From Barcelona to Leyton Orient … Hmmm. If I’m honest, I find this fixture a bit underwhelming. No disrespect to the League One side because I fully acknowledge the possibility of an upset if the Gunners don’t turn up at their best. But the game against Barcelona was one that had been in my mind for a long while. And the performance has ensured that it will be in my mind for an even longer period. I believe many fans will be able to relate to that and a bit worried that some players might have similar feelings!
I liked the way Arsene talked about the game.
We can gain more respect from everybody if we turn up on Sunday with absolutely full commitment then people will say this team is ready to have a real go and not choose the competition or the games.
When you are a top-level competitive man or team you go absolutely 100 per cent committed into every game.
But Arsene almost always knows the right things to say. Crucially, the players must back it up with a display that doesn’t turn into an anti-climax after all that Arsenal have achieved since the middle of December.
Le Boss will certainly rotate. I don’t have a problem with that. The key will be to find the right balance.
I expect some changes to the back five. Almunia, despite the reservations expressed by some fans, will probably get another game. It’s important to keep him involved because Fabianski is already out for the season and if Szczesny picks up an injury, even a minor one, we’d not want Almunia to come in from the cold.
I’d like to see Eboue get another game as Sagna will needed for a stretch of games after this one. Gibbs should also get a run out. Squillaci will come in for Djourou or Koscielny. I’d guess the former.
In the midfield I hope to see Song partner Denilson with Rosicky in front of them. It should be a strong enough midfield if the players show the right kind of understanding. Little Mozart will have to take more responsibility and move all over the pitch like Cesc does.
The front three will probably be Arshavin, Chamakh, and Bendtner.
The starting line-up could look like,
Almunia – Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Gibbs – Song, Denilson, Rosicky – Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin.
I realize picking this team is risky. A number of those players haven’t played regularly and might struggle to gel together as a unit in front of a partisan crowd, especially in an away game on a pitch that is not likely to be the best. In the past we’ve seen that 7-8 changes to the team can result in a disjointed effort on the pitch.
There is a strong argument for the inclusion of one or two regulars but I’m not sure if that’s a good idea given the strains of the previous game and the undoubted physicality of the next one against Stoke.
I don’t think Nasri or Van Persie should be risked for this game. So from the first string, Fabregas, Wilshere and Walcott are the more realistic picks. Arsene might pick one or more of these players to give the side a better balance but I’d trust the line-up I’ve mentioned.
In the earlier games Arshavin and Bendtner were struggling for form but both are now playing much better. Eboue too put in a strong shift against Barcelona even if his decision making in the attacking third wasn’t the best. So that team is not likely to be as annoying as the ones that struggled against Ipswich and Leeds.
We can have Cesc, RvP, and Theo on the bench if push comes to shove.
Tactically I feel Arsene will have to ensure the players remains compact and the midfielders provide the right cover for the defenders and full-backs. Arshavin has shown a marked improvement in his work rate but I’d still want to see Song on the left to provide better support to the inexperienced Gibbs. Denilson, Eboue, and Bendtner should be able to handle the right.
I’d also ask one of the full-backs to stay back without fail. Gibbs and Eboue have a tendency of getting caught up high up the pitch. We will need the midfielders to cut out the counter-attacking channels and an extra defender at the back to ensure the centre-backs aren’t exposed in a 2v2. If Arsenal don’t make it easy for the opponents to attack our goal we should win this game with any starting eleven.
In attack I’d like to see Bendtner get into the box more often and swap places with Chamakh on a regular basis. The Dane has an influential presence in the box and often pressurizes defenders into a mistake. If we do it often enough goals are bound to come.
With improved confidence, I hope to see some good runs from Arshavin. Rosicky has the ability to find him. I’d also like to see Tomas get into the box a bit more like Fabregas does. Bendtner and Chamakh should also be ready to make the runs as Arshavin and Rosciky are capable of finding the through ball for the strikers. If we come up against a parked bus the aerial presence of the two strikers should give us a heady advantage.
Leyton Orient will offer a stiff challenge and will grow into the game if Arsenal don’t boss the early exchanges. As a number of our players will be fresher and technically better they’ll have to impose themselves on the individual battles to hold off pressure, to press, to move the ball quickly, and to counter the effects of the crowd and the occasion which will surely give the opponents a lift.
Since the middle of December, the young Gunners have been on a steady ascent towards stardom. The last win has taken us high and given us a distinctive sheen. The next couple of games are like a pocket of turbulence before we reach the first milestone on the path to glory. It will be rough but we have to get through while balancing our resources.
On a side note, I’m travelling over the weekend and might not be able to watch the game so the match report is also likely to be delayed. Apologies in advance to those who like an early review and discussion. Hopefully the performance and the result will extend the current state of euphoria and fans will be happy to dwell on the game over the next few days.