“Arsenal is a good team to play with. I would play for Arsenal if I had a chance” and after the performance in Zagreb, we would have taken you, Pele. Even at 74 years of age. We would have had to adjust our expectations, of course, for he would have lost a yard or two of pace which by some contrivance, relates directly to this morning’s playlist, Slow Down, which is in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox or here.
The gloom of last week has been replaced by the optimism born from Wednesday’s win, victory always makes the world seem a brighter place. Yesterday’s media briefing by Arsène reinforced the good news; Francis Coquelin won’t feature today, may not on Tuesday but has a chance of making a return against United next weekend.
Arsenal travel to Leicester and face the only remaining unbeaten side in the Premier League. Which doesn’t say much for the early season form of the top sides. Looking at their fixture list, it isn’t any surprise they have yet to taste defeat; it’s hardly been the most taxing of starts for Claudio Ranieri as their new boss.
In stark contrast to the absence of any relationship with the current Chelsea manager, Wenger looked forward to renewing acquaintances with the Italian. Ranieri expressed surprise – almost disappointment – that Arsenal haven’t won the title since 2004. Join the club, Claudio, join the club.
Wenger’s admiration for his opponent succeeded in riling Mourinho, the claim that Ranieri had laid the foundation for the success the Portuguese enjoyed in his first Chelsea reign sent him into apoplexy. Driven by jealousy of Wenger’s job security, Mourinho ranted and raved seeming to provoke himself into a siege mentality over Diego Costa’s ban, Gabriel’s ban being rescinded before capping it off with the lunacy over perceived favouritism from referees. It was bizarre and probably the reaction Wenger hoped for.
Vaguely on that subject and I did mention his name in the last paragraph, Gabriel received a one-match ban having admitted a charge of improper conduct. There is some bizarre logic flying around, trying to justify why he shouldn’t have been charged even though the one man you would expect to defend him to the hilt, Wenger, chose to justify why he should. He misses today and probably more with Per Mertesacker’s return to fitness.
One player who will start is Alexis, desperately looking for form and goals. Arsène knew it would be a difficult season for the Chilean so in his infinite wisdom decided to play him before he was fully fit. Yesterday, he admitted that this is a fundamental reason for the player’s inconsistency, citing also Chile’s Copa America win as a motivational issue.
Sanchez wouldn’t have taken much (any?) persuading to be in the squad for the opening day of the season but his performance then reflected his lack of fitness and practice. It would be interesting to know how many of the successful international side have seen their form suffer. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t; it makes Wenger’s decision to rush him back all the stranger with the Premier League being an unforgiving environment in which to have problems. It’s a damning indictment that the squad couldn’t cope without him for the first couple of games. We couldn’t cope with him in the side on the opening day either.
Having had a good début season, Alexis has had something of a ‘free pass’ so far. Had any other player shown the same form, it’s fair to say that they would have been subjected to greater scrutiny, shall we call it. Arsène pointed out that given the number of chances he has had, Alexis might reasonably have expected to have scored half-a-dozen goals by now. That Arsenal’s leading scorers each have a brace tells you that he isn’t the only player misfiring. By far the most noticeable but not the only one.
It’s a problem which I am sure will soon be rectified. Perhaps even today, on the ground where he scored his first Premier League goal in last season’s corresponding fixture. That match, the third in that campaign, underlined Arsenal’s inconsistency. Six games in and the club had a total of ten points, the same as this season. Arsenal need to find their form quickly to take advantage of rivals whose starts have been even more laboured. There are only two games before the international break and six points would put a different complexion on the season.
Wholesale changes from Wednesday are expected today with the only question being whether Arteta or Flamini replaces Coquelin. The latter might feel that he earned the chance with his brace of goals on Wednesday and I understand that. He won’t get it or it will be a major surprise if he does even though his style of play releases Cazorla from defensive duties. Wenger is nothing but loyal to Arteta though and I think will remain so today.
It means a line-up (Arsène’s selection) of:
Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini (Arteta), Cazorla; Ramsey, Özil, Sanchez; Walcott
Whoever takes the field, this is a match which Arsenal have enough ability to win. As Ranieri observed, Sanchez could go in goal and Cech play as striker and Arsenal would still be a good side. Today they have to show it.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.