Bloody heck it’s freezing today. Frost on the cars, family jewels heading north, it’s one of those days you want to be on holiday with a log fire and nothing but which crappy 80s movie to watch next. Certainly not on a tube heading in to London for a shift at 7am. Plus, I don’t even have the added benefit of the watching the game tonight live and in the flesh. I couldn’t rouse enough interest from the circle of Arsenal fans I have and so thought I’d contend myself with watching it through some kind of stream. Still, at least Arsenal are playing tonight, so it gives us all something to get worried about, no?
Arsène delivered an update on the teams news and as expected, Debuchy will miss out with a hamstring injury. That usually means three weeks at least but given he’s already had lots of time out we’re probably talking a month. That brings us towards the end of December and by then I’d have thought Bellerin will be fit and back in the team, so it’s a shame that Debuchy won’t get a chance to at least put himself in the shop window. I can’t see him staying at the club until the summer, unless Arsène really has no faith whatsoever and Jenkinson is let go for pastures new, so this period of time might have been perfect for him.
As it is he’s now got to watch from the sidelines again whilst Jenkinson gets a shot of proving he’s better than we’ve seen. He hasn’t actually been that bad, but the problem he’s got is that we were treated to Verve Cliquot, so given the option we take that over Moët.
I don’t think he’ll play tonight though. We’ve got two right backs injured and he’s the only other recognised first teamer, so I suspect Maitland-ankles will get another look in. Arsène said yesterday that it would be a mixture of first team and youth, with predominantly first teamers, but I think what he actually means is squad players. So I expect to see Martinez in goal, Holding and Gabriel at centre half with probably Gibbs at left back, although I’d be giving Gibbs a run out next weekend but I think Arsène will choose to rotate both full backs.
Midfield will be interesting. Personally I’d rotate players who didn’t play at the weekend and that would be Ramsey and Coquelin, but I have a sneaky feeling Arsène might play Xhaka again and not select him to start against West Ham on Saturday. Whatever he does in midfield though, I think it as taken as red that those two won’t start at London Stadium at the weekend, so it’s a couple of positions to look on with intrigue because we still have no idea who his best two comibination is.
The number 10 position shouldn’t be occupied by Özil, so perhaps this is an opportunity for Iwobi, but what Arsène could also do is have Ramsey in there. It would be an interesting experiment and if he has two Holding midfielders behind him and licence to roam, it may end up getting the best out of the Welshman. You never know, right?
The front three is also a little more difficult to predict. Were everyone to be fit I’d say it would be The Ox, Giroud and Lucas, but with Ollie G ruled out with a slight knock from the weekend, as well as Lucas still coming back from injury and the Ox having played well on Sunday, I have no idea who will start. I’d probably be tempted to go with the Ox again, have Theo up top (he’s missed a couple of games and so would be fresher, is my thinking there) and try for someone like Chris Willock out wide. Of course Theo could be seen as a gamble and so Lucas Perez could start, but having missed the last month through injury, it’s a gamble so I don’t know what sort of attacking trio we’ll see tonight.
There’s a lot of moving parts in this team and as a result it’s almost impossible to accurately predict what Arsène might do. But it’s also a good thing because it means the squad is stronger than it has been for a long time and we’re able to select from a number of first team players. That’s also good for the younger players too, as they get to play with better players and learn from them on the pitch. I haven’t even mentioned ‘the Jeff’ yet, so perhaps he’s an option in the wide positions, but if he and Willock play on the flanks, you’d still need that central striker and all of ours are out or rested at the moment (just read an update that Theo’s probably not available through a knock this weekend).
As for Southampton, they too are difficult to work out, because they’ve got the same European and squad rotation dilemma, but I’ve read a few line ups like this:
Forster; Yoshida, Fonte, Stephens, McQueen; Reed, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg, Boufal; Rodriguez, Austin
That looks like a strong team to me and so I suspect if those players do play, we’ll have a tough nice on our hands, because Rodriguez and Austin will be a handful and whenever I’ve seen Ward-Prowse he looks decent enough.
It was Southampton that did us over in the competition at home a couple of years ago, so I’m hoping Arsène is not going to underestimate them this year, which I don’t think he will to be fair.
It’s an opportunity for a semi final ahead of us and I want to see if this squad is as good as some of the pundits have been suggesting, so now is as good a time as any to prove it to the world; let’s just hope the squad can step up.