Just two days after what historians will brand ‘Scorpion Day’ forevermore, after Olivier Giroud’s quite extraordinary goal against Crystal Palace, Arsenal have another Premier League game.
The Gunners travel to Bournemouth with barely time to rest, and this will lead to a side that may include some changes to allow for the inevitable fatigue that comes with two games in two days.
Arsene Wenger would have been pleased with the fighting qualities shown in the last two games – the hard-fought 1-0 win over West Brom on Boxing Day and the 2-0 win mentioned above – but Bournemouth pose an entirely different threat to the two opponents we have defeated.
Eddie Howe has always tried to play expansive football, and although they may opt for the counter-attack in the face of Arsenal’s possession-based football, they will have plenty of the ball – and chances – themselves.
So Wenger could do with the best men at his disposal. In that regard, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott will again miss out, after missing the last two games through injury. This sees Nacho Monreal keep his place at left-back, which he deserves after he and Hector Bellerin tormented Crystal Palace. Mohamed Elneny is off to the Africa Cup of Nations so the midfield dynamic will change from the last match. Aaron Ramsey made a late substitute appearance in the same game, and with Granit Xhaka having played twice within a week, that leaves Francis Coquelin and the Welshman as the two freshest choices.
The most difficult choices come in attack. Alex Iwobi played in Mesut Ozil’s position on Sunday, with the German suffering with an illness. Iwobi excleed in his new role, and may just get another shot with Ozil still under the weather. Ozil may just recover in time, but it is comforting to know that we have another who can jump in when needed. Alexis will most likely start again on the left, as Olivier Giroud has started the last two games as striker and come up trumps on both occasions.
Shkodran Mustafi may return to the side in place of Gabriel, but the Brazilian has made the most of his chance at centre-half and it would be harsh to immediately send him to the bench. He has also played a fair amount of games in a short space of time too however, so Mustafi may just get his place back by default. Seeing as he has never been part of a losing Arsenal side, this would not be bad thing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be looking to get a start as well, and has really started to flourish this season. Will he get a shout? Lucas played well on the right of attack on Boxing Day, but The Ox may just edge him out.
Bournemouth will have ex-Gunner Benik Afobe at their disposal, after he refused a call from DR Congo to play in the AFCON. Best mate and still a Gunner Jack Wilshere is unavailable for selection. Calum Wilson scored the last time these sides played, and he will again be chief threat with his pace. Howe’s team are in ninth spot at the time of writing, and their last result was a handsome win against struggling Swansea City. Howe will be keen to rectify a poor record against the Gunners though, with all three previous games in the Premiership going to the Arsenal, and only one goal scored in favour of the Cherries.
Arsenal have a recent record they also want to change. Their last two away games they have lost, after going a goal up in each of them. If we have any hope of making ground at the top of the league, this is a game we must deal with ruthlessly. With Olivier on fire with eight goals in his last six starts, Alexis dictating play and talented individuals ready to be rotated into the side, we must be optimistic.
Our North London neighbours are once again breathing their sour breath down our necks, and it is up to us to keep up the pace.
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Alexis, Giroud
Predicted Scoreline – 3-1