We take on Hull today and another win would be extremely welcome, given we host Chelsea next weekend. Mike Phelan’s men have started pretty well and sit on 7 points after 4 games – exactly the same amount we’ve garnered.
Let’s shoot to the team news, I guess.
Team news update
We’ll have to make do without Gabriel, who should be back for our Tuesday cup game, and Aaron Ramsey, who still hasn’t recovered from the hamstring injury he picked up in the opening game.
I have to say it’s approaching the point of unreliability for the Welshman. For a 3rd year running he picks up a customary hamstring injury – indeed he suffered two injuries of this kind in 2014 and 2015 apiece. The total of four injuries have kept him out for a 100 days – the equivalent of almost 15 weeks. His current one is number 5 in three years – and it’s the longest one yet. A lot of people have said how Xhaka is a replacement for Wilshere, but few suggested that he may actually be a replacement for both Jack and Aaron. This idea took shape in my head completely after Arsene’s comments during today’s presser:
“I personally prefer him as a box-to-box player, because he has the engine, the power and he has the long pass. He likes to come deep and distribute the game. I think as well he has the engine to have an impact with his runs.”
Anyway, the speediest of recoveries to Ramsey, God knows we are going to need him this season. As for the others, we may find ourselves without Olivier Giroud, who’ll have to pass a late fitness test to be included in the squad, but we should have Theo Walcott back after the knee injury kept him out of the midweek game. Good news, hope between him, Perez, Alexis and Iwobi we’ll finally be able to field a front three without Oxlade. Especially if Giroud is passed fit too.
We have a pretty decent record against Hull – winning 6 and drawing 1 out of the last 7 league matches between the two. We are also on a run of 5 consecutive away wins – and a win today can make the first team to win 6 in a row on the road vs Phelan’s men. We have also managed to beat Hull for three seasons running in the FA Cup (one win I’m sure you remember vividly).
On the downside, we have failed to string together 3 consecutive wins in the league since Christmas – a testament to our overall fragile state. The midweek draw against PSG did little to soothe my nerves.
In today’s presser Arsene confirmed Cech will start and I can’t see him changing the back four either, so these 5 are out of the way.
The midfield is a trickier part to pick. Before the conference I was sure Granit Xhaka will start, now I’m decidedly less so, because of the following comments from Arsene:
“It’s not about his quality at the moment, he adapts to the pace of the English game and for me it’s about pairs as well who work together.
You know, Coquelin and Cazorla have worked well together but [Xhaka] will play games and every week he is stronger and better. I think he will have a huge impact as a player.”
Which doesn’t sound very reassuring, or indeed doesn’t indicate Wenger’s desire to throw Xhaka into the mix today. It’s a bit of a shame really. I’m a huge admirer of Coquelin’s abilities, I’ve argued his case more than once, but the fact remains: our best performance this season featured Xhaka alongside Cazorla with Francis on the bench. Moreover, the way our midfield had operated in the last two games gives me a cause for concern. Coquelin has been playing the highest with Cazorla basically assuming the holding role responsibilities, and that has made us a less potent force up front and a more vulnerable unit at the back. The introduction of Xhaka could potentially solve these problems, while Hull represents a suitable opportunity to give Xhaka another start, but unfortunately I don’t think we’ll see him today.
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I’m also more or less certain Ozil will continue operating at ten. My idea of giving Iwobi a go there is unlikely to correlate with the manager’s thoughts. Ozil looks jaded, while Iwobi is more trouble than he’s worth on the wing, however I think that’s exactly where we’ll see both for now.
As for the front three, I’d imagine dropping Oxlade is the reasonable choice to make given his recent form. Whether Arsene is of the same opinion remains to be seen, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Ox didn’t start the opening game – even though Giroud was still on holiday at the time and Perez hasn’t been bought. Since that moment the Ox has done little to convince he’s worthy of a starting place.
Ideally, I’d like to see Giroud start, flanked with Walcott and Sanchez. Or, failing that, Perez up front with Theo and Alexis wide. I don’t think that’s unlikely either. Perez hasn’t been bought for nothing and should be given chances in the striker position, especially with Giroud (potentially) out and Alexis as unconvincing as he has been lately.
If you think you can get inside Wenger’s mind and predict the results of today’s encounter, check out the Arsenal vs Hull odds that our friends over at 888sport have to offer.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Walcott – Ozil – Alexis – Perez
It’s a game we should be winning without too much trouble with the personnel we have, however, our recent travails are likely to make this a much tighter encounter than many of us would like.
I’m also steadfastly losing belief in Wenger’s ability to pick the side to do the job and his skills in getting the best out of his players. The lack of balance and the search for identity have been our ongoing issues for a while now – something Tim Stillman talks about here, and I agree with his opinion.
I sincerely hope we spring to life this weekend. The thought of dissecting another insipid performance or, indeed, sitting through one, doesn’t bear thinking about.
Come on you Gunners.