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Schalke preview: Wenger looks for offensive improvement

In one way it is a good thing that the games come quickly at this part of the season. Imagine taking that post-United feeling into a regular one week gap, or even an Interlull? No thanks.

So, while there’s time to look at what happened, analyse it and try and do something about it, the next game comes along at just the right time so we can try and get back on track. Ahead of tonight’s game the team news is that Aaron Ramsey is out with a groin problem, Theo Walcott is under the weather with a ‘stomach complaint’, and Andre Santos is set to lose his place because of his footballing form, not the shirt incident.

It was something the manager spoke about yesterday, sensibly drawing a line under the incident:

He cares and he understands today what it means and, believe me, he will never do it again. I spoke to him about it but I do not want to make too big a story of it.

I believe that was not the right thing to do at all, but that is not an explanation of our bad performance on Saturday.

And really, that ought to be that when it comes down to it, although it’s baggage he’s going to carry for some time, I think. The word on the on the old Caledonian Road is that Thomas Vermaelen will move to left back tonight, with Laurent Koscielny coming in to the centre of defence. It is, on paper, the best option he’s got if he’s not going to play the Brazilian, all the same I’d be slightly worried about it because of Vermaelen’s form and because he doesn’t enjoy playing there.

He had a spell at left back last season and wasn’t terribly convincing, but the captain needs to focus entirely on how he plays at the moment, not where, and we need to see an improvement from his Stepanovian display on Saturday. Not just in his football either, but as captain. I know it’s largely ceremonial and there are other players who need to step up and take responsibility too, but the more leadership on the pitch the better, and he’s got a big part to play in that.

Up top it’ll be interesting to see what the manager does. Lukas Podolski has been very quiet in recent games, the thinking is he’s hampered by an injury, but given the location and opponents I suspect he’ll start – Arshavin is an option if not. And if his illness clears up it’s got to be Theo Walcott on the right, with Olivier Giroud down the middle. The Frenchman has had little in the way of service in recent games, and it’ll be interesting to see if that changes tonight. He’s player whose movement is clever enough in and around the box, but unlike his predecessor isn’t yet capable of making things happen on his own just yet.

At his press conference last night, Wenger made some interesting comments about the goals we’re conceding and the ones we’re not scoring:

If you look at the goals conceded, I believe at the moment we don’t have to focus too much on that. I think what is most important is that we find our game back. Our game is about creating chances, about going forward, about having an offensive drive.

That at the moment is a bit missing so the most important thing. I believe I have a team of great players and at the moment they have forgotten it a little bit how good they are.

What is most important is that we play again with our enthusiasm, desire to create chances and enjoy our game, more than about do we concede a goal or not.

If it sounds dismissive of the defensive side of the game I don’t think it’s meant to be, it’s merely pointing out that over half the goals we’ve conceded in the league have come from individual errors. A manager can’t plan or legislate for those so it’s him telling his team to cut them out. More thought-provoking is the talk of our attacking game, which has been, for so long, a crutch for our defensive weaknesses.

To me he’s looking for a bit more bravery, some risk taking, someone, more than one, to drive the team forward to help us find our spark again. We have experienced, quality players in this team who are capable of better. Arteta, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott if he comes in, are all players who can produce more from an attacking point of view. As pointed out in this weeks’ Tactics Column, and in the stats (which showed Arsenal with more possession and having made more passes against United), it’s not a question of not having the ball enough, it’s that we’ve looked inhibited and lacking in confidence when we do.

It is a bit of a risk trying to go past a man in midfield, safety first won’t win you games, so the players above, and even Jack Wilshere who is the perfect player to get between the lines, need to step up tonight and give the team more in the opposition half. We need more penetration and I think the manager’s point about how his players have forgotten how good they are is a decent one, even if there are concerns over the depth of the squad. This group of players have the individual qualities to do better, they need to figure out how to work as a collective again.

In the wake of our post-Interlull form it’s not easy to be confident, but Schalke lost at the weekend, perhaps that’s something we can take advantage of, and without wishing to use famous last words tomorrow, I’d hope we can’t play as poorly again tonight as we did at Old Trafford. It’s a big game, we’re in a decent position in this group, but without at least a point tonight it’s going to make the rest of the group nervy and difficult, and we could do without that. My money’s on a tight draw.

That said, Tom is on live blog duty tonight so, if the last game he did is anything to go by, this will be a laugh a minute goal fest of epic proportions. And for those of you who can’t see the game, the live blog gives you full coverage of the match. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 6.45pm for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Tom has also just implemented a new feature which means we can send important updates, such as goals/sendings off etc, directly to my Twitter account so let’s hope he’s kept busy this evening.

Also, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

And that’s really about that for this morning. There’s nothing quite like a win to put things right with the world, let’s keep fingers crossed for that.

Till tomorrow.

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Fan of Arsenal, Robert Pires and most everything to do with rum and whiskey. Writer, podcaster, ace flintknapper, sluggish centre-half. Smiter of those that ought to be smote.