Boxing Day and match day. There was a time where I’d be pretty excited to have a bit of The Arsenal on at Christmas, but I’ll be honest with you, I’m not feeling overly confident and given that it’s been literally months since we won a Premier League game, the prospect of beating Chelski seems pretty bleak.
Our confidence is on the floor. We have players missing like Partey and players like Willian and Xhaka who will probably play tonight and utterly stink the place out. The manager doesn’t seem willing to mix things up a bit and the result is that we get turgid performances after turgid performances as this creeping death of a season drags on.
Chelski will be – and should be – favourites for this game because they have the attacking talents on display to cause us real damage. They’ll have more of the ball, they’ll knock it around with confidence like Southampton did, just waiting for our mentally brittle players to collapse.
We will play a deep block and look to frustrate them. That’s all we’ve got as a game plan these days and the problem with it is that it means a team that has such a low conversion rate of chances will have hardly any chances they’ll create and it’ll most definitely be pain for us to watch.
If I was in Mikel’s shoes though, I’d make some bold decisions. I’d have Gabriel, Luiz and Holding in defence with Tierney and Bellerin as the wing backs. In the middle of the park I’d have Maitland-Niles for his energy and athleticism and partnering him I’d even think about Chambers. He did a good job in central midfield for Fulham and he could do the same sat in front of our back three for protection.
Then you’ve got three in front and if Aubameyang is fit then it should be him centre with Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe out wide and given a chance. I’d be surprised if Martinelli is fit enough to start, otherwise I’d have had him in there, but certainly I’d want him on from the bench at some stage.
Like I say, that line up would be a shift from what is expected and it also ensures those senior pros who are so painfully out of form do not get near the first XI. Let’s have some consequences for playing badly.
I can’t really make much of a case for us beating them, or even getting a point today, if I’m completely honest. They’re just better than us in most aspects of the park and coupled with our utterly wretched form and broken confidence, it just feels like this is going to be a long afternoon. We lost to them last Christmas at The Emirates but that result was one that we didn’t deserve and I weirdly came out of that game with lots of confidence and believe that we were going in the right direction with Mikel in charge. But defeat tonight will nowhere near fill me with the same hope and expectation. It’ll just be what feels like another nail in the coffin for Mikel Arteta’s managerial tenure at the club.
I hope that isn’t the case. I hope there can be some kind of a Christmas miracle. But it’s hope rather than expectation at this moment in time.
Chelski will hit us with pace, energy and movement and despite the fact that Chilwell and James are both injured, it is with the likes of Mount, Pulisic and Werner that we will have to be worried. Lampard could be tempted to give Giroud a start given that he loves a goal against us, but I think he opts for pace of Werner or Abraham rather than Giroud as the target man.
But I guess it depends on terms of game state. For example a game in which Arsenal deploy three central defenders and a low block might call for less pace and more aerial threat. If we contest the space in our defensive third then perhaps Chelski will need to get the ball out wide and get crossed into our box? That’s when Giroud comes into his own. So whilst Lampard has options that can flex his tactical muscle, we seem to have little else in choice other than to adopt this back three low block and hope it frustrates.
It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs that we’re approaching a game at home against a team who we should class as a rival, with a small team mentality of “I’d bite your hand off for a point” but that is where we are right now. We kind of just have to accept it.
It would be nice, though, if we could avoid anything stupid, so none of the following:
- Conceding a penalty
- Having a man sent off
- An injury to one of our key okayers
- A stupid own goal
- A gaping hole in our midfield for the entire game.
I think I’ll call it a day on that note. Let’s hope for some sort of Arsenal Christmas miracle later.
Catch you all tomorrow.