We face Cardiff away this coming Sunday and the game will come as another test of our credentials.
After an underwhelming, though somewhat expected, outcome of the first two games, the Gunners went on to win against West Ham. The performance was not ideal from what I have glimpsed, but at least we got the points under our belts.
Cardiff represents a slightly different challenge. Away from home, under pressure to continue to pick up points, pinned against a side yet to concede this season, I expect we’ll have to step it up in Wales to get a win, and it will almost certainly be less straightforward than against a sub-par West Ham.
Team news update
All our usual suspects remain out with mid- to long-term injuries: Koscielny, Kolasinac and AMN. Much has been made of Ozil’s absence, but I do not buy into the narrative that he and Emery are at odds, at least not yet.
For now I’ll stick to the official line of Ozil being ill, seeing as it’s confirmed by training ground pics. He wasn’t training last week before the game, he did train this week, so I’m taking what Emery said at face value. Sunday will certainly shed some light on the whole thing.
I’d still expect Emery to make some changes this time around, despite him proving me wrong before.
Cech and the back four seem nailed on for now. Bellerin’s attacking impetus compensated for his defensive shortcomings against West Ham, while Emery remains as steadfast as ever to keep Holding in reserve for the time being.
Our midfield is probably the least stable part of the entire team. It appears no one is untouchable, barring perhaps Mkhitaryan, and we’ve already seen both Ozil and Ramsey start and hauled off, same applies for Xhaka, Iwobi and Guendouzi. Torreira had to contend with a place on the bench, but came on every time and impressed.
I would probably expect Emery to exercise some caution away from home and start Torreira and Xhaka at the base, with one of Ozil/Mkhitaryan dropped for Ramsey, but you can also make a counter-argument. Cardiff are likely to defend deep, meaning there won’t be a huge need for Torreira to feature from the off.
I am also interested in whether Emery considers/has considered dropping Aubameyang for a more effective (as of now) Alexandre Lacazette. Lacazette looked sharp again in his latest outing, combining with partners effectively via quick lay-offs and setting up the eventual winner. PEA on the contrary has been disappointing up to date, fluffing his lines more than once, but you could say he at least had the chances.
On occasions the Gabon international has been unlucky too, so it’s not like he has been a complete debacle in the opening fixtures. My gut feeling is Emery will give him another go at least.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Sokratis – Monreal – Torreira – Xhaka – Ramsey – Ozil – Mkhitaryan – Aubameyang
Player in focus: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang was tearing it up in the league last season and the overriding expectation was that he’s carry his devastating form into 18/19. Instead Auba is still without a goal or an assist in three games, despite starting all of them and playing the full 90 twice.
However what gives me hope the Gabonese can jump-start his campaign is the chances he’s had. Auba has gradually improved over the course of three games, going from very few chances against City to a number of dangerous shots on target vs West Ham.
What the striker lacks for now is confidence. The opportunities to score have been, and will be, there, so that’s encouraging. Now Auba needs to just tuck one or several of those chances away to get back on track. I think he’ll be given another go by Emery before the Spaniard considers dropping the striker for a seemingly more effective Lacazette.
We are still very much in the process of finding our own feet, so it’s impossible to say how this game is going to play out. The West Ham match did little to convince we have a capable back line, for one.
It should also be noted Cardiff are yet to concede a league goal, while their keeper saved two pens already. I think the bottom line is that we are in for a tough test against a defensively sound side.
But that is the kind of test Emery will have to face much more often than the one posed by City or Liverpool. Arsenal are still a quality side with elements of Wengerball built in, so it’s natural to expect “smaller” teams to shut up shop against the Gunners.
In the last two seasons at least we’ve often been too static and devoid of ideas against sides defending deep, which has cost us on numerous occasions. Emery will have to fix that, find an answer to that particular conundrum with the players at his disposal. Today seems as good a time as any to start.
So come on you Gunners.
Back with a review.