In this – quite frankly mad – season, it seems strange that with us eight points from the top of the league, there still remains hope. But Leicester’s win at the Etihad has done exactly that, strangely, because if it was City, Chelski or United that had just established such an assailable lead, we would all be writing off our title chances. But the division this year has seen hope in so many forms.
Unfortunately my expectation of the possibility of us winning this league has been severely dented with the underperforming of so many players, but perhaps fortunately the hope still remains. It’s that what kills you apparently, so I find myself having gone from writing off our title credentials, to hoping that this afternoons game against Bournemouth provides a chink of light in the Arsenal attempt at hitting the summit. During most other seasons you’d expect this to be one of those games in which Arsenal do what Arsenal do best and grind out a win, leading up to an end of season consistency that has us to cursing our early season form, but this season I find myself without the expectation that Arsenal will be able to sweep aside a newly promote side in The Cherries.
They are a good team and are in a good vein of form, which is more than can be said about us. We’re in pretty dire straights by all accounts, having not scored in three and looking a bit devoid of confidence I would say, so this match could go either way. They have the silver bullet of an ex-Arsenal player to practically guarantee them a goal against us, but we have the return of Alexis as the ‘X-Factor’, who can do things that most of us don’t think of or wouldn’t dream of. That’s where we have the possibility of winning this game, because players like Alexis are paid the ‘big bucks’ to be able to do things in a situation whereby you’re average player might not. That’s the sort of player that wins you titles, apparently.
I expect the game itself to be open, because that’s Bournemouth’s style of play under Howe, which I can only hope that it plays in to Arsenal’s hands. But with the way we’ve been playing of late it doesn’t feel like teams playing in to our hands is even going to be a great thing for us. An open game of football in which we’re happen to stretch the Bournemouth team is less likely, the ground is narrow and the effort of the home side will be obvious, so I just wonder if we need to be efficient with our tight interchange of play, in order to be successful. One things for sure, we need to be much more efficient in front of goal than we have been, and much less reliant on Giroud.
I expect the back five to take a familiar shape and with Coquelin rested against Southampton in midweek, we must all pray that he makes it for today’s game, because the thought of a Ramsey/Flamini axis in midfield again is horrific. They leave far too much space, it doesn’t work and if we can get a guy that is able to cover more ground and be a better screen for the back four, then we’ll see less pressure on the likes of Ramsey and Özil. But it’s quid pro quo here though, so if you’re going to be given more licence to roam forward, you need to repay the faith with end product in the final third of the pitch. Oh what we wouldn’t give for the 2013/14 version of Ramsey right now, eh?
But that’s what we need right now folks – others to step up like Ramsey. The goal distribution across the team hasn’t been good enough this season and it certainly won’t win us the league unless we see many chipping in. Hopefully we get that partially rectified today.
Bournemouth will look to ensure that they’re improved defensive solidity (compared to the beginning of the season) is maintained and I suspect will allow us to have a little bit more of the ball. They have enough players who are quick on the counter and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see them try to pick us off on the counter. Teams have worked out that we are susceptible when we push our full backs forward, so I’m expecting Afobe to pop up on either channel at times during the game, especially if Arsène picks Big Per instead of Gabriel.
For us, the midfield is the key, because against Southampton is was clear that at times it looked like we didn’t have one. Coquelin has to play and if he is in the team then I’d expect him to instantly sure us up a bit more. He covers more ground, is more mobile than Flamini, so there will be plenty of Arsenal fans watching today’s game hoping that a Coquelin/Ramsey base of the midfield works. With Cazorla still nowhere near a return, it simple has to work, because we have little other options that Arsène seemingly trusts.
Up top there will be Giroud, with Özil behind him and Alexis on the left. Arsène brought Joel Campbell off after 60 minutes in an uncharacteristically early sub in midweek, so I wonder if there’s a chance for somebody like the Ox to play. Hopefully I’m rather than Theo, because we can’t really afford to have a player who offers little for 88 of 90 minutes, and that’s what Walcott has been doing. The last time The Ox got a run out in the cup against Burnley, he proved quite a handful and delivered the ball which Alexis finished off as the winning goal, so he might find himself starting today I think.
Arsène admitted in his pre-match presser on Friday that we have not been starting games well of late. Conversely, I’m sure I read somewhere online (can’t remember exactly though, sorry) that Bournemouth have scored a league high of goals in the first 15 minutes. So whilst the signs point towards a home team opening the goals, I hope that we can turn that on its head, because we can’t afford to keep letting first halves pass us by.
We’re not playing well at the moment and the only way we’re getting out of this funk is by grinding out an away win I think. We haven’t done that since Villa away, which isn’t really good enough so I want to see Arsenal players massively up for this today.
Come on you reds!