Morning fellow absorbers of Arsenal-related information. I hope you are well and enjoying the countdown to Christmas. As always it’s about excesses for us in the western world; from food to beverages and everything in between, but it’s also about the excess of football and once again we find ourselves gorging on that with another festive feast of North London Derby delight.
Except unlike the one a couple of weeks ago, I’m kind of looking forward to it tonight, perhaps because oddly there feels like a little less at stake in terms of pressure. Which feels odd because if we lose tonight it puts that ‘orrible lot just two games from Wembley for a cup final and as we all know, it’s been delightful to remind those Tiny Totts of how long they have gone without a trophy.
Given the quality of their team it’s a surprise, but the fact that they still haven’t collected anything for over a decade is delicious and that’s another reason to hope that we do the business tonight, because it ends at least one of their chances of breaking their duck.
And for us it represents an opportunity; a home game to give us a two legged affair against City, Burton Albion, or most likely Chelski after they beat Bournemouth tonight.
And I do wonder whether that opportunity of a shiny silver trinket is a little too close for Unai Emery to pass up tonight. We’re at home, we have a chance of progression, he’s in his first season and one way to continue the goodwill and good feeling about his reign is to bag a trophy in his first season. That’s especially the case if we miss out on the top four, which we’ll all already know is going to be very difficult as it is right now, so I have a sneaky feeling he’ll go relatively strong tonight.
For me that probably means Cech in goal, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis and Monreal most likely in defence, with Maitland-Nile’s at right back and I’d fit, Kolasinac at left. I think he’ll stick with three at the back despite the depleted options and even though Koscielny is fit again, asking the guy to do three games in a week having been out for seven or eight months is probably a bit much. Mustafi seems out and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Koscielny play at the weekend, but right now it feels like we’ll patch up that back line and go again.
Of course if Kolasinac isn’t fit then it’ll probably be Xhaka in defence again with Guendouzi and Torreira in the middle, with Lichtsteiner moving to right back and Maitland-Niles on the left. It’s hardly ideal but right now we have little choice and the injuries that have mounted up feel like they’re forcing Emery’s hand.
That is of course unless he decides to field more of the kids tonight. I’d be surprised if he did – certainly in defence – although perhaps one or two might be an option going forward. That will certainly be the case if they rotate players, although I think Pochettino will be looking at this game and Everton as one in which they can mix and match their starting line up.
Having spoken to a Spurs fan on the LoveSport Arsenal fans show Giles and I did last night, the feeling was that Eriksson and Son didn’t play at the weekend and so they’ll most likely start tonight, so I expect Arsenal to be handicapped by the diving South Korean at some point.
I also wonder if Pochettino changes his formation too. They went three at the back against us in the second half with Dier dropping in and we exploited the space made by Ramsey in behind Auba and Lacazette and so I think if I was in Emery’s shoes I’d be looking to get the Welshman in again to see if his running patterns can disrupt what by the sounds of it will be a bit of a makeshift Tottenham back line. By the sounds of it they’re in a similar injury situation to us and so Pochettino doesn’t have the options to rotate as much as perhaps he’d like to.
But the one player I’m interested to know if he starts above all of their lot is Harry Kane. That bar steward always scores against us and if he starts tonight we should probably expect the inevitable. But if Llorente gets the nod ahead of him I think it will give Arsenal a bit of a boost.
As to what Emery does in the attacking positions, well, as I’ve said I think Ramsey might start. But I also think only one of Auba and Laca will start and my guess would be the Frenchman. The Gabonese might be an option from the bench tonight and so if Laca and Ramsey do start then it’ll be two of Özil, Iwobi or Mkhi to play. My gut feel is that Özil gets the nod and possibly Iwobi, although what the Nigerian has done to warrant it I’m still not 100% sure. His early season form has dried up and it feels like Emery is trying to play him back in to form like Arsène used to do.
If he is then we could really do with a performance tonight. Fingers crossed we get one from him soo. Because our squad is hardly littered with similar players.
But until we get to 6.45pm and see the team news then there’s little we can do other than speculate.
Cross everything and hopefully we’re happy gooners tomorrow.