Three months on, football is back and a welcome distraction from the transfer window it is. Let bullish bravado reign.
Being Arsenal, nothing is straightforward. God knows we have dissected and sewn back together the cadaver of the transfer window, waiting to conduct the autopsy on the summer when the shutters are pulled down in a fortnight or so’s time. That can wait until then, the proper stuff draws the attention in the meantime. Of course the failure to strengthen cannot be entirely ignored for its impact is already felt. Arsenal enter the season with the bare bones of a fit squad available to the extent that the iPad Matchday Programme (including an interesting interview with Peter Hill-Wood) lists Gervinho as being in today’s squad. The manager has routine decisions in most areas such is the paucity of numbers available to him but those are the cards that he has dealt himself, the wizardry begins now.
And Wenger has several big decisions to make.
Santi Cazorla has missed most of the pre-season through his participation in the Confederations Cup and returned to Arsenal following his journey to Ecuador with the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. With Mikel Arteta’s injury, the reshuffling of the pack suggests the Spaniard will play a bigger part than would be normally expected. Wenger has been sparing in his use of players who had long-haul flights in the previous week, Gilberto Silva was frequently omitted from matchdays following internationals in South America. But today isn’t ordinary circumstances and with Cazorla suspended for this week’s Champions League qualifier, I expect him to start, to reduce the risk of injury to Lukas Podolski who will surely start in Turkey.
It leaves two berths in the midfield to be filled alongside Aaron Ramsey. Jack Wilshere is the obvious choice but has been used sparingly by club and country in the pre-season. I could be wrong but I don’t think he has played more than 45 minutes so far. Perhaps that is because Arsène has today in mind for his first sustained start, nothing more sinister than that. If not, step forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the more central role he seems destined to fulfil in the longer term. Completing the triumvirate, provided he is fully fit, will be Tomas Rosicky.
In defence, options are again muddied by Champions League suspensions and injury. Per Mertesacker has already been named captain, a decision that is impossible to argue with given his experience. He will be accompanied by Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs as there are few other choices. If any. Right back though is a tough choice. Bacary Sagna will probably play alongside Mertesacker in midweek with Koscielny suspended, and for that reason I would rest him today particularly with the reported niggle he suffered on international duty.
For a manager would normally not pay too much heed of the following game, Arsène must surely be casting more than a nervous glance towards Istanbul.
It means the starting line-up would be:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky; Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla
Aston Villa are being routinely dismissed which is nothing unusual, in recent years there has been a complacency about their visit. Despite being in a relegation fight, they came and made Arsenal work hard for the points last season. I don’t know why anyone expects any different today. Indeed such is the way of football, the quirks of fate, it would no surprise to see Christian Benteke to wake tomorrow with stories of a bid being prepared for his services, having opened the scoring this afternoon. Villa have history in the role of party-poopers at The Emirates. Even so, I still believe Arsenal will have too much with their depleted ranks. Indeed, it is an afternoon which is primed for the arrival of Gedion Zelalem, introduced into the action soon after the third and final Arsenal goal in the 75th minute.
The form of last spring is writ large across the Arsenal skyline and needs to be maintained until the squad is strengthened. Bookmakers including Luxbet Online Betting agree with Arsenal at strong favourites Whilst a win today will put everyone in good heart for the upcoming matches, it won’t disguise the needs for the campaign in the longer term but they are worries for another day. Just enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.
To finish today, a new playlist and one in memory of Jon Brookes, who sadly passed away earlier this week: The Only Ones I Know
The form of last spring is writ large across the Arsenal skyline and needs to be maintained until the squad is strengthened.