All right folks, here we go again and it’s Watford in the Premier League later this evening.
Arsene Wenger has decisions to make about his team, related to injury of course. Laurent Koscielny, considered ‘not available’ on Thursday, was due to have a fitness test and his participation in training yesterday suggests he’s come through that well enough.
Will he be the man asked to cover for the injured Shkodran Mustafi? The other option is to bring Per Mertesacker into the side in that position, leaving Koscielny to play on the right hand side of the back three. The manager seems to prefer him there, and in terms of balance it’s a trio that should work well with the German’s reading of the game and the two more mobile men outside him.
If he doesn’t want to risk the Frenchman, then the cup final trio of Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal, with Bellerin and Kolasanic looks pretty solid. There are plenty of midfield options too, with Jack Wilshere pushing for a start in the Premier League, and with Coquelin, Elneny, Xhaka and Ramsey (I think) all available, there’s some depth there – something which will be useful over the next three weeks when we have seven games to play.
The top end of the pitch is where he’ll really have decisions to make. Will Alexis’s disappointment and travel fatigue be a consideration? Does Mesut Ozil get back into the team straight away, possibly giving us the ‘dream’ trio of Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette? Should he try and continue to build up the confidence and form of Alex Iwobi who scored in the last game, and came back from international duty a hero after getting the goal that sent Nigeria through to the World Cup?
Decisions decisions. If it were me, I’d be inclined to let Ozil sit on the bench and give Iwobi the nod, but on this ground last year the German scored a lovely goal, created for him by Sanchez. Whatever Wenger ends up doing though, it’s a pretty decent problem to have, and even the discussing the possibility of leaving Ozil on the bench is an interesting development in how we’re seeing this team right now.
I do think talk of Ozil being written off is premature though. Of course every game, every performance, every single thing he does will be analysed under the shadow his contract situation, but the manager seems keen to remind people of how good he is:
You need players who have quality and Ozil is one of the best players in the world.
As for his future, he continued:
I cannot tell you what is in his mind. I genuinely think he wants to stay. But I am always positive about that.
Sometimes I picture contract talks between key players and Arsene Wenger like that scene from Dumb and Dumber:
Arsene: What do you think the chances are of a player like you and a manager like me staying together?
Player: Not good.
Arsene: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Player: I’d say more like one out of a million.
Arsene: So you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!
The next few months will tell us plenty about Ozil, and how Wenger uses him will be informative I think, but he’s still a brilliant player capable of the kind of creativity that can unlock defences. We may need to start thinking about life without him, but while we’ve still got him I think there’s a bit more to squeeze out of him yet.
There’s also been plenty of talk about Watford and how good they’ve been so far this season. Aside from the 3-3 draw with a defensively shambolic Liverpool, the majority of their fixtures have been against the teams around them. They’ve beaten Bournemouth, Southampton and Swansea, and drawn with Brighton and West Brom. Their single defeat came at the hands of Man City who pummeled them 6-0.
Without taking anything for granted, and acknowledging the fact they’re a decent enough side, this is the kind of game we need to win to continue our solid response to our dodgy start, and to convince people that there’s more to this team than we might think.
We’ve made good progress since that Anfield defeat, but anything less than a win today would be another stumble on the road. Defeat a step backwards. I think we’ve got the quality to go there and take three points, so fingers crossed we do just that.
In the meantime, there’s a lunchtime game between Liverpool and Man United which will tell us a lot about both sides. In yesterday’s Arsecast, one of the discussion points with Amy was about watching less football these days, for various reasons, but this is one I’ll definitely sit down for.
Right, we’ll have all the post-game reports, stats, players ratings and everything else on Arseblog News, and I’ll leave you with that podcast in which we also discuss ’89 – the film’ and much more. Listen, subscribe and all the rest. Catch you later.