Greetings fellow Gooners!
Chelsea…Wasn’t it? Really…Lesson in football. Jumpers for goalposts…!
But seriously folks, if we ever needed a heavy landing from the heady heights, the 0-0 draw with Marseille certainly provided us with that. A draw we really didn’t need given the number of games we have over the next few weeks, maybe. A return to old habits, for certain. Our inability to convert large chunks of possession and great play into goals is a ghost that has haunted us for the past few seasons and one which I am sure many of us had started to believe had finally relinquished its hold on us. Have the last few games been the new Arsenal with profligacy a thing of the past or have they been a juicy hiatus only to see us return to “form” after giving us a sense of new hope?!
So, with all that in mind, there has never been a better time to show a level of consistency and, more importantly, the ability to ensure that the “minnows” of the Premier League don’t have some kind of “hoo-doo” over us, as some would have us believe. And I think that is exactly the kind of game we need to restore a little of the confidence that we had so carefully and lovingly built up in recent weeks. Stick a few past the Baggies and leave a sweet taste in the mouth ahead of the international break and we could actually start really believing in ourselves rather than worrying about flashes in pans. Games like Chelsea drive things forward at 100mph but games like Marseille create that horrible smell in the car that only a handbrake left on can do. We need to remove the handbrake permanently but only a run of free-flowing Arsenal performances can do that and whilst we were in that particular groove, there has been a faint whiff permeating the air and threatening to derail the Gooner Express at any moment. Will Tuesday prove to be nothing more than a short-lived signalling failure and will today present us with all the proof that we need that we are still full steam ahead? Let’s hope so!
In reality, West Brom are not the pushovers they once may have been, although they have been horribly inconsistent so far this season, having pushed Manchester United and Chelsea almost all the way to the finishing line in the first two games of the season, conceding the points in the last 10 minutes on both occasions whilst the same team got beaten 3-0 by Swansea and yet managed to beat Wolves and Villa in the Midlands derbies! All of that said, they were anything but pushovers when they took 4 points from our two league games beating us 3-2 at the Emirates and holding out for a 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns last season, were they and that is exactly why we need to get a result today. Time to put some of the old ghosts to rest and show that we can beat the “bogey” teams.
So, we can expect Van Persie to return, after the blunt attacking force that was presented against Marseille in mid-week that much is certain, but how many people will successfully guess what the central defensive partnership will be or, more importantly, do so with any real certainty?! Aside from Arsene himself, not many I would bet.
If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would go with Vermaelen and Mertesacker again, regardless of how well Koscielny has been playing, as I believe that PM4 ad TV5 represent absolute class whereas Koscienly has, thus far, only managed to prove that form is temporary, in whatever direction. Yes, the Frenchman has played some great matches lately, most of them contenders for man of the match, but his two previous years have shown a frailty that we can ill afford right now. All that aside, isn’t it wonderful that Wenger actually has this selection “nightmare”?! Three centre backs all playing at a near world class level…Almost unheard of! Of course, when they succeed in keeping clean sheet after clean sheet and putting in solid performances game after game, we will have to hear about how Arsene inherited the defence from George Graham! HA! Just like the defence of Lauren, Campbell, Toure and Cole, not one of which was actually at the club when Wenger took over!
At right back I expect Jenkinson to get the nod over Djourou as the latter has done absolutely nothing, barring a decent cross against Marseille that led to the winning goal on that wonderful night in France,to deserve a place in this side and at the very least young Carl has shown a lot of heart and determination and, most importantly, improvement.
I think it may be that time again regards the Gervinho/Arshavin conundrum and the little Russian will probably get a game again, although I personally don’t agree with playing him just because we have him and think that Gervinho is the better choice all round. In days gone by players would happily put in 60-70 shifts a season and whilst I understand that the game has changed, I think that the players are also much fitter than they used to be too. Rotation for rotations sake just doesn’t make sense to me, but there you go.
Gibbs is still out, the most career-threatening stomach muscle injury in the history of the game putting paid to his chances of playing until at least after the international break. Chamakh is out, thank Dennis. Diaby has had another setback and will probably be fit by the morning of April 1st 2015!
I have to say the Gibbs situation is slightly upsetting. It has been blatantly clear over the past three or four seasons that he simply cannot get a run of fitness going at all but it also seemed clear that he wasn’t actually good enough to play for Arsenal either. The few games he has managed to appear in this season have shown that, far from not being good enough, he actually has all the potential to be a top quality left back. Again, the faith Wenger has shown in his ability could indeed be well founded, but his ability to actually stay fit long enough to make an impact is still in question.
I think that Ramsey and Arteta will also keep their places, along with Theo Walcott, another player doing his best to confound his critics! Seriously, Theo was looking more and more like a lost cause until the purchase and, more importantly, introduction to the side of Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it seems that the added pressure of having a back-up that may actually be a decent player who could even threaten his place in the team has worked wonders. His work-rate, his desire, his all-round game have improved since the Ox put in a a couple of great performances in the Carling Cup and Champions League. Yet more proof that competition for places is something that has been severely lacking in recent seasons.
With all that in mind, I expect the team to look something like this:
As for West Brom, they are missing midfielder Paul Scharner and striker Shane Long, both influential players for the Baggies. At the business end of things, so to speak, goalkeeper Ben Foster will be hoping for one of those “games in a lifetime” that he, like so many other “b-list” goalkeepers, seem to have against us! I have to say, I like Foster and I think that, given the chance at a top club, he would shine. The biggest problem he has is being left exposed so often by the fairly limp defence in front of him.
And that leads us on to the key to today’s game, our attack and its ability to actually create chances. Against this West Brom defence we should really be looking to put a few goals away, but that all depends on which attack turns up. The one against Marseille would struggle to open a can of beans if left to it for a fortnight, whereas the attack that showed up for the Chelsea match could probably eat the beans without even opening the can, if you see what I mean!
I am going to plump for the fact that the players were tired in mid-week and thus the blunt attack that we presented was merely a blip and not a return to old habits. Thus, the cutting edge that was so clearly lacking will return and a few goals should be expected. 3-0 is my prediction with a defensive performance that will compliment the attacking one.
And on that positive, goal-laden note I shall leave you.
Come on you Solid Defence, Thrusting Attack, Midlander Destroying Gooonnnnnnneeeerrrrrrssssss!