Blimey it’s cold in London this morning. The sort of cold that makes you want to have a Scrooge McDuck amount of cash in your vault, so you don’t have to go to work and can roll over and ignore that the rest of the world is getting on with life, kinda cold.
It’s the first day back in to work for me, so I’ve definitely got the post-Christmas blues I’m afraid, but there’s always something that has the potential to perk me up: The Arsenal are playing this evening.
Of course it also has the potential to give me a metaphorical slap across the chops too, but I’m trying not to think of any negatives at this seemingly unholy of hours that I’ve had to get up, so hopefully today’s blog focuses on the positive elements of the pre-match build up. I can’t promise ‘owt though.
Firstly some teams news, of which there doesn’t seem to be any on the official site, which hopefully means we have no absentees from the squad. I presume that Elneny has now departed for his African Cup of Nations duty – don’t blame him given the frost there is over here in Blighty – won’t be travelling with the squad, which does leave us a little short on midfield options at the moment. Santi still remains sidelined, Rambo is being eased back in following multiple hammy twangs, so I’d expect the default choice to be Xhaka and Coquelin in the middle. With Xhaka spraying the ball about so well on New Year’s Day, we weren’t devoid of a creative ball distribution outlet, so having him in the side and playing well will certainly aid that partnership. We know Coquelin is good for a high press, intensity and ball winning and probably little else, so the fact that Granit has found his form is of great consequence to the balance of our midfield.
Of course Arsène could opt for Rambo and Xhaka, which would probably please most, but I just have a feeling that Arsène sees Coquelin as an’safe’ option in midfield. Ramsey will drive forward and help to support the attack, but he won’t screen the back four as much as Coquelin and the Frenchman has also played more football this season, so may be more in tune with the pace of the game. I don’t necessarily believe Coquelin is the better option, I just think that’s where Arsène’s head is at right now. We’re up against a Bournemouth team who have been well organised under Eddie Howe and will look to press us back as a team. They have the home advantage and that will drive their players forward, but Howe isn’t stupid; he won’t leave their team exposed in parts of the pitch so I am not expecting there to be a lot of space available for our players tonight.
That means that our creative players will need to be good with their use of the ball tonight. If our attackers are operating in confined spaces, then what we need to see is accurate and quick passing, but also perhaps some players who can travel with the ball. Iwobi got a goal on Sunday and I’d start him again for that reason. If Bournemouth are marking tight and going man-for-man, that sort of player who can skip around a couple of challenges becomes invaluable, because he draws other players to him with the ball and can free up space for others.
That’s why I’d also like to see The Ox start tonight. He’s a direct runner and also has the ability to beat a man. His final ball leaves something to be desired, but if he and Iwobi are on the field and creating space for others, that can only be a good thing for the likes of Alexis or hopefully Özil, if he’s recovered from his illness.
If he hasn’t, then Iwobi gets another shot at number 10 I expect, but if he’s available the. Arsène will have some questions to ask himself about how his team sets up. Giroud has played really well in each of his recent games, but if all are fit then we’ve already seen that he’s not a first choice option and Arsène will probably leave him on the bench. But if Özil and Walcott remaine sidelined then I expect he will certainly be given another chance to impress.
I watched Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports News yesterday and the panel of ex-players were quick to say that Giroud can’t be left out tonight because of his wonder goal. Unfortunately, wonder goal aside, it doesn’t matter how good that moment was. It was an individual moment of brilliance and we all loved it, but if Arsène wants to go with a rapid front three, then Giroud doesn’t fit that formula, so the manager needs a different equation and that will mean Iwobi, The Ox, Alexis and Theo to fight for three positions. It seems harsh, but that’s football, I guess.
Bournemouth will be missing Wilshere because of the loan regulations that are in place, but that’s pretty much it from them I think. Their threat will come through the pace of Wilson and Stanislas and I just hope that we have a referee who doesn’t take a leaf from the idiocy book of refereeing by Mike Dean. He was a joke yesterday, but when we played at The Emirates we also had a joker with the whistle, who fell for an incredibly ridiculous ‘foul’ on Wilson inside the box. I hope we don’t get more of the same farce tonight.
This is a tough game. Bournemouth are a well organised outfit and will cause us troubles. But we have to counter that by being on our ‘A game’ and by hitting them when we get the chance. I think we’ll concede – I can’t see us not to be honest with you – but it will come down to how we perform in the Bournemouth defensive third that could determine the outcome of this game.
Right, let’s get on with this, a day in the Big Smoke. Catch y’all tomorrow.