This Boxing Day was a great one for Arsenal and a fun time for me. Hope you had a joyful Christmas too. Apologies for the lateness of this post but the whole weekend was just so enjoyable and engaging, I couldn’t find any time before now. Well, I did find some time but then Sachin came on to bat and took up the best part of the last two hours. Siddle did finally produced a quality spell and deservedly took the little master’s wicket. I can now forget about this Test, till Tendulkar’s second innings at least.
Wolverhampton Wanderers visit the Emirates in a game delayed by a day. This has given Arsenal the cushion of knowing a win can put them firmly in the top four and a big one (5 goals, or is it 6) will see the Gunners climb up to 3rd, at least temporarily.
Wolves have not won against Arsenal in the Premier League in six attempts. Much like United were against Wigan, Wenger’s side will be odds on favourites for this one. But that doesn’t always work out. On Monday, West Brom did manage to take their first Premier League point off Chelsea on their 12th attempt to present the Gunners an opportunity to move into the Champions League places. And just as we saw against Fulham a bit earlier in the season, a below par performance can prove to be costly at this level.
That said, I will be surprised and disappointed if Arsene does not rotate his squad around during the next three games that will be played in the course of seven days. The injury situation will make that task tougher but Wenger just cannot field his best players in all the games.
At the back I would not like to see any changes for this game. Coquelin deserves another game. Vermaelen should continue at left-back with Mertesacker and Koscielny in defence. I think the young Frenchman will have to bring some versatility to his game in order to make a big career at Arsenal. The current injury woes have given him a chance he’d do well to grab with both hands, or feet.
In the midfield, Song should come back alongside Arteta but I’d like to see Rosicky, if fit, replace Ramsey, who deserves a breather. Up front, either Gervinho or Walcott can be rested with Benayoun coming into the starting eleven.
Szczesny – Coquelin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Benayoun.
This won’t be Arsenal’s strongest line-up from the players available but the Gunners just have to learn to pick up points consistently even while resting regular starters.
Depending on the performances and result of this game, as well as the fitness levels, Arsene could then rest some of the other players in the next game. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options at the back so it will be hard for the defenders to get many breaks, which of course can then compromise their own long-term fitness. It will be a stroke of genius if Arsene can find a way to give his defenders some time off. Playing Song at the back, an early return for Djourou, a big risk with Squillaci, and another chance for Miquel are all options Le Boss can explore (certainly not all at once) but none of them is particularly exciting at this moment.
Coming to tactics, this game should be routine for Arsenal. Wolves have not kept a clean sheet in 14 League games and I can’t see them keeping the Gunners out unless the tempo drops considerably. For Arsenal it’s just about moving the ball around at their usual high pace, probing, and waiting for opportunities to score. There should be plenty of openings and Van Persie should get good chances to equal Shearer’s record.
Rosicky and Benayoun haven’t played many games this season so the changes suggested, or any that Wenger actually makes, could prove to be risky. Nevertheless, teams vying for top honours need to know how to override such perils without too much of a fuss.
Subtle adjustments might be needed if one of the pacy wingers is not in the starting line-up. The regular wide attacker that starts will have to make a significantly higher number of central runs to get into spaces vacated by Van Persie. Rosicky and Benayoun can both provide the creative ability to thread a ball though and individual technique to get the better of their marker, but neither will have the pace to take on defenders in order to get in behind on a regular basis.
We might also see more combination play around the box if an extra technical player is picked on the wings. The final ball and finish at the end of all that passing must not lack that fraction of quality that differentiates teams at this level.
In defence, Arsenal will again have the usual threat of wing-play, counter-attacks, and aerial bombardment. The collective defence is strong enough to deal with it but individual mistakes just have to be cut out. Wolves do press well on occasions but I am not sure they will be able to do that successfully in an away game to Arsenal.
After copping a great deal of flak for their overly physical play at the start of last season, Mick McCarthy’s side has also started playing better with the ball on the ground. That hasn’t worked out so well for them but I like their efforts and wish them well in their bid for Premiership survival. Hopefully, this game won’t see them regress to their earlier approach or boost their chances for avoiding relegation. Here’s to a clean game where Arsenal can show they have the depth needed to capitalize on the points dropped by the big-spending rivals.
In an unrelated matter, in case you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, here is a stat-based analysis/comparison of the performances of Scott Parker and Denilson that I did for Epl Index. I think it’s safe to say the overhyped Englishman is not good enough for Arsenal.