Brighton pitch up at the Emirates for today’s Premier League clash and the expected win will lift us at least one place higher by the end of the day. That caps off what’s been a good four weeks for the club since the last international break, on the pitch at least.
Five wins and a draw in the six games since the mauling at Anfield might be what was expected from a run including four home games but you can only beat the opposition put in front of you. The draw at Stamford Bridge was an excellent performance. Manchester City’s win yesterday offered some perspective over what an expensively acquired squad of players can do against a slightly less expensively acquired set of players.
Deriding Guardiola as a chequebook manager misses the point. City were playing the tika-taka at a level we’ve strived for; yesterday underlined by how much we’ve fallen short. They aren’t without their shortcomings and are far from invincible but given the choice between the current top two, I know which one I want to implode and it isn’t City.
That thought is for another day. Nobody is surprised that Brighton find themselves in the relegation fight. The only surprise would be if Chris Hughton hadn’t prepared his players for this scenario all summer. Sadly for them, I expect this to be their season in the sun.
They too perked up recently and have currently conceded fewer goals than ourselves. It underlines that we’re going to face another well-drilled and obdurate defence. An early goal for this early kick-off will settle everyone nicely and provide a strong platform to build upon.
Arsène’s dilemma is whether the same XI – more or less – which outplayed West Brom is the answer today? Most likely is the answer.
In such a small, small game
Question marks hang over Laurent Koscielny’s fitness with a “long-standing” achilles problem, according to Arsène. There’s a strong case for resting him in any case although Didier Deschamps probably wouldn’t agree to follow that policy.
Unlike Joachim Löw who omitted Mesut Özil from the German squad for their upcoming fixtures. That in itself is a sign this is a genuine injury, not one contract-driven. His absence means Aaron Ramsey continuing in the freer role, notionally on the right, supported by Hector Bellerin.
Thursday’s performance offers the prospect of Jack Wilshere returning to the starting line-up, to the chagrin of many. Despised by those who perceive him as the ‘poster boy for malcontents’, his inclusion has been suggested at the expense of Xhaka.
Wrong position. Wilshere isn’t a defensive midfielder; bringing the best out of him means an attacking role at Özil’s expense. Certainly in the big away games, he would offer more involvement with the German too easily marginalised by our own ineptitude as much as the opposition’s gameplan.
And we need to plan for the future. Talk this morning is of offering Jack a four-year deal and who knows, may see ‘Arsenal’ return to his social media profiles. Özil, come the summer, is yesterday’s man and we need to be looking ahead. The decision to omit him from the starting line-up at Stamford Bridge was part of that process, as well as the over-riding sense of now in football. The German’s place at kick-off is less assured than it once was.
The line-up I expect Wenger to go with today is:
Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny/Holding, Monreal; Bellerin, Elneny, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Lacazette, Alexis
No great surprises in the XI and with the points sealed, could see the introduction of some youngsters to give them Premier League experience.
You got to play it, Billy
The pairing of Xhaka and Elneny is crucial. City offered a strong example of the value of recycling possession effectively yesterday and we must follow suit. Keeping the pressure on the visitors instead of tippy-tappy crab football is vital. Against West Brom, we were hugely effective in that aspect of the game and we need a repeat of that.
We also need to be tighter at the back. Pulis’ men had several opportunities which were too close for comfort as we failed to put them to the sword. That’s nothing new but today, let’s close the game down and be stronger at the back.
And take three points. When we return, it’s three away games on the bounce so going into that run in good heart is vital.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.