So here we are at last. It’s the final game of the 2015/16 season and what started out as one in which I thought we really would win the league this year, petered out as it usually does for Arsenal after Christmas. Our inconsistency has cost us and our injury problems have crippled us, but we find ourselves with the smallest of chances of finishing second and so for those people who will be inside the ground today, at least that will be something to hope for.
I was hoping that by this stage we’d be a point clear against a shoddy Villa side who many will have already seen just how bad they were after we drubbed them 4-0 in the cup final, but it isn’t meant to be. Instead, I expect today’s game to take a similar theme of last year’s dispensing of West Brom on the final day: effectively neither side have anything to play for, but we’re at home and we have a much better side than Villa.
There are three all but confirmed departures from the club after this game, so I do wonder if all three will be given minutes this afternoon. Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta have been given fitting tributes from many on social media, but Matthieu Flamini has divided opinion. Some have called him greedy because he always runs down his contract, but on this occasion I think it’s the club who are in control of the situation and I don’t think anybody expected him to receive an extension, despite his one wonder goal against the Spuds in the League Cup. Flamini was a signing of convenience and has been used as such, so whilst we’ve all lamented his inclusion in the side at times, he has been nothing more than a willing body to Arsenal’s cause, so I still think he should be thanked for that.
So, does Arsene give way with the practicalities of playing the best players in the squad, or does he stick t o the plan and play the best XI? I think he’ll certainly start his best XI, which means Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Bellerin and Elneny all start. But who partners the Egyptian? Santi would be a natural choice for me, but does his match fitness allow that? If not, Arsene will inevitably play Ramsey, despite his poor form of late. He’ll also start Iwobi and Alexis, with Ozil in between them and the absence of Welbeck will most definitely mean Giroud retains his place. The Frenchman was better last weekend, but he still looked a little out of place at times against City, but I’d be stunned if Walcott starts up top instead of him.
Another question could be around Wilshere. If Santi is not deemed to be fit enough to start, I’d love tos ee Jack instead of Aaron alongside Elneny. I have said before I think those two could be an anchored midfield which could work and if ever you want a game to have an experiment or two, playing this woeful Villa side should be it.
I don’t even know who Villa will pick today, but I don’t think it should matter. They have the worst attack and worst defence in the league for a reason. They’ve had 17 points all season, have conceded 72 goals and scored 27. The players look like they look like they don’t want to be there and when I say I want the season to be over sooner rather than later, I think my desires for it to end must be nowhere near the poor Villa fans.
Having said that, they do have a hard runner in Scott Sinclair and so we will still need to be wary of him looking to get in to those pockets in between the full back and the centre half. They’ll probably play Gestede who is decent in the air, but I’d expect his involvement to be minimal, because surely Aston Villa will come today with a view to damage limitation.
In defence for Villa Richards and Lescott aren’t exactly the quickest, so I’d expect Alexis and Iwobi/Jack to have a decent time against them. They will most likely sit camped on the edge of the box, so Giroud will get more of an opportunity to try his little flicks and tricks and Jack is always a player who works well in confined spaces, so perhaps he will get the nod. Quite often in the game I say that we need to start well, or win the midfield battle, but with this game I don’t think there will be much of a battle. I think we’ll have about 75% of the possession and it will be about how we break down our opponents on the edge of their box. That might turn to a bit of frustration if it turns out to be more like Southampton game at home, but Bunn is no Fraser Forset, so I would have thought we should be able to unlock them a couple of times.
But if we don’t, if it’s a bore fest, then all we need to do is to draw to ensure that we finish third. Let’s hope even Arsenal can’t ‘Arsenal’ this up today.
Catch y’all tomorrow.