With all the madness of the transfer window swirling around in our heads, it’s something of a relief to have a football match to talk about. Yes, I know; crazy, huh? Football, sheesh.
The trip to Swansea is tougher than it was a month ago. Not because we don’t have Alexis, but they are winning or at least not being beaten. So close is it at the bottom that two wins could see the Swans in mid-table; let’s not be one of them.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan will make his debut tonight, which is a confident prediction on my part since Arsène hasn’t confirmed anything yet. If I guessed who was to make way, I’d say Alex Iwobi. It’s one of the decisions for the manager to make this evening and going forward.
Aaron Ramsey’s return is another to resolve in a new-look midfield. I’ll be honest, I’m expecting there to be a few teething problems tonight as we have a phase of ‘getting to know you’. Mkhitaryan and Ramsey returning lend themselves more to a back four than a back three formation.
Whatever the choice, we can’t afford a repeat of the slow start we made against Chelsea. Despite the blitz against Palace, the warning signs were there in that game as well. Were it not for Mustafi’s timely header, we could have been one-down inside the first five minutes in that game.
As an away game, you’d expect us to sit back a little and let Swansea run out of steam in the first twenty minutes. But this is Arsenal and we don’t do things the easy way. We’ll rock, we’ll roll, reel from punches; we’ll muddle through and it just depends on whether we concede an early goal. If we don’t, we could win handsomely.
Photographs of Fancy Tricks
And we do owe Senor Carvalhal for the embarrassment we served up at Hillsborough a couple of years ago. Tonight would be good to let him see the proper Arsenal.
I’d expect the line-up at kick-off to be:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil; Lacazette
If Wenger decides Ramsey needs a gentle return, then Elneny in front of the back four is the solution with Xhaka pushing further forward. For away games, that might be how we set up with Ramsey and Xhaka rotating or just the Welshman playing. We shall see; injuries and suspensions have a habit of upsetting things.
At this time of year, football is almost peripheral to the transfer window. For other clubs, that is; I’m always surprised when Arsenal are genuinely involved in talks with other clubs which may lead to a new signing or departure.
We’ve been quite ruthless this winter with Theo and Franny Coquelin going; two players who were part of the decor. Now they are spraying their unique talents elsewhere. In the latter’s case, I always thought Arsène could be obtuse in his team selection but Marcelino playing Coquelin as a central defender takes the cake.
Still, it’s nowhere near as weird as the reaction to Olivier Giroud’s departure. You’ve forgotten the 13-match barren run or that as a supersub, he’s pretty much failing the test. He’s scored four in 14; good stats but like any stats, you need to look behind them. There’s a 9-match barren run and two of them came in one game underpinning them.
I’m not having a pop at him, just not understanding why you’re elevating him to a god-like status. He’s been good for the club, working hard but not so good you need to be losing your sense of perspective.
And All The Girls That He’s Going to Fix
Ultimately, Aubameyang for Giroud is an upgrade. And with Lacazette in the squad, we’re covered for the Europa League at least in the starting line-up. Welbeck is a useful sub but he’s heading down the Theo route with, I think, an exit next summer if he doesn’t sign a new deal before the end of the season.
Let’s not forget that the portrayal of this is Giroud –> Batshuayi –> Aubameyang. We might see him cut Batshuayi out of the loop and go to Dortmund but Oli’s been reluctant to move to Germany, even on loan.
I understand the theory some put forward that they don’t want to strengthen Chelsea. Good point but also irrelevant; we’re strengthening Arsenal to get to a point where we can challenge Chelsea; even with Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, we’re not there yet. We need another summer to do that; the defence needs sorting out and a new goalkeeper.
Arsenal are in the midst of major surgery. The footballing philosophy is mutating again, the squad being overhauled. It’s the perfect time to change the manager and let a new guy have a decent base to work off when he arrives. It won’t happen; it’s all going to pot next season while Arsène takes his time deciding on whether to renew his contract again.
Anyway, that’s enough of the transfer talk. We’re three points off Tottenham and for once I’d rather Manchester United handed out a good gubbing to their opponents. An Alexis hat-trick would make the media insufferable but bring us level with fifth place on points. One down, one to go to fourth; yes, that’s the limit of this season’s ambition. Two cups and fourth? It’s a decent end result given the starting point.
Everybody’s Got New Orders
But we must win tonight to make that a possibility. We’ve got 14 games left and pretty much need an unbeaten run to gatecrash the top four. I still think the only route to the Champions League is the Europa League but this is what a bit of transfer activity with half-decent players coming in and the squad being trimmed does. It gives a bit of hope relatively speaking.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.