The Establishment club. The sobriquet of the 1930s lends itself today with Arsenal lunchtime appointment at The Palace in search of honours. On the back of Tuesday’s defeat to Dortmund, the players are keen to avoid a repeat of this time last season when a home defeat to a German side in the Champions League was accompanied by an away defeat in a televised match to a club in the bottom three of the Premier League. Any complacency you had, any feeling that Palace might as well hand over the points has been shifted to one side in that uncomfortable parallel.
Today is more interesting because Arsenal face players inspired by the departure of their manager earlier in the week. The potential for upset echoed in Middlesbrough’s four-goal demolition of Doncaster last night, days after Tony Mowbray vacated the manager’s chair. Add into the mix, a player with a point or fifty to prove, the ingredients are all set in place for an upset. If Marouane Chamakh enjoys a moment of revenge, I don’t mind so long as it is nothing more than a consolation on Palace’s part. I might feel differently under other circumstances.
Once they had finished digesting Alex Ferguson’s views on Pizzzzzzzagate, talk at this week’s media gathering turned to Jack Wilshere’s fitness. The England international’s ankle turned in the Dortmund match and whilst Arsène believes the player is fit to feature today, his other comments suggest that were he to do so, questionable wisdom would have been used. According to the manager, the midfielder is suffering after some matches with inflammation which has inevitably led to questions about whether he is suffering the same fragility which has beset Abou Diaby since his bones were decimated by Dan Smith at Sunderland.
Uncomfortable parallels once more but nonetheless, Wenger is optimistic it is part of the rehabilitation process as the youngster’s body readjusts to playing regularly. I am sure Arsène would like to rest Wilshere on those occasions but the problem is that injuries have robbed him of other options. He simply does not have the personnel to rotate at the moment and whilst I am sure that Jack will drop to the bench, it seems less than ideal that he might be used today if a doubt. Fortunately, Tomas Rosicky has returned which offers a different choice for midfield early on whilst Gnabry is an alternative for the wider role. Maybe a rest for today and midweek will leave Wilshere in a better position fitness-wise, for the visit of Liverpool next Saturday to The Emirates.
Central midfield has been questioned in the wake of the Champions League with Mathieu Flamini’s absence cited as a key reason for the defeat. I am not convinced that it is that simple; as good as the Frenchman is playing, Arsenal were hesitant and reluctant combatants in the opening thirty minutes, lacking in rhythm. If the absence of a player causes that much of a problem, serious questions must be asked about others. There was a predictability about the mithering around Mikel Arteta with the Spaniard quickly the butt of criticism despite being the midfielder who, as in the match in the recent trip to The Hawthorns, made the most tackles in the ninety minutes. That he has done so highlights a wider problem in terms of the overall performance, the difference in the problems posed by Dortmund to other teams who visit The Emirates and for the most part, roll over. It indicates the issues Arsenal face when teams who are well-drilled in stifling play combined with a sharp counter-attack visit and one they have to adjust to. We can point to the absences of Walcott, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain as key players missing who might have provided a more direct attacking outlet but that is the point of the squad system, it is constructed to accommodate such outcomes.
If the public utterances are to be taken at face value, today’s line-up will probably be:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey, Flamini; Özil, Cazorla; Giroud
Sitting atop the Premier League with a two-point advantage, a win is all that is required. As much as it would be nice to capitalise on any slip by Liverpool and /or Chelsea in their matches, it their own performances that the players will worry about. Whilst that lead could be doubled, standing the players in good stead with the quality of opposition to be faced in the next six weeks being a level above those encountered thus far, it is crucial to maintain that advantage today. So far, bar the opening day, Arsenal have done what was expected of them; win the matches against weaker opponents – yes, Tottenham are included in that – before proving their qualities or frailties in the autumn fixtures. It will no doubt become the dominant theme of the upcoming pre and post-match press conferences.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.