Today is a very important game. Today The Arsenal need three points, because only then will we all breathe a sigh of relief and start talking about the possibility that last weekend’s defeat to West Ham was a ‘blip’ and this Arsenal team can challenge for the league.
Quite simply: Premier League winners don’t lose two on the spot to West Ham and Crystal Palace. You couldn’t see City or Chelski doing it, so if we truly harbour loftier ambitions than qualification for the Champions League, there needs to be a reaction at Selhurst Park.
We have players capable of it. The squad is strong enough and technically proficient enough to go to Selhurst Park and boss the game. But the Premier League is the best league in the world because of its unpredictability, so a defeat or a draw equally would t be unheard of.
Last weekend I was only thinking about ‘when we win’. The thought of us losing to West Ham on our own turf never entered my mind. Perhaps this was the same complacency that washed over the players themselves. If that is true, then I hope they are mirroring my pre-match thoughts this week too, because I am certainly not so blasè about beating Crystal Palace.
They have a decent team. Pardew has assembled a good selection of players with plenty of pace in attack and they will certainly trouble us at times today. Puncheon, Zaha and Bolasie all have speed and a trick or two, but I suspect we’ll only see two from that three start today, with Glenn Murray up top. What we have to do is to ensure that those attacking threats are nullified by isolating those players when they do have possession. That’s why I am hoping we go for a pacey forward line, because if we have plenty of pace of our own, it will force the Palace defence to drop deeper. If they do, then it will create either a greater gap between their defence and attack, or it will force their attacking players to drop deeper to collect the ball. That will hopefully reduce the risk of us being so painfully exposed by their attack play.
So my forward three for today would be Walcott, Alexis and The Ox. Giroud is a handful, he has scored a few goals against Palace, but he is exactly the type of player that Dann and Delaney wouldn’t mind playing against. The negative of starting Theo is that he won’t press the ball like Giroud does. If Arsenal are to peg Palace back, the whole of the front three need to be pressing high, not just Alexis.
Theo also has the tendency to go missing in games, but if that happens then you can rectify it by bringing on Giroud, so I’d still opt for the Englishman.
The big question seems to be whether Alexis is ready to start. He looked a little rusty coming on last weekend, as you’d expect, but he still offers something nobody else in the team does, so I personally want to see him come in. If that happens, a big question needs to be answered, because one of The Ox, Santi or Ramsey doesn’t play I don’t think. One plays alongside Coquelin and one plays wide right and one has to contend with a spot on the bench. Santi needs to resume his role as Distributor-In-Chief alongside Coquelin. That partnership works and the closer those two are together in the middle of the park, the better it is for us, so I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the tiny little Spaniard. Nor would I hesitate to pick The Ox ahead of Ramsey. Aaron is a better player than the Ox at this moment in time, but not as a wide man, so The Ox needs to start. I’m not sure he will though. Arsène likes Ramsey too much and I suspect we’ll see a return of square pegs in round holes with him starting on the right. It’s frustrating for me, but perhaps I need to trust Arsène’s judgement a little more, because as long as we get the three points that’s all that matters.
Today can be the reboot of the season, and climb back into the bookies eyes as a team who can win the Premier League title. Last weekend we looked sluggish and not clinical enough, which is why a little shuffle of the forward line wouldn’t do us any harm, I don’t think anyway. Conversely, despite the fact that we conceded two pretty shockingly defended goals, I’d expect a similar back four to last weekend. Bellerin may come in for Debuchy, but the rest of the side should probably be given the chance to redeem themselves, before any panic buttons are pressed about our back four needing a shuffle or two.
Whoever starts today, they need to show a lot more urgency and a lot more accuracy in finding other Arsenal players in space. No more Hollywood balls please guys, we need to retain possession with our short and quick passing. That’s how we’re designed to be effective and that’s how we’ll win the game – if we win the game -making a verbal offering to all the ‘complacency’ karma gods just in case here.
I’ll be at the Red Bull Air race today and so will be relying on Sky Go and quiet corners. I hope to be getting people to stare at me because I’m cheering at inappropriate moments from 1.30pm.
Come on Arsenal!
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