I was quite looking forward to this evening’s match until the Guardian popped in with this reminder of back-to-back defeats to Watford in the 80s. Couldn’t bring us a reminder of the 4 – 3 win in September 1984.
Mind you, thank god we beat the Hornets 3 – 1 in October ’86 or we’d be talking about a run of four consecutive defeats in a year which culminated in an FA Cup Quarter-final exit in March ’87. Now that was a massively poor performance.
One for the history books as well. This afternoon, we’re going to be a lean, mean footballing machine. The run which took us seven games unbeaten needs to be reignited; the next six games are emminiently winnable on current form.
That means we’ll lose at least one; it’s Arsenal and that’s the way we roll.
Arsène finds himself in the unusual position of having a strong squad available but with key players causing problems. Shkodran Mustafi is out for six weeks while Kolasinac is so hip, it’s painful. Sorry, his hip is painful.
And Laurent Koscielny. His Achilles is once again a problem. It’s heading toward some tough love for the French international. If fitness is an issue, at 32 a ‘younger model’ is on the cards.
The back three, instead of being entirely makeshift, seems to be falling into place with just Rob Holding slotting in with Per Mertesacker. I wonder who has doubts about the pair and Nacho Monreal after their performances in the FA Cup final.
Quite a few probably.
Back in training were Özil, Welbeck and Coquelin; none should start today in my view and probably won’t. I’d expect Wenger to keep faith with the XI which has got us this far. It leaves the line-up:
Cech; Holding, Koscielny (Mertesacker), Monreal (Mertesacker); Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac (Monreal); Sanchez, Lacazette, Iwobi
A Sting In The Tail?
Watford are a point behind us and without a home win this season. They also have a nasty habit from the point of view, of conceding wilfully. Liverpool put three past them on the opening day, so too Bristol City while Manchester City’s profligacy kept it to just the six. The opportunity to smash and grab is there this evening, we just have to be willing to take it.
The question is how the international break affects our rhythm. The first match back is usually a patchy performance so being away from home might help us. Not needing to make the running, that’s down to Watford; we’ll hit them on the counter.
Football’s simple on the page. I do believe that so long as we don’t under-estimate Watford, don’t walk onto the Vicarage Road pitch thinking it’s going to be a piece of cake. However, they are far from a side to be feared and we know from experience how an early goal undermines them. Equally, obdurate defending just requires patience on our part.
We have options on the bench. Wilshere in midfield, Welbeck for Iwobi and of course, Giroud. Could Ollie start? It’s tempting given his goalscoring form and certainly he offers the physical presence to unsettle Watford. However, the Hornets defence has proven vulnerable to pace – Theo Walcott on at some point perhaps – which would suit Lacazette more.
Changes in defence put more emphasis on the XI defending from the front. With a trip to Belgrade on Thursday, gaining confidence as a defensive unit is important. Red Star will, I think, offer a sterner test than BATE and Köln, in a more hostile environment. We should win of course, but developing good habits in the Premier League is no bad thing, particularly if it serves us well elsewhere.
That’s Another Fine Mesut You’ve Got Us Into
Özil’s agent claims the club is once more in talks over a new deal. Not at anywhere near the financial levels being thrown around. A player whose reputation is built on statistics saw a horrible one thrown out yesterday in this piece. One assist away from the Emirates since December 2016 – the goal stat is wrong; he scored twice in May – is damning.
Like Sanchez, we can point to good games and bad but with Sanchez, there is a redemption in goals scored. Özil is a provider but a provider who isn’t doing that, isn’t contributing to the team in the manner expected, is a luxury we can ill-afford.
As brutal as that sounds – and it is – that is Arsenal’s reality. We need players who will dig in and work; we’re more effective with a ‘direct’ style. Principally that’s down to the investment in the squad being misdirected over a number of years. A player like Özil needs physically strong technicians – both Germany and Real were built that way – which we are not.
If we can extract £20m for Sanchez in January, it’s money we should be taking but not to invest in Özil’s paypacket. There’s talk of an in-demand player but none are queueing up to sign the German. They admire but not that much.
Put it this way, there is a genuine belief across the fanbase that Santi Cazorla would improve this side. The same can’t be said of the German.
The Price You Pay For All Your Weaknesses
Over the next twelve months we’re going to see more of these decisions needing to be taken. Theo Walcott is another whose time at the club is all but over; each of us has a ‘hit list’ of players who can be improved upon in their positions. The next eighteen months will see a big turnover in the squad and during that time the manager’s future will be clarified.
That aspect of the equation underlines the folly of the two-year contract extension. The board lacked the courage last year to call time on Wenger’s reign and they will be as spineless next time around as well. If they are to offer the manager a deal then it has to be for a minimum of three years otherwise we’re in a cycle where long-term planning can’t happen. Yes, three years is a long time in football.
When will Le Boss’s future become a point for discussion? My guess is post-January when Sanchez has left and Özil has won his new deal.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.