You have to admit. There’s a cruel irony that shouldn’t be lost on Stan Kroenke and his hunting expeditions. Only, it’s the Foxes who make their way into the Gunners backyard. Match day 1 hasn’t been a happy experience for us in recent years. One win in six is absolutely nothing to write home about. There’s a sense that this season, the preparation has been better despite a few key players being “still a bit short” as Arséne would say. I’m still trying to reconcile the image of Per Mertesacker being a bit short, but I’ll get over it.
The Friday night football fixture is a bit different, but this season will be a bit different with the Thursday – Sunday cycle. I expect nothing but focus and professionalism on the pitch today. Players, coaching staff and fans have spoken about the slow starts to the season and the “actions speak louder than words maxim” is the only thing that will pass muster. The Community Shield match on Sunday also reminded us about this, the slowness of our second half start rearing its ugly mug and presenting Chelsea with a shot at goal.
Of Tanks and Rhinos
Theo is convinced we’ve added some serious hardware to our arsenal. He’s a tank who comes in the form of Sead Kolasinac . There’s something about the Bosnian, something that tells me he’ll endear himself to the Arsenal fans. He reminds me of my high school team-mate and left back Enos Okhe. We used to call him ‘The Rhino’. Built like a brick crap house, he commanded the left flank with a no-nonsense attitude. I doubt if any opposing winger facing him enjoyed seeing the whites of his eyes.
If Kolasinac’s performance on Sunday and the pre-season is anything to go by, he’s going to fit right in. Announcing yourself with a crucial goal at Wembley is no bad thing at all. I suspect with Per still being ‘a little bit short’, Sead will get his Premier League debut with Mustafi starting on the bench. Arséne has got this streak of starting The Ox as the left wingback thing going on. Perhaps it’s to put the Ox in the shop window, perhaps it’s to keep him sweet and show love for him and his versatility. The Community Shield gave us a glimpse of the likely starting XI, at least for the Leicester and Stoke games.
My prediction (of course Wenger will totally disagree) for the starting XI is:
Cech; Holding, Monreal, Kolasinac; Bellerin, Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck, Iwobi, Lacazette
Arséne, Please Come and Get Me
Leicester are not coming to make up the numbers though. It’s this sort of thinking that has cost us games in the past. Riyad Mahrez has no better shop window than the Emirates tonight. He says he wants to play “proper” football with a club in Europe. His Mr20% has floated his name around the corridors. Roma want him. Either way, he’s going to be a slippery customer to deal with tonight.
There’s also Leicester’s new debutant, Kelechi Iheanacho. This fella shouldn’t be a surprise to Arsenal. His sorties into the penalty area for Manchester City yielded many a crucial goal. He too will have a strong incentive to stake a claim in Leicester’s starting XI. With Iheanacho and Mahrez up front, Leicester will have opportunities and our midfield and defence need to be awake
Yes, Mea Culpa
Arséne admitted this week at a Football Writers event that he was at fault for our performance last season. Uncertainty about his contract situation caused unrest in the dressing room. The hope is that other contract matters, Alexis to be specific, aren’t going to do the same. Arsenal are said to have offered the Chilean £300,000 a week and the hope is that as we do well in the season, he will sign. Alexis is still on the ‘short’ list and won’t feature tonight, but Ozil and Ramsey trained yesterday. I expect one or both of them will be on the bench.
The limelight will be on Alexandre Lacazette though. I like him. Rattling the woodwork at Wembley was a good enough warning to Premier League defences that there’s a new striker in town. He’s not in the mould of Giroud the big fella up front. He’s more of a ball player who creates space for himself and others. The triumvirate of Lacazette, Iwobi and Welbeck worked the Chelsea defence well on Sunday, so there’s no need to tinker with that. It will be great if Lacazette opens his Premier League account tonight and gets that monkey off his back.
I do hope we sign another central midfielder to add quality, strength and depth. For now, I like the Elneny / Xhaka combination. Both bring something different and it’s another chance for them to gel before the Stoke game. Ramsey is likely to walk straight back in though, but at least Ramsey has had pitch time with Xhaka. My sense is that Xhaka is settling in more into the team and we do need his range of passing to complement Ozil, particularly when defences ‘Police mark’ the German. Elneny is playing his part well though. I like that he’s not ‘Hollywood’, and is a functional player who keeps things moving but also has a defensive mindset. Every team needs one or two of those.
I’ll be enjoying the game tonight with a couple of friends, a cold beer and a rack of ribs or two. Let’s buck the trend boys, 3 points are expected. Of course we’ll take some Wengerball if you can serve it up.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.