Frustratingly, because I’ve got overseas travel with work today, I’ll not find out the result of the game until about 7pm tonight. Which isn’t exactly helping my nervous disposition when I think about the game in general.
This – as well as Rennes at home on Thursday next week – is season defining for Emery and his Arsenal team. Lose today and get knocked out on Thursday and the season will be seen as all but over. Win today and then it gives an absolutely massive boost ahead of a game on Thursday in which we’re going to need the goals to be raining in as much as the crap weather we’re having in London right now.
Which all adds to the nerves I’m afraid. This sense of it all feeling ‘all or nothing’ just makes a pessimistic Arsenal fan like myself think of what a long few weeks it’ll be if we brain fart ourselves out of contention and competitions.
Unai needs to be smart today. I hope ‘Mr USB’ has watched, re-watched and watched again the game against United in the cup and I hope just for extra material he also watched last seasons league game at The Emirates, because United have played the same way against us twice and they’ve sucker punched us on each occasion.
Their approach is clear: cede possession, let Arsenal commit numbers forward, then use their ability to transition through the pitch rapidly to hit us on the counter. And usually that includes the irritant that is Jesse Lingard but thankfully he’s injured for today’s game.
It still doesn’t mean they don’t have quite the arty of players who can hurt us. Martial is returning from injury and whilst I’d be surprised if he started, he will certainly come on to test our ailing back line at some stage. Lukaku is banging in goals again and with Pogba behind them they have a player who will be licking his lips at the possibility of running from deep against a high pressing Arsenal.
So there is plenty to be concerned about but at least we’re avoiding the ignominy of Alexis and Lingard scoring against us. We’ll probably just have to contend with Pogba and a stupid dance or Lukaku.
And I think we will concede today. It’s just a case of how and when we concede. If we concede early and the first goal it will have a familiar feel about it to the last two times United have come to our patch. If we get the first goal then maybe it draws United out a bit. Whatever way the game starts, my hope is that we play it in the same way we played Chelski, Totts and Liverpool. In each of those games we started well, looked impressive, deserved points. That’s what I’m hoping for today.
Formation wise I think Unai will stick to a back three. I think he’ll opt for Kolasinac on the left, Maitland-Niles on the right, then have Monreal, Sokratis and Mustafi. I know that Koscielny has been good of late but with his legs as brittle as they are given his age, I think it’d be asking a lot of him to play again today and because of the Sokratis suspension in midweek he’s going to be asked to step up again against Rennes at home. So I suspect he gets rested today.
That will mean a midfield which includes Xhaka and I suspect Guendouzi. It’s not the most reassuring from a defensive point of view and the thought of Guendouzi ambling back on Thursday and the way he did that against Pogba is still a GIF that terrifies us Arsenal fans to watch. But what other options are there? Ramsey? Unlikely, but I do wonder if his energy is deployed higher up the pitch. Certainly his ability to cover ground will be on Emery’s mind.
If Emery goes with Ramsey in a ten he could potentially go Auba and Laca as a two and as Clive from the Arsenal Vision podcast said earlier last week, perhaps we need those two ‘mates’ together to bring Auba out of his rut. Think the Spurs game at home – together those two got goals and looked impressive. Let’s have something similar today please.
Today will tell us a lot about this Arsenal team and where we are at. Let’s hope I’m not writing a sad blog from Mumbai.
Catch you guys tomorrow.