Football returns in a helter-skelter six-day period before it slinks off into a corner to let the international teams wreak havoc on the squad.
West Bromwich Albion are the first opponents and while they will no doubt be obdurate, these are games we have to win for a top six finish. Tony Pulis will have his side working hard defensively and for Kieran Gibbs the positional discipline must be something of a novelty. And an eye-opener as well.
After revealing his departure hurt more than Ox’s, Arsène declared Gibbs would become a better player under Pulis’ tutelage. If you define that by becoming better defensively, that’s probably true. It won’t do his England chances any harm either although I do think that ship sailed some time ago bar injuries.
For Arsenal – and that is after all, why we’re here – this week is about squad management. A core of the side will play three games and I suspect Arsène is grateful to have two home Premier League fixtures either side of Thursday’s trip to Belarus.
He’s unimpressed with the scheduling though. “Television decides when you play and that’s what you have to do,” he said last week. “Where it becomes more difficult is that we play Sunday morning after.”
He went on to bemoan how this week’s games fall. While he has a case for the visit of Brighton, to claim that Monday night to Thursday “will be short” is a bit rich considering we’ve been playing European football for two decades, even if Arsène belatedly joined the club for those who find Champions League group stage matches dull.
It isn’t the only volte-face he undertook. “You cannot sacrifice deliberately any competition with the pressure that every club is under now,” made me smile. The pressure for other clubs isn’t new; it is at Arsenal though. Does he think back and wonder what might have been?
Some Things You Can Explain Away
It’s interesting that Wenger derides what many consider cutting edge recovery ‘science’. Cryotherapy gets short shrift from him; “No one knows because you have a lot of science. If you read the science…the ones that prove it works are usually sponsored by the guys who say that it does.”
Such cynicism in one so young. A healthy suspicion is probably the right way to approach the subject but it also strikes me that a lot of it is in the players’ minds. If they think it works, it does for them.
I wonder what he made of Robin van Persie’s horse placenta trip. In cases such as that, I’m sure his thoughts are more along the lines of ‘why not, everything else has failed’. The salient point he made is that managers and coaches must “respect nature”; no more ignoring the ‘red zone’.
Which is going to be crucial between now and Christmas. We have two international breaks which serve almost as a rest for the players. In those ten days, the clubs would play four games instead of just two so there is some light relief for the squad. Strange how so many nations manage to screw up players fitness in that time though.
Three points tonight takes the club into seventh place and to edge of where we ought to finish this season: anywhere between 4th and 7th. It could be third if Chelsea underperform but I don’t think so. We’re in a period where gaining a little momentum is imperative before a tough November. Going into the fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester City with a winning run is crucial.
It’s Brain Against Brawn
Tonight’s line-up is fairly straightforward to pick, I think:
Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Özil (Iwobi), Sanchez; Lacazette
Establishing a commanding lead would enable Arsène to preserve fitness for the coming two games. Jack Wilshere is likely to feature in that situation, probably replacing Ramsey in the centre of midfield. Likewise Giroud, who I must admit I did wonder if Wenger might start to combat Albion’s physical presence; I think Thursday is his match though.
Whatever the case, three points, gentlemen please.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.