Champions League action tonight as we take on Anderlecht.
Having lost to Dortmund and then pulverised Galatasaray, this is a game from which we’ll be looking to take three points. Anderlecht are, on paper, the weakest team in the group, but you suspect they’ll be looking at us and thinking it might just be a good time to play Arsenal.
We have issues at the back with Wojciech Szczesny suspended and David Ospina now gone from injured to crocked for three months (more on that anon). It means a first European start for 22 year old Emi Martinez and it’s going to be quite the leap in quality for him. The last of his whopping two appearances for us came in the 7-5 win against Reading during which he had a first half to forget, but after a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, and some time passing, the manager has given him a vote of confidence, saying:
He is two years older now, and has a good experience at Sheffield. He has grown in stature as well. We have to make sure that we make it as comfortable a night as we can for him, and that is by defending well as a team.
I think the final thing he says there is exactly right. If you’ve got a young, inexperienced keeper, then there is an onus on the rest of the team to do as much as possible to ensure he has as quiet a night as possible. The issue, of course, is that there’s probably going to be more inexperience in the back four because of the injuries to Koscielny and Debuchy.
Calum Chambers is back from suspension and he can play at centre-half. Although Nacho Monreal is a more experienced footballer in general, I don’t think he enjoys it in the centre of the defence, and I think I’d prefer balance to experience. That means playing Chambers alongside Mertesacker while Hector Bellerin, who played well against Hull, merits another game at right back.
However, I do wonder if the manager might consider a defensive unit with three players of various degrees of rawness just too inexperienced, in which case Monreal would stay in the middle with Per and Chambers would come back into the team at right-back. Either way represents something of a gamble, but I’m generally more in favour of playing players in their natural position than asking someone to do a job they just don’t feel 100% comfortable doing.
Ahead of them, I think Mikel Arteta will replace Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in the midfield, with Cazorla, Alexis and Welbeck finishing off the team. Arteta’s return is an interesting one. Flamini has struggled (and been a bit unlucky), so it’s a chance for the captain to put in a performance which highlights his strengths. If there’s a worry it’s that on his last return from injury he, and the rest of the team in fairness, found Dortmund’s high-pressing game too much to cope with and maybe that’s something Anderlecht will have taken note of.
Again though, as I said before Hull, we’ve got the players at the attacking end of the pitch who can do damage to the home side tonight, so it’s all about finding some defensive stability. It’s easy to look back at the two goals Hull scored and see how we could have prevented them, but like many things in football, conceding becomes something of a habit and it’s not a particularly easy one to get out of.
Tonight would be a good time to start though.
Now, the David Ospina news will have had people rolling their eyes as it was confirmed that the Colombian keeper will be out of action for up to three months with a recurrence of the thigh injury he arrived at the club with. Arsene Wenger said:
He had his first injury in Nice, it was a knee problem and I think he was a bit rushed back. He didn’t use his legs so his muscle became weaker, then he got injured during the World Cup.
So, the first thing is that we bought a player who was injured in the first place. This is known in the game as a Kallstromian manoeuvre. You’d think we were alone in using this, but in fact Barcelona got totally Kallstromed this summer by us when we sold them a gammy-hammied Belgian.
However, the reason for the recurrence of his injury?
I had to bring him on against Galatasaray without warm-up, without being prepared and he had a recurrence of that injury. That means he is out for two to three months. It’s a long-term injury.
At least when we invented the Kallstromian manoeuvre, we didn’t play the chap until he was actually fixed. You have to ask what is the point of having a player on the bench who is in a position where playing them ‘cold’ might injure them? And this is usually the situation with a keeper. Outfield players you send to warm-up because a change is tactical, but replacing a goalkeeper rarely is, and so he’s always going to be liable to tweak his wotsit if it’s there to be tweaked.
Surely, until he was fully fit and recovered and his muscle was built up again, we could have used Martinez on the bench. You can, if you wish, look to find some kind of correlation between that decision and the manager’s words of faith above, but I suspect it might be a tall order.
Either way, the player we had hoped would provide good competition for Szczesny is now knackered, and if anything happens to our number 1, we’re going to have to hope that Martinez is ready for action. Tonight’s substitute keeper is a youngster called Ryan Huddart and he’s just gone 17. Fun times at the Arsenal Injury Parlour, roll up, roll up, see the freaks …
Whether this raises more questions about our injury management techniques (“Ah play, you’ll be fine” – “But doc, I’ve been bitten in half by an angry condor!” – “Well, see how you are until half-time at least!”), or simply reinforces the ones we already have, I just don’t know. Either way, if I was an Arsenal player I’d be shitting myself at the slightest twinge and to have lost another first team player for an extended period is just ludicrous at this point.
Right, that’s about that. Remember, there’ll be full live blog coverage of the Anderlecht game later on. Simply check back here for a post with all the details or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.
You might notice a few things going on around here today too. Or not. But possibly. I’ll try keep disruption to a minimum though. Probably.
ps – final thing, if you fancy an interesting event on Friday, Amy Lawrence will be at Lords talking to David Dein and Sol Campbell about the Invincibles. I’ll also be chatting to Amy on Friday’s Arsecast about the new book, but tickets and info for the Lords event can be found here.