We travel to Mordor on Sunday and, having dropped points on Wednesday, now need a win. City have thumped Palave and vastly improve their goal difference over us and Leicester despite surprisingly dropping 2 points at Villa aare now top
Leicester continue to amaze everyone. Way back, before we took on City I think, I predicted their goals will dry up and when this happened, Leicester would start dropping points big time because their leaky defence would go nowhere. However, despite scoring only once in their last 4 league games before yestaerday, Leicester picked up 5 points. Considering they played Liverpool, City and Tottenham in that time frame that’s an amazing achievement. Even Arsene openly admitted Leicester will fight for the title this season:
“To be completely honest with you I thought they might not last, [but] I have changed my opinion today because their remarkable consistency makes them one of the contenders. When the bubble bursts, most of the time it’s before Christmas or during the Christmas period. They didn’t. So I believe you have to count Leicester.”
Leicester still have a lot of tough away games – City, United, Chelsea and us, obviously, but then are we much better off ourselves? City, United, Tottenham and Everton are all away fixtures we’ll have to play at some point.
And Stoke. Stoke is our most burning problem. Especially since we aren’t particularly adept at beating the Potters away – no wins in 5 tries is a testament to that. We also happened to lose the last two in a row. Both managers are aware of this record.
“We have had difficulties at Stoke. They have a good record against us in recent years, and I must say as well they have overall a good record against Man United, City, the big teams.”
“They know it is a difficult game for them, too, because we have enjoyed good results on home turf.”
But again, we would have more room for manoeuvre had we beaten Pool. No one said it’s easy to beat the Scousers away, but we simply can’t afford to drop points in two consecutive games, especially with the Chelsea game looming large. However bad Chelsea have been this season (and it looks like they have improved under Hiddink) playing a game vs them is never a walk in the park.
Team news update
The new boy Mohamed Elneny was registered in time and will be available. Now it’s up for Arsene to make a decision:
“Elneny is available for selection, I haven’t decided yet [whether I will play him]. I have to see how everyone has recovered. Elneny is a possibility to be in the squad for Sunday.”
Tomas Rosicky, however, isn’t quite ready yet:
“Tomas needs first to have a game somewhere. We hope for maybe an under-21 game or at least a bit more training with the first team.”
Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile, is a 50-50. Or should I say 60-40?
“Alexis I would say has a 60:40 chance to be available and be back in the squad. He has two decisive days – Friday and Saturday. He is fit, he has worked very hard and the decision we have to take is whether to take a gamble or not on his injury.”
Now, once again I’d like to reiterate that we’d better not rush Alexis for just one game. If he’s not fully fit, if there’s a risk he’ll aggravate the existing problem – rest him for one more week. However, I trust Arsene to do the right thing – that means I won’t fret over Alexis if he makes the squad. I’ll take it as a signal that the Chilean is fully fit.
Finally, Wenger provided us with an update on Danny Welbeck, who looks on course to return in the (dreaded) 2-3 weeks. I’m a bit confused here, as The Times reported earlier all of Wilshere, Welbeck and Coquelin returned to training and could feature in several weeks. However, as Arsene only mentioned Danny, I’ll assume the other two will be back later.
I’m going to presume Ospina (who wasn’t mentioned in the presser, weirdly) will return and Elneny will be included too. What the hell, if there’s a 60% chance Alexis makes it, I’ll throw him in too for good measure. Doubt the Chilean will start if deemed fit, however.
As for Stoke, they will be without Sherdan Shaquiri for this one, but, unfortunately, Marco Arnautovic should make it. Stoke this season have been notorious in robbing big clubs at home, beating all of Chelsea, United and City – the latter two comfortably – but their overall home form indicates they are far from unbeatable – the Potters have actually lost more home (4) than away (3) games. They are likely to step it up against us, however, so lapses in concentration from our side will be punished.
Regarding the line-up Arsene has 3 serious decisions to make – Gabriel or Mertesacker, Flamini or Elneny/Chambers and Walcott or whoever can actually play on the left. Just not Ox. Guess that means only two decisions, unless Sanchez is fit enough to start. We simply have to one else. Sigh.
If it were up to me, I’d definitely play Chambers alongside Ramsey. That’s a partnership which worked quite well in the few games they’ve had together. Elneny is a bit of an unknown quantity, I’m not sure throwing him at the deep end is the way to go. However I think Arsene may just stick with Flamini. In that case he’ll have to either instruct Ramsey to sit more, or order Flamini to play closer to halfway, not his own box.
The second decision, well, again I’d do the thing Arsene most likely won’t: play Gabriel and not Mertesacker. Think the Brazilian is just better suited to handling both the pace of Bojan and the physique of Arnautovic.
Predicted line-up (sincerely hope I’m wrong on several counts): Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Walcott – Campbell – Giroud
“Last season we had a very bad start and I think we have more experience now and we are more stable defensively. We have a good opportunity to show that.
Stoke have improved their creative potential and we will want a really strong defensive display from our side because players like Arnautovic, Afellay and Bojan are all very creative players.
They have a strong record against us at home and they will have to maintain it but for us it is a good challenge to prove that we have made a step forward and can change that record.”
I really hope we rise up to that challenge. We are generally very good at bouncing back from disappointing results – even our three-game winless league streak in November was broken up with a thorough bashing of Dinamo Zagreb.
So let’s show up at Britannia and do the job.
Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review of the game.