I’ve been unable to write for a couple of weeks now because of end of semester exams at my university, it feels really good to be back again. In the meantime, Arsenal have been through a lot. The Champions League qualification, or rather Giroud’s performance in it, forced me to let out my thoughts but since then it has been all quiet on the Arsenal front. The 2-0 win over Villa was as easy as it gets and everything about it was as laid back as it gets.
Now here’s the real clanger, Jose Mourinho had to ruin everybody’s party and get fired. I was looking forward to Chelsea getting relegated under him, but it’s fair to say that now the demon is off their books the Chelsea players seem to have pulled themselves together, as was evident in the 3-1 win against Sunderland yesterday. As an Arsenal fan, I just have to laugh once more at Mourinho. Laugh with me. Ha-Ha.
Short laugh you think? Well that’s because we have more important things on our minds. We face off against Manchester City on Monday night, with the Citizens welcoming back Sergio Aguero for the match. Combine that with the news that Wenger could sneak Alexis into the game at some point, and this promises to be a truly engaging encounter.
Let’s take a look back shall we?
In January, Wenger presented Manuel Pellegrini with a masterclass which ended in a 2-0 win for the Arsenal with one of the most solid displays of the season. In hindsight, that very game gave us the impetus to go on good run of games and qualify for the Champions League yet again. Although that may bring some confidence, the fact remains that the most important elements of that side are absent on Monday. Those two elements are Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. In the absence of a Vieira or even a Diaby, these two stepped up to turn up in every match as Yin and Yang- the skill of Cazorla and the fight of Coquelin combining to superlative effect in our midfield.
This is the sort of combination that nobody could have foreseen and although we will miss them, the length of their respective recovery periods means that we would be better off looking at what sort of combination Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini could produce. If ‘Coqzorla’ was Yin and Yang, then ‘Flamsey’ might as well be Yang and Yang. The respective strengths of Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini may be very different but their tendency to go into the attack without a look at the back four is dangerous to say the least.
When marooned out on the wing, Ramsey provided significant cover for Hector Bellerin by putting in a shift. However that was a successful combination because, at least according to me, Bellerin’s pace allows him to recover very fast. The same cannot be said of Per Mertesacker, who is going to start the game most probably (Wenger wouldn’t put Gabriel on for a match of this magnitude in my opinion, not yet anyway). We have seen Laurent Koscielny try to move up the pitch to play the offside trap time and again, but although he is a massively impressive defender even he fails to do so in time some days. A great example of this was the Swansea game where Koscielny moved up and Bafetimbi Gomis was through on goal. Needless to say, if Sergio Aguero is let through on goal like that he will be scoring such chances every single time without fail. Koscielny’s impressive ability to intercept balls as they come in is also useful, but there are limits to this. In any team, there are players who play the key pass and there are players who are on the receiving end of the same passes. The problem with the elite teams is that there may be 2 or more players who can turn defenders and make a meal of a key pass. Barcelona are a great example of this phenomenon, they are unstoppable because they have three world class players waiting to receive a pass and make something of it.
City may not be of the same level as them, but an attack containing Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero with David Silva supplying the passes is not easy to deal with. Koscielny will therefore need cover. If we are to defend deep again this time there is a high possibility that we are hit on the counter, even more so if Flamini starts getting his striker shoes on again. Therefore defending deep is a proposition which is likely to lead to a defeat made of very familiar scenes. We may not lose by too many, but if we do lose it is going to be a blow before Christmas and with Southampton coming up next we need to stock up some points.
Therefore, in my humble opinion we must be open. Yes, you read that right. Not open in the way we were in our 8-2 mauling by Manchester back in 2011, open in the attacking sense. A very interesting statistic that some of you may have missed out on is that since being shuffled back into midfield, Aaron Ramsey has replaced Santi as the team’s top pass machine and perhaps even more importantly, in the top passing combination with Mesut Ozil. There is no denying that Ramsey has stepped up his game following the move back to his favoured position, with 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games. However the best of Aaron Ramsey is the one we saw in his breakout season. A box to box midfielder with a zeal to score- that is Ramsey’s final form. Not an eye for goal, not a knack for goals. No, it has to be a ‘zeal’ for goals. We do not yet know if Alexis Sanchez will play or not, but he will most probably not play from the start. Therefore, the starting trio will most likely comprise of Giroud central and Walcott and Campbell on the flanks.
Walcott is likely be a counter attacking weapon and a decoy for other runs around the box, with Campbell playing his usual high work rate game from defence to attack. Giroud’s one touch play, combined with Mesut Ozil’s passing range will be of importance. The pre-assist being another of Mesut’s favourites, Ramsey could well find himself benefiting from one. The media as usual has been focusing on the wrong player. Alexis Sanchez may be a superstar, and Aguero may be making his comeback but Aaron Ramsey is finally home- back where he belongs. This is going to be Aaron’s game. We have to be open to open up City, and that is exactly what we will do.
Come on Aaron. COYG.