Firstly, please accept my apologies for this mini-hiatus. I appreciate the emails and higher expectations. Indeed, I wanted to write a lot more frequently but a couple of factors kept me away. The current run of form has been disheartening to say the least and while I dearly wished to look back and analyze some games and stats, the heart just wasn’t up to it. Furthermore, with my folks visiting us – meeting them after two and a half years – it was easier for me to escape the melancholy in the Arsenalsphere.
I did write a stat based piece for Epl Index. It is mostly an analysis of some passing stats (passes in final third, attacking half, defensive half, and on the wing) and other numbers like final third entries, etc. for the Arsenal midfield along with a comparison with the United counterparts. There aren’t many conclusions to be formed but it offers some interesting insights and food for thought. I have also tried being a bit more active on twitter but haven’t really grasped the nuances of that medium.
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s move on to the Arsenal.
As far as I know there weren’t any injuries during this international break. When was the last time that happened?! Those on the lookout for some positive signs should be encouraged by that. Others, no doubt, will argue that losing Sagna just before the break was bad enough.
Vermaelen, Diaby, Wilshere, and Sagna are the only absentees – although the word only doesn’t seem appropriate considering at least three of them would have been first choice players if fit – so Arsene should have a strong enough group to pick his starting eleven.
I don’t expect too many surprises. The right back spot is debatable and perhaps one of the attacking positions can lead to a difference of opinion.
I would like to see the following line-up,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Gervinho, RvP, Arshavin.
Some fans will probably prefer Koscielny or Djourou in place of Sagna as they are more experienced but I believe Jenkinson has the engine, crosses well, is tenacious, and deserves his chance against a team like Sunderland. Former Gunner Seb Larsson might start on the left for the visitors. The Swede is a technically talented player but isn’t the type who would beat his man for pace or by trickery. Jenkinson will benefit from such an outing.
Gibbs or Santos is a coin toss at the moment and is a good problem to have. I would be happy with either of them.
Song should move back into his midfield role alongside Ramsey and Arteta. Rosicky provides a tempting option and would certainly add more flair to the side. But given the relative lack of technical passing coupled with inconsistent tracking on the wings, it is imperative that the three players in midfield work hard for the defence.
Gervinho and Van Persie will probably be unanimous picks. Wenger will have a choice between Benayoun, Arshavin, and Walcott. I would go with the Russian as he offers the most potent creative threat. I am not convinced Theo is very compatible with the Ivorian right now as both have a similar style.
There is an argument for starting another technical passer in the wide areas. This would help the midfield spread the ball better and has worked well last season with Nasri on the flanks. The Israeli skipper provides that option but I haven’t formed an opinion on that as it’s hard to guess how it will work out without actually watching the combination in play. Wenger might have tried that in training and I would be happy to see it on the pitch if Le Boss has been sufficiently impressed. If it works, Gervinho and Van Persie will cause a lot more trouble to the visitors.
Tactically, I expect Steve Bruce to line up five in the midfield with clear instructions to go tight on their man. It will be a hard fought game and with Howard Webb in charge we might see players like Gardner and Cattermole getting away with some crunching tackles. I don’t have a good feeling about this game from the injuries point of view. With a good international break in between, it would be typical of Arsenal’s luck to lose a couple of vital players in games on either side. Fingers crossed.
The Gunners will find it hard to break Sunderland down. At the other end Larsson will test the home defence with his set-pieces.
With due respect, I must say it’s hard to imagine the Black Cats troubling the Gunners defence from open play unless the home side repeat some of their bloopers. At this stage though, given the mistakes we have repeatedly seen, one cannot fault the visiting players or fans for their sense of optimism.
For Arsenal it will be about moving the ball at speed, winning the individual battles against the opponents’ pressing, off-the-ball movement to aid the two, and avoiding, um … avoidable blunders! With that the Gunners will also need greater imagination and purpose in the attacking areas.
Analytically speaking, this should be a comfortable win but the recent events have left me in a state of anxiety. Only a strong run can change that. For now I won’t get my hopes up. Even a scrappy result will do just fine.