West Bromwich Albion arrive at The Emirates with the good form of the early season disappearing into the mists that have descended in recent mornings. The Baggies have slipped out of the top four, albeit on goals scored, having lost their customary back-to-back games this season. Previous years might have seen such events become woes but having made their best start in over thirty years, Albion have revived memories of the mid-to-late 70s, the Atkinson era, when they routinely handed bloodied noses to clubs who were the Big Four of their time, a place they briefly occupied as they routinely produced sparkling performances.
A different world now, on and off the pitch. Arsenal are nothing but consistent with their inconsistency at this time of the year, dominating the back pages as players are deemed ‘wantaway’. One such, Bacary Sagna, was the subject of conversation at the pre-match press conference. The previous day, the French defender was deemed frustrated by talks breaking down yet the manager, Team Sagna or someone else is mischief making. That is not surprising on so many levels, least of all is that broadsheets now routinely stray into territory that used to be the sole preserve of the tabloids. Speculation is everywhere.
Theo Walcott meanwhile has incurred the manager’s ire, stalled talks, additional demands, the most recent of which is that Arsène serenade him with a version of “Moon River” whilst he is signing any new deal. If it gets that far, of course. My own view from the outside is that Walcott has long made his mind up to leave, knowing full well what is on offer at other clubs. I do believe that he would prefer to stay but the disparity with salary on offer – inflated by the spare cash saved on not paying transfer fees – it is difficult for him to resist new overtures. To be honest, he is a lucky lad to be in that position and that Arsenal’s own form has been so inconsistent. There is no doubt that he would be little more than a bit part player had the squad been able to continually produce the performance levels of August and September. Arsenal have a dilemma; to pay him closer to his demands and more than he demands or incur more wrath with the perception of another key player leaving. Damned if they do pay more, chastised no doubt in many quarters, damned if they don’t, castigated if they fail to hold onto another young international.
Which segues into the words of another with Kieran Gibbs noting that the lack of confidence in the team led to a lack of concentration at the back as they forced, and subsequently chased, the game against Swansea. The manager noted that home form has been unspectacular this season and any dreams of improving on last season’s third place – or even consolidating – have been thus far. Still the gap is less than two wins and Arsenal have got away with it. A win today is imperative to ensure that does not widen.
Podolski is missing today, as are Walcott and Sagna. I would hope that means the inclusion of Rosicky with Cazorla moving to the left, Oxlade-Chamberlain to the right. The alternative would be the Spaniard to the right, Arshavin on the left. Arsène has options to include the Czech, a player who was pivotal in the charge to third before the stumble at the end of the season. Rosicky doesn’t score enough, even he admits that but his contribution is more than that, his speed of thought and perception of attacking play allow him to quicken Arsenal’s forward play. That has been missing in recent weeks, the verve that he brought to the trip to the ultimately doomed trip to Greece in midweek. His withdrawal at half-time was as clear a signal as any that Rosicky starts this afternoon.
My line-up would be,
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere; Cazorla, Giroud, Arshavin
I suspect that Gervinho will be preferred to the Russian and possibly Oxlade-Chamberlain to Cazorla, to give the Spaniard a rest. Whatever the case, a win is vital, more than the performance. The fixtures beyond the Home Counties derby transported to the North West, suggest routine wins for teams above us. Just win to make the world seem brighter.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.