must say I don’t completely agree with the view that we should use our best players against Watford because the Champions League is a lost cause. There are two reasons for that:
- Watford is, with all due respect, not the strongest of sides in the PL, so resting a player or two (especially if these players have a chance of aggravating their injuries) shouldn’t make the task at hand an impossible one. That’s what depth is for, after all, so that we could rotate when needed without losing too much in the way of overall quality and balance
- Our Champions League campaign IS NOT a lost cause just yet, but it may well become just that should we lose another home game. Theoretically we can even qualify with 6 points, but hoping it will suffice and letting two games slip by because of that is sheer madness
I’d also probably keep Koscielny wrapped in cotton wool before the Bayern game, though there is a question of whether he needs a bit of playing time to get back into shape. Again, like with Alexis, we shouldn’t use Kos if there is a risk of losing him for our midweek game or, God forbid, for a lengthy period of time. I expect no other tinkering apart from these two.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker/Koscielny – Gabriel – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Ramsey – Sanchez/Oxlade – Walcott
“We will be confronted by that fact and we will have to produce a quality defensive performance (on Ighalo) but away from home we have done very well until now.
Apart from the game against Chelsea which was under very special circumstances, we have done extremely well away from home.”
This is the part which also gives me a bit of extra confidence: we generally do very well away from home and has shown it again this season. Home loss to West Ham and a draw against Liverpool, albeit understandable, will still be viewed as points dropped (probably rightly so), but our away form has been near impeccable. Three wins against three resilient sides (Newcastle, Palace, Leicester) and the loss to Chelsea under very special circumstances indeed suggest that sports betting picks an away win. Palace and Leicester are troublesome teams at their place, I’m sure other PL sides will drop points there, while Newcastle look to be fighting to stay up this season and may also prove a handful.
I expect tomorrow’s game to be similar to the Newcastle one. We’ll most likely seize territory and possession, which is dictated both by our style of play and the sheer gulf in class between the sides, question is, how we use our advantage. After seeing how clinical we can be in recent weeks, I hope we’ll be able to once again show that ruthlessness tomorrow.
Come on you Gunners.
Finally, a bit of extra reading for you. As you all know, the AGM took place on Thursday, so you can catch up with it here (transcript courtesy of Tim Stillman), while Arsene Wenger’s speech in full can be found here.
Also, my colleagues are ready to provide you with their thoughts on Stan Kroenke and give their take on our ticket policy (and why it isn’t half as bad as it is made out to be). To wrap it all up (and I do know it’s offtop), Tim Stillman tells us Gabriel’s story in his weekly column and, as always, it’s very much worth your time.
Phew, I sign off on this note. Back with a review.