Morning folks. Happy Boxing Day and also more importantly happy match day!
This is a big one today because this Arsenal team is creaking under the weight of injuries and with a possible eight players missing from the first team, we’re at a time in the season when the games come thick and fast and we have injuries all over the place.
The latest absentee is Henrik Mkhitaryan and whilst I’ve been vocal about his poor form of late, he’s still a first team player and to be missing yet another one for a prolonged period of time – the club confirmed he’s out for six week’s because of a fractured metatarsal.
When you add that to the fact Nacho hobbled off against Burnley as well and so won’t be in contention for today’s game, it means yet more square pegs in round holes, enforced on Unai Emery at a time in which he’d probably be doing a fair bit of sensible rotation during the Christmas period. The reality is that he has no choice though and so that means today and against Liverpool we might see the same players patched up and sent out to try to do the business.
It’s going to be tough though. Brighton are no mugs and last season they outdid us with an intensity that we couldn’t match as Wenger’s reign began to draw to an inevitable conclusion. They did that by getting a few goals in the first half and hanging on and in return we offered very little going forward, except Aubameyang with a smart finish, which we have hope for more of today.
Whether we see Auba from the start, however, i’m not sure. If I was to guess I’d say that we’d go Leno in goal, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Koscielny, Xhaka in central defence, Kolasinac at left wing back, then a midfield of Torreira and Guendouzi. It’s not ideal because we really need Xhaka back in the midfield but we have little choice at the moment. Mustafi is supposedly a week away from full training so he’ll most likely not play and that forces a shift in players’ positions that leaves us feeling a little unbalanced. That was certainly the case against Burnley last weekend and both Elneny and Guendouzi were poor I thought. Guendouzi is a great passer of the ball but he doesn’t cover the areas of the pitch in defence that you’d want and he also has a tendency to be nudged off it a little too easy. It feels like we are a little less controlled with him in midfield instead of Xhaka, but Unai is becoming more and more focused on this three at the back so he gets his with from the wing backs, so it means Xhaka needs to once again take one for the team.
Torreira is also a question mark but I’m glad Unai has said that he will not ask him to change his style just because he’s one yellow away from a suspension. If that happens today then it happens and he’ll be suspended for the Liverpool game. Part of me has kind of written that game off anyway because of the injuries, etc. Like I said at the top of the blog – we’re creaking – and that’s starting to show.
The attacking three is where we have options though and I definitely think Unai will rotate there over the next few days. We have Rambo, Iwobi, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang who will cover those three spaces and that means he can play three and then the other two against Liverpool. Personally I’d be thinking about Rambo’s intensity for Liverpool, Ozil’s trickery and vision for Brighton, then it’s a toss up between Iwobi, Laca and Auba for the other two positions in both games. Iwobi’s running and drive has looked better against some of the bigger games this season, even if his form has been poor of late, but I’d still be thinking about him for Liverpool and not Brighton. So I’m hoping to see Auba and Laca along with Ozil today, then a bit of a switcharoo in a couple of days time.
I think those three players today give us the firepower, plus the vision, then against a high-energy Liverpool side we have those more direct players. But Unai is impossible to predict and so it wouldn’t surprise me if we played a different formation, had different players, plus he rotated Laca and Auba so that one plays most of today and then the other plays most of the Liverpool game. That makes sense given that we have just those two as the regular first team strikers at the club but it would mean two of Rambo, Ozil and Iwobi will get two games over Christmas. Ozil has been injured and Rambo has played as many minutes so perhaps both of them will get their shot for more minutes given they’re likely to be the least fatigued.
As for Brighton, they’ll be missing one of their centre halves Dunk through suspension and that is a bit of a positive for us, because he’s a regular and is a threat from set pieces, but I think we’ll still see Brighton look to exploit the space in between our wing backs. They like to go long and play in to width and will look to Izquierdo and Knockaert to use their pace and trickery to cause problems for the out of position Maitland-Niles and the defensively fragile at times Kolasinac. But where they press us when they have the ball, if we can get beyond them their back line will give us opportunities. Brighton are a side who aren’t the best in defending against balls in behind and because of that I hope Ozil plays today and that he can pull the strings.
It’s going to be hard today because Brighton will be massively up for this, they’ll fancy their chances against a patched up Arsenal team and after the lacklustre performance against Southampton they’ll see that if they attack us with intensity and press us in wide positions we might be weak.
We’ll inevitably concede today – we always do – so it will be about whether or not that front line can get the requisite number of goals to secure the three points.
Up the Arsenal.