With two matches left of a disappointing, yet historic season, Arsenal make the first of two away trips to end the campaign. The Emirates party to send our existing Manager off was well-intentioned and well-executed but now most Gunners’ minds are already on the future. A new manager, new players, departing players and the beautiful day in August where all teams begin with no points and all to play for.
Whilst Max Allegri is the firm favourite with many observers and fans, we all know that there will be no confirmation of who Wenger’s successor will be until all the European leagues are won, or most particularly once Juventus earn the point they need to win the Scudetto once again. However, even if it does prove to be the case that the experienced Italian has been convinced to come to North London, out of respect for Arsene nothing will be announced until after Sunday’s visit to Huddersfield.
What we can legitimately do is enjoy and speculate about which of the Arsenal fringe players will be given the continued opportunity to press their case in the last two matches, starting tonight at Leicester. Injuries to Mesut Ozil and our poor long-serving skipper Laurent Koscielny afford opportunity for others. In addition, the emphatic victory over our nearest challengers means that our Europa place is secure and the manager and players can relax and express themselves, as they did on Sunday, in these remaining fixtures.
What there is little point doing, before we all know who our new coach is to be, is dwelling on targets and formations for 2018/19. Ozil’s absence saw a highly fluid ‘tenless’ 433/4321 set up thrash Burnley and I expect to see Wenger continue that way tonight without the German. This allows us to once again see an exciting, interchanging front three of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan. Frankly, this excites me as much as I suspect it will fill a Leicester back line – devoid of all confidence – with dread. I can’t see anything other an Arsenal win and our two in form goal getters to continue their rich scoring form so why not take advantage of a free bet?
What is more interesting is the seven behind the three recent big name additions and this is where I hope Wenger decides to assist his potential successor by experimenting. In particular, I am keen to see Maitland-Niles play in the midfield three alongside Granit Xhaka just behind either Ramsey or Wilshere. I do not really care which to be honest but I would play the Welshman, for his late runs against tonight’s frail opposition. I enjoyed the young English World Cup winner’s assured display at Old Trafford and I would like him to play the full 90 tonight and most of Sunday so we, and whoever is watching in the wings, can assess his credentials for more regular football in 2018/19. Xhaka, despite what many still think, is making strides in this team while others have gone backwards and I would like to see him with a partner who is equally comfortable sitting, should the Swiss want to step forward and create, in the absence of Ozil.
In defence, I am sure we are all trying to be realistic and contain our excitement after our first glimpses of Mavropanos in the first team. We have seen Chambers and Holding look supremely confident and sure-footed early doors, and then fail to retain that level in recent campaigns. So will the Greek be another false dawn? Or does he bring new hope and save the club a fortune in the market? I do sense we may be seeing something quite special and different with this young Grecian though, and hope we see him start tonight and on Sunday. He is quick, seems to sense danger early, attacks the ball well in the air and is a confident passer. With the skipper’s injury, I would also hope to see Chambers continue with him. We know what Mustafi can and cannot do and we can learn so much more trying the differing partnerships featuring Mavropanos, Holding and Chambers this week. Calum is playing with such confidence alongside his new colleague and perhaps with Holding and one other we have our core for next season. If the new manager likes to play with a three at times we need five top centre backs so with Koscielny’s long term absence we will certainly see a new addition in the summer. Whether Mustafi stays might determine if we see two new central defenders.
We may well see Bellerin rested and one of Chambers or Holding deployed at right back but I hope not. The young Spaniard finally found his crossing boots on Sunday and his confidence to express himself will be high. I hope someone on the coaching staff is pointing out that the low and hard delivery or the cut back should be his weapons of choice not the conventional high cross. Certainly, Nacho Monreal despite his consistency has permanently mislaid his crossing boots and with an eye to next season, we must see Sead Kolasinac given both games to stake his claim. The veteran Spanish international has defied expectation by remaining first choice since Wenger reverted to a back four but there have been signs that he is feeling the pace after a long campaign and the Bosnian needs to be given his opportunity.
The above would be my team for tonight with PEA nominally starting on the left but with the licence of a solid 4 and 3 base to join Lacazette at every opportunity. This flexibility, afforded by the solid foundation also allows Mkhitaryan to drift into a centrally creative position when play dictates or suggests it.
On a last point I have suggested that Maitland-Niles should play the whole match tonight and most of Sunday, purely because I am hoping that in sentimental mood in his last game Wenger will send on Cazorla for the last 5, assuming we have the game won, to take the acclaim of the travelling fans, of which I will be one.