Welcome to the New Year.
Our Festive merry-go-round draws to a close with a game against Newcastle and this is the part where I cherish we haven’t progressed further in the Carling Cup. Yes, the manner in which we crashed out was nasty and I certainly wouldn’t want Arsenal to lose on purpose so that the team can have it a bit easier later on, but I won’t cry bitter tears over our exit.
Why? Firstly, we have a stretched squad. Any team would be stretched with 8 seniors out, however it doesn’t make fighting on three fronts in early January easier. Secondly, we have avoided Stoke away and that’s a fixture I genuinely hate. We rarely play good football at Stoke, escape with decent results less often still and on top of that are prone to losing one or two players at the Britannia. Finally, the semi-finals of the Carling Cup take place on the 5th/6th, meaning only a 3/4-days rest both before and after the game. Considering our next three league game (Newcastle exempting) are Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea (the first two away from home), I would hate the thought of our threadbare squad having to play 7 games inside 25 days in January (4 league matches, 2 cup semi-finals and the FA Cup 3rd round). Added bonus is of course that Stoke and Liverpool do have the extra matches coming up.
As it is, we only have to hold out for one league game, before the players get a week’s rest, which should allow us to get some of the walking wounded back. Maybe even make a signing or two, who knows? Let’s start with the team news.
Team news update
We have no immediate worries from the Bournemouth game:
“We have no new injuries from Bournemouth, only fatigue. Everybody is alright.”
We might also have Flamini back, though Alexis should still be a week away:
“We might have Flamini back. Alexis will be too short for Newcastle. He [could] be back for Sunderland.”
Finally, Arsene shed some light on our last short-term injury, that of Mikel Arteta:
“Arteta is back in training but is too short [of match fitness] to be selected in a competitive game.”
Rosicky should be back next, but the Czech will only be back in full training in three weeks. It’ll then take several weeks to get back to some kind of competitive level, so I’d say mid-February is the realistic return date for him.
Unfortunately, we have bad news on both Welbeck and Wilshere, who should be back around end of February.That means we’ll have to make do without both (plus Cazorla, Coquelin and Rosicky) for most (if not all) of our heavy two-month schedule.
Having 5 injured is a lot for a 24-man squad, especially since two of these were regular starters in 2015 calendar year. It puts an enormous strain on the remaining 19 to perform week in, week out with very little rotation.
This also puts an onus on Arsene Wenger to do stuff during the transfer window, something the Frenchman himself admitted:
“I’ll be busy, that’s for sure. I am already busy and I said already one month ago we are a bit short to deal with all the competitions we face, especially in midfield. We will be busy, yes.”
He almost as good as confirmed we have completed our first signing in the face of Mohamed Elneny, an Egyptian midfielder playing for Basel:
“Unfortunately we cannot announce anything at the moment about this player [Elneny] because nothing has been concluded.”
For something to be concluded it has to be started, moreover, Wenger didn’t flat-out deny his interest, which to me sounds like the player is basically on his way. The Guardian claims Elneny has already passed his medical and only work permit issues needs sorting out.
I cannot say I have heard anything about the guy, so I can’t say anything about his playing style, traits, personality and so on. However, I can thoroughly recommend you an ESPN article on Elneny. I found it enlightening.
Wenger also talked about possible Debuchy’s exit:
“It’s not impossible [that Debuchy will leave]. I’m happy if he stays but we’ll see.”
Sounds far from reassuring, does it? If I were a betting man, I’d wager Debuchy won’t be with us in February. This creates a shortage in the defensive department. 7 defenders is pushing it. We were okay with 7 in 13-14, but far from okay in 14-15 until we bought Gabriel in January. So I hope Wenger is working on bringing in another right-back (maybe on loan) in case Debuchy leaves.
Finally, one player in (Elneny) is hardly the definition of being busy (even if we count in Debuchy in/out stuff), that’s why I think Arsene may have a surprise in store for us. Most likely we’ll bring in Elneny early on and then try and sign another player closer to the end of January’s transfer window. A winger, perhaps?
With Wenger saying he’ll rotate, I wonder what players he had in mind. Koscielny, Monreal and Campbell all got a rest vs Bournemouth, so I’m pretty sure these three will start on Saturday.
From the current members of the squad, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud are in need of a rest the most. Ramsey maybe less so, he’s only been back for a little over a month (still has 21 appearances in all competitions), but Bellerin and Mertesacker (22 apps), Ozil (25) and Giroud (27) can use a breather.
Problem is, while Bellerin and Mert can be replaced by Debuchy and Gabriel (wonder whether Arsene would want to play Debuchy, though, for reasons not related to his fitness/footballing ability) and Giroud can give way to Theo, with Ox and Campbell on the wings, we really don’t have anyone to step in for Ramsey and Ozil. No one can do the job they are doing now.
So I guess they’ll have to play this one game and then, hopefully, we’ll have Elneny and Sanchez available to give Rambo and Mesut some rest.
One last thing. I think both Chambers and Gabriel did grand against Bournemouth. Both deserve to start, in my opinion.
Predicted line-up*: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Chambers – Ramsey – Ozil – Campbell – Oxlade – Walcott
*probably well wide off the mark
We have been pretty comfortable playing Newcastle in the last couple of seasons, with repeated drubbing of the Magpies at home (4-1, 7-3 etc.). Furthermore, we are on a decent run right now, while Newcastle are flirting with relegation.
The game represents one of our more winnable (on paper) fixtures for the next two months. After that we face the abovementioned Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea in January, then Southampton, Bournemouth, Leicester and United in February, before rounding it all off with Swansea and Spurs at the beginning of March. Factor in two games against Barcelona and (hopefully) more than just the 3rd round tie of the FA Cup, add the fact most our league games are away matches and I’m already getting a bit nervous.
For now, though, it’s Newcastle. Let’s deal with this one game at a time.
Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review
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