Unai Emery dubbed us “outsiders” for the Champions League places. That’s looking a bit far ahead; we’re outsiders for three points today against Huddersfield.
Rooted to the bottom of the table, they’ve taken one point from the last 36 and their home record is a succession of ‘L”s. No points in Yorkshire so far this year and just one goal scored. They haven’t netted in eight of their 13 home games with only Fulham and Cardiff failing to score.
So why the gallows humour about us joining that club?
The manner of last weekend’s performance has much to do with it. Give an Arsenal fan a free thirty seconds and we find our navels the most fascinating place on earth. The 14-match unbeaten Premier League run is long forgotten. Ironically in an Alanis Morrisette kind of way, the last game of that streak was a 1 – 0 win over Huddersfield. Perhaps they can kick-start our away
Six without a win on the road and three consecutive defeats seems terrible. Take out the defeats at Liverpool and City and no, it’s still terrible. We haven’t played well away from home since the 5 – 1 win at Fulham. That was in October. Four months on, we’re still waiting for some sign that last season’s woes on our travels are behind us.
As with last season, our home record is among the best. We’ve taken the same number of points as Liverpool at Anfield and on current form are the best in the division on our own turf. So what goes wrong once we leave the confines of N5? Do the players have a collective mental collapse? Is the coach so obsessed with the opposition that he forgets to drill a gameplan into the players’ heads?
Time To Get Ill
The answer is a combination of both, I suspect. Emery is praised for the meticulous nature of his approach which means he must be acutely aware of our deficiencies. Defensively, we’re a shambles with the flip-flopping between a back three and four failing to provide the answers. Today, we might find a solution if Dinos Mavropanos starts. At the very least, we’ll know how much of a hinderance Shkodran Mustafi is.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is set to miss out today according to some reports. The striker has the same bug which afflicted Laurent Koscielny late in the week but Kos was able to train on Friday so there’s little reason to think he won’t be fit. And every reason to hope Auba will be.
If he misses out, it’s easy to see us reverting to a back-three with Alexandre Lacazette leading the line. Normally, we’d expect Emery to field Monreal, Koscielny and Mustafi but if the German was so bad last week at City, how can he keep his place? Supposedly, it was the straw which broke the camel’s back and saw him put on the transfer list. If he’s that awful, we need to keep him as far away from the XI as possible.
That is the same thought process which keeps Ramsey out of the XI. The Welshman isn’t going to be here next season so Emery is investing in players who will. Apply that to the defence and Mustafi, having been told he will do one in the summer, finds the bench a comfortable place to sit.
This is likely to be wishful thinking on my part.
That’s An Expensive Bench To Be Sitting On
Another man wondering what the future holds is Mesut Ozil. Not starting against Manchester City made the message clear: Go, for the love of God. Just go. Will he, however, get some redemption today? Last weekend was so truly awful in the second half that the need for a player to provide some transition between defence and attack was underlined.
Mateo Guendouzi was trying to do everything in that wretched 45 minutes; as good as he is, he needs some support. Granit Xhaka’s return may provide that and allow the youngster to play with the “handbrake off”, as Arsene liked to say.
An alternative might be a 3-4-2-1 with Ozil and Ramsey supporting Lacazette. That ought to keep them out of each other’s way enough to allow them both to flourish but I suspect only one of the two will start. Against a functional side, sorry Mesut, Laca needs support in the box so Ramsey starts. Still, you and Shkodran can swap stories about how hard it is to sit on a bench and collect £350k per week.
All of which mental meandering leads me to my XI for the day:
Leno; Mavropanos, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette
It isn’t the line-up Unai Emery will chose but who knows what XI that crazy guy will pick! Just so long as we pick up all three points, he can field the Under-23’s for all I care.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.