Sorry for the radio silence in midweek. I just couldn’t bring myself to write going over our loss in Munich, not the least because I haven’t watched the 2nd half (though I’ll likely rectify it by the time you read my preview).
Despite the heavy loss we can still qualify by beating Dinamo Zagreb at home and then doing the same against Olympiacos away, provided we win by 2 goals. Unfortunately for us, Olympiacos got the maximum number of points against Zagreb (both times courtesy of a late winner), so we now have to hope they won’t get a result in Munich. Such a scenario looks unlikely to me, especially since Bayern smashed the Greeks to pieces in Chersonissos.
However, there’s no denying we made this bed to lie in ourselves. Had we fulfilled the simple task of winning our first two games, we’d be at least on 6 points now and would have the advantage in Greece. It is what it is, though. Now we can only hope Arsenal can get the job done in the remaining two games.
Back to the North London Derby, however. I’ll start with team news.
Team news update
Bellerin still hasn’t recovered, something I don’t like one bit, but from what I’ve seen Debuchy was no worse than other our defenders on Wednesday. Which doesn’t tell us a lot, but still.
I don’t think Debuchy has suddenly become a bad player (Descamps is with me here). He was a regular for France’s NT not long ago, for Christ’s sake. That alone should speak for his quality.
Right now he has two problems: lack of game time and low confidence levels and these are interconnected. Arsene has told us as much:
“Mathieu needed a little competition. Game after game he has basic fitness and now with another game he should be better. “
I’m sure the Frenchman will improve if he’s given a run of games. At the moment it looks like he is in roughly the same position as Campbell: both have a short window of opportunity to impress the manager. I think I won’t make a mistake when I say Bellerin and Oxlade are likely to be reinstated straight away after recovering. Both are due to be given the green light after the break, so Campbell and Debuchy only have until then. If they don’t step up, don’t improve drastically on their current form (less so with Campbell, he at least had one very good game), neither will probably be with us when the transfer window shuts next August. Maybe even in January.
Back to Debuchy (and his problems) and I’d be lying if I said I’m impressed with his attitude. He lost his place to a 20-year-old with only 30 games at the top level and his response was to sulk, consider a move away and drop the level of his performances considerably. That’s a French International, number one right-back until very recently. Hope he realises he is on his last chance and gives Arsene a headache when Bellerin returns.
In other news, we might have Koscielny and Arteta back. Both will have late tests to determine how ready they are. I also heard Ospina could be available once again, though Arsene didn’t mention the Colombian in his presser.
‘Christmas Gifts for Gooners taken care of’
Things are looking up on the injury front (thank God). I mean, we’ll still have a short bench vs Spurs, but a slew of players are due to make their comebacks after the break. Guys like Ospina, Koscielny, Bellerin, Arteta, Ramsey and Oxlade should all be eligible vs West Bromwich Albion and there are whispers Rosicky can make the cut too, thus leaving Welbeck and Wilshere as our only long-term absentees, with Theo on course to be passed fit at the beginning of December. Keeping everything crossed we’ll have them back for the busy festive period.
Squad and approach
The squad basically picks itself. Only question is whether Koscielny passes his late test. If he does, I expect him to be reinstated alongside Mertesacker. I see Wenger making no other changes, unless, of course, he springs a surprise of some kind. Like starting Iwobi on the right.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Debuchy – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Campbell – Alexis – Giroud
I was surprised to find out Spurs are actually on a bit of a run. They haven’t lost in 10 Premier League games (that’s right, their only defeat came against United, on the opening day), while being the 2nd in-form team in the last six matches, winning 4 and drawing 2.
As it Spurs we are talking about, you won’t be stunned to know they are still a bit shit. Yes, they had some good results this season, like beating Manchester City (DVDs queuing up) and Crystal Palace (courtesy of a late, late winner), but were mind-boggingly dire every time I’ve watched them (City exempting). Drab draws vs Leicester, Everton and Liverpool, narrow wins over Villa and Sunderland and bottled games against Swansea and Stoke.
Really, they don’t look like anything special. That’s a team which succumbed to a Flamini brace on their own turf, after all. However, I still have my worries, mostly because Pochettino’s men are likely to identify our right wing as a weak spot and try to capitalize on it.
Pochettino’s left-wing duo of choice seem to be Rose and Eriksen as of late. I still remember how Rose skinned Debuchy in the cup, while Eriksen is a very dangerous player on his day (luckily, these days don’t happen very often).
That’s why Wenger has a bit of a problem on his hands. Pochettino knows where our weakness lies, Wenger knows it, the fans know it, even the milkman knows it. How can AW address it?
Bet he wouldn’t even bother if Bellerin was available, but unfortunately, the Spaniard is out. Debuchy looks brittle and in need of protection, so the question is, can Campbell offer some? We have seen he can against Swansea, though we also had Bellerin back then.
I’d honestly consider throwing in Iwobi, maybe on the left with Sanchez on the right. Or we can just reverse Sanchez and Campbell and see how it goes. Either way, I’m not sure the Debuchy-Campbell duo will cope. Hope I’m wrong, simply because it doesn’t look like Wenger will break it up. Maybe he can instruct Cazorla to cover for Campbell, I don’t know.
The only worry I have going into the game is our right flank. I can only hope our both likely starters there understand they are on their last chance and will play like they have a point to prove.
But I’m sure we can compensate even for that, in case the need arises. Otherwise, I’m not really fussed. Yes, it’s the derby, anything can happen etc. etc., but our league form and the level of performances look far more encouraging than these of Spurs.
Besides, we are pretty strong at home. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how great Arsenal are in the away games, but not enough credit was given to our home exploits. As it stands, we lost only two home game out of the last 18 (Swansea and West Ham), winning 13 in the process. This season we have a record of 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss, scoring 7 and conceding just 3.
So, the stage is set. We know what needs to be done. Now we just have to do it.
Come on you Gunners.