I love the smell of matchday in the morning. Chelsea, the graveyard of Arsenal dreams down the years, continues Unai Emery’s steep learning curve.
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After last weekend’s defeat, to what extent does he tweak the line-up? AMN’s injury means a change at left-back where we assume Nacho Monreal will return. It could be Lichtsteiner if the Spaniard isn’t fully fit, but whomever it is needs more protection than AMN was given last weekend.
The talking point is the midfield. Granit Xhaka was horribly off the pace last weekend; a World Cup hangover or just lacking the sharpness pre-season brings? Meanwhile, Guendouzi’s raw talent earned praise overall but the naivety of youth cannot be overlooked. Which of those to will accompany Lucas Torreira in the centre of the park?
Emery arranged a friendly earlier this week with Crystal Palace to improve players fitness levels although none of the team which started against City was involved. Torreira and Leno are the two to whom Emery paid the closest attention, according to reports.
No surprise; we didn’t cover ourselves in glory playing out from the back and the pair could be the solution to that. However, as I mentioned earlier this week, I think as much as anything Cech is in the team to provide some continuation, some stability while Mustafi and Sokratis adjust to each other’s presence. When that happens, Leno is likely to take over as the first-choice goalkeeper.
The struggles with playing short passes out from the back were seen by everyone. If the punters saw it, so too did Chelsea scouts and Maurizio Sarri. We can expect a high press from Chelsea’s forwards from the outset. Our judgement in when to play out from the back or go long is the fastest lesson to be learned.
Work! Hard Work!
During his press conference ahead of this game, Emery touched on that. The way we played out from the back underlined just how much learning on the job is taking place. The balance of short passes from the goalkeeper or long comes with experience of playing a certain way.
While it’s easy to say this is what we’re looking to achieve and it’s really a good idea, until the Arsenal defence and midfield get comfortable with the practice, we’re always going to look nervous at goal-kicks. Torreira could change that with his natural inclination to play deep and being comfortable on the ball in defensive areas.
But who to pair the Uruguayan with is not a straightforward answer. A match-sharp Granit Xhaka is probably the answer but the one who was out of sorts last weekend is not. Guendouzi’s energy provides a nice accompaniment to Torreira’s defensive sensibilities but the naivety is an issue. However, given the match today requires experience, it won’t be a surprise to see Xhaka in the centre.
If we’re going to get anything out of today, we’ve got to be better defensively from midfield in support of the back four. Emery touched on that earlier this week:
“There are defensive moments and attacking moments.
“Every player needs this commitment.
“We need to start together, whether we are attacking or defending. I want that from every player, defensive moments are for each and every player.”
He was referring to Ozil, who Emery believes must be more “demanding”, in that instance but it applies equally to everyone. Personally, I’d prefer to see the German in a number 10 role with Lacazette ahead of him and Aubameyang on the left. It means Ramsey or Mkhitaryan on the right, with the Welshman’s work ethic winning out.
Eleven Angry Men
The high press relies on work ethic to be successful. I guess that Mkhitaryan will start today with Lacazette on the bench. While it’s not a surprise, it feels like we’re tying one hand behind our back by leaving a striker of his calibre out of the starting line-up.
My guess at the starting line-up is:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Xhaka; Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette
Personally, I’d include Ramsey as I said earlier. There’s a case to be made for him to play alongside Torreira as well, but if he plays it’s more likely as a wide midfielder than a central role.
What do I hope we get out of this game? Three points, obviously, but the tangible is showing progress towards Emery’s template of success. The high press consistently applied by all the team, with the hard work needed to support it. Progress towards playing out from the back, with none of the nervousness which surfaced last week. Just a general improvement, really.
We’re good enough to beat Chelsea but a draw will be a good result. But this time the performance is as important.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.