Arsene Wenger has pointed at the upcoming home fixtures as his side’s way back and marked December as the crucial month.
We will come back. Now we have six games, four at home, and if we do well in this block I think we have a chance to come back. But of course it is vital for us to do well in these games.
He’s not off the mark here, almost every team has struggled in the Premier League this season, but the top two have consistently found a way to put the points on the table.
In a way though, Wenger’s comments have officially made this a must-win game for the Gunners. Hopefully, that will mean we see the required urgency in play right from the start.
Having said that, I also feel the problem that Arsenal sometimes face – that issue where it seems the players are taking it lightly against smaller teams or don’t want the win desperately enough – is not as much related to desire and winning mentality as it is to confidence.
At the moment, it is difficult to assess the confidence levels in the squad. While the players talk a good talk, we haven’t seen enough inspiration in their play to completely believe that they are enjoying their football while being largely in control of games in a manner which suits their strengths.
As regular readers know, to me this is directly down to the system of play. The Gunners look relatively secure at the back and impressive in attack when the system clicks. They either look vulnerable at the back or bereft of ideas up front when it doesn’t, sometimes both. This season we haven’t seen the right balance in Arsenal’s football in most of the games. I think that makes the players hesitant and inhibits the natural expression of their creative and technical qualities.
In that regard, it’ll be interesting to see how Swansea line-up tactically. Not in terms of their shape or formation, but their intent when out of possession. Many teams have successfully pressed the Gunners in the central third to stifle the attacking threat while opening up avenues for quick transitions.
I’m not convinced Swansea have the same unrelenting desire to chase with boundless energy that Everton, for instance, displayed on Wednesday. This could give the Gunners a little more breathing room in the central third. But even if the visitors take a slightly more passive approach to defending, they will undoubtedly remain structurally strong and will focus on denying time and space in the attacking areas. It’s not by coincidence that they’ve conceded just 7 goals in 6 away games.
We might also see Laudrup using Michu as a central striker which will give them the luxury of picking another midfield player and thus adding to the technical ability of the side. We all know Swansea can defend by holding on to the ball.
So, the other interesting aspect of this game will be Arsenal’s tactics when they lose possession. The Gunners have struggled when they’ve pressed up the pitch but they just can’t let an accomplished Swansea side pass the ball around at the back. The visitors have enough technical quality and mobility to create good chances when offered the convenience of picking their passes without pressure.
In particular, I think their ability to quickly move the ball wide and work combinations with one-touch football will test the Arsenal defence. They also use the ball cleverly when delivering from the wider areas as they try to cross it back across the penalty box or to pick a man at the far post instead of just putting a hopeful ball in. This is possible because their quick combination play creates a bit of room for the man delivering the vital pass from wide. They might miss Pablo Hernandez but Routledge and Dyer – who troubled Arsenal last season – can be just as exciting on their day.
I’ll be very surprised if Arsenal don’t push their back four to at least halfway in their own half. But such a tactic will open room for some runs in behind that their pacy wingers could utilize. Nevertheless, it’s better than sitting on the edge of the box and inviting the opponents forward in numbers.
Wenger’s team selection will also have an impact on the patterns of play. Hopefully, he’ll be able to rotate a couple of players again but fitness issues and the factor of balance could limit his choices.
If Podolski is fit he should come back into the line-up. I’d like to see him given a game down the middle with Giroud taking a breather but I doubt Arsene will try that ‘experiment’ at this stage of the season when the stakes are high.
Cazorla is another player who could use a rest but this is also the kind of game where the Spaniard could get more time to pick his passes, particularly if he drifts wide.
Sagna could be a doubt at the back, in which case Jenkinson should get another chance to impress. The youngster has done well in a limited context this season in that he’s controlled his positioning and passing – perhaps a direct instruction from the coaches – to make his style of a ‘safety first’ variety. That has kept the right flank relatively well protected but it has come at the cost of attacking impetus from that side. Again, it’s an issue of balance. I have a feeling Wenger will risk Sagna if the inflammation isn’t serious.
Both teams have pace at their disposal and, at the simplest level, the one which is able to get it’s quick players behind the opponents is likely to come away with the points.
Possible starting eleven,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
Wenger has said that he’ll put out a strong team against Olympiacos but I’m guessing we’ll see more players rested in that game than this one.
The following stat on the official website does not inspire confidence,
Arsenal have won just three of their last nine Premier League home games (W3 D4 L2) and two of those have been when the opposition have been reduced to 10 men.
There’s enough quality in the team to win this game. But it’s also not difficult to imagine another disappointing performance, it’s happened way too often. The margins are very fine at this level an we’ll have to hope the right factors dominate.Follow @goonerdesi
P.S. This is a link to an article I did for the Betting Expert blog. I was looking at goal difference stats and it provided some interesting insights.