Is it really that time already? I know I wrote a preview post yesterday but it’s feels like it’s been a short pre-season although a long one in the transfer window, it must be said.
Liverpool arrive at the Emirates for the first game of the season and a mixed atmosphere as far as Arsenal’s chances for the season are concerned. I nailed my colours to the 4th place mast yesterday and that hasn’t changed in the last twenty-four hours.
It’s Arsenal and there’s an injury crisis. The players may feel renewed enthusiasm for the task ahead but I am, I confess, nervous about this afternoon. Starting the season with defeat is never pleasant; returning in a fortnight without a point doesn’t bear thinking about. Leicester City have officially been crowned the ‘Worst Champions Ever’ following yesterday’s defeat at Hull which means they will probably hand us a footballing lesson next weekend.
Unless we win, of course. A makeshift back four suggests that will be a tricky proposition. Liverpool, buoyed by the thrashing of Barcelona, will be mindful of reading too much into the pre-season. We’ve been unbeaten regularly in the past and never won a pot at the end of the season. If we’re as supine as the Catalans, we deserve a thrashing. Despite all this, the odds are in favour of an Arsenal victory.
I don’t think we will be but there are question marks over the Arsenal team selection. Bacary Sagna played for Manchester City yesterday which makes me wonder why Koscielny and Giroud have been offered extended breaks. With events in the pre-season unfolding as they did, it was surprising Kos wasn’t required to return to training sooner. As much as signing a new centre back is a high priority, we had a solution to hand.
The danger of returning too soon was seen in Hugo Lloris’ hamstring injury yesterday. There’s no guarantee that would have happened to Koscielny but knowing our injury it probably would. It seems the football gods have yet to get themselves fully match fit. “Aah, yes, hamstring injury for you…oops, sorry, wrong north London club…”
Wenger has his beliefs and sticks to them. There has been a truly frightening suggestion that Mathieu Debuchy may be drafted in to play alongside Chambers, leaving Monreal on the left. Last season and this pre-season, Debuchy’s positioning has been questionable at best; hesitant and indecisive, we can’t afford that from the experienced player in a makeshift partnership.
If Monreal to the centre is the least-worst option, Debuchy is the worst-worst option. It’s a shame how his Arsenal career has turned out because when arrived at Sagna’s replacement, it seemed a good signing. Injuries changed that and it’s clear the player wants out. We should be concentrating on providing that outcome as it suits both parties.
Irrespective of Wenger’s choice, the midfield will have to work hard to protect them. For that reason, it would be no surprise to see Coquelin and Xhaka either side of Santi Cazorla. The pair will be tested by the Liverpool triumvirate of Firmino, Sane and Coutinho. The Swiss international has the range of passing which will concern Jurgen Klopp.
Referring to the match at Anfield in January, the German said:
“We know Arsenal usually are a football-playing team but when they played last time against us (they played) a lot of long balls.
“Always (to) Giroud, second ball (to Mesut) Özil. That caused us a lot of problems in this game. It was 3-3 in the last second. That’s what we think about and not what kind of problems they could have.”
Given Arsenal are likely to line-up with a different type of centre forward, I doubt Klopp will be as worried. Unless Arsène goes with Yaya Sanogo as the central striker. I’m regretting making that flippant remark already.
The long-standing issue has been the predictability of our play: pass, pass, pass, pass; sideways, back, sideways, forwards, back and so on. Xhaka can lift us out of that rut and maximise the attacking potential of Santi Cazorla from deep as well.
Özil’s absence will be sorely missed. I wonder if it’s the chance for Aaron Ramsey to play in the number 10 role he covets and which, in fairness, he played well for Wales in France this summer. That must be crossing Arsène’s mind, surely?
It also offers the opportunity to include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. An early chance to prove his fitness and build on some encouraging performances in pre-season. With his pace on the right and Sanchez supported by Ramsey through the middle, there is plenty to cause problems for Liverpool’s defence.
It’s a far from ideal position to be in; the only first-choice part of the team is the central midfield area. Everyone else is shifted around; not square pegs in round holes but certainly not in positions where I would expect them to play most of the season. The starting XI will be something like:
Cech; Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs; Coquelin, Cazorla, Xhaka; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey; Sanchez
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.