While the postponement of the Stoke fixture has led to a rather boring week for fans, I feel it could just turn out to be the lucky break Arsenal needed.
In terms of personnel, Arsenal will probably have the best team available for the big one against Chelsea. I’ve not checked the details but it could be the first time in a long while that a full strength Gunners side will meet one of the rivals.
The game might be too soon for Vermaelen but I rate him on par with the other central defenders at the club so to me personally it won’t be a loss. On the other hand, a fully fit Diaby could address the weakness Arsenal have in the left midfielder role. Cesc and RvP can bring the potency that has been lacking against the top sides and makes Arsenal look toothless.
Van Persie in particular has been key to some rare wins over the rivals in recent years. The Dutchman will have to play in the central attacking role to make the most impact.
The other major advantage of this break is that it gives the team some time to train together and work out different tactical systems.
Earlier during the season Arsenal were playing every three days and that left very little time for making tactical modifications/adjustments in training. So we saw Van Persie playing in an unfamiliar role and struggling, we lost a couple of games in the Champions League as the rotations didn’t quite work out, we saw a tactical change against United but the balance between attack and defence was missing, and so on.
This two week break should have given Arsene enough time to work on the tactical adjustments that are needed. Next Monday we cannot have the excuses about players lacking sharpness or too many injuries.
Hopefully, Wenger will have had the opportunity to work on the psychological aspect as well. The team has to find the balance between positive, aggressive play and solid, organized defending. This balance has to be in the players’ minds as much as it has to be tactical on the pitch. In the past, Arsenal have lost big games by throwing numbers forward and getting hit on the break. More recently, the losses have been due to lack of sharpness in attack after conceding a freak opening goal. The solution lies somewhere in between and this is the best time to find it.
Of course, the flip side is that the other teams also got this opportunity to regroup. Chelsea will almost have their best side back. And I’ve no doubt Ancelotti will be spending the fortnight ensuring his defence is as strong as it used to be.
In some ways it’s unfortunate that Arsenal don’t get to play the opponents when they are missing their key players. The point is not that Arsenal cannot beat the best side of their title rivals. The issue here is that a run of losses has been built when Arsenal have missed their best players and it would be fun to see how the game turns out if the tables were turned.
For now we won’t get to see that but I don’t mind watching both sides putting out their best elevens.
I also have a feeling that two teams out of the top four will push on when football returns after this forced break. If Arsenal start slow they probably won’t catch up with the others. So even if there is no football, I feel this will prove to be the most crucial fortnight in the League this season. Can Arsenal make it count?