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Chelsea Vs Arsenal Semi-Final Carabao Cup 1st Leg Preview

It may not be the best choice of opponent, but any match gives us the opportunity to erase the taste of our embarrassing FA Cup exit to Nottingham Forest.

If we could have chosen a team to face, Chelsea wouldn’t have been one we went for. The Blues are in fine form and we, quite simply, aren’t. Antonio Conte may well be rattled by the constant stream of Jose Mourinho bile, but our draw last week shows that he will take this match very seriously.

Funnily enough, the Italian coach nearly had the same fate befall him and his team in the weekend. Fresh from our 2-2 draw, we both went into our FA Cup matches against Championship opposition. The difference was that we lost convincingly, and Chelsea escaped with a 0-0 draw.

Conte also rested the majority of his big hitters, but his squad is a little stronger than ours. Yet they also put in a sub-par display against the Canaries.

Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Victor Moses, Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata have all been rested, so will most likely line up against us. Pedro, Michy Batshuayi and Willian will drop to the bench after failing to impress against Norwich.

In terms of our team, Alexis is still with us, for now, so should be back in the team. Mesut Ozil is also back in contention, but if any of the eleven who got humped against Forest make the eleven, they can think themselves very lucky. With our squad looking a little thin, then we might have to have at least one from Holding, Mertesacker, Welbeck and Walcott on the bench.

The whole team should conceivably be changed, but there are doubts hanging over Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka. The biggest miss would be Mustafi right now, with Koscielny looking dicey on the fitness front, Holding low on confidence and Nacho still a month from fitness. If Xhaka misses out, then Elneny, the perhaps off-to-Valencia-Coquelin or even Ainslie Maitland-Niles could come in.

The Carabao Cup was prioritised by Wenger as we are in the latter stages. This makes sense of course, but if we were to be dumped out by the Blues, then his plan will have backfired, much like his weak bench he named for the Forest debacle. A two-legged affair with Chelsea is a tough hurdle to jump, and with a probable Final against City to come, we may have bet on the wrong horse here.

The Europa League has some big hitters in the draw, and with our Premier League top four spot in serious jeopardy, we are slipping towards the worst season in recent memory.

We have the capacity to defeat Chelsea, our FA Cup final win showed us that, as well as last week’s draw that could have went either way. It all hinges on which Arsenal show up. We were excellent in midfield and attack versus the Blues, but our defence was suspect, letting Morata have three one-on-ones is something we need to rectify.

We will need Koscielny and Mustafi if we are to stay in this tie for the second leg. Home factor may swing this though.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Mustafi, Chambers, Holding, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Wilshere, Ozil, Alexis, Lacazette.

Predicted Scoreline – 1-1.

Jens Lehmann Comes Back To Arsenal

After such an unparalleled achievement as ‘The Invincible Season,’ the raft of documentaries, reading material and general content surrounding the exploits of the unbeaten Arsenal team of 2003/04, it means we have been treated to all angles of the gold-trophy winning campaign.

The majority of the men who made it possible have given their views and anecdotes on what occurred during that halcyon time, and watching them all speak about their teammates and the incidents which transpired on the pitch is still fascinating.

What gives these teams who achieve the impossible, an edge over their opponents? Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry et al have given their musings on the special blend of ingredients in the squad, and there was one common strand which was highlighted by many of these heroes.

It was the fiery, bubbling rapport which often erupted in vigorous, no-holds-barred training sessions. Every player gave their all and never held back, such was the winning mentality running deep within them all.

There was one man though, that perhaps was the embodiment of this competitive habit. 

Jens Lehmann was talked about with a wry smile by many of the players as one who would never back down, and often being the spark which would ignite some heated moments. 

Ray Parlour mentioned Lehmann’s disgust for any who attempted to lob him, and the many times in which players would attempt to do the very thing which would manifest Jen’s rage. It was Lehmann’s pride and his search for excellence which would not allow any such slights against his name. 

 The German  – aptly nicknamed ‘Mad’ by fans – already had a reputation for his exploits with opponents on the pitch, but these soundbites from his fellow Invincibles showed that no matter if it was a crunch game against Manchester United or 5 vs 5 on the pitches at London Colney – he would take every goal personally.

So, the news that Mad Jens is back at Arsenal in a First Team Coach capacity is something we should all be pleased with.

There have been many quarters who have talked of Arsene Wenger’s iron grip behind the scenes, and his need for absolute sway when decisions are made. With Lehmann being given such a prominent role in Wenger’s team, this could well mean that Wenger will have far more discussions about tactics and such than he has ever had before. 

Not only this, but with Wenger personally inviting him into the fold, does this mean that the Frenchman is finally acknowledging the need for a shakeup at ground level?

Lehmann on the training pitch will be exactly the same as Lehmann with his gloves on. He will not allow any quarter to be given by the players, nor will he expect anything other than the squad seeking to improve, rather than plateau.

The German is an excellent addition, and any former heroes should have an open invite to work with the club. Respect is earned, and the players will be aware of Lehmann’s achievements. This commands each and every man to listen that little bit more, to really soak in Lehmann’s advice. With Wenger recruiting Lehmann, it gives each training session that little bit more gravitas.

Not that any man should be taking any session lightly. If any of them were skating by, then that is surely a thing of the past. 

Who would want to cross Mad Jens Lehmann?

Watford 1-3 Arsenal: 5 Things We Learned

Mission accomplished.

This game was billed as a must win at a ridiculously early stage of the season, but with the early pacesetters 5pts ahead before kickoff, the gap could not be allowed to stretch.

So this meant that a win at Vicarage Road was vital, but with Watford playing so well against Chelsea one week previously, it was evident it wouldn’t be a cakewalk – even if Arsenal’s Premier League record against the Hornets is unblemished in the last 7games.

So, a vital victory, but what can we take from the game, other than maximum points? Here are some facts that were underlined during the game:
Xhaka is up to speed:

We had enjoyed mere whiffs of his class in his appearances thus far, but the Swiss battler put on a show for the travelling fans in this game. Full of running, tackles on point, and speedy, efficient distribution. Exactly what was advertised when we purchased him.

Alexis on fire

He may consider a new piece of equipment at the gym as a holiday, but Sanchez seems to be nearing full throttle after yet another action packed summer with Chile. He scored one, assisted another and earned the penalty after giving Nordin Amrabat a torrid time. Wonderful to witness.

We have missed Özil & Santi

Özil scored on his return, with a header that looked effortless. It wasn’t the finish that should draw the plaudits though. His run into the box was exquisite, and no defender was aware of his presence. The German ninja is so adept with his spacial awareness, that it allowed him a header unchallenged. Santi was the perfect foil for Xhaka, always a willing outlet to relieve pressure, and we look so much more capable with both of these men in the side.

Cech isn’t finished

People who doubted one of the finest keepers the League has ever seen, should feel fickle and foolish. The stopper was responsible for keeping the pressure off his team, as he stopped Watford grabbing a second goal which would’ve meant for a tense last section of the game. The becapped Czech will do it again this season too, and earn us his fair share of points.

Holding can be scarily good

Again, the 20yr old, in only his 3rd PL app, showed resilience beyond his years. He may yet be ousted by the incoming Mustafi, but if he is this good at 20, just imagine where he could be at 28? The sky is the limit.
Watford gave a good account of themselves, and if Cech wasn’t on form, or if the finishing was a little less errant, then they could have snatched a late draw – but that would have been undeserved. 

The first half showing from our team was welcome for two reasons. One, they showed that the intricate passing, and dynamic movement which is meant to be our forte, is still within our grasp when we need it. Secondly, it was great to see us finally go at a team in the first half, rather than be reactionary and leave it until the last 30mins.

There is still work to do, but we all know what we are capable of, and it was great to see us fizzing the ball around. First victory of the season, we are up and running.