It’s hard to think beyond Mesut Özil, isn’t it? Hard to wait for the game to begin but wait we must. And while we are at it let’s just chat about a few things we are likely to see in this game.
Recent encounters against Sunderland have been tense affairs with some disappointing results. It’s hard to predict the result of this game but I have a feeling we will see a very different game from the hosts.
Di Canio is not O’Neill, thankfully, and he will not set out to frustrate the Gunners. It will be a surprise if Sunderland don’t come out to play. That doesn’t mean they’ll chase the ball in Barcelonaesque wolf packs high inside the Arsenal half, but their football should be relatively more proactive with greater offensive intent.
We’ll have to see whether the Italian is brave enough to play two strikers against Arsenal or if he will take the safer route of an extra body in midfield. The Black Cats have good quality attacking players with diverse attributes in the likes of Fletcher, Altidore, and Giaccherini. For instance, Fletcher is a very capable and intelligent finisher in the box while Altidore offers pace and physicality. Giaccherini is more versatile and can contribute to attacks from wide areas as well as making well timed runs and good use of space. They can be a handful to many defences if they can work together as a unit. But that’s where their problems lie at the moment. Having made 13 additions to the squad during the Summer, Di Canio will probably need some time to discover his best eleven.
Sunderland haven’t been poor in their first three games but they’ve been patchy with serious defensive lapses that have proven very expensive. Their fans will be hoping the international break would have given the coaching staff some time to work with a few of the players which might result in a more compact display. Somehow I doubt that will be the case for the duration of the game. It will be a complete shock if the Gunners don’t create a few good quality chances in this game. It could be a good test for the clinical nature of their finishing, and that might have a bearing on the result.
Of course, Arsene Wenger’s choices will also have an impact on the ebb and flow of the game. After the Aston Villa fiasco the Gunners have gone into their shell and have collectively dropped deep to cover up the weaknesses of the Ramsey-Wilshere pairing in midfield. Will the undisputed talents of Özil give Arsenal enough attacking incision to compensate for the holes at the back? Could greater adventure from the visitors open the game up for the Black Cats as well?
In my opinion, the wiser choice is for Arsenal to play cautiously and ensure games are not lost or points dropped due to gifted goals while Özil gets a chance to acclimatize to his new teammates. That said, the players will also have to read the game as it develops and adapt accordingly. If it seems that the opponents aren’t clicking together as a unit and gaps appear in their ranks rather easily, the best approach would be to go for the jugular rather than to sit back and give them the time to gain confidence.
On the other hand, if I were in Di Canio’s shoes, I’d want my team to see whether Arsenal want to revert to their patient possession style. Pressing the deepest midfielder and attacking the space in front of the central defenders could be a profitable approach if the Gunners decide to play out from the back on a consistent basis with Wilshere and Ramsey in the staring eleven behind Özil. Both of those players are yet to demonstrate they can shoulder the responsibility of bringing the ball out from defence on a consistent basis without players like Song or Arteta taking bulk of the burden.
Essentially, this is a game where a lot of depend on how the opening exchanges pan out. The team that finds the tactics to suit the players it has out on the pitch faster than the other will have greater chance of controlling the dynamic of the game, and as a result the outcome too.
Wenger also has the option of starting with Flamini at the base of the midfield. While his energy and defensive work was commendable against Spurs, I don’t see the Frenchman as a regular starter because he doesn’t bring enough other attributes to the team. Furthermore, his defending is more of the visible, energetic kind rather than the subtle, controlling type which is vital in dominating games in the patient, possession-based style.
Unless Özil is unfit (due to illness), or Wilshere is in need of a rest (he really should get more than he does at the moment), there isn’t enough of an argument in favour of starting with Flamini in this particular game. It might be against a team that’s on top of its game but that’s clearly not been the case with the Black Cats.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Özil, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
(I’ve been told by readers on twitter that Mertesacker has not traveled with the squad, in which case it’s highly likely we’ll see Sagna preparing for his future role, and Jenkinson too)
That’s not the most balanced side Wenger will put out this season but given the struggles of the opponent it seems like the best opportunity to see how Wilshere and Ramsey would fit behind Özil. I have my doubts about this but it would be foolish to say players of such quality can’t find a way to play with each other without ever giving them the opportunity to try. The key is in seeing just how many problems are created for both sides and whether those for the opponents far outweighs those for one’s own side. The probability of getting away with mistakes is greater in this game given the disjointed nature of some of Sunderland’s performances.
However, in the last year or so I’ve also noticed that something goes horribly wrong almost every time I start to think this is going to be an easy game. And the chances of that are always higher when Wenger has to make noteworthy changes to his team’s approach. His team’s are at their best when they can stick to an approach and string together a run of form with the players growing into their roles. The introduction of Özil can be a game changer in the positive sense but it can also be disruptive to that process, at least during the initial bedding in period.
In any event, this is going to be a game worth watching and, if the Gunners play anywhere near their potential, Özil’s debut could be a memorable one.Follow @goonerdesi