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Top of the league tomorro by beating The Boro! – Big Match Preview

Howdy.

Another week is behind us, which means the Premier League football returns. This game week kicks off with Spurs visiting Bournemouth, however Manchester City don’’t play until Sunday, which means Arsenal will be able to go top, provided we win on Saturday.

And look, I see no reason why we shouldn’t. The team has won six on the bounce in the league, is unbeaten since the opening day (a run of 11 games) and has just put six past Ludogorets. The Bulgarians are hardly the toughest team in the competition, but six goals is six goals. It does wonders to your confidence.

Now all that remains is for the eleven players on the day to do the job. Which brings us to who Arsene has at his disposal.

Team news update

It looks like Giroud is edging closer to full fitness:

“Olivier Giroud could maybe be involved on Tuesday and certainly will need one more week sharpening up. He could be available but we want him really to be 100 per cent fit before we bring him back.”

Bonus marks for those who know which team Giroud celebrates scoring against

Tuesday is a cup game anyway. If he makes it, nice, he’ll get some minutes ahead of the Sunderland match next week. If he doesn’t, well, he’s still unlikely to start against the Cats given Alexis’ form.

Another player inching toward his return is Aaron Ramsey:

“Ramsey is progressing well and I believe fitness-wise he is 90 per cent there. His potential return could be not against Reading on Tuesday, but maybe Sunderland.”

Again, don’t think Ramsey will be fast-tracked into the starting XI, for the same reason as Giroud: the Welshman can potentially upset the fine balance of the current side. However having Ollie and Aaron on the bench is undoubtedly a big plus, as both give us additional options.

In what comes as a bit of a surprise, Welbeck may return sooner than expected, though it’s still some way off the here and now:

“He will be starting to run in two weeks.

“He could be back in January. After that let’s not forget he was already out for a year, so we might have to be patient. To get him back to a really competitive level… it will certainly take two months of competition to get back to his best.”

Through no fault of his own, Welbeck may find himself on the periphery by then. There’s a case to be made for including him for Iwobi, who’s not ready yet to play the full 90, but then both Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be chomping at the bit too. Ah, the wonders of competition.

Will he be able to stake a claim for a starting spot upon returning?

Finally, in what’s mildly alarming (taking Xhaka’s suspension into account), Santi Cazorla will have to pass a late fitness test to feature:

The only uncertainty I have is Santi Cazorla, who got a kick. We’ll see how he is today [Friday].”

People with eyes sharper than mine (or those watching the game from a TV screen, for that matter), noticed how Santi needed an ice pack upon being substituted. However his potential absence, coupled with that of Xhaka’s, Ramsey’s and (obviously) Wilshere’s, leaves Elneny as the only partner for Coquelin. Not that I have any problem with Elneny, I’m rather voicing my concerns over how light in midfield we’ll be without Santi. Hope the Spaniard pulls through.

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Head-to-head

Arsenal have won six and drawn two of the eight meetings between the sides on Arsenal’s territory. The win that spring to mind is from the 14-15 season, when we’ve beaten Middlesbrough 2-0 in the cup, with Giroud scoring twice inside three minutes. Boro’s last competitive win against the Gunners happened in 2001. However, seeing as Boro only just got promoted, and that we last played them seven years ago, I see little point in talking about recent clashes.

What I do see a point in discussing, is the teams’ recent form. Ours is well-documented: 9 wins and a draw in the last 10 games (all comps), a run which includes 6 consecutive league wins. Middlesbrough, however, are off to a disappointing start.

A bleak start for Aitor Karanka’s team

Aitor Karanka’s side only have 6 points in 8 games, losing four, drawing three and winning only once. Their last (and only) win was vs Sunderland in August – since then Boro has only two points in 6 league games. A bit of a disaster really.

Squad

I feel increasingly stupid doing this section as of late. Like I did at the tail end of 14-15 season, when the same squad played six or seven league games without any rotation at all, setting a new record in the Wenger era.

The only bit of rotation Wenger did over the last 4 league matches is Xhaka for Coquelin. Now he’ll do the reverse switch, both because Coquelin has been brilliant vs Ludogorets and because Granit is unavailable anyway for the next three games.

So the debate basically boils down whether Santi passes a late fitness test or not. If he does, he’ll start, and then will be rested against Reading in the cup. If he doesn’t, it’s Elneny’s show for the next two games.

Predicted line-up (for whatever it’s worth): Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Walcott – Ozil – Iwobi – Sanchez

In line to start?

The verdict

As we approach the much-dreaded November, it’s vital we get as many points as possible before then. Mercifully, there’s an international break in November, meaning we’ll play fewer games, but before that we have Tottenham, and straight after United and PSG. I also wouldn’t put it past us to drop points against Bournemouth or crash out of the EFL cup (provided we go through this coming Tuesday). After all, you don’t need me to remind you of how Arsenal royally screwed up last November.

Six points over the next two league games will provide us with a bit of a safety net ahead of November, and we should grab that chance with both hands, legs and anything else you can grab stuff with (NOT that). Especially since there’s room for the frontrunners to drop further points before October is out.

So come on you Gunners.

And those of you who are the happy match-going lot, be sure to pop up at the Tollington prior to the game, and check out the launch of “Football is a Funny Old Game” written by none other than our chief, Dave Seager.

While I’ll be back with a customary review.

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