So round one of the international break is coming to a close this week and we can all rejoice and be glad that Arsenal football is about to start back up. Several Gunners were out and about representing their country as the Euro 2016 tournament qualifying is getting underway.
The first international break always seems out of place to me. The new seasons for the European leagues are now underway and the transfer window has just closed making international football a distraction and a meaningless one at that. The World Cup just ended, relatively speaking, and as much as I love the World Cup and my disappointment that was the Mexican campaign ended by the Netherlands best diver, I was ecstatic to see the Premier League start back up. Seeing all the new signings donning the new Puma red kits and the initial optimism of a new title hunt on the back of the FA Cup win gets me fired up more than the World Cup.
Maybe it’s because I know Mexico had about as much of a chance to win the World Cup as I have winning the lottery or maybe it’s because that being a Gooner, I have more of a connection to the team. Whatever the reason may be, I headed to the pub on opening day ready to see Arsenal go undefeated again and win every major trophy. Delusional I know, but hey a guy can dream.
With the transfer window closed and the overall disappointment of the window as a whole, the international break pretends to gloss over the problems in our squad like an antibacterial ointment over a stab wound. It gives us a slight reprieve, but only slightly. The upcoming match against Manchester City looms over the horizon like a hurricane heading for Cape Hatteras.
Who will start in this, our test of our resolve and unity, is the ultimate question that Arsene Wenger will have to ponder. Gibbs, Giroud, Arteta, and Walcott are all still listed as injured on the Arsenal injury report. Gibbs and Arteta are close and could feature but not as starters I would think. There is also the fear that Özil is injured and could miss as the City match as well. That being said, I think the back four of Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Debuchy will remain unchanged, largely because Chambers is the only defensive player we have for cover should the worst happen and his youth and energy will be important if that fear manifests itself.
In midfield, some changes will need to be made if Özil is forced to miss the match through injury. Özil played on the left seems to be a waste of his abilities or he is not comfortable in that position. His distribution is much more limited and without that killer ball he can play, our attack fizzled out against Leicester. I know Germany played with him out left as well and I still felt he was largely ineffective, barring the moments of brilliance that he is capable of creating. If fit, I would play him centrally behind the striker. If not fit, than Cazorla should start in the central midfield position.
The defensive midfield position should be left to Flamini (preferably Arteta if healthy) and Ramsey should start along side him offset and slightly ahead to capitalize on the runs that he is capable of performing. However, there is some concern for Ramsey after he suffered an apparent injury at the end of the Wales match Tuesday, however early reports suggest he will be fine for the weekend. Wilshere’s performance in the England match against the Swiss may make a case for him starting in midfield or on the left but his inclusion in the qualifier will more than likely put him on the bench.
In attack, left should be Cazorla and right Sanchez. Podolski could play left and Ox left or right but I feel that Wenger will stick with the usual suspects. Up top, Welbeck should be the automatic starter over Sanogo. I don’t have much faith in the young Frenchman to get a goal against City when he could barely get a shot off on Leicester. Welbeck has more experience, and more goals in the league. That should be enough to guarantee the top spot since Giroud is injured but I have been wrong before.
Podolski came out and said that he had a conversation with Wenger over his place in the team and his importance. The conversation (supposedly) emphasized Podolski’s goal scoring ability. I value Podolski highly for his ability to get a goal but for this to happen he needs more than ten minutes at the end of a match. One of my favorite attributes Podolski has is to shoot first and ask questions later. He finds the target well and with so much power. Watch the goal against Bayern last year and see how Neuer’s first reaction is to get his head out the way for fear he may lose it. Podolski causes much debate due to his defensive responsibilities and pace. His mind usually seems to have one track and the minute the ball is lost he tends to pull out than defend. The same can be said for Özil however, and I think both players could benefit from showing the drive to defend.
Manchester City will be a test of our resolve and hopefully all of our players escaped the international break in one piece. The defending champions make me nervous anytime we face them especially when looking back at the results we had last year against the top four teams. A 1-1 draw at home and a 6-3 away loss last season should be fresh in our memories. Flamini’s second half equalizer at home gave us the draw. The away match at the Etihad was much more interesting. A match where you score 3 goals away should normally mean a win however defensive lapses and a penalty saw us give away the match. I truly felt that this was the one match last season where, despite our losses to the top 4 teams, we actually had a good chance of securing the draw or even a win. All of our solid defensive work last season was gone that match and it resulted in a shootout. Unfortunately for us, a shootout against a team with Aguero, Dzeko, et al, means a loss and that is what happened.
This match, while far from a must-win, is one where we must turn up and perform. A win away against the title holders will do wonders for our confidence as a unit. It is time to prove the naysayers wrong and show that we are title contenders. I know we all worry about our defensive depth and goal-scoring ability, but once again we have the players to get job done. Time will tell.
Until next week,
Cheers and Come on your Gunners!