What a game to kick off the new league season it was last week! In a game that threw up everything, including all the emotions we normally associate with our beloved Reds many of us (those who woke at 430am on a Saturday morning) would have felt certain impulses of familiar frustration. We probably asked ourselves what the hell we were doing awake at this time to watch this team put us through the ringer in the very first game of the year? We cheered at Lacazettes’ debut goal after only 2 minutes (surely the fastest debt goal on record?) before despairing at our patched up defence leaking like a rusty boat at every thrust forward by our opponents. When things seemed their worst, we held our heads in our hands as the boss switched Bellerin to Left back, the Ox to Right back while he subbed on Ramsey and Ollie for the last twenty minutes. What a masterstroke it turned out to be as both lads scored late goals to equalize and then snatch the victory in a breathless opening day of the new campaign.
In the aftermath of that roller coaster experience, there was the normal flurry of activity on social media, calling out the fairly obvious and also the obscure. Whatever your stance on the on field performance was it can’t be ignored that, yes the defence was fairly dire and the way we conceded did indeed infuriate many of us. We aren’t exactly going to reach for the white sheet and the shotgun just yet, but there are definitely areas we expect to see some improvements in this weekend as we travel to castle greyskull to battle skeletor and his legion of disfigured footballers.
For instance, it will be a big help to actually play more than 1 centre half in a formation that requires 3 fairly decent centre halves to be effective. If Mustafi, Mertesacker and Koscielny (banned) are still not available this week we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us revert back to a flat back 4 until they are good to come back into the squad again. Last week was a bit of a debacle to be honest as far as that goes. We got away with it, luckily for us, but on another day (and against better opposition) we might not get that some rub of the green.
On the lighter side of things, Sead Kolasinac rubber stamped his cult hero status with a great debut performance that included such highlights as; shoving his huge rig into Mahrez until the Algerian lost the ball over the touch-line, having 85 touches, winning 100% of his 4 tackles, going on a mazy run up the flank that included a delightful bit of skill and notching a cool as ice assist when through on goal.
Add to this a goal scoring full league debut for Alexandre Lacazette and things seem even better. There was a great piece of analysis on his first game from Arsenal legend and GOAT, Thierry Henry which you can take a look at right here. There will obviously be a few tweaks to our game style as the midfield gets familiar with the new boys runs, the signs from the Leicester game are positive though.
This weekend we travel to Stoke. We all know the history and how big a match this is for their local pride as being recognised as the most tooth barren fan base in all the land.
Seriously though, this is Stokes Grand Final every season. If there’s one game their fans will be happy to go out and take victory in, it’s this one. We have dealt with their hostilities in varying ways in the past, more recently we’ve seen off their challenges through the pure gulf in class between the two squads but this season we should approach with caution. They’ve recently added another Ex La Liga prodigy and Champions League winning striker, Jese. Sure he’s fallen from the limelight a bit, but with our most recent defensive display nothing to write home about, we will need to be well and truly aware of the threat Jese may pose as he looks to impress in his new colours. They’ve also added dutch international Bruno Martins Indi on a full-time basis, who is a handy pickup as well. How long it takes them to adapt to life on Trent, remains to be seen, it is quite the idyllic area.
The boss gave his normal pre match interview last night ahead of the clash and it seems likely that The BFG’s cracked noggin’ has recovered enough for him to be available, so that will be a boost to our defensive line. Alexis looks set to miss again with the boss saying;
“For Sanchez it looks a bit early. He works hard everyday in training. Our medical people think Saturday comes to soon and that he should be fit for the next game against Liverpool”
Not surprising but it would have been nice to have Alexis back in the frame. Best to get him 100% before exposing him to the trials of a full paced game.
Other players set to be included in the squad for the game include; Mustafi and Coquelin, although we are unsure as to their match readiness given that Mustafi was on the pine last week but didn’t feature and Coq is working back from his latest setback.
The pressure will be on to keep the points coming this week as our rivals, particularly United, continue on their fairly easy start to the season where they will no doubt rack up early points (they play none of last seasons top 6 in the 1st 6 games).
Players to watch:
Had a middling game next to Elneny last week. Made an error which led to a Leicester goal but also showed moments of his normal range of passing and confidence on the ball. The sooner he gets to full swing the better, especially with the number of key players currently under cooked.
Showed signs of his rustiness as he worked his way through the game last week. Will be better for the run out and we are looking forward to his developing relationship with our new frontman.
Matty B and I will be reviewing the game Sunday for you all with a brand new podcast covering all the best and latest from the Arsenal coming shortly afterwards. Keep your eyes open for that.