Normally, I would go for how this game is the one where we bounce back. Where the players need to show that the last few games is just a poor run of results and we are better than that. I guess in some ways, the premise still stands. However, it is getting harder and harder (personally), to believe such statement. We go away to Gelsenkirchen to look for another 3 points to add to the 6 already gained as we seek to progress to the next stage of the competition.
Now, on the face of it, a draw isn’t exactly the worst result in the world to come home from Germany with. It won’t take us to the top of the group but it will definitely keep us in second spot, with every chance of going through. Partly because we still have 2 more fixtures to go, after this. Fixtures that can be considered to be easier than the one we have to tonight. Partly because Shalke showed that on MatchDay 3, they are no pushovers and we will be in for a tough game.
In that game that lost us our long standing unbeaten run against non English oppositions, Shalke came with a specific plan and execute it well. In many ways, that plan was similar to the one that Manchester United used on Saturday. It’s not revolutionary tactics from Alex Ferguson to put one over us but rather being smart enough to pick up what he saw in the games leading up to the match. That by closing down on Mikel Arteta and exploiting the lack of pace/positioning on the left of our defence in the shape of Andre Santos, teams can limit our first distribution outlet as well as find the space to create openings against us.
Shalke also lost at the weekend which means they also come into this game wanting to right the mistakes of the last match. With the home crowd expected to be in full voice, it will only make things harder for us. With the games coming up thick and fast, I’m sure Arsene Wenger would like some opportunity to rest some players but that won’t happen tonight. Having seen what they can do, Shalke is not the team we can put in a changed side and hope to get a result. That said, the manager must be pondering on making slight tweaks here and there.
One of it, will be enforced. Aaron Ramsey misses the game due to groin strain and did not travel with the squad. In any other circumstance, it would be Theo Walcott who steps in. Except that he is supposedly down with some illness and there are doubts. With both Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still unavailable, we are suddenly looking short in numbers in the wide areas. Surely the idea to put one of the midfielders to the wider positions is being considered by the manager.
In fact, two of the starting central midfielders on Saturday are capable of taking up the role. Both Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are no strangers to the wider positions, having played there before in the career, whether at a younger stage or in the first team. With our team so bereft of invention and creativity, it would be hard to leave either on the bench. I must admit that I’m a little worried for Wilshere. Are the games coming too close for him? By that I mean is he ready to be playing his second game in just 4 days time? I hope whatever decision is made on him, is made with the long term in mind.
That is definitely not the line-up that Wenger will put out tonight but it’s one which I personally want to see us try. It’s nothing to do with Cazorla being ineffective in the being. It’s actually more to do with the players that we have that are not in the line-up. Lukas Podolski has been mostly anonymous in September. Without Kieran Gibbs bombing forward down the left, there’s little space for the German to exploit.
It is no coincidence that our form started to derailed when Abou Diaby got injured but on the other hand, it was risky to depend on his fitness in the first place. Mikel Arteta is getting overworked and needs help. He can’t do it all himself. In Francis Coquelin, we have a player who can sit and help relieve some of the defending duties that Arteta carries. If Walcott doesn’t make it, then I don’t mind seeing Emmanuel Frimpong partnering Coquelin in the middle and allowing Arteta a much freer role to attack.
As for the defensive side of things, Thomas Vermaelen has been a shadow of his former self. He might be the captain but there must be a strong case to present for Laurent Koscielny to play from the start. We’ve seen how moving centre backs to full backs positions doesn’t help the team. Which is why, if we are to have Santos on the bench, I would prefer to see Bacary Sagna being given the left back role than shifting Vermaelen over there.
All said and done, while tactically we’ve been a little naive lately, that isn’t our greatest weakness. For a team that relies so heavily on the freedom of expressing
our attacking talents, we’ve seen very little of it in recent games. It’s time for the team to play with less inhibitions and more desire. Strong in the challenges and first to the second balls. I sure hope the team is up for it today.
Up The Arsenal!!!