Clearly, every game is a very tough one for Arsenal on current form. Will the team get its first League win of 2012? Doesn’t seem like it if we look at the manner in which Arsenal have dropped points in recent games, or the way Blackburn came from behind to win at home earlier this season, or the fact that Steve Kean is yet to lose against Wenger or Ferguson in the Premiership (2W, 2D)!
The other way of looking at this is to see it as another opportunity, and they’re running out fast, to get back on whatever little is left of the track. On that there can’t be many arguments.
I honestly don’t know how this game will shape up. Arsenal have been fairly good at home and the recent games haven’t been that bad in terms of performances. It’s the details that have caused problems in attack and defence. Can the players and the manager get it right this time?
Blackburn will be without Yakubu (suspension) and Samba (not in the right frame of mind according to Steve Kean). That weakens them in attack and defence. The patterns of play are likely to be very similar to the ones we saw in the previous game against Bolton. Arsenal will have a lot of the ball while the visitors sit back and get bodies between said ball and goal.
The visitors’ main threat will come from the pace of Hoilett and Olsson down the left. Apart from that it’s about the physical presence of players like Nzonzi in the box, shooting skills of David Dunn, and the poaching instincts of Goodwillie. It’s worth nothing that after Yakubu’s 12 goals, Blackburn’s next best is 3 from Hoilett and Formica followed by Pedersen, Samba, and Rochina with 2. As they showed against Newcastle, even when they did dominate possession and create a lot of chances, they don’t have quality goal-scorers at the moment. That will not prevent Arsenal from conceding a bizarre goal or two though; only unwavering focus and discipline, not only at the back but from all the players, can stop that.
The Gunners will have to double up on Hoilett whenever he gets into the final third. Failure to do that will allow him to get into the box and/or put the ball into danger areas. Song will have a big defensive role on the Right side of midfield. In this game he shouldn’t push up as often as he’s done in the past.
In attack, I sense a massive opportunity for Arsenal to trouble a centre-back pairing of Gael Givet and Scott Dann (or, for that matter, whoever Kean picks). But for that to happen Arsenal need to get bodies in the box and show the ability to penetrate down the middle. And of course, finish the chances once they are created.
Against Bolton, Arsenal created a number of gilt-edged chances when the hosts were lax with their defensive tactics but failed to trouble their goalkeeper after they got tighter. The wide players didn’t really have the technique to join RvP in the centre of the box and the midfield didn’t have enough creativity.
In this game Arsenal will have to produce much improved combination play. Essentially, one wants to see quick passing moves involving four or five players in the build-up. When the attacking team is limited to the man on ball looking for a runner and the runner looking to finish, the defensive side’s task is easier. Instead, if they have to contend with a number of runs, dummies, cut-backs, disguised passes, etc., they are more likely to leave gaps at the back that can be exploited.
Talking of ability to penetrate and the need for link-up play high up the pitch, this game should see the likes of Rosicky and Arshavin get a game. It’s coming too soon after the previous one to start with the same eleven. Arsene said Oxlade-Chamberlain will be given a late fitness test for a jarred knee. I think he should be rested for this one as his energy and skills will be needed in upcoming games. Little Mozart should come in place of the jaded Ramsey.
At the back I don’t think many changes are possible. Sagna is just coming back so his fitness will obviously be a concern. If he is fit Arsene could rest Song and play Coquelin. But if Sagna needs a break Le Boss will have to play Song.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Arshavin.
Coquelin could come in for one of the players if Arsene wants to freshen it up some more. But given the desperate need for a win it’s hard to see too many changes being made.
The atmosphere in the stadium will also play it’s part but I don’t know which side is likely to benefit from that.
Despite my prediction for goals in the previous game falling flat and the fact that the previous home fixture against the same opposition also ended in a goalless draw, I am again going to predict a number of goals in this one – at least three. Don’t ask me which end they’ll be scored. Let’s just hope Robinson adds to his record of conceding 53 goals against Arsenal – more than goals conceded by any other Keeper against any other Premier League side.
Before ending I want to link to this excellent post on the January window by ArsenalVision. Strongly recommended reading for everyone who hasn’t already read it.Follow @goonerdesi