Stupid of me to say that today. We got Bayern Munich again, can’t be too many fans feeling particularly well. I know I don’t. But maybe that has something to do with the first day of work experience on top of a morning exam …
Anyhow, we did indeed land ourselves the German giants once again, but I see a bright side. In fact, several bright sides! Firstly, PSG got Barcelona, meaning UEFA had Arsenal well and truly covered regardless of the spot we finished in. Secondly, I stand by what I said: better Bayern Munich than Barca or Atletico (who topped the group with Bayern). Lastly, Bayern don’t seem quite as daunting and undefeatable as they did even last season. I say we make it to February, and return to this topic then.
For now though, it’s Christmas fun in the Premier League. Our schedule doesn’t look too bad in terms of breaks between games, mercifully. Yes, we have back-to-back away fixtures against Everton and City up next, but there’s a five-day interval and then there’s a nice long 8-day lay-off till Boxing Day showdown versus the Baggies.
So, let’s snap to Everton then.
Team news update
The only real downside to Stoke’s game on Saturday (apart from the fact Charlie Adam is still not eating through a straw) is Mustafi’s hamstring injury. It leaves the German out of action for the next three weeks, so that’s 2016 over for him.
I was a bit surprised by Arsene’s reaction though:
“It is a challenge, because we had a good defensive stability but we have Gabriel, we have Holding, who can come in for him. Overall, I am confident that both can do well, but that’s one of the tests we have. We have had many tests since the start of the season, players like Cazorla who have suddenly moved out of the team and we have managed to deal with it and that’s another challenge.”
Undoubtedly Mustafi has become a very important player for us, but he’s not for an eternity, plus Gabriel has done pretty well recently. Why talk about Mustafi’s importance in a way which might undermine the Brazilian’s confidence? Dunno. Wenger’s usual line of “I have complete faith in Gabriel and Holding” would have done the trick without doing Mustafi a disservice. But maybe it’s just me.
Ramsey won’t rejoin the squad for this one, so I’m fully ready for another Coquelin – Xhaka outing. Which makes it sound like I’d rather avoid this axis. I’m not. As I’ve said on a number of occasions this season, I believe it’s our best duo until proved otherwise. Especially when we talk about away games against tough opposition.
The back five will look exactly like it did from the 25th minute onwards last Saturday as far as I’m concerned. Unless Wenger deems Bellerin not ready to play so soon and plays Gabriel at right-back and Holding centrally. I don’t think he will do such a thing, though.
The midfield trio should also look the same. Cazorla’s and Ramsey’s absences don’t leave the gaffer with much of a choice anyway, but again, I’m not complaining. A Coquelin – Xhaka – Ozil trio is a perfectly capable one.
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It’s the front three we can see some tinkering at. Alexis’ early substitution (and any substitution is early for him) hints he was preserved for midweek. Walcott should be relatively fresh, and fully firing after being reunited with Hector, so the only question mark is Oxlade or Iwobi. The young Nigerian certainly presented his case in no ambiguous terms, scoring twice in the last two games. But then Oxlade has been pretty decent too. A toss of a coin separates them. I’ll go with Iwobi purely because he enjoyed his last visit to Goodison.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Xhaka – Walcott – Ozil – Iwobi – Alexis
This will by no means be an easy game. Yes, Everton have been pretty appalling recently, only winning one league game out of the last ten, but banking on any weakness of theirs would be a mistake.
Not the least because Koeman has a good record against Arsene. The 4-0 spanking last December will live long in my memory. We should be 101% ready for this. Because Everton will turn up and play.
What makes me a bit calmer going into this one is our unbeaten record and the new-found resilience to respond to setbacks. Six times this season Arsenal have gone behind, and we haven’t lost once. Plus, we are unbeaten away from home this season, and also a bit of last, a run that stretches 12 games overall.
Now we should just turn up and turn Everton over in our quest to overtake Chelsea by Christmas. Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review (hopefully).