football comes around again and it’s time to get back to winning ways. There’s been a lot of talk this week in the wake of the two defeats but the one against Swansea in particular. Last weekend Arsenal were slow out of the blocks, struggled to really impose themselves on the game, and fell to a couple of late sucker punches.
West Brom come here having started the season brightly but having lost their last two games. So while I’m sure they’re happier playing an Arsenal side going through a difficult period they won’t be quite as ebullient as they might have been. Maybe it’s clutching at straws a bit but it could be a good thing to play a team who aren’t quite as confident as they were.
Which isn’t to say we should underestimate them. They’ve been a solid side for a good few seasons now and we know this is never an easy game. They’ve beaten us at home before, taking a 3-0 lead before two Na$ti goals added a measure of respectability to the scoreline, while the game at the Hawthorns on the final day of last season was, in many ways, remarkable. A clutch of goalkeeping howlers enabled us to win the game but the sight of a panic stricken Arsene Wenger clinging to Pat Rice towards the end of the game is an image that could almost be iconic now.
In terms of our team the manager revealed on Thursday that Podolski was out with a hamstring problem, Walcott hadn’t recovered from Swansea and Sagna was out. At his press conference he said that Sagna was certainly out. And then immediately said he’d have a test tomorrow, which is a bit confusing, especially when it looks like both Sagna and Podolski took part in training yesterday. For the sake of convenience we’ll assume they’re out and if there are some nice surprises then all the better.
It’s difficult to know exactly what team he’s going to pick but I’d like to see something like: Szczesny – Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Arteta – Wilshere – Rosicky – Cazorla – Giroud – Oxlade-Chamberlain
With Rosicky in the ‘Cazorla role’, the Spaniard moved to the left hand side, and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right rather than the erratic Gervinho. I think it’s the midfield choices that will influence the game more for us. Rosicky’s energy – and he’s one of the only Arsenal players who can play a high tempo pressing game – may do more for us when we don’t have the ball rather than in possession. Which isn’t to say he can’t contribute when we do, but Swansea showed last week that we’ve got problems winning the ball back as quickly as we used to.
If Cazorla is moved to a wider role I don’t think it’d blunt us too much either, his ability with both feet means he can go outside or inside of the defence to deliver. Of course this is just what I’d like to see rather than what the manager will select and while there’s a good case to be made for a little tinkering, you can equally argue that Cazorla has been one of our most effective players this season and moving him from that position is a bit daft. There is the possibility that Rosicky himself could be deployed there, the way Benayoun was last season, so we’ll just have to see.
The manager talks – and it’s been a consistent theme this week – about the team having to lift the fans via their performance. And I do understand that, but the concern shouldn’t be about getting the fans behind the team, it should be about winning the game. I know it’s all part of the great big footballing circle of life (play well fans are happy, play badly fans are not), but the focus today must be on three points above all else. While we’d love to see a performance of vim and vigour it has to be backed up with a win, so I’d take a jammy deflected goal and an unconvincing display over a good performance which doesn’t bring maximum points.
There’s no reason why we can’t do both. One of the other themes this week has been about how the players are better than the form they’re showing at the moment, and despite concerns about our squad, I believe they are. I believe they can play better and are capable of producing more consistent results. From Arteta and Vermaelen there’s talk of working harder and doing more to turn things around, and as captain and vice-captain they have a bit more responsibility, but it’s down to each player to take hold of things too. As Bacary Sagna said ‘impose themselves on the season.’
In times like this it often comes down to individual and collective responsibility, working that bit harder, running that bit longer, putting it bit of extra effort. The margins, as we well know, are very tight, and small things can make a big difference. I was quite worried last week after the Swansea game, I still am – it’s hard not to be at the moment – but after this week and all that’s been said, all that has been demanded of the players by the manager, by themselves, if we don’t see a reaction today it’ll be a huge concern.
But that glass is half empty, from the other side it’s half full and the eternal optimist in me, the one that thinks Arsenal can win any game simply because they’re the Arsenal, is hopeful that today we’ll see a turnaround, a display worthy of the shirt and the badge (the old one, of course), and that things will look a little brighter come 5pm this evening. Let’s hope so.
Come on you reeeeeeeeds.
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Right, that’s your lot. There’s a small wolf to be walked and bacon to be eaten in the meantime. Till later.