It seems not so long ago we have played Palace away in that crazy 3-2 win … And indeed it wasn’t that long ago, just a day over three weeks back.
You do get those reverse fixtures around New Year. Chelsea, for instance, are facing Brighton for the second time in a matter of weeks. However the surprising bit for the Gunners is not so much the proximity of those Crystal Palace clashes, but the fact Arsene Wenger’s men failed to win in-between the two matches.
That’s right, despite playing five times across all competitions, the Gunners didn’t record a single win. This run includes league draws vs West Brom and Chelsea, another stalemate against the Blues in the Carabao Cup and humiliating, not in margin but in nature, defeats to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and Bournemouth in the Premier League.
This week has been dominated by transfer rumours and I get that. What with the Gunners being close to signing Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan (I should get used to spelling those two), the buzz among the fans is understandable. However the respective transfer developments have also provided a perfect excuse not to discuss football, drawing attention away from a dismal trip to the south coast.
Now that we are back in the footballing saddle, I fully expect the Gunners to show some backbone and getting to winning ways against the Eagles. Let’s delve into the personnel available to Arsene Wenger.
Team news update
“From the last game at Bournemouth, we have some uncertainties with Maitland-Niles, who was sick yesterday (Jan 17) with flu. We should have Koscielny back, we should have Monreal back available for Saturday. Maybe Ozil will be back as well. That’s the good news.
“Olivier Giroud is one week away.”
That means the Frenchman remains our only absentee, and, worried as I am Walcott’s departure leaves us short up front, it’s still an almost clean bill of health. My especially warm welcome goes to Koscielny and Monreal, who’ll hopefully be able to inject some degree of discipline into our defence. And Ozil of course, because we haven’t looked all that bright in the final ⅓ either.
Despite Francis Coquelin leaving for Valencia, something that puts a strain on a midfield already lacking in numbers, I think a back four is more than likely to make an appearance. With Ramsey and (hopefully) Ozil back and Jack Wilshere on top form, it’ll be a bit silly to sacrifice a midfielder for a defender. Especially since a back three doesn’t seem to differ from a back four in terms of leakiness.
The question is, of course, who drops out. It is beyond any reasonable doubt Monreal has been our best defender this season, so I can only see him benched if he’s not physically ready to start. Koscielny, meanwhile, is our skipper and second-best only to the Spaniard, despite an alarming drop in form lately. Maybe that tells you more about the state of our other centre-halves, but here you go. Monreal and Koscielny is our best pairing and should start.
They will likely be flanked by Kolasinac and Bellerin, unless Wenger decides to field Nacho at left-back. I don’t think the Frenchman has any inclination of doing so, Monreal seems to have cemented his place as a centre-back this season. Which is for the better in the current climate of defensive entropy at Arsenal.
I’m still of the opinion Xhaka should be dropped and replaced position-wise by Wilshere, however Wenger appear to be just as insistent on starting the Swiss. But if Wenger does indeed revert to a back four, this makes room to fit in all of Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil . Whether in a Christmas tree formation or a more standard 4-2-3-1, this is a combination of players I quite fancy. He could of course give Ramsey his old 2014/15 role on the right of the 3, with licence to wander.
Of course it leaves Elneny, Iwobi and AMN as our only midfield options, which is not exactly a trio able to turn the game on its head. Something for Wenger to ponder certainly, but in my opinion we should play our strongest team from the off, such is the need to win the game.
I want to see Ramsey given a starting place because of the apparent link he enjoys with Lacazette. It’s something Tim Stillman detailed in his column this week. As the Frenchman will most certainly lead our line once more, creating the conditions for him to success only makes sense. I was until this morning, of the view that Wenger would do as he did with Chamberlain and play Alexis, just before his projected move. However it is now reported that the Chilean left the team hotel late last night and is no longer with his current team mates. With Danny Welbeck apparently suffering a minor tweak in training this will offer a reprieve to Iwobi and boy does our young Nigerian need a performance.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Monreal – Kolasinac – Xhaka – Wilshere – Ramsey – Ozil – Iwobi – Lacazette
Player in focus: Aaron Ramsey
Much like Nacho Monreal in defense, Aaron Ramsey has been one of our best players until injury struck. Sitting on 3 goals and 6 assists in 15 appearances, Rambo was easily our best midfielder. Of course this was before Ozil and Sanchez found some form in the final ⅓, but by that time Aaron was sidelined.
We all know the Welshman’s penchant for playing more like a striker than a midfielder, but a) this is exactly what Lacazette needs b) now that Wilshere dictates from the deep, Aaron can play higher up, with more freedom.
Had our form not been in the toilet, the idea of Ozil and Ramsey playing close to each other, supported by Wilshere from the deep, would have been mouth-watering. As it is, it’s just slightly exciting at this stage.
However I expect Ramsey to make an impact today regardless. Perhaps it’s him we’ve been missing so badly in those last weeks. Here’s hoping he can deliver on the expectations built up while he was out of action.
The last word
The fact we will be back on home soil makes me cautiously optimistic. Yes we did struggle pretty badly during the last seven weeks or so, but still much more away from the Emirates. All those draws against West Brom, West Ham, Southampton, the losses to Forest and Bournemouth happened on the road.
It is an abysmal away record, one which more than likely cost us a top four place, but at the very least our struggles at home haven’t been nearly as bad, with only one home loss up to date in 16 matches across all competitions. That’s a solid record.
With so many crucial players back in time to face the Eagles, we should have enough gunpowder to make this record even better. Above all, the three points are desperately needed to stop the current rot.
So come on you Gunners. Pull your act together.
Back here to review the game.