Albeit playing Manchester City after four league defeats in five games is less daunting than playing Chelsea on the back of such a streak, this is hardly the best way to get into the swing of things nonetheless.
My usual line “we’ll produce a response after a defeat like that” died a horrible death more than a month ago. I do not expect anything from this team anymore. Yet come Sunday 6 p.m. I’ll likely be disappointed.
We are still in the dark over Arsene Wenger’s future, which, despite what the man himself might think (or tells the press at least), plays its part. Two weeks after the “very soon” line we are no closer to knowing who’ll steer the Arsenal wheel next season.
But the show must go on. Despite my burning desire for the season to end here and now, it won’t. No one’s going to put the Gunners out of their misery but themselves. So the current crop has to somehow do what they couldn’t for the past two months and stop the slide into mid-table obscurity. An alarmingly quick slide at that.
Team news update
We will be without Petr Cech for at least the next two games:
“I think Cech could miss Sunday and Wednesday against West Ham. He may be available again after.”
We have also lost Lucas (again), this time to a thigh injury, while Santi Cazorla’s season is now officially over. However on the bright side, both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil should be fine. The former won the battle against his own ankle, after James McLean shredded it to pieces. The latter recovered from a series of highly suspicious knocks:
“Ozil is in contention to start again. He played 20 minutes with Germany in Azerbaijan and he came back focused and worked very hard this week.”
It is an almost fully-fit squad Arsene has at his disposal. Cazorla would never have made it before the season’s end following a couple of surgeries, and Lucas hardly plays anyway. This leaves Cech as the only absentee from the starting XI.
To be honest I’m not sure what can be tweaked to knock some sense into the current crop. I make it sound like it’s a players-only problem: it’s not. It’s quite obvious the manager plays a part in the current atmosphere of apathy and disinterest. The point I was trying to make is rather this: no one performs up to his high standard, so it doesn’t really matter which 11 bodies fill the starting sheet.
Unless the attitude changes, and I can’t see why it should, as literally nothing transpired since our meek surrender to West Brom, we won’t get a performance out of this team. So I’m going to assume the attitude does change for the better, otherwise picking a team is an exercise in frustration.
Ospina is the obvious candidate to deputise for Cech. Despite the Colombian’s blunder against the Baggies, I just can’t see Martinez starting ahead of David. Our number 13 has a small window of opportunity to persuade Arsene of his value to the team and unless he takes it, we are going to be parting ways the Colombian in the summer.
As for the back four, I would strongly recommend giving Holding, or at least Mertesacker, a go instead of Mustafi. The younger of the Germans has been really, really poor recently, and merits a drop. But I don’t hold out much hope we’ll see such a shake-up. The other three defenders should be Hector, Nacho and of course Laurent Koscielny, who is about the only thing holding this rickety back line together.
Given that both Ozil and Alexis have been poor in their respective positions during our December loss at the Etihad, it will be a huge mistake to keep them where they are. However, the way our midfield was cut open two weeks ago gives reason enough to distrust the Xhaka-Ox-Ramsey trio. It hasn’t worked out well at all, though I have no idea what might. Coquelin and Iwobi have been benched for a reason, and if we exclude Ozil from the midfield equation, we are left with Elneny as the only other option. Fun times.
I assume we are going nowhere without Granit Xhaka, so it’s the two complementing him that pose a conundrum. I’d take a gamble on Coquelin, in a hope our midfield won’t resemble a chinese takeaway and also play Oxlade. Or Elneny, for that matter. But not Ramsey, no. However Arsene probably will do exactly that…
That leaves us with the front three question. I’d certainly put in Ozil, probably on the right wing. We badly lacked penetration without him, so we do need the German back. Alexis on the right with Giroud or Welbeck up front should complete the picture. Welbeck is a better option in terms of chemistry with the Chilean and Mesut, however Giroud will at least provide us with a presence in the box, another thing we badly lacked at the Hawthorns. Tricky.
Predicted line-up: Ospina – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Xhaka – Ramsey – Ozil – Walcott – Alexis – Giroud (yep, that’s about as much faith as I have in Wenger making the changes required. Not that it matters greatly if we don’t turn up again.)
Manchester City are leaking goals and at a better time I would have said that’s what gives us hope for a positive outcome.
However notice the conditional tense. Like I said some 800 words above, I don’t expect anything from this team anymore. Every opportunity provided by City’s weaknesses doesn’t mean anything unless we turn up and exploit these weaknesses.
I see no point in even mentioning them to be honest. We are in much, much worse shape than Guardiola’s side. Either we show some fight, or we’ll lose another league game. It’s as simple as that. No tactics, players or speculation surrounding AW’s future will change that.
Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review. Hopefully not a post-mortem.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.