This wonderful new journey brought by our inclusion in the Thursday night show case that is the Europa League continues, as we face off on Sunday against London rival, Chelsea. If you are filled with dread at this upcoming match, you are not alone.
The home side look just as formidable at home as they did all last season. Arsenal, well we don’t really quite know what we are going to get until the ball is kicked and even then, well your guess is as good as any.
Therein lies the problem at Arsenal. Okay, it’s one of the problems at Arsenal. We don’t exactly know what is going to happen from one match to the next or one minute to the other for that fact.
That is among other things what is so perplexing about this squad. When you look across the names in the squad, assuming you’d been living under a rock for a year or so, you’d say, “hey that’s a pretty good team.” Remember the saying that always starts, “on paper. . .” Yeah, well as we know no football match is played on paper and the names aren’t living up to the talent.
While there are players who maybe are past their sell-on date for the most part there are players who could help any other team win major honours. But as a collective, at Arsenal, they repeatedly fail. Now some of that is on the manager and how he puts together this collective.
Some of the matches (cough cough Stoke away) you’ve looked at the line up and thought what the hell was he thinking. As much as Wenger does bare some of the blame for our identity crisis, the players do too.
The manager can set up training week in and week out to help better the players. But on match day, it’s the players that have to go out and perform. The fact is simply, they haven’t, not with any level of consistency.
That’s problematic. I don’t care who is moving on and when they are moving, but if you are a professional player and you pull on the shirt of the club, you better bloody well perform. And the damn manager better have the cajones to pull you off the field if you don’t. Wenger doesn’t and we are left with a vicious cycle of underperformance without consequences.
Now, that may be okay against lesser sides, like FC Köln or Bournemouth at home, but bigger sides, stronger sides, faster sides, they will make you pay and if we don’t find something within us to play a consistent up tempo style against Chelsea, you can see this being a very long day.
The real issue I see for this is how we lineup. While the 3-4-3 employed after Crystal Palace last season helped see us through the end of the year, the solidity it showed then, has been anything but as of now. In fact Arsenal have only looked decent this year when Wenger has reverted back to the 4-2-3-1 he was employing beforehand.
Against Köln, it wasn’t until half time when we went back to the 4 at the back that we started to see runs in front of the ball and overlaps happening in the final third. Movement of the ball was better and for Arsenal – more forward.
Systems are designed to get the best out of the personnel we have. I am not sure at this moment we have the personnel to effectively implement the back 3. For that matter some may argue (and possibly correctly so, we weren’t executing the 4-2-3-1 all too well last season.) The fact remains we look much more balanced when we are playing the all too familiar Wenger favorite formation.
In addition to the worry about the system of play, is our away record against the top six. Since the 13/14 season we have played 21 away matches against the top of the table. We have won 2, drawn 6, and lost 13. We’ve managed to score 24 goals and conceded an astounding 52.
Throw on top of that our record against Chelsea. Since the 2007/2008 season we are 9W, 15L 4D in all competitions. For the Premier League that equates to a 3W 12L 3D record and of that we’re only 2W 8L 0D at Stamford Bridge. Our last win at the Bridge was with Robin Van Persie in the side and Petr Cech in goal for the visitors. It’s not the stuff of glory to be sure.
Arsenal can ill afford to lose this match, it’s as much of a must win as you can have this early in the season. With two losses already a third could put even their hopes of getting back into the top 4 at peril at this point. It would for certain make the acrimonious feeling around the club increase.
With Arsenal its so hard to get a feel of how they will play. You see moments of glory but they are fleeting. It’s easier to get a read on Chelsea and come away with a sense of dread for this match, especially with our new found Thursday/Sunday schedule.
We can only hope that somehow that what we found to take the game to Chelsea at Wembley for the FA Cup final rises to the top for us in this match and that we come out of the Bridge with a sense of satisfaction. If not . . . well just stay off social media if not.
TRENDS TO WATCH
As mentioned earlier, Arsenal look more like Arsenal when they deploy the 4-2-3-1. But if Wenger wants to get Monreal AND Kolasinac in the lineup its like going to be a back 3 for this match up.
HOW THE MATCH SHOULD PLAY OUT
Simply put, your guess is as good as mine.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez. It may be a risk starting the Chilean over Danny Welbeck at this moment. But he can provide that moment of magic that takes a team to the top.
Chelsea. Marcos Alonso. I honestly didn’t think he’d be all that effective at Chelsea but not only has he shown he is suited for his LWB role, he’s getting well-timed goals.
INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris injury), Coquelin (hamstring)
Chelsea: Drinkwater (calf strain)
Referee: Michael Oliver (3M 7Y 0R)
Assistants: Simon Bennett, Stuart Burt
Fourth official: Neil Swarbrick
UK: Sky Sports 13.30 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 8:30 AM EST
MANAGER’S TAKE (COURTESY ARSENAL.COM)
“I felt that we gave them easy goals. I especially remember the second goal that Hazard scored where we were not strong enough in the challenge or in our individual defending. We learned from it and showed that afterwards in the FA Cup and the Community Shield. I just felt that we played at Wembley like we play at home.
“We didn’t wander too much. It’s on neutral ground and we have a long habit there so we feel we can just play our game. That’s what we want to do this time. It will be interesting again because at Stamford Bridge, we have a good challenge. There is a mental challenge there that we want to get right.”
MATCH FACTS (COURTESY OF THE BBC)
- Chelsea have won eight of the last 11 Premier League meetings (D2, L1).
- The Blues have earned five successive top-flight home victories against Arsenal, with an aggregate score of 15-2.
- A sixth consecutive away league defeat against Chelsea would represent Arsenal’s worst run against a club since losing seven in a row to Liverpool between 1981 and 1988.
- Arsenal have kept only one Premier League clean sheet in their last 18 games at Stamford Bridge.
- Arsenal could lose their first three away games of a league season for the first time since 1954.
- The Gunners could also go three top-flight away matches without a goal for the first time since 1994-95.
- Danny Welbeck has three goals in four Premier League appearances this season, after netting just two in 16 games last term.
- This is Arsene Wenger’s 59th match against Chelsea, the club he has faced the most during his time in England.
Chelsea 2 – 0 Arsenal