Feb 3rd, 2017 by 'holic
It’s turned into a week of difficult pieces to put together. Before Tuesday night we were a team gathering a head of steam ahead of a monster of a match at the bus stop in Fulham. Now we go into a match against unquestionably the form team of the moment with a midfield decimated by injury, suspension, and the African Cup of Nations.
A gap we hoped would be down to six points is up instead to nine, and should that grow to twelve tomorrow, well, it would leave us with no room for manoeuvre in the remaining fourteen fixtures. Can you see Chelsea losing four in that space of time?
Away with you, defeatism. Now is the time to consider just how we might repeat our 3-0 drubbing of the current leaders at the Grove in September. The same back five are available and it would be a surprise if Petr Cech didn’t start behind Hector Bellerin, Skhodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal. The central pairing in particular were outstanding that day causing lone Chelsea raider, the loathsome Costa, to lose his head.
Francis Coquelin started that day with the imperious Santi Cazorla. Tomorrow, should we retain the 4-2-3-1 formation, he will need someone of less experience alongside him. Despite their contribution to a wonderful win at Southampton last weekend I suspect Chelsea away may be a Bridge too far (sorry!) for Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain makes no secret of his wish to play in the middle of the pitch and this is surely his opportunity to show what he can become for us?
Mesut Ozil is a given in the number ten role, but what of the attacking trio for him to provide the ammunition? In the home match we went for pace and fluidity with Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, and Alexis up top. I suspect that Arsene may opt for that tomorrow too, but Danny Welbeck looked very sharp last weekend and wasn’t involved in the Watford debacle. I would prefer him to start on the left in a strong, quick, and interchangeable front three. Lucas and Olivier Giroud give us good options from the bench if circumstances require.
There is another option open to Arsene, and that is to try and match Chelsea man for man by playing three at the back. Rob Holding is also not tarred with the Watford brush and could slot into a three. In this instance Keiran Gibbs might be preferred to Monreal on the left and Danny Welbeck might drop to the bench. This could negate what otherwise looks likely to be the home side outnumbering us in midfield.
Of course it is highly unlikely that Arsene would do the latter and so we really do need another performance of pace and power if we are to replicate September’s wonderful triumph. The measure of the task is in the fact that the invincibles were the last Gunners side to complete a double over Chelsea. Thirteen years could be unlucky for someone in a fixture that has become a test of discipline in recent years.
The ‘holic pound
The bookmakers are nervous about the outcome, and were we not the opposition I would seriously consider a healthy punt on them at just about odds on, 10/11. There, I’ve said it. Instead the voice in my other ear is looking at the value being offered on an entirely different outcome.
We are finishing matches strongly these days, even if we don’t always turn up for the start. I have to believe we will be up for it from the off tomorrow, and I am drawn to scores being level at half-time with us producing a match winning moment or two in the second-half at a best of 9/1.
There is one other factor in our favour tomorrow. I usually make the effort to get to this one, and I have been something of a jinx of late, it would appear. I am giving it a miss this season in the hope that this swings things decisively in our favour.
To those who are going I wish you a much better day than most are predicting. Wherever you are watching the match I wish all of you a great one, ‘holics.