It’s a funny old game and for once Arsenal are laughing. Having rarely done so before, the Football Association overturned Gabriel’s three-match ban for violent conduct. Well done to the legal team but not quite a time for the champagne corks to pop; there’s still the small matter of the improper conduct charge to beat yet.
We may find that what the FA giveth with one hand, they take with the other. Even though it has been found that he should not have been sent off, Gabriel may yet find himself on the wrong end of a ban. On the face of it, he didn’t leave the pitch when dismissed by Dean but the situation was made to look worse by the appearance of security on the pitch even though Gabriel was already heading toward the touchline.
I would be surprised if the FA took into account the incorrect decision to dismiss him; this is about his reaction to the red card. No matter how wronged he may have felt, the FA will probably take the view that he should have left the pitch without fuss.
The decision to overturn the red card offers clarity in applying the Laws of the Game. Violent conduct, previously seen as an action which in itself appeared violent, must now involve actual contact with another person. A slew of appeals is likely to follow future dismissals but it may eventually end the tawdry play-acting of which Costa now stands accused.
But at the end of it, Chelsea still have three points. The FA’s decision is something of a hollow ‘victory’ for Arsenal in that sense.
For Arsène, it changed his outlook on tonight’s match. Knowing that there is a likelihood of a one-match ban looming, I would select Gabriel and rest Koscielny to partner the returning Per Mertesacker. The Brazilian will surely be feeling vindicated, perhaps even buoyant, with the week so far, going in his favour.
Wenger is going to field a similar side to the one which lost in Zagreb. The League Cup is now officially not a Youth Cup, it’s the Stiffs Cup. Except we don’t have reserves at Arsenal according to Arsène,
There are no fringe players [here], there is only a first-team squad. It is an opportunity for Arsenal to win an important game and for the players who play for the club to defend our club and qualify.
Apart from that, we played with the team in Zagreb and we didn’t win, so we want to come back now and win our cup games because that’s vital for us.
Which is good news for Joel Campbell who must have wondered what he was exactly at Arsenal. The Costa Rican has a reasonable expectation of starting on the left tonight as Arsenal seek a repeat of the 4 – 1 win the last time the two sides met in this competition at White Hart Lane.
The choice to field a relatively strong line-up underlines Wenger’s recent comments that the Academy leagues are not competitive enough. The good youth players, the ones with a chance of making the grade, are out on loan and, according to the manager, the remaining players are not ready for this level, this type of match. His view in that is not alone, other clubs exploit the loan system for exactly the same reason. It’s an issue the FA has to address.
Drawing attention to the Champions League defeat underlines the backdrop to this game. Arsenal have lost consecutive fixtures and need a win to restore confidence to the squad. A must-win game for the reason alone, no matter how much you might despise this competition. Add in that it is the North London Derby and a match where there has to be a loser and well, no pressure, eh Arsène?
The manager chose to highlight two players for whom this is a key match for very different reasons: Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Giroud’s indiscipline was as pivotal in defeat as Gabriel’s dismissal at Stamford Bridge and underlined his frustration at his form. Goals, hard to come by, need to start flowing once more. Tonight offers the opportunity to start with Theo Walcott, for the moment at least, promoting himself to the first-choice striker. It’s not going to be easy for him to be displaced if the back-up isn’t scoring either.
Equally, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has something to prove. He’s become a fan favourite and like Alexis, largely gets a ‘free pass’ for any mistakes. There have been some which have proven costly, a trend of conceding possession that led to conceding goals developed in a couple of friendlies and has carried on to this season, capped off with poor defensive work in Zagreb which led to a genuinely unfortunate own goal.
Arsène noted that Oxlade-Chamberlain has a tendency toward being overly critical of himself. I’d rather that than the egotism of Bendtner. Ox shows the inclination, the drive and desire to want to improve and as Wenger noted, has become a regular for England. The next step is to make an Arsenal spot his own and there’s no doubt he has the ability and drive to do that. More than anything, he needs the manager to believe in him and that’s half the battle. Wenger’s preference for Ramsey to notionally occupy the right flank makes it a tough battle ahead for Ox.
Largely, you would expect the team which failed in Zagreb to get another chance. Tweaks and changes, yes, but for a similar XI. The biggest issue for me is the defensive midfield role. I know Arteta will play but I would also include Chambers alongside him, with a view to putting some energy into the roles, as well as giving Chambers experience as back-up to Coquelin until the squad is strengthened in that area.
It frees Ramsey to move further forward or at least enjoy a more attacking role. The worrying trend of a lack of support for the striker is starting to re-emerge and with Giroud, if he isn’t in the box, no-one else is there as we saw in Zagreb. Ramsey can solve that problem.
Assuming Alexis and Özil are rested, a possible line-up (with the probable starters in brackets) is:
Ospina; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Gabriel (Chambers), Gibbs; Chambers, Arteta (Ramsey); Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey (Özil), Campbell; Giroud
Whatever the case, Arsenal need a win, ideally in 90 minutes but any win will do to be honest. And leaving the north London sky a lovely shade of red can be no bad thing, can it?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.