Morning Gooners. You alright?
I had Nepalese last night. It’s essentially curry. But with goat. And every dish on the menu says it’s ‘thoroughly enjoyed by the ghurkas’. Those ghurkas love everything, it seems.
Except Stoke City. I bet if you placed a Ghurka in the middle of the township of Stoke, they’d probably turn a trademark smile in to a wince, as the local residents knuckle-drag their way over to see what this Johnny Foreigner is doing in their town.
But if you’re a ghurka looking forward to going to today’s Arsenal game, you won’t be spared of at least some of their presence I’m afraid, because that’s our opponents at the Emirates. And weirdly, I’m very worried about this fixture. I’m worried because we’ve won every Premier League home game we’ve ever played against them. And that won’t go on forever. At some stage the run will end and I fear the footballing fates doing that to us today. I mean, it never happens in reverse, like how Arsenal never beat a Mourinho team in the league, but it does happen to us. And that’s my irrational fear of the day.
It’s irrational because in my mind we’re losing or drawing this game because of history, where as right now in the present, we’re in good shape. We’ve scored nine goals in the last week, we’ve rotated the squad and still looked impressive, plus we’ve got such a good record against them that I should be talking about another comfortable victory. But I just can’t see anything comfortable about today’s game. Stoke are no mugs. Their fans might be orcs, but the team Mark Hughes has assembled is a good one and they will cause us problems today.
They’ll set up with a similar formation to us – 4-2-3-1 – and they’ll look to expose us with their wingers getting in between our full-back and centre halves. That’s why I hope we have Bellerin back today, because if not, it’s Gabriel and Arnautovic and he’s their best player I think. That’s where they might get the most joy, so if Bellerin doesn’t make it, then we need Mustafi and Gabriel to work very well and closely together.
On the other side it’ll be Diouf who is another tricky character, which is why I’d be playing Gibbs instead of Monreal, because I think Gibbs is in better form. I don’t think that will happen; I’m convinced we’ll see Nacho start today, but it’s what I’d personally go for.
I’d also be giving Xhaka another run out, because he’s looked good in playing back-to-back games and when you have a player like him who can spot a pass, then he’s an essential starter up against a compact unit set up to be solid defensively. Who plays alongside him should be the only conundrum in our midfield today, and I’d go for Ramsey instead of Coquelin and Elneny. At home, against a team who won’t have us on the back foot as much as we’ll have them, somebody who is going to contribute to the play in the final third is more important than a screening player. So Rambo would start for me, with Özil in front of him and Alexis in front of him, with the only real question mark being who plays wide forward.
My preference would be Iwobi and the Ox. The reason I say this is that I think we’ll need a bit more craft against the Stoke back four today. Theo doesn’t offer craft. He gives us goals and pace, but against a team that sits everyone in front of you, that is negated somewhat. I don’t think my choices will happen though. Theo and the Ox were rested against Basel so I think Arsène plays both today, with a view to giving Lucas Perez of Iwobi some minutes if we need to mix it up a bit in the second half.
The team need to work out how to break down stubborn sides at home. That’s what today will be about. Think Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, but with a bit more individual quality. That’s what I think we’ll see from Stoke, with the likes of Shaquiri, Diouf and Arnautovic. So we need to be switched on to the counter and be prepared to snuff out any quick breaks.
I’m not confident, but I am hopeful, because the next couple of weeks could very well define our season. So we don’t want the Christmas period derailed by an early stutter.
Up the Arsenal.