Football takes over as Chelsea visit the Emirates. If, as is being claimed, this is an age of austerity at the club, I hope they have turned the heating and hot water off in the away dressing room.
The saving grace of this match is that it is at home. While the form away from home is reverting to last season’s type, we are, for the moment, finding a way to win at home. Or more importantly, contriving ways not to lose.
And that’s the emphasis of this match: must not lose. The art of finishing in the top four this season is patience, waiting for Chelsea to drop points or in the case of Tottenham, dropping even more points in the next five games when their only fit forward is Paco Llorente.
Of course, winning this evening would be a massive plus in the pursuit of that endgame. The question is whether we’re ready for a return to the Champions League?
Financially, it’s a must-have. We’ve seen the problems absence from the competition causes us financially. About three months later than Ivan but we know now why he jumped ship to Milan.
In a footballing sense, we’re far from ready for the Champions League. Our expectations are low anyway after years of defeats to Europe’s elite. Reaching the Round of Sixteen would be a triumph of hope over expectation.
Would Unai Emery’s Arsenal fare any better than Wenger’s? Not at this moment in time and without significant investment, not at all. We know that hence the frustration with current circumstances. Until we get a more balanced squad, we’re stuffed.
But the importance to the club can’t be understated, no matter how detestable the competition. Winning tonight is a movement in the right direction; a necessary step.
Inspiration, Dedication, Perspiation. Everyone’s Got An ‘
Pondering a Champions League future is to run before we can toddle; the serious matter of the Premier League awaits. Tonight is the beginning of a fortnight of testing fixtures. Cardiff taxes the coach’s mind in terms of squad rotation while Chelsea, United and City present more obvious problems.
Emery will, I am sure in my own mind, recall Mesut Ozil for the fixture. He’s out of options to shake up the XI after last weekend’s lacklustre performance. Lacklustre is me being polite; it was beyond lacklustre.
I don’t think Ozil would have made a blind bit of difference to the outcome at West Ham but in the safety of our home environment, this is a match for him to prove his doubters wrong, surely? You can post all those great-looking photos of working out, working hard in the gym all you want. But if you don’t inspire and don’t deliver on the pitch, it’s just posing.
Therein is Mesut’s problem. He isn’t an inspirer; the magic is there but the difference between the world-class and the very good player is mentality, is what they bring out of the rest of the team. I have a narrow definition of the term ‘world-class’ and Ozil could fit it if he inspired. But he doesn’t, not in that sense.
Tonight we need him to. He has to be the outlet, the shining light. The unplayable hour he gave us against Leicester needs to be an unplayable 90 minutes against another team kitted out in all-blue. This will be tougher but with his own motivation to show his value to the team, surely he will produce that performance?
The Deft Touch Of A High-Wire Artiste
The balance of the team will define that. Ozil can play as brilliantly as ever seen but without hard work from others, it will be meaningless. Lucas
But that is just two players. Assuming Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both start, there is one attacking place left. Mkhitaryan is injured so ordinarily, it would be Alex Iwobi slotting in. However, in keeping the ‘square pegs in round holes’ philosophy up front, Aaron Ramsey to start on the right would be my call.
The Welshman reportedly signed a pre-contract with Juventus following a successful medical this week. With everyone clear where his future lies, sentimentally, I’d venture we’d like a rambunctious second half of the season to remember him by. For instance, a dozen goals as we triumph in the race for the top four and win the Europa League.
We can dream. Alex Iwobi it is.
Which leaves the line-up:
Leno; Mustafi, Sokratis, Koscielny; Bellerin, Torreira, Xhaka, Monreal; Iwobi, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Time to return to winning ways, gentlemen. And consistent performances. I know you’ve given us consistently inconsistent performances but now I’d really like consistent consistently good performances. And by good, I mean great.
Three points tonight would be a good start.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.