Another league game looms large and another tough opponent awaits us. I gotta say Arsenal’s fixture list hardly does us any favours: between two international breaks we face(d) Watford, Bayern Munich (twice), Everton, Swansea, Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday. All of this inside three weeks, meaning we are forced to play every three days, but the real challenge will be facing Swansea away before flying to Munich to play the Bavarians.
On the bright side, we get a kinder run of fixtures after the November break, plus we have already contested games vs Watford and Bayern and came out victorious on both occasions. Our next task is Everton at home.
Roberto Martinez’ side has been hit-and-miss this season: from smashing Chelsea 3-1 at the Goodison (although I’m not sure Chelsea is a good benchmark nowadays) all the way down to losing to United 3-0 at the same Goodison. United were incredibly lucky on the first goal, however, they are yet to convince me with the quality of their football. Even the fans describe LvG’s style as dire. United looks far away from the days of Ferguson, but still managed to comfortably beat Everton away, which tells you a lot about how Everton played on the day.
Everton is historically one of our most comfortable opponents. Arsenal racked up 95 wins in 192 games in all competitions against the Toffees. Further comforting stat is that we haven’t lost at home in the last 21 games, drawing only 4 times.
Our man Ollie Giroud should be the dangerman for Arsenal. He is definitely hitting form right now, scoring 4 goals in his last 6 substitute appearances. Furthermore, you all know some players are comfortable against certain opposition, in this case Giroud seems to produce good performances against Everton, scoring 4 goals in his last 4 appearances (all comps) vs the Toffees.
Team news update
So what do we have in our Arsenal going into the game? Unfortunately, we really could have been better off in terms of personnel. To start with, we lost Ramsey:
“He had a scan today but he’s out. I believe he will be out until after the next international break. With the [last] international break, the fact that he played against Andorra certainly cost Bale and him as well.”
Wenger later went on to elaborate on his thought that Ramsey was overplayed, basically admitting the Welshman should have been given a rest either against Andorra or against Watford. But I understand why Arsene persevered with Rambo at Vicarage Road: how do you drop a player who provides your side with balance and is central to most successful attacks?
However the end result is far from ideal. We now can’t rely on the Welshman for at least a month and this, coupled with injuries to Welbeck, Wilshere and even Rosicky leaves us short. It might also lead to some disbalance in the side, though I’ll come back to this particular point later.
We also, quite unexpectedly, have lost Arteta to an ankle injury and I’m praying it’s not long-term:
“We lost Arteta on Thursday with an ankle problem, From the [Bayern] game we have no injuries but we lost Arteta [in training] yesterday unfortunately.”
And just to make matters little bit worse, Ospina is also out till the end of November:
“David Ospina is out for our next game and certainly until the next international break.”
That leaves Matt Macey as our back-up guy, with Huddart and Iliev 3rd and 4th choice respectively. I’m pretty sure the time has come to cut Martinez’s loan short. We can’t risk going into important games with one senior keeper, we just can’t. Don’t know about you, but I’ll be fidgeting the entire month (potentially even longer) if we don’t bring back Martinez.
But there is a silver Gabriel-esque shaped lining to the cloud, as the Brazilian returns to strike fear into the hearts of our opponents. Will be interesting to see what duo Arsene prefers. Right now I’m at the Mertescielny station, as both guys were ever-present in all our big wins this season and last.
Phew, that’s it with the team news. To keep further tabs on our injury situation, I strongly advise you to pay ArsenalReport a visit. Very useful site. You can also follow them on Twitter.
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The right wing problem
Think only now will we realise how important Ramsey was to the overall balance of the team. Arsene is very limited in his options on the right, that with Welbeck and Wilshere out, so I see two possible scenarios of a post-Ramsey (albeit not permanently) world
Playing the Ox on the right. Seems the most logical decision. Oxlade is a right winger, so it’s Ramsey out, Ox in and no further positional tinkering is required. However this approach leaves us with two problems:
- Bellerin’s space. Right now we use Bellerin’s pace and agility in attack to great effect, Bayern’s assist the pinnacle of this approach. Hector provides us with the width on the right, freeing Ramsey to drift inside to create overloads, effectively acting as a winger. This can come to an end should we deploy Oxlade, as the Englishman tends to occupy the spaces Bellerin does now
- Defensive indiscipline. Ramsey is a much better defensive shield for Bellerin than Oxlade and, let’s face it, Hector can still use some help in defense, that with his relative inexperience and a knack for playing further upfield.
Playing Walcott on the right. It’s a choice less obvious, however it should at least address the issue of space I talked about, as Theo will have a tendency to drift inside. However, it can still leave the problem of greater defensive fragility, while also creating another:
Back-up. Right now, Walcott is our main striker and Giroud is Plan B. If we shunt Walcott to the right, it means playing Giroud as a starter on a regular basis once again. It’s not a problem per se, I have no issue with Giroud starting games, but it does mean having no other forward on the bench. Oh Danny, why hast thou forsaken us?
And that’s really it in terms of who’ll play on the right. We can address the problem of depth by using Iwobi or recalling Akpom and/or Gnabry, but none of these fit the bill “start week in, week out against the likes of Bayern and Swansea”.
Oh, by the way, we can also try Alexis on the right with Oxlade on the left, which will ensure the more conservative Monreal covers for Oxlade, but shifting Alexis to the right hardly helps Bellerin carry out his defensive duties. It also means Alexis won’t be able to cut inside on his strong foot, while Oxlade will have to use his left a lot more. But it’s still a solution and a decent one on paper.
What other changes Arsene could be tempted to make? He’s suggested he could rest Sanchez, which leaves us with only possible front three of Oxlade-Giroud-Walcott and I do wonder whether giving Cazorla a breather crossed the manager’s mind, but with Arteta out it might prove a difficult task.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Alexis – Oxlade – Walcott
It will be a tough game mostly because I’m pretty sure Everton will try their utmost not to concede. Having suffered a heavy home defeat, the Toffees will be hell-bent on not suffering another and may even sacrifice their attacking game to keep us at bay.
Problem is, Everton can be pretty good at defending even away from home. They haven’t lost any of their last 4 away games, kept three clean sheets in the process and only conceded two goals (both against West Brom).
If there’s a perceived weakness in their defense, it’s the left flank, one currently occupied by Galloway (Baines is injured). Whoever plays there for us (Oxlade, Alexis, Walcott) can prove pivotal in breaking the Toffees down.
Right, that’s your lot for today. Here’s for the three points later on.
Come on you Gunners!