It’s the last home game of the season today, a chance to say goodbye to Cech and Ramsey and quite unbelievably, a game in which winning could still keep us in the hunt for a final day top four spot.
Quite how we are still in it is beyond me but bizarrely after the Tiny Totts lost yesterday we could still finish third if results go our way.
I suspect all results won’t and Chelski will beat Watford at home today, but at least we find ourselves in the penultimate game of the season with an outside chance, even though I think it’s unlikely we’ll get top four.
We host a Brighton team who were guaranteed salvation yesterday because of Cardiff’s defeat at home to Palace and my hope is that it means that they will be in celebratory mode rather than spoiler mode. Let’s face it Palace had nothing to play for two weeks ago yet they did us on our own patch (a game I think I’ll look back on at the end of the season and say that it was the one that cost us top four) so I’m not naive enough to think Brighton won’t be just as willing to turn up and give us a bloody nose.
Unai will hopefully be very wary of the threat they pose but what I am hoping for today is that he goes with our strongest team this afternoon from the start and we can do what is necessary and bag ourselves plenty of goals early on, before resting some of our players through some substitutions, ahead of the away second leg in Valencia on Thursday.
So my hope for today is Leno, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette as our starting line up. It’s the strongest, the midfield gives us more control, it’s a team that should have enough to get past Chris Hughton’s men.
We need to see an intensity about Arsenal that wasn’t there for the three games before the Valencia match and we need to see an Arsenal team that recognised it still has an outside chance.
Unai could of course go with a back four and if he does that I’d opt for Mustafi, Sokratis, Mavropanos and Monreal at the defensive line. Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles have shown how good they are as wing backs but less so as full backs and so if he goes with the back four and Xhaka and Torreira in midfield, it does mean that he can fit another attacker in. I’d guess we’d have Özil, Auba and Lacazette, but then one of Mkhitaryan and Iwobi could fit in and whilst I personally wouldn’t do it because I think both players are out of form (again), I could understand if Unai decided to approach it that way.
Brighton will look to take advantage of set pieces and that’s where they’ll expect to get some joy. They’ve been struggling for goals and have one goal in their last eight games. It’s been a pretty shoddy run but you can bet your bottom dollar that our catastrophe of a back line will gift them at least one goal. Heck, I’m expecting three or four big chances for the seagulls at least. So it’ll be about making sure we don’t have any more brain fart moments from our defenders.
I think we can – and should – win today. If we’re still in it by the time we go to Burnley I’ll be less confident but this game should be one in which the players and the manager are professional enough to do the job. Nothing less than three points is acceptable and so whoever Unai picks today will need to be fully concentrated, chasing down every loose ball, controlled in possession and above all take chances in attack. I suspect Brighton will just look to sit deep and frustrate us all afternoon so we all have a duty to be patient for this one I reckon.
Unfortunately a family birthday means I can’t make it but I’ll be watching from my phone and hopefully we’ll get the result we all want and need.
Catch you all tomorrow.