Arsenal go into tonight’s game against Chelsea with Arsene Wenger admitting his side are ‘under pressure‘ and with the need for three points exacerbated by the fact we dropped two against West Brom a couple of days ago.
Ordinarily, a home game against big opposition like this presents something of a challenge, but because of injuries it’s even more so tonight. Sead Kolasinac is out for a couple of weeks after sustaining an injury from a snide Gareth Barry foul at the Hawthorns. We’re already without Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and Olivier Giroud.
Laurent Koscielny is ’30-70′ according to the manager, and he specifically said the medical staff we’re quite negative about his chances of making it, while Mesut Ozil hasn’t been ruled out completely but he didn’t train yesterday so has to be a real doubt for this evening’s game.
If those two don’t make it, that leaves us without five players who you’d consider part of our regular Premier League XI, plus one of its most trusted subs, and given the fairly strict delineation between that side and the ‘fringe’ XI that has played in Europe and the Carabao Cup it’s a real worry – not least because the manager has made the division pretty clear throughout the season so far.
I think he’ll go with a back three tonight, as it’s been successful against Chelsea in recent matches. The FA Cup final, the Community Shield, the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in a game from which he had to get something after that pounding at Anfield. It seems to work against them. The question is, in the absence of Koscielny, who fills in? Will it be the experience of Per Mertesacker, or does he trust his young players and bring in Rob Holding.
If nothing else, a trio of Chambers, Mustafi, and Holding is a nod to the future, and in a big game may well give us a good idea of how they might function. Or not. In which case serious thought should be given to what we’re going to do with our central defenders going forward.
I hope that Ozil makes it, because it’s clear we need someone with the craft in the final third that was so badly missing against West Brom. Alexis tried to take up that creative burden, dropping deep and looking for others to make the runs that never happened, and we need him closer to the opposition penalty area to be really effective.
We also need to stop playing like Alexandre Lacazette is Olivier Giroud. He is not the kind of striker to play with his back to goal that we can hit wall passes off. He did his best against a packed West Brom defence on Sunday, but that’s not his game, and we need to see him playing off the shoulder of the defenders. ‘See’ being the operative word here, because that’s what he generally does but we continue to be blind to that option far too often.
With just two wins in our last seven Premier League games, three points tonight are absolutely vital in our chase for a top four spot. That’s the reality of our season, and right now there’s a six point gap between us and Liverpool, although we do have tonight’s game in hand. A win tonight would put Chelsea 10 points ahead of us, United are already 9 in front, and barring any collapse from those two, it means that it’s going to be a three team shoot out for fourth between us, Liverpool and Sp*rs.
We cannot afford to let the gap get any bigger than it is right now. There’s enough left in the season to make a draw non-fatal, but we could really do with one of those nights where we pull off something unexpected. We were very much underdogs going into the FA Cup final, and the injury crisis at the back was just as bad, if not worse.
It feels like one of those games where we do something that makes us think ‘Ahhh maybe there’s life in this team yet!’, before we stumble down the road to opposition we should be beating, but also one of those which could see us exposed because of our absences and our current form. I have no idea how it’s going to go, but a win would be a nice surprise and a great way to kick off 2018, so I’m keeping fingers crossed for that.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger finds himself up on FA charges for comments he made to Mike Dean after the 1-1 draw the other night. In a statement, they said:
It is alleged his language and/or behaviour in the match officials’ changing room after the game was abusive and/or improper and/or questioned the integrity of the match referee.
Wenger has until Friday to respond, and could be facing a stadium ban following his issues last season with Anthony Taylor which saw him banned from the touchline for four games. The manager’s ire is understandable, and there’s something to be read into the fact that after an egregious error from an official, the disciplinary action is not for him but for Wenger.
Now, I have little doubt that the Frenchman’s anger manifested itself in some industrial language, nor would I be surprised if he question his integrity as an official. Two days after the incident, his frustration was still clear, as his press conference comments illustrated. Having accused Dean of ‘seeing what he wanted to see
I must say what is more frustrating for me is that it happened many times this season. It was at Stoke, at Watford, at Man City, at West Brom, and that is a concerning coincidence for me.
I don’t buy into the idea that referees are out to get Arsenal, or that there’s some nefarious plan to stop us winning games. What I do think is that there are very obvious issues with the quality of referees, consistency in their decision making, and little seems to ever be done about it. There’s a protectionism in the way the system operates and an unwillingness to introduce any genuine measures of accountability that might bring about the improvements.
I think it’s that which frustrates Wenger most. I don’t believe he really thinks there’s a tacit plan to punish Arsenal via officiating, even if some officials seem more predisposed than others to do just that. What he wants is for the PGMOL and the Premier League to do more to ensure that refereeing standards get better.
The full extent of his comments are well worth a read, but it’s clear he’s aiming his barbs in certain directions when he says:
For me, they have to serve the game like we have to serve the game, and to try to give positive emotions to people who love football in the stand. That’s what they have to do. They have not to be the star.
He expands on that more in the article linked above, and it’s hard not to argue with what he says. At the same time though, if this were another manager after a poor result, we might be suggesting a continued attack on officiating is a distraction from the bigger issue of how his team played, so I think we have to look at it in that context too.
I agree with a lot of what he says about the referees, but ultimately what they do is out of his control. Perhaps there’s a measure of him putting pressure on the officials with his comments, but I think it’s more him saying what he’s actually thinking from a position of deep frustration. What he can control, however, is his team, how it’s set up, and how it performs, so let’s hope he’s put as much into that tonight as he has addressing the failure of Mike Dean in the last game.
Right, that’s that for this morning. We’ll have all the coverage of the game later on, pre and post-match, and after a successful trial the other day, we will have a live blog for you. We still have a bit of work to do on it, styling and what have you, but it’s functional and you can find it here: Arseblog Liveblog.
For now you’ll have to visit in a browser, we’ll have it updated in the apps shortly but have a couple of other small things to sort out before that.
Catch you later for the game.