It’s that time of the year. A time when we remember the abysmal performances of last season, where three points were thrown away as the towel wafted in from the touchline. Our away form this season hints at a repeat of that rather than a bullish ‘sending a message’ to the rest of the top six. I suppose defeat sends a message but not the positive one Arsène wants.
The XI today will be heavily rotated from the one which nicked victory in Belgrade. No Jack Wilshere in the starting line-up, especially with the League Cup tie against Norwich City on Tuesday night. The question that leaves is whether Wenger goes with Iwobi or Özil. The former’s performance at Stamford Bridge gives him the edge in what I expect to be a dour match this afternoon.
Everton’s need for points is probably greater than ours. Or maybe Ronald Koeman’s is. It’s fair to say that he failed to replace Romelu Lukaku in the summer despite heavy investment. Thanks in part to Mrs Giroud for not wanting to leave London.
However, defeat for the Toffees today would almost certainly see the Dutchman out on his Arsenal. Everton’s team will today feature all players carrying a young tot on the shoulders. Koeman hopes it will inspire more fight than his squad has shown so far this season.
Wenger warned the policy of rotation will continue but it’s not guaranteed who will play:
“It is impossible to come from a game of that intensity [in Belgrade] and play. Of course I left 10 or 11 players at home. I decided to rotate at the start of the season and will continue to do so. But the time will come when the rotation can go another way.”
The obvious candidate for that barb is Özil.
I Don’t Believe Illusions
Arsène was quick to assert that the German is “professional” and like every other player, committed to the cause. You want to believe that the players will give their all but there is a doubt there. Not that they don’t start with the best of intentions but how they react to setbacks. A demotivated or unenthused player will most likely lose heart quicker than one enjoying their work.
The German is this generation’s Marinello or Nicholas. Start well but eventually the star burns out and fades without lifting the team to the heights they ought to. He’s the one who will leave on a free next summer unless he goes abroad this January. After yesterday’s performance, I can’t Mourinho taking on Özil this winter; he isn’t what they need at the moment.
Does that affect whether he is in the first team at Arsenal? It ought not to but in a game like today, Arsène has to wonder whether the German is the answer. Does he go with a similar outlook to the one at Chelsea? Happy to steal a win but content with a point and determined not to lose? Or, is today one where he will look to pounce on Everton’s weaknesses with a flowing performance?
While the latter may be the ideal, the former is more likely. Watford saw us at our profligate best – or maybe worst suits better – and that defeat may shape his thinking. The perfomance wasn’t good enough over 90 minutes and reaction to the equaliser was poor.
However, we need to break out of the cycle of no wins away from home in the Premier League. We have to show we can “restart” in the main competition this season, whatever that means. Caution, or the fear of defeat, can’t stifle the squad.
Out to Lunch
Wenger confirmed that Koscielny, Ramsey, and Alexis return to the squad today and maybe the latter pair are the answer more than Özil. Maybe their drive forwards was the absence we missed most at Watford.
While it is easy to say Özil is the better player – and he is – does his gift make him the best fit for today’s team? I think not; Iwobi showed at Stamford Bridge he was prepared to work hard for the team which may give him the nod ahead of the German.
I’d expect today’s line-up to be:
Cech; Holding, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Lacazette, Alexis
Three points is once again the rallying cry. The top two are pulling away with Tottenham likely to cling onto their coat-tails. What we can’t afford is another defeat which sets us firmly in the mire of Europa League places and FA Cup wins. Not if we’re serious about getting back in the Champions League, anyway.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.