Swansea arrive in north London in fine fettle, unbeaten in a month which included winning at Anfield and drawing at home with Chelsea. It’s a run which has left them on Arsenal’s coat-tails by one point. With Arsenal in similar form, the sensible money is on a draw, especially since six of the last ten combined Premier League fixtures have ended as draws.
The point at Goodison Park on Wednesday was, overall, a decent result; disappointing because of the early lead established, good for the venue and opponents. Taken in context, Villa was hugely disappointing with the only positive being a clean sheet. Another tough fixture today although the visitors have been struggling to win on their travels, the recent victory at St James Park their first in the Premier League since the opening day of the season.
Arsène is aware that although unbeaten, performances should be consistently better, and need to be if Arsenal are to make any sort of impression on the top four,
We will come back. Now we have six games, four at home, and if we do well in this block I think we have a chance to come back. But of course it is vital for us to do well in these games.
He was talking about closing the gap on United and City which to my mind is not an eventuality worth considering. It might happen but not to the extent where they are going to be fretting about Arsenal; we have to focus on the remaining two places in the top four. On the way this season has panned out thus far, I would suggest finishing third will be a good end result which is extremely disappointing given the start the team made.
The champions invariably get over and above 80 points. Arsenal have to win twenty of the remaining twenty-four to reach that total; it’s a fallacy to believe they will get close to doing that. Realistically achieving the total of 70 points is going to be tough for the squad; fifty out of seventy-two points remaining is a massive improvement in consistency. Being unbeaten for the previous month helps but the draws need to be turned into wins. Those points steadied the ship but the next phase has to be achieved and therein lies Arsenal’s current problem.
It will help today that Swansea are a footballing side. The snapping tackles of Villa and Everton won’t be there; a different problem exists in Laudrup’s men being able to pass and move swiftly. They were able to do so last season but at the moment, the Dane seems to have imbued a more dynamic style than his predecessor. They have certainly been a breath of fresh air to the top flight and evidence to teams in The Championship that the Luddite approach of Allardyce is not the only way to succeed.
For Arsenal, injuries once more are playing their part. Laurent Koscielny has been assessed with the dreaded three week absence; see you in the new year, mon ami. It means Thomas Vermaelen will return to the centre with Per Mertesacker. Wenger is aware that his captain has not been at his best there,
[Everton] was certainly his best game since the start of the season [at centre back]. That will boost his confidence and hopefully get out of his mind what happened before when he was not completely confident. He was physically sharp, confident, calm and important for us.
Is it the burden of captaincy which has been the problem or just a continuation of the previous seasons? I would suggest a mix of both. Certainly since his injury, his form has been less imposing than his opening season. A lot of that would have been the high he was on I am sure, new club, scoring frequently and playing well. Hopefully doing well will have given him a boost; he needs it, the team needs it. A captain worrying about his own form is distracted, right now Arsenal need him to be focussed.
With Sagna a doubt, a rest is in order and CJ will be able to bear the responsibility of a run in the side with appearances today, Wednesday and at Bradford a probability. Elsewhere, changes depend on illnesses and knacks recovering but I can’t see too many changes:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere; Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain), Giroud, Podolski (Gervinho)
Wins are always vital but this weekend, anything less is likely to see the top four become further away. This is Arsenal’s lowest points total after this many games since George Graham’s final season in charge. Those of us around then know the football is light years ahead of that time but the footballing world has moved on with the top two already pulling away from the pack. The next group is starting to splinter and Arsenal cannot afford to drift away from them.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.