It’s match day. I’ll be there tonight to see Arsenal as the Friday night curtain raiser against Leicester City and when the whistle goes I’ll be roaring on my – and our – team against the Champions of two years ago.
Is the squad ready for the whole season? Not in my opinion, because Arsène has got the very definition of quantity over quality, and he knows it too.
Have we really looked like “going for it” with our acquisitions, much like the heralded ‘catalyst for change’ that we got at the beginning of the summer? Not really, because we still need at least one more top drawer midfielder in and some departures, as well as the futures of the star players resolved.
But do we have enough for the short term to beat Leicester tonight? We should do. I mean there is the whole “Arsenal don’t win opening games” thing that’s been a bit of a pain in the arse for us for the last six or seven years, but that can’t last forever, right?
Leicester are a decent team. They’re hard working, they’ve established themselves as a Premier League side and with Vardy and Iheanacho in their attacking line up, as well as Mahrez and Gray flanking them, there is counter attacking pace that will be a threat to us tonight. I suspect all four won’t play, but Shakespeare will know that with those players he can do the old classic of sit deep and counter with rapid pace and that will cause us concern.
Their midfield two of Ndidi and Iborra will probably look to create a compact quartet in front of Schmeichel, which is why I think the selection of Arsène – assuming his hands aren’t tied because of injury – has to be focused on players who can manipulate the ball in tight spaces.
I’m thinking about Özil, Iwobi, probably Lacazette because of his price tag but equally Giroud, to all have an impact on this game. We’ll see plenty of it because Leicester’s MO is to cede possession, so when we are faced with that wall of players we need to move the ball quickly, as there’s nothing more difficult than breaking down a defence that has set itself in.
Moving the ball quickly will also mean using the full backs in space to their best effect. There are still question marks over who is starting at the back but also out wide. I do wonder if Arsène is going to go with Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal again like he did for the Conmunity Shield, with Hector wide right, but I suspect the casualty from last weekend will be the Ox on the left. Kolasinac looks meaty enough to deal with the physicality of the Premier League and he’s known to be a man who likes to get forward so I think he’ll be given the nod.
It’s the right thing to do on the left flank, but personally I’d go with the Ox on the right. He’s better at beating a man, he can whip a better ball in than Hector, but also with three centre halves protecting us in case of a break, he doesn’t have to be as defensively minded. We’re going to see more of the ball anyway so why not use a more attacking player? That seems the most logical approach to me.
I’m not sure it’s what Arsène will go with though. I think he’ll play Hector from the start and in midfield I think it’s Xhaka and Ramsey unless the Welshman is not fit enough, in which case Elneny will deputise, which makes sense given the ground he covers whilst Granit can’t.
And so to Granit, who I think has to have a big season. He’s the eyes of this team from deep and when he has enough bodies behind him for protection, as well as players in front of him for distribution options, he can excel. This formation seems tailor made for him and that’s why I’m hope we can see him pulling the strings tonight. If he does, then we can expect a positive result, because like Mesut Özil he sees things that others do not. He can find those pockets of space to play the ball in to when the game is compact and in one part of the pitch. He can thread that eye of a needle pass for a player running on to. He can be precision like Özil and when you need that surgical approach for teams who aren’t giving much space, he’s the sort of guy that can deliver.
I’m hoping for that tonight. But more than anything else, I’m hoping for purpose about this team this season, because too often in the last few seasons at home we’ve not had enough urgency from the start. I want the kind of urgency that we had when we were 3-0 down to Bournemouth away last season. The whole team went in to a mode which used to be so prevelant in Arsène Wenger teams in the old days. Forget signings, because the real catalyst for change has to be in changing the mentality to that kind of Arsenal for every game.
That’s where I still have my doubts, but a new season brings a new slate, an opportunity for redemption and a chance to show that there is a mindset shift at the club.
They just have to go out and show it. Starting tonight.
Come on you reds.