The one good thing about playing on a Wednesday night followed by a Saturday, I suppose, is that it does give you an opportunity to wash the nasty taste out of your mouth after a stinging defeat. Of course, much like ‘hair of the dog’ works wonders, if we lose again against Chelski today, it will feel like when you finally come off the booze. The plummet is steeper and the general malaise one feels is more difficult to shake from.
I’m trying not to countenance even the most remote of possibilities that we have to play Leicester away this time next week having suffered a triplicate of ‘sad times’, but this is the reality of modern football. Especially modern football when your team plays so often because they are one of the more successful teams in the country. And yes, snigger or say a barbed comment if you like, but you can’t deny we are one of the more successful teams in the land. We win more games than we lose. Which is why I’m trying with all my might to believe that we’ll get something from today. We have to. If our title odds are to be maintained, three points is a must. After all, Arsene took the bold (and ultimately disastrous) decision to rest a fair chunk of players during the week, so they’ll be fresh and hopefully not found as wound-lickingy as those that rotated in on a warm night in Zagreb.
The team today, given the poor performance of some of the players, should be fairly easy to predict I’d have thought. A back five of Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscienly and Monreal will surely start, with Coquelin and Cazorla at the base of the midfield. In front of them, a decent second half in Croatia from Mesut will have spared his blushes, whilst Alexis is Alexis and must always start for what he brings to the team. Walcott again showed he is all about the end product and given Ramsey didn’t make the midweek trip, I’d assume Arsene would pick him on the right. Perhaps for the first and last time this season, the side seems to be fairly obvious to predict.
Unfortunately for Arsenal though, that will probably means Jose has enough time to prepare for what he will face and ensure his team do not make the same mistakes they made in the Community Shield. Because let’s face it, can lightning really strike twice? On that day we were a bit better prepared than Chelski, who were still in the throes of jet-setting everywhere and probably cared a little less about the outcome, but for Arsenal it was a chance to ‘break the hoodoo’.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I didn’t really class the Community Shield victory as us breaking any kind of ‘hoo’ing, or ‘doo’ing, I’m afraid, it is the league with which I feel we need to exorcise the demons. Whether that can be today remains to be seen. Jose knows how to play Arsene. He knows how to get under his skin and he knows how to set up a team at home to win and a team away to draw/nick one on the counter.
Chelski’s form has been patchy in the league, to put it lightly, but they will be expecting to win this and there aren’t many pundits who are backing against them either. They might be missing Willian, Pedro, Courtois and possibly Pedro, but much like with our injuries to Wilshere and Welbeck, they have a squad strong enough and deep enough to cope.
I would take a draw right now, if I’m honest with you. It would be super-awesome to pick up three points and make the oil whores even more blue than they are now, but I just can’t see it. Jose will set them up to be solid defensively and I worry that we will be drawn out as a result. Pragmatism needs to be the soup de jour, but too often we have been the ones trying to go for the jugular and ending up flat on our backs. Hazard, Fabregas, Ivanovic and Costa have all had pretty torrid starts to the season, so expect them all to have the games of their lives this lunchtime. It just seems to be the way it goes some times. I fully expect Fabregas to shake off any malaise he’s had this season and he sounds pretty nonchalant, if the interviews with him are to be believed. It would just be so like us wouldn’t it, to have yet another ex-player have yet another stormer?
How can we win the match? A cautious approach that plays Chelski at their own game. draw them out, create the spaces and let Alexis and Theo catch Chelski on the counter. Normally I’d say that theo against Terry would be no match up, but given that jose has already publicly stated that Terry had to be subbed for Zouma at City because of his pace, it is something that I think will play on his mind. If Theo does start and Terry too, then he has to be buzzing around him all day, because with his pace he’s going to cause the centre back a problem. But Theo needs to have an impact when he does have the little of the ball he normally gets. He needs to be able to pick the right runs for Mesut to find him and stay on side. I noticed against Zagreb that we seemed to pick up a lot of offsides in the second half. Timing is everything in football and our pacey front man needs to make sure he’s got his down to a tee.
What I’m hoping for is the ghost of the Arsenal away at the Etihad in February to resurface. That day was a solid defensive foundation built on some controlled attacking and ultimately a pretty comfortable victory. We’ve proved we can do it, we’ve just got to, well, y’know, go out and do it.
Come on Arsenal, please don’t make my weekend pants, you already did that on Wednesday. You owe me one.
Come on you reds!