The result against Wolves has made this game bigger and tougher than it should have been as there will now be an added pressure on the Gunners. Liverpool’s win over Newcastle has also put them above Arsenal in fifth and only a win will see Arsenal climb over the Reds. Arsenal’s margin of error was miniscule after the poor start to the season but it’s almost vanished now.
The reason I’m stressing on the importance of this game is to underline the need for getting the tactics and starting eleven for this game spot on. Ideally, one would want a lot of rotation when there are two games in three days but I don’t know how Wenger will balance the risk of injury with that of dropping points. Then again he gets paid to deal with such issues and so he must.
I get a feeling Ramsey and Walcott will be restored to the starting eleven. It will be interesting to see if Rosicky and Benayoun make way or Wenger chooses to rest some other players. In my opinion, Arteta deserves a rest and Arsenal must also show they can play without the Spaniard’s technique and work-rate.
I’d also like to see Benayoun retained in his starting position. Gervinho can take a break on the left. In the previous game, when the Israeli international drifted in from the right, Djourou wasn’t really able to provide the width. There is a good chance Vermaelen can offer more on the left.
Chamakh for Van Persie is another option that Arsene will probably have to consider depending on the fitness levels. I feel it’s better to give Van Persie an hour. He can be given a break if the team is up by a couple of goals around the hour mark. In that case, Arteta could come on to provide extra composure in the middle and Chamakh could provide a target for receiving and holding the balls.
There is also an argument to drop Song back into the defence and give one of the defenders a breather as they’ve been playing incessantly. Miquel or Coquelin could also be brought in at one of the full-back positions (although playing both will be too big a risk). These are the kind of changes that Ferguson is able to make at United, especially at home, without losing out on too many points, but Arsene hasn’t really made such decisions often enough and the side has struggled at times when such make-shift arrangements have been forced by injuries.
Szczesny – Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Rosicky, Ramsey – Walcott, RvP, Benayoun.
I am going with this line-up as another poor result at home at this stage will be a massive dent in Arsenal’s top four ambitions. It’s important to keep the defence solid, or as solid as possible.
Wenger will probably have to stretch his players over the next two games but then he can give some of them a good rest as the only fixture between the visits to Fulham on 2nd Jan and Swansea on 15th is a FA Cup tie at home against Leeds. A number of youngsters could feature in that game giving their senior pros a well-deserved respite.
In such cases, when picking the starting line-up seems to lack clear-cut choices and despite the unquestionable need for getting it right, I prefer to give Wenger the benefit of the doubt with his selections. He will balance the factors as well as he can and we can only hope it works out well.
It will also be interesting to see how QPR play this one. They have a number of fairly talented players who have been misfits at most clubs they’ve been at. For instance, Shaun-Wright Phillips is a quick, tricky winger and you wouldn’t be surprised if he dribbled past two or three defensive players before smashing one in from 25 yards. He’s erratic and makes mistakes more often than he produces magical moments, but Arsenal do have a tendency to conceded from a solitary shot on goal and a freakish one at that.
Similarly, a guy like Helguson does have a tendency to score goals, often headed ones like the Fletcher goal we saw in the last game, or the kind that Yakubu scored earlier in the season. Traore has pace and can occasionally whip in very good crosses.
I am not saying these are major perils that Arsenal should be worried about but just highlighting the likely sources of freakish goals.
Then there is Joey Barton. Last season his tackle on Diaby, and general physical approach in that game, played a part (how big is anyone’s guess) in unravelling Arsenal’s season. This year he cost the Gunners two red cards in the opening game that have proven to be very expensive on the points table. Not only are his theatrics and tactical baiting a problem area for the Gunners, his delivery into the box can be a weapon for a side that is strong in the air.
Arsenal need a lot more poise and maturity on the pitch to reduce the odds of conceding mind-boggling goals or balance-destroying cards. They must also make more purposeful challenges for loose balls in and around the box. Of course the best way to move beyond these issues is to go out, dominate the game, and take some of the chances that are bound to come against such a side at home.
Traore could probably come close to Walcott for pace than most defenders would but his positioning and decision making are suspect. Arsenal can create a number of gilt-edged chances from the right in this game. We should also see the Gunners build on the impressive chipped passes we saw in the previous game, especially if QPR try to push up. In general, the visitors’ back four isn’t the sharpest and I will be disappointed if Arsenal don’t trouble them consistently.
I won’t be able to watch this game as I am flying for most of the day tomorrow for the start of a week long holiday. The match report will be delayed by a day or so and I am not sure if I will get the time to write about the Fulham game. Normal service should resume with the Leeds FA Cup tie. To get instant updates about new posts you can either subscribe to the blog by email or join me on twitter.