Morning all, matchday arrives with a spring in its step. A day of Fear & Favour which by curious coincidence is the title of this morning’s playlist, as ever found either here, in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox or on the page of the same name here, where you will also find its illustrious predecessors.
Arsenal head to the The Hawthorns with a newly imbued sense of confidence. Or at least they ought to, the win over Dortmund was of such a comprehensive nature that if it doesn’t jolt their belief into gear quickly, nothing will. Any hint of timidity in the West Midlands this afternoon will point to a much deeper-rooted problem in this sense than ought to exist.
But for the purposes of today’s post, we’ll take the bold step of assuming that the spring in the step of the players when they returned to London Colney after Wednesday’s win is going to turn into a great leap forward. It’s amazing, if you repeat that enthusiastically enough times, you still think, “Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it“; once bitten, twice shy and all that in this cliché-ridden paragraph.
There aren’t many positives to an injury crisis. In fact there’s only one and that is when the players in question return to fitness, which is what is starting to happen at Arsenal. OK, so they are only back to fitness to allow others to drop by the wayside but that’s another story. Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Arsène could force a smile out of the mists of despondency on this subject,
[Laurent Koscielny] is well. If I want him to start, he will start.
Which is just about the best news possible, strengthening the heart of the defence and giving the manager the opportunity to rest Per Mertesacker. No, I kid you not, Per Mertesacker; Nacho Monreal has been our best centre back in recent weeks, there’s no way he’s out of the side.
It’s a dilemma for the manager. Restoring Koscielny to the line-up must be the course of action he would rush toward but the nature of his injury was such that if they get this wrong, he might be gone for longer spells. Even so, the French international’s inclusion in the squad signals that the time is nigh for some semblance of normality to return to the back four.
That might be the first of three enforced changes from midweek. Mikel Arteta is out for a couple of weeks with his troublesome calf. With Jack Wilshere – despondently upbeat best summarises the reports of his mood in this morning’s papers – absent for three months, Flamini is the only option to replace the Spaniard. The fear and trepidation in that choice is countered by Aaron Ramsey’s measured performance against Dortmund, adapting readily to the deeper role with a comfort few were prepared to give him credit for beforehand.
Perhaps Wenger’s trickiest decision is up front. Danny Welbeck trained yesterday but 24 hours previously was very doubtful; Yaya Sanogo’s hamstring twang was downgraded to cramp whilst Olivier Giroud pulled a muscle in his back picking up his hair product from Superdrug. Selecting any of them from the start runs a risk of exacerbating their injuries or bringing about a strain or tweak as a result of being rushed back too soon. The saving grace is that Wenger has options.
And who thought Yaya Sanogo would fall into that category? A goal on Wednesday in a competitive match; who knows where this one is going? Four goals against Benfica was believed to be the start of something new, an era where the youngster proved Wenger had not lost the knack of unearthing gems from the French leagues. Normal business resumed until Dortmund so what now? Who knows.
However, I am not sure it is enough to get Sanogo a starting line-up place if Welbeck has recovered. Giroud is surely the last resort having been out for months, it would be stunning if he is fully fit and ready with just a couple of weeks training. As productive a cameo as last weekend would be good with a view to starting next week.
It leaves the likely line-up
It’s a good enough XI to win this fixture. No disrespect to Albion but this is a match Arsenal have to win if their have top four pretensions are to become a reality. Losing or even a draw is just not good enough and the performance level on Wednesday was such that producing a repeat will signal that the mists are beginning to lift. The opposite doesn’t bear thinking about.
As we knock on December’s door, there will be more talk of the coming transfer window. I have not come across anyone who does not believe that strengthening the back four and midfield are necessities but those are just opinions. The danger is that returning players lull Arsène into a false sense of security, into thinking investment is not necessary.
He has already noted that he wanted to bring in a centre back early in the window but his talk is less optimistic, intent on dampening expectations of that happening. For a man who when he signed Jose Antonio Reyes, extolled the virtues of signing players in January, his record is not good.
Talk of scouting is cheap when nothing happens and Wenger is right, signing players is a lot more complicated than buying bread but that is part of his job. It’s about making compromises to get the desired result or having an alternative plan. Arsenal come across as having a Plan A and then desperation, nothing in between during January. I genuinely can’t think of any other explanation of this January’s signing of Kallstrom and God knows I’ve wracked my brains trying to make sense of it.
But that’s a month away and there are matches to be won before then, starting today.
If you are going to The Hawthorns, two things to remember; they hate Villa and on nine minutes, the Justice for Jeff campaign are holding a minute’s applause. I urge Arsenal supporters to show their support for the campaign.
From The Vaults
Today’s match report comes from 28th November 1959. Norman Dixon’s match report offers an interesting case that history repeats itself; Arsenal’s players “dashing around with the ball, making pretty patterns“? Seems familiar.
Enjoy today’s match wherever you are watching it.