Rejoice Gooners – November is over.
Infamously Arsene Wenger’s least successful month under his extensive tenure in terms of points earned, November 2015 saw the Gunners continue tradition with a winless run in the Premier League.
There are positives however. Despite being unable to win in the eleventh month of the calendar year, Arsenal are still within two points of the league summit. If we could just rid ourselves of that cursed cup kit…..
Today’s opponents are buoyed by two wins from their last two games – last week saw a 2-0 win against Stoke – and manager Sam Allardyce is doing exactly what he is famed for – tightening defences and making his teams difficult to break down.
They also have firepower – with Premier League veteran Jermain Defoe starting to score and Mackem’s great hope Duncan Watmore scoring his debut goal last week.
If there is any perceived weakness in Sam Allardyce’s team, it is in their defence. Until January and when Big Sam can bring his own reinforcements in, he has to adapt with what material he has currently. Sebastian Coates, John O’Shea and Wes Brown will once more be part of their central defence, so pace will be key.
In regards to Arsenal, their ranks are still beset by injury. Currently out are:
Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla.
Nine first team players are currently missing and questions are being asked. Season after season it appears the Gunners are cursed with a plague of ailments which leave their squad down to their bare bones and it leaves the team scrabbling for purchase in the tough climb to the top.
Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin are the usual pairing in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield and their prognosis for respective returns sees Arsene required to switch around personnel. Yesterday’s press conference saw Arsene refuse to put a date on Cazorla’s expected return but a date of around March has been mentioned by the media. With Jack and Coquelin also missing and Arteta unable to pick up the slack, January and the chance to reinforce cannot come soon enough.
Alexis is currently in sunnier climes, rather than in Arsenal’s squad. Recuperating in his native Chile from the hamstring injury suffered last week, he is expected to return far quicker than Santi Cazorla, but no firm dates have been set. Gooners will be hoping that it is sooner rather than later with a hectic schedule inbound and the pressing matter of a ‘winner takes all’ match in hostile territory against Olympiacos.
Aaron Ramsey started last weeks match versus Norwich and his displeasure at constantly starting on the right of midfield should be dispelled promptly. With Cazorla and Coquelin absent, this looks like his chance to reassert himself in his desired position in the centre. Mathieu Flamini looks again like the man to sit deep and clean up any opposition attacks and has silenced many doubters since he started to deputise for the crocked Coquelin.
With Alexis out, Arsene needs to shuffle the pack. Joel Campbell will be used on the flanks, and Mesut Ozil may be employed on the left – although a free-roaming role will more than likely be his instruction. This could leave this season’s star performer Nacho Monreal open, so Arsene may opt for a Kieran Gibbs / Nacho team on the left and leave Mesut in the Number 10 spot. All is dependent on Gibbs and Wenger has said he should be ready for this game.
Some very good news in terms of injuries is that Laurent Koscielny should make the squad for this game, but it is unclear whether he will start. If not, Gabriel will continue to partner Mertesacker, but regardless, it is heartening news that the Frenchman has made such a quick recovery.
Even better news is that Theo Walcott looks likely to make the matchday squad also. After such a fantastic start to the season, Walcott’s injury derailed his promising start to life as a central striker. His return is a huge boost and gives Arsene an ace up his sleeve from the bench.
Olivier Giroud will continue in his role up front. Much has been made of his underwhelming numbers in tandem with Alexis Sanchez – a mere one goal has been made for each other. Seeing as Arsenal are a team who create chances, this represents a slight clash in styles but with Alexis missing, this leaves the road open for Giroud to take up the mantle once more. Maybe worth a bet for first scorer?
Two points from the top, November has once more finished for a year and the Gunners can wear their home jersey rather than that abomination of a third kit. A win is always vital, but with a chasing pack now breathing down our necks, it is mandatory that Arsenal get back to winning ways.