Happy Boxing Day folks. It’s a football-infused one today and wouldn’t you know it, Arsenal have an actual 3pm kick off for a change.
We also have a level of excitement that genuinely hasn’t existed all season, because it’s the first official game of Mikel Arteta’s reign in charge and the possibilities feel endless. That’s because we have absolutely no frame of reference of him as a manager. We all know Arteta the coach, but this is a step up that is massive, so all eyes will be on his decision making and his actions pre-kick off.
Who will he choose to start at Dean Court?
How much change has he been able to affect in the few training sessions he’s had?
What sort of style of an Arsenal team will we see?
There are so many questions that are unanswered and although that feels a little terrifying because it could all go horribly wrong, it also feels a little exciting because hopefully it can all go right, with maybe even a ‘new manager bounce’ to get us started. It would be nice to see one of those work in our favour for a change.
And it is possible. Freddie’s situation didn’t help but Arteta is in at the club with no ties to the previous regime, with his own ideas on the training ground and now we have players who by the sound of it have been impressed after a couple of training sessions. It’s time to see if Arteta can make a few instant tweaks to change our fortunes.
It is possible too. When we played Southampton last season Ralf Hassenhuttl had just joined them and he got the team playing a more intensive press and we were the first victims, losing 3-2, whereas Duncan Ferguson has just shown that even a few changes in style and approach can have an impact, picking up five points from Chelski at home, United away and us at home. So why can’t Arteta have an impact like that straight away?
Bournemouth are no mugs though. They beat Chelski a couple of weeks ago, they gave us a really tough game at the Emirates and given our horrendous defence I’m not expecting us to keep another clean sheet, in spite of what betting sites like Betsson suggest. That means we have to score a minimum of two goals to win this afternoon and given how poor we’ve been creatively – especially away from home – that’s not an easy task. But we appear to have a manager who knows exactly what he wants and hopefully that clarity of vision will transmit to a better performance from our players.
I suspect it’ll be Leno in goal, but what he goes for in the back line is probably going to be based on who’s available and who he wants to start against Chelski in a couple of days. He can’t play Chambers because of suspension, Bellerin has only just started training after a couple of weeks, plus we know we’ve got our first choice fullbacks out until the new year. So what’s he going to do?
If I was to guess I’d say Saka at left back and Maitland-Niles at right back again. I’m not sure who else could fit in although shifting Maitland-Niles to left back and playing Mustafi on the right is an option. In the middle it’ll be Luiz and Sokratis I’d imagine, although it’s not as if there’s much choice, so our new head coach will have his hand forced methinks.
It’s in front of that back line that I’m intrigued to see what happens though because there are more options in that regard, and certainly more chance of improvement given our wayward midfield, so I think we’ll see some form of change in approach from whoever plays. Personally I’d stick with Torreira and Xhaka because I think they give us more stability in front of our back line than Guendouzi does. The young Frenchman looked ill-disciplined before his current stint out of the team and that was laid all the more bare with the Man City game, which Arteta would have had a front row seat for, so I think one of the main things Arteta will be asking if it for a more coherent structure and positioning approach to those players in the middle of the park today.
And then we come to the creative end of the pitch, which has to start Auba up top and has to have three players behind him that will connect the team. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway. We need to avoid isolating Aubameyang and to do that we need players who are going to be mobile, provide movement, have an ability to spot a run and when we get the opportunity to, we need to take our chances. Because you can bet your Christmas bonus Bournemouth will be looking to take theirs.
In terms of the Bournemouth team they’ll be missing Diego Rico at left back, Nathan Ake at centre half, as well as Steve Cook, Adam Smith and Harry Wilson. David Brooks is also out and of the few times I’ve seen him play he’s been quite impressive, so the fact we won’t have him running at our quite pathetic back line is at least one cause for optimism. Of course in Joshua King and Calum Wilson they have players more than capable of showing up our back line and so Eddie Howe will be quick to tell players like that, as well as Ryan Fraser, to get in behind our creaky back line.
Despite Bournemouth’s injuries, we still face an incredibly tough game on our hands, especially if we go behind at any stage, because the fragile confidence of this Arsenal team could evaporate at any stage it feels right now. So I’m praying we can score first and build on the confidence. After we equalised in the second half against West Ham we looked like a totally different team as we went on to win it. That’s what I’d like to see today. Let’s have some steel injected back into an Arsenal side.
Over to you Mikel.