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It Needs to be Rob if Wenger is ‘Holding’ on to the Back 3 for visit of United

We face Manchester United today, but the game will definitely miss the spark of an important rivalry.

It’s 5th vs 6th, and even a win won’t move Arsenal above United. In the end, whether we finish the campaign 5th or 6th doesn’t really matter. I have next to no hope we can break into the top four. Europa League is secured anyway. What a mess.

However just because we have been utterly crap this season won’t end. Including United there are still 5 games to go, plus the cup final and Arsenal will play in all of those. Probably turning in insipid performances in more than half and losing points like we are in a bet with someone regarding how many we can possibly lose.

On to team news I say.

Team news update

With the season drawing to a close, we’ve actually managed to get the number of walking wounded down to three players, a number which accounts for poor Santi. The other two are Lucas Perez (who?) and Granit Xhaka, whose absence Wenger commented:

“We still have Granit Xhaka out from the kick he got in the game. It’s a kick to the calf, but there’s a little chance he’ll play.”

Losing Xhaka would be really unwelcome. Despite being on the periphery until late October, only Alexis, Cech, Koscielny and Ozil played more minutes than Granit in the league. We don’t have a ready replacement for Xhaka’s qualities. Cazorla is out and that makes the situation very tricky.

Pictured in training, hopefully Xhaka will make it

Squad

It will be interesting to see who Wenger picks and in what formation. Does he revert to four at the back after the spanking at White Hart Lane? Or does he consider it a blip and persist with three centre-backs?

Again we are in uncharted waters. It would have been exciting, had these experiments not been conducted so late in the campaign and if we had players who actually cared.

Going by Wenger’s comments on how it’s early to judge the 3-4-3 yet, I assume we’ll see it today. Mustafi will likely come back in for Gabriel and I hope he is joined by Holding on the other side. Bottom line is, I can’t understand why Wenger dropped the Englishman after his stellar City outing. I’m also dubious as to Wenger’s reasoning behind using Monreal as a third back when we have five actual central defenders.

Hopefully we’ll see Holding and Mustafi play in their rightful positions, with Bellerin and Monreal as wing-backs. Although Ox can also stake a claim at the right inside position. That’s where he excelled lately, albeit Hector still gives us better defensive security.

Mustafi should make a return

I’m certain we’ll see Ozil and Alexis in the advanced positions, ideally complemented with Welbeck up top or behind Alexis, should the latter play as a striker. I do now think it’s a good idea to start either Giroud or Walcott given their recent form.

All that remains is to figure out two deeper midfield players. With Coquelin, Ramsey, Ox and Elneny Wenger has plenty to choose from, however I think it’s worth considering, and indeed starting, Iwobi in the absence of Xhaka. In his weekly column Tim Stillman argues the team has lacked creativity ever since Cazorla went down, and no player can match Iwobi in that department, barring obviously Mesut Ozil. However even the German’s drop in form can potentially be explained by him becoming laboured as the only creative outlet.

But I’m not at all certain Wenger will embrace the idea of Iwobi in central midfield. If not deployed at wing-back, I expect to see Ox centrally, most likely with Francis Coquelin. We can’t drop the former because he is about the only player in form, and dropping the latter is fraught with defensive risks. However it’s a rag-tag still, and Wenger might argue a third centre-back allows us to drop the enforcer. Especially if he starts Bellerin on the right, meaning we effectively field five defenders. So we might yet see Ramsey (please God, no. Be merciful) or Elneny paired with Ox.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Mustafi – Koscielny – Gabriel – Bellerin – Ox – Elneny – Monreal – Ozil – Alexis – Welbeck

Welbeck up top?

The verdict

It is a home game, and one we have to win because of the toxic atmosphere linked with our downright crappiness lately. But that doesn’t mean we will. Indeed, I’m not sure at all we will. Exactly because we are crap.

All the tactical switches in the world and a fully-fit squad don’t mean a thing without the right attitude. By this point it seems abundantly clear we do not have the right attitude. We have lost again and again over the last few months, and didn’t matter one iota how much we needed the points.

Even if Mourinho rotates his squad proportionately to the size of his ego, I won’t feel confident we can get a win out of this one. Until the players start doing their damn job properly, nothing good will come out of it. Hope today is the day they will get it right.

Come on you Gunners.

Back to review the game.

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