I’ve been doing a bit of the old Christmas boozing of late, so have had a few days away from composing some morning thoughts, but I find myself in a bit of need to talk about Arsenal again this morning, because today’s game against City really is a massive one.
As expected, Chelski picked up another 1-0 victory, so they now sit a rather large nine points clear of us. The game in hand is today and I don’t know about you, but it feels like this could be quite a significant moment in our season. A win would be huge. It would breed confidence in the players, it would mean we’re hanging on in the face of Chelski’s relentless streak, it would convince a lot of fans that there’s plenty to this Arsenal team and it would set us up for a good go over the Christmas period.
A draw would probably save us from a bit of a spiral of negativity, but would still see us a long way from the league leaders, and probably isn’t what we or Man City want.
A defeat would be a hammer blow. Both confidence-wise, points-wise and belief-wise. We have a decent record of away games across 2016, having only lost twice I think, but we’re flat-track bullies and don’t tend to pick up points against the bigger teams. We seem to just wilt a bit. Think about how poor United were in terms of their form before we turned up and allowed them to dictate the game. We haven’t really been doing ourselves justice against the big teams in the last 12 to 18 months, so what I’d like to see today is an Arsenal team who really do go for it today.
Our opponents have injury and suspension problems. They’re missing four or five key players, including Aguero, and ordinarily you’d think that we should be taking massive heart in that. But they have such a strong squad, I’m under no illusion that whoever replaces Aguero, Fernandinho, Kompany and Gundogan, will be up for it and will probably have the game of their lives against us. Just look at Everton; all over the place mentally, until we came to town and gave them reason to cheer.
Our team will probably be the same as that of Everton. I can’t see Arsène mixing it up much. If he’s going to do anything it’ll be in the side forward positions. Both the Ox and Theo are the type of players that can blow hot or cold. It’s either an eight out of ten or two out of ten with them, both of which we got to see the latter against the toffees. Iwobi came on but didn’t really do much except for that great chance at the end, but I’d be tempted to give him and the Ox a go. Two direct runners at what has seemed a creaky back line of City’s seems to me to be a sensible option. But you know me, I have my theories on Arsène, and one of them is that he likes his hierarchies. Theo is higher in the pecking order than the Ox and Iwobi, so I’m pretty sure he starts and one of the other two fights for the left forward spot.
I’d like to see Mesut Özil grab a game by the scruff of the neck too, actually, because he hasn’t really dominated in one in a while. When I say ‘scruff of the neck’ I don’t obviously mean flying in to tackles, but just being that man who is breaking in between lines with either his running or his passing. He’s a guy who can change a game with the slightest drop of the shoulder, so you’d hope he can have one of those games where he can control our tempo and have some end product by way of assists and goals.
Man City will probably look to catch us cold from the off I think. They’ll most likely look to get at us through the middle, driving the power of Yaya and DeBruyne as the key men, along with Silva and Nolito. They’ll know that we have a weaker defensive partnership without Mustafi and there was a couple of scary moments with Gabriel on Tuesday night. So I think they’ll be more intricate than try to get beyond us on the flanks. That means the importance of being compact in the midfield and central defence is key, but it also means we have to do more with the ball when possession is turned over. We have to be quicker to snap into the counter and be direct from the flanks, which is why I’m hoping Arsène goes for two direct runners and not Theo. I just feel that would work better for us.
I’ll be honest with you and admit that I’m hardly confident going in to today’s game. If this was a Burnley away, or Sunderland, or Swansea, then I’d fancy us to get something. But the pressure is rather large on the team and usually this is the sort of game in which we wilt a little. I hope not. In true Kevin Keegan style I’d “luv it if we beat them” today. But I’m not putting any mortgages on the result, that’s for sure.
Come on Arsenal, let’s have a big result away from home, please.