It’s still two days before the team play and quite frankly, the football couldn’t come quickly enough, because it hasn’t at all felt like a packed schedule so far. We’ve played one game in about two weeks. So I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on against Palace.
Arsène gave an update on the team news via the official site last night and his press conference will take place today, post the production of this blog, but I’m hoping the feedback he gives to the journos is one of a man who has seen the mood lifted in his team with the win against West Brom. We’re probably some way off seeing the same Arsenal team that was playing so well at the end of October though. Arsenal have always been a side that takes a while under Wenger to recover from psychological blows. So whilst I’ll expect to hear him more positive after victory in the last game, I think we all know that he will be wary, knowing that his team needs some more wins under their belt before we can say that the confidence and swagger in the team has returned.
In terms of early team news, it’s looking like a mixed bag, with the best news being that Mustafi is back in the squad. If he’s fully fit then I expect we can all see him start against Crystal Palace, but if the manager has any lingering doubts, then he has to be saved for Bournemouth. When you see how nervous Gabriel makes some of us when he’s alongside Koscielny, it just goes to show you how well Mustafi has integrated in to the first XI. I like that he’s a fighter. He loves winning tackles and I recall watching the Burnley game away and seeing him go at Vokes for aerial challenges again and again, never giving up and dropping back, despite the guys obvious aerial prowess.
The other absence appears to be Kieran Gibbs, who limped off at the end of the game on Boxing Day and will be out for Sunday’s game. That’s a real shame, because I would imagine that Gibbs saw this as his opportunity, so I wonder if he’ll get another chance away to Bournemouth. Perhaps this is also an opportunity for Nacho to put in some good performances though and cement his position.
The absence of Walcott is also disappointing, but in the return of The Ox I think we have enough options in that attacking third to given Arsène some food for thought. What I do want to see though, whoever plays, is a bit more trickery. I think Palace will sit deep and will look to counter us, so I want to see players being a bit braver, making runs in behind defenders even in closely confined spaces. They’re all talented enough to keep control of the ball and do it, but what we need to see is more of it, which is something players like Alexis, The Ox and Iwobi all have the close ball control to do.
Whether or not we will see Elneny on Sunday is also something I’d be interested in finding out. Arsène spoke of the fact that he’ll be buggering off to the AFCON and will miss four games in January, but I wonder if he’ll be tempted to put him in alongside Xhaka? We’ll have to wait and see on that one. A midfield of Xhaka and Elneny should be excellent at retaining possession of the ball and so if we were to look at the Palace game and try to work out the best way of unlocking them, Elneny strikes me as a better option than Coquelin. It of course we all know Arsène loves Le Coq and so I would be surprised to see him missing. Coquelin is a ball winner though. Against teams like Palace you don’t need a ball winner as much as you need retention of the ball and/or a driving midfielder like Ramsey. I suspect that Ramsey would get the nod ahead of Elneny, should Arsène decide against using Coquelin, though.
That’s all I gots for ya today. More tomorrow with some post-press conference ramblings.