Three weeks ago I was looking at this fixture as an opportunity for Arsenal to potentially continue a good run, to be chasing down the couple of teams ahead of us, to be looking up and wondering whether we’ll sneak in to that fourth spot.
It’s amazing what a week of football can do at this time of the year. In a week we’ve lost two games, been knocked out of an admittedly fourth choice cup, as well as entered an injury crisis at the worst time of the season to do so. That’s because you get doubly punished with so many games and the update that Bellerin misses two more weeks basically means that he’s out for four league games. To put that in to context at the beginning of the season four league games was a month out of action.
Mustafi also misses tomorrow and with so many players injured we’ve been seeing Arsenal try to plug more round holes with square pegs than we’ve seen in a long time. Granit Xhaka at centre half, Maitland-Niles at right back, it’s hardly been ideal and the fact that Emery also had to play a relatively full strength team on Wednesday night will also probably mean that there’s a knock on adverse effect today.
We just need to hope that it isn’t to the extent of defeat today against Burnley. In fact even a draw probably isn’t enough because every one of our rivals seems to be winning each week.
So by the team we get to Boxing Day and Brighton away we could be cut further adrift of Chelski and the Totts, which means we have to do everything in our power to react from the two recent disappointing defeats with a win today.
Unai spoke to the press yesterday and of course emphasised the need to get back on the winning wagon, but inevitably after he left Özil out midweek he was sent a volley of questions about the German. He said positive things, that he has a future, etc, but his actions in midweek spoke louder than his words and although I expect Mesut to come in today and play a part, I suspect we’re starting to see the beginning of the end for him myself.
And for me that would be a massive shame because I’ve always loved watching him. His grace, his ability, he is a player who makes us better and nobody can tell me otherwise. I’m hoping after all of the talk of him this week, he starts this lunchtime and gives us an absolute master class, the kind of performance that makes people go “huh, that’s what we were missing on Wednesday, actually”. There will still be grumbling Gooners who say things like “yeah, but he doesn’t do that enough” but all I can say is that we should just get behind him and shout him on to be the great player we all know he really is.
Emery spoke yesterday about playing two strikers being the reason you can’t have a number ten but I’m sorry, I think that’s balderdash, because I think the formation he has set up at the moment is perfect for a number ten. Three centre halves provides stability at the back and an extra body for cover. It also gives you the opportunity to push your wing backs forward and get the most from them offensively, where they can provide the width, which means you can have a ten in the middle floating across the pitch to pick the ball up and find the forward players. The forward players can also drift wide if they want to and support the wing backs; we don’t need to see our two forwards both playing off the shoulder of the defenders, we can have one drift wide and the other go central, then the other go wide and his partner move central at times.
I think that works and in that formation I think Mesut Özil would thrive. But Unai has been reluctant to deploy him like that and instead shoehorned him in to different positions throughout the season.
Give Mesut a go in that formation with Auba and Laca up top Unai, please.
What I’d also like to see is Xhaka and Torreira in midfield again but I’m not sure we’ll see that today if we play three at the back. Simply, we don’t have the central defenders for it. Holding and Mustafi are out which just leaves Sokratis and Koscielny. We could play Monreal there but given there are question marks over Kolasinac I wonder if we’ll have to play Xhaka in defence again if Sead isn’t fit.
Let’s just hope he is. Xhaka hasn’t really done anything wrong at centre half, you can just tell he isn’t a centre half, plus his absence in midfield is obvious for all to see. So let’s cross everything that we have Kolasinac back at least and the options of playing natural players in their natural positions comes back to us.
Burnley will be stubborn to break down, they’ll have a back three that will drop to a back five when we have possession and will probably look to the likes of Brady to counter as quickly as he can to get alongside Barnes. They’ll just try and be as difficult to get behind as possible and that’s why someone like Mesut with his vision is key I believe.
We need him and the strikers to get back to the efficiency we have been seeing at the start of the season. Remain solid at the back, don’t do anything silly, control possession and squeeze Burnley. They’re going to make life very difficult and we may only see one or two goals max I reckon, so we’ll need to be patient today.
It’s an early start so I better start making my way to the ground. Catch you wonderful people tomorrow.