We are heading out on a 10 day vacation starting tomorrow. This was scheduled months ago before the fixtures were announced as my wife has to pick her annual leave days before the year starts. Can’t say I’m happy about missing the big games but we wanted to give the busy holiday period a miss so these days work the best.
I don’t think I will get a chance to watch the games before we return so there won’t be any articles till the day before the West Ham game.
In this post I want to quickly capture some thoughts for the upcoming games. City at home and Chelsea away are going to be genuinely tough fixtures. In relative terms, they certainly can’t be classified as “eminently winnable”, something we did for the last four fixtures. Curiously enough, the Gunners did win both these games last season. There was the goal-fest at the Bridge and an Arteta belter at the Emirates. Are we likely to see a repeat? Let’s talk about it game by game, but before that a couple of observations about Arsenal’s season in general.
An article of mine will appear on the Betting Expert Blog later this week. In that I look at some numbers pertaining to Arsenal’s season. Here is one example – Did you realize the Gunners have scored 57.5 percent of their goals in 20 percent of their games. Big scores against Reading, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Southampton have contributed 23 goals to the Arsenal tally. That means they’ve only scored 42.5 percent of their goals in the remaining 80 percent of their games. 17 goals in 16 games makes it barely over 1 goal per game.
Secondly, in the five games that Arsenal have played against teams currently above them in the League, their record is P5W1D2L2F9A8. More than half the 9 goals in the ‘For’ column came from the Tottenham win. No side kept a clean sheet in those five games.
City @ home
Wenger and Mancini seem to have certain commonalities in the way they want their teams to play. This has meant that the games between their sides, in recent years, have been intense midfield battles. All three fixtures ended in a 1-0 score last year with City winning two. This year the first game was tied 1-1 with both goals coming from set-pieces. In 2010-11 it was a 0-0 at the Emirates and a 0-3 win for the Gunners in Manchester on the back of an early sending off.
I will be very surprised if this game has many goals. City will have a threat on counter-attacks and that could be worrisome for Arsenal if they try to press high up the pitch. Will be interesting to see if Wenger picks Mertesacker in the starting line-up and if he pushes his team up the pitch.
Given the attacking talent that Mancini has at his disposal, sitting deep will not be a clever approach but Arsenal did have a relative comfortable time in the first half at the Etihad stadium.
City’s record in the games against the top six sides is not special. They’ve P5W1D3L1F6A6. Also, four of these five games were at their home. This season they’ve not been as strong a side as they were last year.
Mancini’s side have won 5 of their 10 away games but have lost only 1. They’ve only conceded 10 goals in 10 away games and have conceded 1 or less in 17 of their 21 League games. The Gunners have won 5 of their 9 home games and lost 2. Arsenal have let in 1.44 goals per game at home this season, which puts them way back in 15th position as far as the ‘defending at home’ stakes are concerned.
This one looks like a draw to me but it could boil down to that one decisive moment that seals the three points. In such cases, attributes like ‘sharpness’, ‘handbrake’, ‘confidence’, ‘spirit’, etc. play a vital role.
Swansea @ home
The Swans have been a pleasant surprise this season. Regular readers know how much I admire Michael Laudrup and it’s good to see him do well. Hopefully, he’ll have a long and enjoyable time in England.
I’m not sure what I want from this game. A win has it’s obvious advantages from progression to the next round to a confidence boost before the Chelsea game. The result of this game will also be very important if City take all three points from their visit. Arsenal haven’t found consistency or momentum this season so every win is likely to help.
But I’m not convinced the Gunners are going to go all the way in the FA Cup. So there’s a thought at the back of the mind that an early exit will help them in the other competitions, primarily the League. The fight for fourth is going to be harder than ever and distractions will not help.
All things considered, it seems another defeat to Swansea at home will cause more problems than it will have benefits. Hopefully, Wenger and his men will have the right answers this time around. Laudrup’s team don’t concede many goals and have shown a tendency to capitalize on the opponent’s errors, particularly late in the game. Arsenal will need early impetus to get through.
Will Wenger rotate his starting eleven for this game as it’s sandwiched between two big League games?
Chelsea @ Stamford Bridge
Rafa Benitez has overseen a mixed run of form after taking over the Chelsea hot seat. Big wins and disappointing defeats have never been far away from each other. How will they fare in this game?
The Blues don’t have to contend with an FA Cup replay but they have a Premier League game against Southampton at about the same time Arsenal face Swansea. So from a physical point of view they should not have an advantage.
Dembe Ba could be the key player in that game. He isn’t a great all-round striker but he is an exceptionally efficient goalscorer who can convert half-chances. Benitez likes to build a team from the defence first and Chelsea could rely on fast breaks in this game. While Wenger’s home record against Rafa, when the Spaniard was at Liverpool, is pretty good, the current side could struggle if Chelsea get their act together. In fairness, there are big ifs involved in this game for both sides and Arsenal could also win it.
Chelsea have a decent record against the top six teams winning three of their five games. Oddly enough, they’ve lost at home to United and drawn at home to City while winning away to Arsenal, Spurs, and Everton.
Arsenal have the best away defence in the League conceding just 0.82 goals per game thus far. They’ll give themselves a good chance if they keep things tight at the back.
I don’t see any point in discussing the starting elevens for these games right now. Injuries and form will dictate the choices. Hopefully, Wenger will be able to rotate some of his players. It’ll be interesting to see if Rosicky and Diaby can come into the side and make an impact.