Morning folks. It’s game day and it’s a home match against Man United but if I’m honest with you, I can’t remember a game against United that was so underwhelming, or had so little riding on it from two teams who really have failed to impress this season. Arsenal currently in sixth versus United in fifth used to be a title decider. These days it’s relegated to a match of nostalgia. Sky Sports will no doubt try their darnedest to build up the tension by talking about the pressure on Arsene and Jose’s record against Arsenal but in reality, does any of that matter? By 6pm tonight the chances are that one team will either be clear in fifth or positions will switch places.
Mourinho has already hinted that he’ll be fielding an under strength side against us today, citing the Europa League as their main priority, with the possibility of the Champions League at the end of it. It’s hard to argue with that logic to be fair. Given they are one up against Celta and will then have the chance to play either Ajax or Lyon in the final, you’d fancy your chances in that competition, ahead of finishing above City and Liverpool in third and fourth. So what type of team Mourinho plays today will be interesting. I’ve seen a few reports suggesting that players I’ve never even heard of will play, like Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay or Matt Willock. I don’t think Mourinho will go that week in his team, but I do expect it’ll be a spattering of squad rotation he’ll go for. Smelling didn’t start, neither did Phil Jones who always seems to have a great game against us, so I’d expect that central defensive pairing. Either side of them might be Ashley Young playing at right back, with Blind or perhaps Darmian at left back. Carrick didn’t start against Celta so I’d expect him to play, as will Pogba, Rooney, Mata and I wonder if Martial will be given the nod. Given that this would be seen as a rotated squad, it’s hardly the bunch of kids that Mourinho has hinted at.
United are on an unbeaten run, they certainly seem to have more form than us and after the debacle that was last weekend’s North London Derby, you can hardly say that we’re going in to the game with confidence. As Arsenal fans what we have to hope for is that we see a reaction from the team, because another defeat today hardly augurs well for the final in three weeks time, does it? So what I want from whoever plays today in an Arsenal shirt, is to be at United from the off, and there can be no excuses for not putting everything in today.
Who actually plays from the start is another question. Tech will start no doubt, but the back three surely needs to have Holding back in it? Mustafi is in basic training but is he fully fit? If not, then Holding has performed well every time he has played in that three, so I’d probably even have him ahead of the Brazilian if there is a choice of four. But Arsene won’t. Holding is further down the pecking order and Arsene does like his pecking orders to remain in tact, regardless of form, so I expect Mustafi to be back and Koscielny and Gabriel to be in the team with him.
Wing backs surely have to include the Ox – who has been in good form (last weekend aside) – with Monreal the other side of him. That semi final felt like the blueprint for the best wing backs in the team, so if Arsene is persisting with this formation why on earth wouldn’t you go with that?
Granit Xhaka is a doubt for the game which leaves a real question as to who plays. For me I’d rather see Elneny in place of Coquelin, because I think Ramsey and Elneny would work better as a pairing. Coquelin and Ramsey leaves too much space, Coquelin and Elneny seems a better set up for away games, whilst Ramsey and Elneny feels like it might be a better fit. Elneny covers a decent amount of ground across the back four, where as Ramsey covers space further ahead of the field, so if I was in Arsene’s shoes i’ll be looking at those two as the best option. Of course he does love playing Coquelin though, so let’s not be surprised if Francis makes the starting XI.
Then the decision needs to be made as to the front three. Ozil and Alexis will no doubt play, but how about the furthest forward? I wouldn’t mind seeing if the time out of the team would have been a benefit for Iwobi actually, with Alexis moving up top to cause United’s central defenders a problem with his pace and energy. Iwobi is the type of player who likes running at defenders and so setting him up against United to do that, whilst floating alongside Ozil, feels like it could work. One things for sure, its hasn’t worked with Theo or Giroud in that team. Walcott just doesn’t influence games enough and Giroud has cut a forlorn figure since the formation was set up. He was pretty absent – like most of them to be fair – on Sunday last week, but he was poor against City and Boro too, so I think it’s time we tried a bit more mobility in the side now. The other option is to have Welbeck up top and he will certainly run the channels, but he’d also provide an option for interchanging of position with Alexis, offering more mobility and pulling defenders apart. That’s what i’d like to see today from this Arsenal team going forward.
I’m not at the game today – mother’s birthday – so will have to keep tabs from afar, but I do wonder what the atmosphere will be like. It’s been pretty muted for obvious reasons recently and if the first 15 minutes don’t show some kind of desire from the home team I’d expect the same again today, so I just hope the players are fired up from the first whistle, because nobody wants to sit in such a toxic atmosphere.
This Premier League season may be done, but perhaps a win today will at least give us hope of a bit of confidence ahead of a tough few matches before we play Chelski.
Right, I’m off, so i’ll smell ya all later.