I suppose we’d better get used to Sunday’s and Monday’s being our match days with next season’s foray into the Europa League. Acquaintances are renewed with Sam Allardyce’s cultural brand of football as Crystal Palace look to beat the drop.
Palace have the run-in from Hell but will take heart from the win at Chelsea. However, they face the rest of the top six – us included – as well as Hull, so it’s hard to see them surviving if they don’t take all the points tonight.
They’ve won four of their last five in the Premier League. The past few days can’t disguise that we’ve struggled for form and West Ham were so poor that its foolhardy to declare the corner has been turned. Taking seven out of the last twenty-one points underlines the wretchedness of our form.
Results this weekend ratcheted up the pressure on Arsenal. The rest of the top seven won which Everton breathing down our necks but no different in terms of finishing in the top four. Win games in hand and we overhaul Liverpool. I don’t expect that to happen but you’d be a brave man to bet against it right now. At the end of ninety minutes? That’s another matter…
It’s hard to see any changes from the XI which beat West Ham. Martinez will continue in goal but can expect a busier evening, with plenty of crosses slung over by the Palace wide men. The back four? Gibbs or Mertesacker are the real alternatives; there’s no sense in a change in either position, particularly since Gabriel has come in and played well for the last game and a half.
Good Morning Britain
Which takes us to the midfield and attack; the heart of the team and the British core. The soundbite of building a side around them proved to be just that. There were footballing reasons for the fanfare which heralded the committing of their long-term futures to the club but they are but a distant memory. Arsène spoke about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, claiming that, “He has a great mentality and a good football brain and it would be big damage for us to lose this kind of player.”
Presumably that’s not the same Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who can’t win a permanent place in the starting line-up, despite good performances. Ox has his critics, as with Aaron Ramsey; a major problem for both has been how and where Wenger uses them when fitness isn’t an issue. The Welshman’s best season came in his best position, as did his excellent performances for Wales at Euro2016; I wonder if there’s a common theme there?
Ox likewise. Mohammed Elneny came in and did well against West Ham. The pairing of him and Granit Xhaka is altogether more cerebral than other partnerships but where does that leave Ox? He was the only player to emerge from the Bayern drubbing with any credit but does Arsène trust him enough? The manager’s comments are a load of old flannel, designed to soothe egos and counter the media talk of Ox’s contract situation. Were I the player, I’d want him to back his words up.
But the English core are regularly hauled over the coals. Jenkinson and Gibbs aren’t good enough to nail a first team place at Arsenal while I’ve mentioned Ox and Ramsey previously. As for Jack Wilshere, he’s criticised for being Jack. To many, his nationality brings forward an instinctive criticism given the paucity of national team performances while the loan spell at Bournemouth is used against him because he’s not leading them to glory.
We need to keep some of them to fulfil quotas but it’s hard to see Jenkinson and Gibbs being at the club at the end of the season. While Arsene is at the helm, it’s hard to see the style of play changing so where do these players fit in beyond being in the squad? Are any of them capable of nailing down a first-team place, and if not, does that fit in with their idea of how their career should develop?
The summer is going to be busy for the club in contract negotiations, as well as transfer business which doesn’t bode well given our lacklustre performance in these arenas in previous years.
Tonight’s line-up won’t be:
Martinez; Bellerin, Gabriel, Mustafi, Monreal; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka; Walcott, Özil, Sanchez; Giroud
Yes, I’d include Giroud tonight. His ego was (rightly) boosted by the scorpion kick which dominated the headlines following the 2 – 0 win at the Emirates. His stats argue for his inclusion ahead of Danny Welbeck in the centre, although there’s a strong case for using the England international in away games with his pace. However, this is the physical encounter which may suit Giroud better. And Elneny will keep his place ahead of Ox.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.