Match day for The Arsenal again and despite the fact it’s the closest you could get to a dead rubber without actually being a dead rubber, I’m still excited to be going along to see The Arsenal play a game, having not seen one live in the flesh for nearly three weeks now.
The opposition may be described as ‘farmers’ by some quarters of the fan base, but that doesn’t matter, because The Arsenal is The Arsenal and the routine of pre-match beverages, good craic with mates, as well as seeing a few fresh faces makes it interesting enough for me.
And I do think we’ll see fresh faces tonight. Wenger would be mad not to. I suspect the team that takes to the field this evening has a distinct ‘development’ feel to it, with a smattering of squad players and hey, maybe even a chance to see a Big Effin German in one of his few final remaining games this season, given that Wenger doesn’t seem to want to touch him in any meaningful competitive matches this season.
We know that ‘Big Dave’ Ospina will be spinning the decks and manning the sticks before tonight’s match, but with Arsène only really confirming him as starting tonight and Sunday and also wheeling out Chambers for the press conference, beyond those two and Welbeck, we don’t really know who he’ll pick.
Welbeck is the one who needs to be looking at this game as a ‘must perform’ and for a striker that means goals and running. We know we’ll get plenty of movement, closing down and sprints from the England International, but it’s the goals we need to see. His time at Arsenal is starting to be defined by injury and Arsène even alluded to that in his press conference yesterday. So what we need more than anyone is a big game from him. He needs that confidence – whoever the opposition is – to make us all believe he can still have a big role to play at the club in future and at 27 it’s not as if he’s a spring chicken any more. Especially as a striker that age is when you’re at your physical peak.
In terms of the rest of the team as an educated guess I suspect it’ll be Nelson on the right, Kolasinac on the left, then Chambers, Holding and Big Per in the middle. That flies a bit in the face of the four at the back formation that we’ve been focused on with the first team of late, but given the players Arsène will probably want to play I suspect he’ll be happy to deviate away from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he seems to have settled on of late.
The defence shouldn’t really have too much to do tonight, but the experience of Big Per should be useful for Chambers and Holding and with our wing backs expected to therefore get forward more, you’d expect Kolasinac and Nelson to be a good fit going forward. Both have some questions about them defensively but on a night like tonight they shouldn’t really have too much to test them in that regard, so their ability going forward is what we all want to see.
In midfield I think we’ll see Maitland-Niles and having been shunted out of position for times this season, he deserves games like tonight to show how good he is, so with Mo Elneny alongside him it’s that blend of energy and recovery pace, with a simple passer who can be an older head and give Maitland-Niles a little more opportunity to demonstrate what his strengths are: ball recovery, decent passing range, occasional bursts forward and covering ground.
That midfield should be the energy and that means that in front of them there needs to be the craft and to me it doesn’t matter the opposition, but if Mkhitaryan can have a good game, get assists or maybe a goal, then that will do his confidence the world of good. We are currently in repairing mode of a player who was broken into pieces by Jose so any games in which he’s given an opportunity to look like a star are fine with me.
The next decision Arsène has is who will play alongside him and behind Welbeck. We have two positions to fill there and personally I’d give one to Willock, because by having the two ball-winning midfielders behind him it takes a bit of pressure off of him defensively, which means he can focus on what he does going forward.
The pace to fill is a tricky one because we’ve got Mkhitaryan missing on Sunday. I’d have played Mkhi on Sunday too if we could but with him cup tied we all know that it’ll be Iwobi that starts. His form has been patchy – if I’m being kind – and although he’s young and should be able to handle two games in four days, there’s always that question about any player of any age when the games as big as Sunday are coming.
Having just thought about it playing Iwobi tonight can have two outcomes ahead of Sunday. He either a) plays well, perhaps scores or assists, and that sets him up for the cup final with a bit of wind in between the proverbial sails, or b) he endures a frustrating night and that actually hampers his confidence ahead of Sunday.
I just pray it’s the former because I think Wenger loves Iwobi no matter how terrible he’s been at times and so I suspect he’s playing both games regardless. We just have to hope that he gets a confidence-booster this evening.
As for the opposition, well, normally this is the part in which I talk about their danger men but in truth I’m not too sure they have any. Famous last words I know but they looked a bit star-struck in the first 20 minutes against us on their patch last week, so imagine what they’re going to be like rocking up to a 60,000 seater stadium and a 3-0 handicap before they’ve even started?
It could be liberating for them and I expect they’ll be better than last week, but four goals better than us? That’ll be like Arsenal going away to Barcelona with anything other than a win in the first leg and expecting us to turn them over. It just doesn’t happen.
Right, in orf for now. Up the Arsenal and all that.