The second Monday night football of the season provides us with a chance to at least get back to some kind of winning ways ahead of next weekend’s FA Cup semi final and I must say that if we can’t turn over a Middlesbrough side who are in freefall from the Premier League at the moment, then we should probably just throw the towel in on this season now.
Much like the West Ham game, the two teams playing this evening are psychologically shot, so I’m expecting a bit of a gritty game against a Boro team who will be desperate to show some fight. After what Theo said in last Monday’s post match presser though you do worry that there might be more fight in the Teesiders than in our team.
Surely not though. Surely the players can’t sink any lower? Surely they will have looked at the fans turning on them and be desparate for a response? Even our mollycoddled stars should have enough professional pride and ability to get back on the horse and show more willing than we got against Palace.
Palace are a better team than Middlesbrough and they are set up just how our team hated it with a target man in Benteke and lightning quick wingers. Middlesbrough don’t have the same pace and so they shouldn’t be able to expose our fullbacks like Palace did though. They have Negredo up top, but he’s not at the same level as Benteke and with the return of Koscielny, we should have enough to keep him marshalled.
I expect Arsène will pick Cech in goal and swap Gabriel for Koscielny in defence, but midfield will be interesting. Xhaka and Elneny were terrible last Monday, but it’s still our best option I think, because I think Ramsey and Xhaka leaves us too exposed defensively and it seems like Arsène isn’t bothering with the Ox in the middle any more. Sorry, I said Xhaka/Elneny as the best partnership, but the Ox and Xhaka actually fit that bill. The only problem is that Arsène doesn’t seem to want to use that formula any more. He’s still chopping and changing trying to find something that clicks, but the team are still failing him, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Coquelin return back to the team. Personally it’s the wrong move I think, because we need more control on our possession and distribution, which is why I think the Ox is better. He has shown an ability to be good with his passing range from deep and has also been putting a tackle in, so I’d have him and Granit with Özil in front.
I’d also put Alexis back in the middle, bin off Walcott and see if Welbeck and Iwobi can show the same form with Alexis that we saw away to Everton about this time last year. It’s the least we could expect, given how dreadful Theo was against Palace and if I see him in the starting line up tonight I’ll be thoroughly disappointed.
Ollie G is the other option and, given that we haven’t seen much movement from a mobile front three of late, it’s not the worst decision in the world. But I don’t think Arsène fancies him as anything more than an impact sub right now.
Tonight needs to be a win to restore fragile confidence ahead of next weekend. I’ve pretty much given up on the top four, so we just need to repair some of the damage in the hope that it gives us belief for the cup semi.
Come on you reds.