Arsenal return to the scene of the crime seven days after the chaos which typifies Unai Emery’s reign erupted.
Unsurprisingly, Granit Xhaka isn’t playing. I doubt the Emirates will see him until the end of the month when Southampton visit. His letter this week enraged as many as his petulant amble last weekend. Time may be a great healer but not in this case, particularly if Xhaka wears the armband again.
That, however, is a confrontation for another day. The pressure is squarely on Unai Emery to deliver a first league win since Bournemouth succumbed one month ago.
Ornstein reported the same senior management which came close to offering Emery a contract extension last summer are “content” to wait until next year to bring in a new coach. It’s a sharp change in tack and approaching an international break, is there a sense change will happen sooner?
Certainly, failing to win last weekend upped the ante. Yes, VAR bore an undue influence on the game but the same weaknesses which destroyed last season are resurfacing. Principally, we cannot close games out.
Wednesday night’s madness confirmed it is a systemic problem. No matter which XI we field, there is always a lead to be dropped. Not every time, of course, but you’re never sure which Arsenal is on the field until calamity strikes.
With the furore over Xhaka parked for a week or so, it is Mesut Özil who steps into the limelight. Emery is likely to include the German from the start and in part, that’s no surprise. He isn’t an impact substitute and we’re running out of options to play the creative role.
It’s one of few changes I’d expect this weekend. Hector Bellerin looks a couple games away still, leaving Lucas Torreira the other new face.
Change is Good
Özil played well on Wednesday and his withdrawal, no matter how planned it was, was detrimental to the team. There is, of course, some perspective needed. It was Liverpool’s reserves so going overboard now is, well, over the top. Not at 4.45, however, if we win and he plays well.
It also is the opportunity for Torreira to take his place in what many see as the club’s best midfield pairing. Good performances alongside Guendouzi ought to make it a permanent pairing but Emery is wedded to the idea of Xhaka as defensive midfielder.
The Uruguayan cuts a frustrated figure at times but this is a moment for him to seize. Certainly, he was visibly upset last weekend but football friendships come a poor second to a place in the starting line-up.
Wolves found us easy to play against last season; predictable and simple to frustrate. They haven’t changed this season but are struggling to win in the league with six draws already.
I’d expect our XI to be:
Leno; Chambers, Luiz, Sokratis, Tierney: Guendouzi, Torreira, Özil; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
It’s a big match for Arsenal, one which must be won. I don’t think they have the character to claw back a seven-point gap to the top four which with the wrong set of results could very well be the case.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that and we’ll take three very much needed points.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.