It’s New Year’s Eve and for the first time in a while that I can remember that is also coupled with a match day, so the celebrations of seeing in a New Year will either be helped or hindered by today’s Arsenal performance.
On the 28th in the main Arsenal played well but still contrived to make life see as difficult as possible for ourselves by conceding two goals against a motivated Palace side, but in that first half I saw what I always assume is the ‘proper’ Arsenal. We controlled possession, dictated movement across the pitch, created chances and probably should have been more than one up. A repeat of that first half today and you’d hope that we could very well make it a happy New Year’s Eve.
West Brom are bottom in the league. Alan Pardew hasn’t tasted victory for the Baggies yet. He’s even confessed that he thinks the team are lacking creativity in attack. So we all know this is pointing towards the exact opposite of what should happen and what we’ll see come 4.30pm is a team who look like the Barcelona of the Midlands suddenly show up. It feels almost inevitable, right?
The challenge our team has is to get the home crowd turning on them quickly, to ensure that any drive and intensity that they have is snuffed out early, which is why I hope we see the same first half intensity that we did but a few days ago. Playing Jack might be a bit of a stretch too far but heehawed that little bit of energy in the midfield and drive with the ball that had many recognising that it was his best performance in an Arsenal shirt for some time. But can his body withstand what will inevitably be a physical display when we line up against West Brom?
I guess the challenge Arsene has is who rotates in though. Coquelin, Elneny, or perhaps Maitland-Niles? The latter would be my choice. He’s excited at full back and i’d be seriously tempted to see if he can combine what Coquelin offers in terms of a defensive breaker down of play for the opposition, with somebody who is more composed on the ball and can move it from back to front with more accuracy. If he can, then you wonder if a midfield base of Maitland-Niles and Xhaka could offer enough protection for our back three.
If they can, it gives the full backs more of a licence to get forward and we’ve seen better displays from Bellerin in the last couple of matches, whilst Kolasinac always looks better when he’s going forward instead of backwards. So for me it’s what i’d go with along with a back three of Chambers, Koscielny, Mustafi, who are our preferred back line (although I do have a wondering about Big Per – mainly because I’m not sure how much pace West Brom have).
In attack I think it’s fairly obvious who starts in the three, with Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette all looking like they trained without any problems, but if Arsene does play this team then it’s hardly left any room for rotation in the side and the manager has previously intimated he would do that. But who could he rotate? I suppose you could play Holding or as I mentioned in the brackets above Big Per, but I suspect Chambers might be off the naughty step now and so we’ll see Arsene give him a few games whilst Nacho is out. The injury to Rambo forced his hand in midfield and Jack might not be able to play so many games in such a short space of time, but there are options. I guess he could think about Debuchy given how well he has played when given the opportunity, but I doubt that will be a realistic move if you think about what Arsene normally does with players that are on their way out like Debuchy is.
He’s loved to play Iwobi despite his shocking form at times this season, so that could be an opportunity for the young Nigerian, but why would you when the three best players in the squad are all available and all contributed against Palace?
So in short, I’m just not sure how he’s going to rotate the team, or if he will at all. If this was a home game I suspect he might, but it’s not and with Chelski on the horizon after today, it means there might be some players who are asked to play more football than they have at any time this season.
West Brom will look to be hard to break down. If I had to guess I’d think that they would look to hit us on the counter with Rondon, McClean, etc, so whilst the onus will be on us with the ball, we also need to have full concentration on counters and set pieces. As always with Arsenal, there’s no real way of telling which team shows up, until we see the first 10 – 15 minutes unfold.
Cross everything and hope that we can keep up with the rest of the top sides, because although United slipped up, you can bet your bottom dollar that nobody else will over this set of matches.
Catch you all tomorrow.