So, West Ham didn’t do us any favours on Sunday and were comprehensively thrashed by Liverpool. Lazy bastards. Probably still hold a grudge for the two beatings we dished out to them.
In all honesty though, this situation is ours fault, and ours alone. Just think about it: of the 36 games we’ve dropped points in 15. Not quite every other game, but more often than once in three attempts.
We have lost nine games. Nine. Nein. That’s as many as Chelsea and Tottenham combined. We have also drawn a further six. We have an atrocious record against the top four. Five points in eight games. Liverpool, who we pine to overthrow, amassed 16 against the current top four + us.
Even after all that, even if we just turn a blind eye to such a shambolic record in big games we could have been oh so much better off. I can name six games in which you would normally expect Arsenal to win: Middlesbrough, Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford, West Brom and Palace. We have three points from those six matches. If we got at least 12-14, let alone all 18, we would now be ahead of Spurs. Despite our non-existent top four record.
Will it be deeply regrettable if, after beating United, Southampton and Stoke in one week, we finish fifth? Yes. Can it viewed as unfair, if we end up on 75 points and miss out on the Champions League, when last season 71 were enough to seal second? Undoubtedly. Are West Ham to blame for our fortunes? No.
We have dug ourselves a very deep hole in the space of three months, from February to April. We have dropped points left, right and centre, home and away, to big sides and small ones. Our moment of clarity came too late, and if our final push is not enough, we only have ourselves to blame. No team owes us anything.
We still have a chance to make it, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed the same West Brom, Watford or Boro can put a spanner in the works by halting either City or Liverpool (or both). But if our top four rivals do enough to finish higher than us, then fair play to them.
And now, let’s discuss the immediate job at hand: beating Sunderland.
Sunderland have a poor record against us. The Black Cats have never won at our ground in the Premier League, losing 10 and drawing 5 of the last 15 encounters. Further to that, Arsenal haven’t lost to Sunderland in the last 14 league clashes, both home and away, and lost only once in the last 26 meetings.
This season we also have a very strong home record, losing only twice in 17 games: on the opening day to Pool, and recently to Watford. Indeed should we win the remaining two games, our tally at home would be 2 points short of the much-lauded Tottenham. If only we maintained a semblance of form away from the Emirates…
We have also managed to keep three consecutive league clean sheets ever since that 2-2 draw vs Manchester City. With the encouraging performances from our defenders in the recent games, I hope we’ll be able to extend this particular streak.
Sunderland, meanwhile, are dead last in the table. They have already confirmed relegation, just like Boro and Hull did. I would love to say Moyes’ side scored the least goals too – it would tie in beautifully with the fact they failed to score in 19 games – worst result in the league. However the truth is such, Boro scored one fewer – 27. But the Black Cats have still been incredibly inefficient in front of goal. Hull, the third-worst in terms of scoring, have netted 8 more times than the Tyneside outfit.
Team news update
Kieran Gibbs will return to the side, having sat out our visit to Mordor with an injury. I have to say I hope the Englishman isn’t parachuted back into the starting XI though. Monreal has been spectacular at wing-back, he should keep his place.
Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out with a hamstring problem. It will keep him out of the final league game too, but Wenger is hopeful the Ox will recover in time for the FA Cup final.
Apart from that there are concerns over Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny. The Chilean got a kick on the thigh during the Stoke win (as you probably remember), while our captain is seeing to a recurring calf problem. Alexis was pictured in training though, so I think he should be alright. Man of steel. Kos was absent however, which makes me less hopeful.
It might be worth resting both anyway, even if completely fit. The Everton game will provide a sterner test, plus these two have played a lot of minutes this campaign and have been through a grinder. What we certainly don’t want is risking our two key players with the cup final not far away.
This is a game I expect to see a healthy amount of rotation for. We may even see Ospina in goal. I assume he will play in the final, so throwing him in without any practice in months might not be such a bright idea.
With Gibbs fit and Koscielny’s availability hanging in the balance, I think we are likely to see Monreal pushed back to accompany Holding and Mustafi, with Kieran playing at wing-back. Tremendous shame to sacrifice Monreal’s attacking impetus like this, but it looks like Gabriel is out of favour and Kos needs a rest anyway. Hector will be the man on the right undoubtedly.
Central midfield would be interesting, especially as we don’t know whether Alexis plays further up. I’ll stick my head above the parapet and assume he will: the Chilean trained normally and will want to play even with an injury. His quality is such that Wenger will start him if sure Alexis is fit.
That means Xhaka, Coquelin, Ramsey and Elneny will contest the remaining spots. There are nice things to say about everyone, so I can be entirely wrong here. I have a sneaky feeling we’ll see Xhaka and Elneny however. Coquelin is not that effective when we spend most of the game in the opponents’ final ⅓, while dropping Xhaka would be a little foolish. He is our metronome, the midfield distributor we need. Ramsey had a great cameo on Saturday though, so it’s a close call. As for Elneny, rotation, remember? Poor lad hasn’t played in ages, and I do remember him being very good in the reverse fixture.
Up top I’m pretty certain Wenger will stick with Alexis, Ozil and Giroud (who is two goals away from scoring a 100 for Arsenal). All three were magnificent against Stoke, so no need to change it. Unless Wenger will want to give Ozil a breather, I can’t see it changed.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Holding – Mustafi – Monreal – Bellerin – Elneny – Xhaka – Gibbs – Ozil – Alexis – Giroud
On current form and with the formation growing on the players, I will be very surprised if we drop points against this Sunderland team. The Black Cats are already relegated, they have a poor record at our place and we have shown we can beat them comprehensively in October.
If we are to boost our slender chances of gate-crashing the top four though, we should go for the jugular today. We need a win by a big margin – by 4+ goals – just in case it deciding who finishes higher comes down to that. It’s a tall order, but I think not an impossible one.
City are playing today too, so team Pulis and all that. Urgh. I need to wash my mouth.
To wrap it up on a positive note, this game smells of a Giroud brace, You heard it here first. Come on you handsome French bastard. Reach a century of goals and celebrate in style.
And come on you Gunners.
Back here with a review.