Saturday is football and football is Saturday. I love it when The Arsenal play on a Saturday (even if the actual kick off time is rubbish). It feels right and proper. And what with this being the first Saturday of the season it feels extra exciting. I have that nervous butterflies in the stomach feeling I have before every game we play. I sort of had it last week but I suspect, deep down, we all knew the result wasn’t going to be favourable and that’s exactly how it panned out.
Today’s game isn’t exactly too much easier though I don’t think. Sure, Chelski are nowhere near City’s level and sure, we’ve had a half decent record against them in our most recent encounters. But they weren’t at Stamford Bridge. That place hasn’t been a fun stomping ground for Arsenal ever since Roman Abramovich’s bulging pockets sauntered in to town. For one thing we’ve only scored two goals in seven games at their place since the 5-3 win in 2011. Those two goals have been consolations only in 3-1 and 2-1 defeats and in both we never really got close to winning the game.
The 5-3 win was only one of two wins we’ve even won since 2004, so we’re talking a pretty poor record overall their and as I said on the Chelsea Fan show on LoveSport last night, the concern I have is just how much psychological damage has been done by the constant failure to beat the West Londoners. It’s certainly a worry from my end and even with a new man in charge at the helm and a new style of play, we’re still getting used to it and so tonight’s game could easily go the way of many other games like that at their gaff.
I’d like to say the law of averages should give us a win at some stage but these laws don’t seem to apply to football. After all you only have to look at our dreadful away record at Old Trafford to see that it isn’t exactly evening itself out. We’ve been poor away from home for years and I’m probably not expecting overnight change today if I’m honest. It’s going to take time to iron out the kinks.
Having said that, we do play a Chelski team who are adopting a similar approach to the way that Emery plays in Sarri’s way – that of a high press – so perhaps there are some rays of light that we can see to take positives from. There’s also the fact that Chelsea are learning a new approach just like we are and so they might find themselves with the similar levels of teething problems that we will invariably have over the next few weeks.
They’re also missing Fabregas and whilst he’s hardly been the same force that he was when he was with us or when he first started out at Chelski, he’s always got a good game in him and knowing us it would be today if he was fit. But it won’t harm them too much, what with Jorginho, cant and Kovacic to count on. All three are fit and it’ll be Kante and Jorginho that will most likely be the men in which we will have to best in order to shut down this Chelski team. The latter is the man with which all of their build up play comes through and so when the ball turns over from us to them or played out from their ‘keeper, expect him to want to be on it as soon as possible. So if we can get somebody pressing him and stopping him from weaving his magic then we’ll have cut off a big part of Chelsea’s build up play. Emery has been working his team hard in closing space and trying to win the ball back further up the field. Snuff out the danger of Jorginho and I think we can do that early this evening.
What also doesn’t help is that Hazard is back fit and he always seems to do well against us. Apparently he didn’t look 100% against Huddersfield when he came on so we must hope that is the same again now, but let’s just expect him to give us a torrid time, because that’s what always happens.
From an Arsenal perspective I think it’ll be similar to the side that played last weekend. Of course at this stage we are all most likely to come up with different formations and get them wrong, but I suspect Emery will go with Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal, followed by a midfield of Xhaka, Torreira and Ramsey. The front three will be Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Auba again, but it’ll be Rambo pressing high from the front and one of our playmakers dropping deeper.
It’s probably not the team I’d opt for if i’m completely honest. I think I’d probably aim for Lacazette to come in for Mkhitaryan and ask the Frenchman to close space like he did when he came on last weekend. We want to be putting the Chelski back line under pressure and having him on with Ramsey pressing feels like a better option than the Armenian.
I’d also have a long think a bout Guendouzi for Xhaka. Xhaka has the passing range and if Auba and Laca are both on and running behind with a high Chelski line that could work, but if Chelski are pressing us higher up the pitch then when we are under the kosh a bit you don’t want Xhaka facing his own goal with the ball at his feet. It’s a tricky one but I’d probably offer experience over anything else.
What we do need to show is that we have the confidence in the system. There could be a temptation to ‘revert to type’ if we find ourselves a goal behind but we have to keep playing the way Emery has set us up. In my mind I’ve kind of thrown games like these under the bus because of our horrible record, so if we lose today I hope my mind is very much on the ‘oh well, the season starts proper next week’ type approach. But that doesn’t mean I won’t want to thrown my shoe at the telly as soon as we go behind!
Fingers crossed I don’t have to engage in any shoenanigans this evening (sorry! 😉 )