In case you’re wondering, I think this would be the blog’s theme tune if it was a TV or radio programme.
Football arrives, taking our minds away from other distractions. The Champions League visit of Olympiac(k)os to The Emirates offers a quick return to winning aways or a nascent disasterous run (© Willing Media Inc) which will spell the end of the Premier and Champions Leagues challenges. Defeat tonight would in fact signal neither but it would continue the dismay from Saturday’s result against Chelsea. Arsenal have never lost to Greek opposition at home and according to informed sources, Olympiac(k)os like to lose in England. They almost insist on it, making them the ideal opposition to sit back, park the bus on the edge of their area and try to take a point. With the owner facing allegations of corruption and potentially fines on top of that, parking the bus seems a sensible cost-cutting option, saving on the £7 car parking fee.
Not that the injury Gods are helping Arsène. Just as hopes rise with the coming returns of Wilshere, Sagna and Rosicky – I’ll assume that Abou Diaby will pop his head round the corner at some point but who knows for how long – news emerges of Mikel Arteta struggling for fitness for tonight’s encounter. Personally, I would rest the Spaniard and do everything possible to make sure he is fit for Saturday; this is after all, the point of the squad system. It is not as if there isn’t cover. Coquelin offered the opinion that he would be seeking new employers if he did not get first team action; tonight is that opportunity but when such claims are delivered, you have to deliver when the opportunity arises.
It is going to be a tall order for anyone to replace Diaby. According to the manager, they can’t,
It is as an opportunity for somebody else to stand up and play, but it is a blow. Not only because we lost a good player but because he has qualities that the other players haven’t got. We have better balance size-wise and [in terms of] strength [when he is in the team] because he has power.
That essentially tells the rest of the squad that the first choice midfield is Diaby, Cazorla and Arteta. Lucky for them that two of that trio are probably going to miss tonight. I understand where Wenger is coming from on this but it is a tremendous gamble to take with the fitness issues that his compatriot has encountered in the past. Will he regret that come next May? If he does, there will be plenty in the queue to ram it down his throat, “I told you so”.
Of course that is not the only option but with Ramsey likely to replace Diaby, Coquelin adds the defensive option to the midfield. I have presumed that the Welshman will be Diaby’s replacement with more natural width arriving in the form of Theo Walcott. I know the manager has is teaching the England international a lesson but there comes a point where you are cutting off your nose to spite your face by excluding him from the line-up. If Arsène wants some options for the wings, bringing Oxlade-Chamberlain into the fray instead of Ramsey is surely that choice? If Walcott does not start tonight, it is the clearest signal that he is not being played because of his refusal to sign a deal and that the new contract spoken of in the media, will remain unsigned.
His return would see Gervinho move to the left to accommodate Giroud centrally, Podolski dropping to the bench. The German worked hard on Saturday but with the Greeks likely to be quite rigid in their defensive duties, I would like some spontaneity on both flanks. That width would be important, allowing Cazorla the time and space to arrive in the area to support Giroud. Of course, we need those Spanish toes to be twinkling in the shooting boots rather than the moon boots he was using on Saturday when a sight of goal emerged.
Defensively, I am not expecting any changes. I know there will be a clamour of sorts for Mertesacker’s return but I think Koscielny will keep his place with the German’s height being utilised at West Ham on Saturday given the likely return to their side of Andy Carroll. That leaves the line-up I would expect tonight as:
Mannone; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey; Walcott, Giroud, Gervinho
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.