We visit Manchester City today and this presents the team with a chance to right the wrongs of the midweek game.
It will also be an attempt to make up at least some ground on Chelsea, who are currently nine points clear at the top, albeit with a game in hand. However, you have to commend the run the Blues are on. Just to give you context: we can win the next three games (today’s included), rack up 43 points after 19 games (exactly half of what is usually required to win the league) and still trail Chelsea by six points. That’s how good they have been.
So, while our Everton result is disappointing, it’s harsh to bash Arsenal. It was only our second league loss, we were not helped by the referee and fell prey to a late goal, while our two attempts have been cleared off the line. Yes, we have also played some crap football, however like I said, this loss isn’t catastrophic if you look at our points total.
But a loss today can make things much harder. We live in the real world, and the reality is such Chelsea are running away rapidly. If we want to have a go at the title, we’ll have to win our games. And this season it might take 30+ league wins to finish top. Simple as that.
Let’s look who Arsene has at his disposal.
Team news update
The Frenchman basically has the same squad:
“For the City game we should have approximately the same squad who went to Everton. Nobody’s back – Ramsey’s not back. He is the closest to coming back and we have some knocks and bruises but they should all be available again.”
The only player who could realistically have returned was Aaron Ramsey, and I’m not sure he would start anyway. Not that it’s not a loss, I’d much rather have the Welshman available than not. He should be back next week though, with Mustafi hopefully making his return for our January 1st game.
Manchester City will be without five players for this one: the injured Kompany, Delph and Gundogan will be joined on the sidelines by the suspended Aguero and Fernandinho. Which makes our life that much easier. Fingers crossed we use that little extra advantage.
Arsene will have to juggle his pack with what he has, which is exactly the same group of players as against Everton. Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny and Monreal will likely stay put, however I do wonder whether it’s worth trialling Holding alongside Kos again.
The pair worked pretty well early in the season, when Gabriel and Per were injured and Mustafi was still playing for Valencia. Holding is closer to Mertesacker and Mustafi from what I’ve seen, so he should complement Kos nicely.
However Arsene said Gabriel will have his chance with Mustafi out, and I think he meant it. It’s much more make-or-break for Gabriel too. Holding will stay with us for a long time and will get plenty of chances, but Gabriel might be drinking in his last chance saloon. Another poor run can put a premature and unpleasant end to his Arsenal career.
In midfield there’s literally no wiggling space. Unless Arsene starts Elneny, which I don’t think he will. Coquelin, Xhaka and Ozil it is once more.
What happens up front is potentially more interesting. Only Alexis is pretty nailed-on to start, though even here you can say Giroud will push him. None of Kolarov, Otamendi or Stones are error-free and, coupled with Bravo in goal, Giroud can cause this defense all sorts of problems in the air. He is also much more of a physical threat than Alexis, something that might equip him better to deal with Otamendi at least.
But the flanks are up for grabs as far as I’m concerned. Walcott’s form has tailed off lately, though I think he’ll start anyway. He seems to rank highest in Arsene’s winger pecking order. Ox has been hot and cold lately (much more the latter in midweek), so I wonder whether Arsene will be inclined to reinstate Iwobi. The Nigerian gives us technical security on the ball, something none of Ox, Theo or Lucas can offer. He also lifts the creative burden from Ozil somewhat. I’d back him to start this one.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Xhaka – Walcott – Ozil – Iwobi – Alexis
This game is vital for both sides. City have already lost to Spurs and Chelsea, with Liverpool looming large. They need to show they can win big games. Pep also needs to show his philosophy is working to calm down the media and fans.
For us the win is vital to not lose sight of Chelsea, but also to bounce back from the midweek disappointing performance and result. Win, and our schedule eases up a bit in terms of big teams. Lose, and suddenly we find ourselves fourth, with back-to-back losses. Not pleasant at all.
I think we’ll see a reaction today. I think we’ll see an improved performance, fire in the players’ bellies. In a way, Everton’s loss might have been a necessary evil. Had we scraped a draw, the urgency going into this one wouldn’t have been as high, the need to win not so acute. A draw would have plastered over the cracks and we could have been busted open at the Etihad.
Something I don’t think will happen now. Of course I can’t guarantee we’ll get anything out of the game. However I’m pretty certain we’ll fight to the end to achieve a result.
So come on you Gunners.
Back with you for a review