You have to laugh at Tottenham’s woes; you really do. “First night nerves every one night stand” declared in the aptly titled What A Waste. Their Wembley experience is indeed a waste with Thursday Night Football beckoning for them once again.
The Champions League has a curious look to it at the moment. Teams expected to finish second – us included – lead the groups whilst the top seeds are in their wake. None is certain of their fates yet and with most of the top two set to play each other again, it’s too early to declare finishing second in the group might be the best course of action.
But it does look that way at the moment.
It would be just our luck to finish top and then face one of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus – although I’d fancy our chances against the latter – whilst someone like City and even dare I say it, Spurs, face Napoli and Monaco. In those circumstances, you wouldn’t argue with the notion that we either do it the hard way or Arsène kicked the neighbour’s black cat in a fit of piqué and is paying the price.
There’s something more important immediately on the horizon. The north London Derby on Sunday: high noon. I haven’t seen any trailers for it but surely one of the two managers has been cast in the Gary Cooper role? Probably Pochettino because he is flavour of the month. Certainly with FIFA or whoever decides the candidates for ‘Coach of the Year’. Mourinho ought to win it because he parks the bus everywhere he goes.
Arsène may have some choices to make for the game. The defence picks itself, even when injuries strike. Both full back positions have clearly defined first choice and back up players, the central defence has a clearly defined pecking order as well.
Midfield is the area. It’s no secret that most of us believe we’ve missed Santi Cazorla the past few weeks, even if the results haven’t borne that out necessarily. However, the home game against Middlesbrough gave the best indicator of what might be expected this weekend with Tottenham in Arsenal’s faces from the kick-off. I’d like to think they would play as badly as they did last night but honestly, I can’t see it happening. Then again, they are on a run of six without a win.
There are two questions to answer. Who plays on the right and which of Alexis or Olivier Giroud leads the line. The shape and balance of the side is altered by both answers. Aaron Ramsey – Mr Marmite – has done well since returning from injury. I was surprised he started on Tuesday but having come through that test, the question for Arsène is whether Ramsey can withstand two games in five days?
The answer in that sense is probably yes. Which then brings the question of Giroud or Sanchez ‘up top’ as football parlance would have it. Ramsey has provided two assists since returning from injury but I wonder if he is the ‘right type’ of to occupy right midfield if Alexis occupies the lead striker role?
Arguably, if he played in the central role he occupied so well for Wales in the summer, the answer is yes. Alexis pulling wide or coming deep wouldn’t be an issue with a willing runner from midfield taking his place further up the pitch. Perhaps Ramsey ought to play alongside Coquelin in the centre if Cazorla isn’t fit.
Of course, freedom to roam is there in the Arsenal formation so there’s nothing quite so rigid as running in straight lines up and down the pitch. However, if you look at the way Chelsea were taken apart, a pacey wide player might be the answer.
It’s a headache Arsène wants to have. Good players in every position but at the moment, you have to think Ramsey isn’t an automatic choice. Which is good, keeping players on their toes, etc.
The other consideration in this is who leads the line. Sunday may see Olivier Giroud occupy that role with Arsène choosing to leave Alexis on the left to temper Walker’s surging runs down the Tottenham right. He was their best attacker last night and a defensive liability; Alexis could have a field day if Walker is as poor again this weekend. It puts doubts into their minds.
Giroud is refocused as well. This Giroud is the good Giroud, we just don’t know how long it will last. Three games, four? None? There is a barren run coming, it’s impossible to say when but at the moment, he is motivated and as Arsène said previously, the opposition might dictate his choices. Dier and Vertonghen were all over the shop last night so a physical battle with the French international could be the best bet.
It’s too early to call yet but Ramsey and Alexis on the flanks is my opening bet for Sunday. Theo is in good form as is Ox; they both have strong cases for inclusion, especially if we want to stretch the opposition back four. Whatever the answer is, it’s been a long time since the manager’s options have been so difficult to call.
Finally, there’s a new post on Dad’s Jukebox, with Times of our Lives reaching 1980. It’s an epic…