Football takes centre stage today with the trip to Watford offering some respite from the transfer market shenanigans. They are all but done, according to Arsène, the deals for Mustafi and Perez edging over the finish line.
That he even responded to questions at his press conference with anything other than a straight bat is a sign that they are waiting for the ink to dry. Time for it to still go wrong, of course, but the official site needs their photographs and today’s matchday so it seems likely an announcement will be tomorrow or Monday, particularly with Mustafi joining up with Germany’s squad next week.
He was forced to deny they were panic buys and the German is now a second choice after Arsenal didn’t “land” Omer Toprak of Bayer Leverkusen. Because there was a lot of noise about that one when the Mustafi deal first surfaced, wasn’t there? Good grief.
The usual ‘judge me in May’ angle emerged. It will probably happen before that the way this season has started and those more immediate matters are at hand today.
After last week’s tame draw at Leicester, it’s decision time for Wenger with Mesut Özil likely to return although according to the manager, Olivier Giroud “is still a little fraction behind physically”.
Having made a cameo appearance at the King Power, it would a surprise if Giroud starts. I think Aaron Ramsey’s injury will have introduced an element of caution into Wenger’s thinking and another appearance from the bench is most likely.
At this early stage of the season, it’s tough to call this a ‘must-win’ match but it is, five dropped points already underlines the importance of today.
We offered little in attack last week and that’s the key issue to resolve. The return of Laurent Koscielny steadied the defensive ship which was vital. I’m old school in that respect, influenced by the thinking of Howe and Graham – get the back four sorted and then work up the pitch solving problems.
Facing a strike partnership, Holding and Koscielny will both be fully occupied. Wenger praised the work of Igahlo and Deeney last season, with the latter drawing praise from the Frenchman. Last weekend saw Watford outplay Chelsea for most of the first half but a failure in front of goal denied them any points. They will have worked hard to rectify that weakness and with our own attack blunt, the defence needs to keep a clean sheet.
For that reason, I suspect that Francis Coquelin’s indiscretions last week will be forgiven. He and Xhaka offered the defence more protection than they are used to and I think that partnership will continue today. Whether it is the long-term answer Wenger is thinking of is another matter. A more cerebral duo in the centre with Elneny or Cazorla seems more likely but until we are in any kind of form, it’s a case of grinding out results.
To do that we need goals. We didn’t look like scoring any last week, let’s be honest. That may be solved with the return of our creative spark, Mesut Ōzil, who certainly made us look livelier when he came on as a substitute last week. Equally, Theo Walcott failed to make an impression and I would be inclined to return him to the bench and draft Santi Cazorla in on the left.
It keeps Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the XI which won’t be a universally popular decision but I think he offers more to the side than Walcott, particularly on the right.
The line-up in those circumstances will be:
Cech; Bellerin, Holding, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Cazorla; Sanchez
Which means it isn’t the one Arsène will choose. My guess is that Walcott will start with the smile once more wiped off Santi’s little face as he sits on the bench.
Whatever line-up he chooses, a win is imperative if we are to avoid the same fate as Chelsea and Manchester United before them. Going into the international break with just one point from nine would be disastrous for European ambitions, at the very least.
It’s why I expect a more energetic Arsenal performance today. Five points at this stage of the season is really neither here nor there for a top four finish. More than six is; it puts the club on the back foot and our form this year hasn’t been the sort to fill you with confidence that we’re ready to move through the gears. Not yet, at least.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.