I can’t say that I’m particularly confident about tonight. An Arsenal team that looks like its struggling for form and confidence at time, with the added pressure of that most usual of things – a long old injury list – up against an efficient Chelski team who have been grinding out victories and have been quietly picking up points all season.
The odds seem to be stacked against us for a victory tonight.
They shouldn’t be though. Had we engaged in a little bit more sensible rotation on someone like Koscielny then maybe he’d still be in the team. Perhaps that’s a little harsh on the manager but it just feels to me like his first real gamble on player fitness this season – having effectively played two teams alternately since August – has backfired at his first real attempt. The net effect is that he’ll almost certainly be forced into shuffling his pack and I suspect we’ll almost certainly be seeing Maitland-Niles at left wing back again, Bellerin on the right, with Chambers, Mustafi and Big Per in the centre. Or at least that’s what I think he’ll do if he sticks with a back three.
The other suggestion is that we could see a back four again but the idea of Maitland-Niles having less protection when one of Pedro, Willian, Hazard are running at them with pace, is a frightening prospect if we’re all honest with each other. Ainsley has been ok at times but was run a little ragged against Liverpool and defensively we looked shaky as can be with a back four that evening, so a repeat of that formation tonight has me worried for more of the same.
It also puts a lot of pressure on the forward players, particularly because they’ll be asked to outscore our opposition, given how often we concede at the moment. And Chelski have a decent back line that won’t give up chances like Liverpool did.
So I can’t really offer any words of comfort about having a ‘feeling’ about tonight. Because I suspect we’re in for a long one.
It shouldn’t be like that though. Our home form has been decent this season overall, we’ve picked up a victory against the Totts, were robbed against United and fell victim to our own inability to shut a game down when we went ahead against Liverpool. The way we’ve picked up points at home should give us comfort to some extent. But the injuries, the extra prep Chelski have had for this game, the fact they are in better form than us, all points towards a spot of difficulty for me.
And if we are defeated, then I think we can all kiss any fast fading hopes of a top four challenge. The gap is growing bigger and the teams that were around us are now pulling away as we lurch forward slowly. Dropped points from winning positions against Liverpool and West Brom may end up feeling like they’ve cost us I think.
You’ve always got to have hope though and I’m hoping to see an Arsenal team who will react to the farcical nature of the refereeing decision at The Hawthorns on New Year’s Eve. That should kick any team into a siege mentality but we have to see the players show that bit of fight from the off.
I suspect Chelski will target our left hand side tonight. They’d be mad not to given our clear weaknesses. So protection from whoever is in midfield and centre half needs to be given to Maitland-Niles. We need to see the pragmatism of the Spurs game today but I don’t know how capable Arsenal are at that on a consistent basis if I’m honest. We can show it in isolated games but not regularly and at home I fear that we’ll take a more gung-ho approach to our play which could lead us vulnerable to counter attack.
We’ll soon find out I suppose.
Catch you tomorrow for a post Chelski wash-up.