Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

how big a factor will fatigue be? 

It’s West Ham today and I have to say, I am intrigued as to who Arsène picks in the first XI come 3pm. 

It’s an interesting dilemma that he faces; on the one hand he’ll have confidence-high players who will be on top of the world after breaking the hoo-doo that enveloped the team when visiting Manchester in seasons past, but he’ll also be Mindful of that ill-fated ‘red zone’ that often preys on the most brittle of hamstrings and calfs. 

My hope is that he opts to keep the team fresh above anything else. West Ham have been away to Dubai for a couple of weeks and will have completely recharged their aching limbs, so I’m expecting them to come at us all guns – or hammers – blazing from quite early in the game.

The advantage we have is the number of injuries and unavailable players they seem to have amassed. No Reid or Tompkins at the back and with Jenkinson unavailable due to the terms of his loan, Allardyce will have some major reshuffling to do with his back five. Hopefully that plays into our hands, but as annoying as he is, Fat Sam can certainly set his team up tactically well enough to make life frustrating for us.

That’s why the forward line will be so important today, but also the supportng cast that sit behind them, I’m specifically thinking about the full backs. I don’t expect we’ll see a swashbuckling 3-5-2 or 4-2-4 from West Ham, so having players with that little bit more going forward must take priority over anything else I think, which is why I hope we see Gibbs and Bellerin start. Both are better going forward than Nacho and Calum and have extra pace too, so I’d give them a run out, despite the fact it would be harsh on Monreal.

It’s also because of the way that West Ham will play, that I think we’ll also not see Theo, because his primary assets of pace and playing off the shoulder of the last man will be left rather redundant against a team who will sit deep and look to take advantage of set plays. 

So for me it’s got to be a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. There’s pace enough the either side of Giroud and Welbeck is a slightly better technical player than Walcott I think. 

Sitting behind them id love to fit in Rosicky somewhere, but how can you drop Mesut or Santi in the form they are in? You can’t and I don’t think Wenger will. A unless Tomas changes his entire game overnight and wakes up a ball winning defensive-minded player, it’ll be Coquelin behind the Spaniard and German, with Per and Kos sitting behind him.

I think we win this game if we approach it in the right way and aren’t lethargic with our play. West Ham aren’t in the best of form and we know all too well what problems occur when a squad is decimated with injuries. But the only niggling factor that could impact the game will be who is not quite 100% in terms of fitness, because West Ham will be and we have to be ready for it.

We need to maintain momentum to keep up the feelgood factor at the moment. The weather is getting warmer, we have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and are in a good position in the league, but we need to keep it up.

Come on Arsenal, let’s knock back another three points.

Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.

Leicester: restart that run Arsenal

No time for losing ourselves in a metaphorical cave of melancholy made by a weekend derby defeat, as it’s bottom of the league Leicester who make their way to The Emirates this evening.

It’s a game that you’d say should be the perfect type of match for us to play in such quick succession after seeing the team put on such a dismal display up the road on Saturday. Leicester seem in disarray; bottom of the league and with a manager who probably doesn’t know whether he’s coming, going or strangling.

But this is The Arsenal here. Rarely is life simple and whilst you’d think we should have enough to swat aside Leicester with consummate ease, it would not be too far fetched to see Leicester arrive with a game plan to frustrate us all evening. I’m expecting a deep-lying defensive side looking for a point and with that in mind, the manager has some decisions to make on what he does with his first XI. I’d say particularly when it comes to the attack-minded players.

It would be easy to suggest that some rotation of Giroud, Özil and Welbeck could take place, but with the promise of a campsite of Foxes on the edge of their own box I do wonder if Arsène needs to look at technical ability rather than rotating on physical grounds.

Take Theo, for example. A pacey player who can be a dynamo against a team with a high line. Give Theo plenty of grass to run into and he can punish teams by playing off the shoulders of the last defender. But when the last defender plays so deep that the ‘keeper can act as an auxiliary sweeper, his pace is negated somewhat. To some extent, Welbeck is the same, as there are technically better players in the team than the two England Internationals. That’s why I’d choose Giroud, Özil and Alexis as the key forward players. Behind them, the zip and energy of Rosicky must be considered alongside Santi, whilst Coquelin completes the midfield.

Defensively Arsène could probably afford to shuffle his pack for the first time this season and it not be through enforced changes. Leicester will not have as much going forward and I’d expect a quiet evening, so I’d be tempted to give Gabriel a go. Perhaps even Chambers at right back too, although Bellerin would be a better option in terms of getting forward. I’m not sure who would partner Gabriel, but you’d expect Monreal and Ooooooospina! to keep their places.

The first 15 minutes will effectively dictate the manner of this game. Start like we did against Brighton and Aston Villa and you’d expect it to be a rout. If it gets to halftime and we’ve seen no Arsenal goals, there will be some nerves, but even then you’d expect us to win. It just wouldn’t be a comfortable evening. That’s if Leicester don’t score, of course.

Nigel Pearson will probably want to load his team with a couple of pacey players, so I wonder if Vardy and Judd Schlupp (is that the kids name?) will be used as counter attacking outlets, because they are both quite quick players. I haven’t seen anything of this Krameric chap (again, might need to check that name, because I’m not inclined to bother wasting my data charges on him), but if he’s still acclimatising to the league there will be an element of the unknown that we’ll have to watch out for.

This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. I don’t fancy the Spuds getting a win tonight (famous last words, eh?), which means a victory on our own turf effectively renders their NLD win irrelevant, so I’m hoping for two positive results come 10pm tonight. I said it in the aftermath and I’ll reiterate again this morning; we have an opportunity to win five on the bounce in the league and, if we start tonight, then we’ll put ourselves back on track. Get yourself back on that horse and in the saddle n’all that.

But we have to do the business. We have to be professional and we have to win tonight.

Come on you reds.

Derby day: form players need to show up

I know I may be jinxing us all into a horrible afternoon and subsequent evening, should defeat befall The Arsenal this lunchtime, but having looked at the probable line ups today through a couple of sources, this is a Totteringham team that we really should be beating.

We should have already served them up a slice of loser cake earlier in the season, but our stuttery, jittery, first half of the campaign saw us pick up just the one point against a Spud team that didn’t really come for anything other than a point.

But this is on their patch. This is at a ground where one win in six doesn’t really make for great reading. This is a North London Derby. And for all of my posturing and confidence at the beginning of the week, all the usual nerves have crept back into my mind, infiltrating the positivity barriers I have been working hard to erect all week.

I still feel like we have a better team than that lot, with or without Alexis, but the footballing lord works in mysterious ways and we’ve seen many an average Spud team pick up points after points against us.

This game last season I was convinced was going to be fraught with disappointment, yet after Rosicky’s right peg lashed home an early goal, we showed what we have been capable of defensively when there is a settled back four and structure to our defensive unit.

This year, if I’m honest, I’d take a draw right now. Call me defeatist if you like, but with some favourable home and away fixtures coming up for us (in my humble opinion), I fancy us to go on another decent run over the next week and that might just help to propel us into a position where the Top Four Trophy feel eminently more achievable than it did a few months back.

But a win would be massive. A win would give us even more swagger than we’ve been showing. A win gives us bragging rights, but it also puts more daylight between us and them lot up the Seven Sisters Road. If we can overcome the Spuds on a cold Saturday lunchtime, I think we can start looking at third rather than looking back at who’s taking fourth.

The team news is still shrouded in mystery, as Arsène admitted that he’s still not sure about Alexis, having already ruled him out once this week. What a Psychological boost it would be for us if he were fit, as well as a potential blow to our Lilywhite opponents, but if there is any risk to his longer term fitness then manager simply must overrule player. For his own good.

For my part I feel like we have enough without Alexis. With five different scorers last weekend there are five more players who will all be feeling all the more confident. Özil and Walcott in particular, will feel that their combined goal and assist tally will warrant their inclusion from the start. I’m not so sure. In the frenetic pace of a North London Derby you can ill afford players who aren’t going to bust a gut to cover ground and occupy defensive spaces on the park when we don’t have the ball. Walcott may be fast, but he’s not a man who is known for his tracking back and with both he and Özil still returning to fitness, I think it would be a gamble for the manager to play both.

That’s why I think he should give serious consideration to starting Danny Welbeck. There are plenty of people I have conversed with over the last week who have questioned whether Welbeck is fit enough. I understand that, but with a full week of training under his belt and having already demonstrated his incredible engine, I think a front three of Welbeck, Giroud and Walcott might provide us with a little more to trouble a slightly suspect Tottenham defence. Pace either side of hold-up man Giroud is something that we’ve long coveted over the last 18 months, so I would love to see Arsène unleash both players on the counter and see if those Spuddies can handle it.

The midfield battle between Erikson and Coquelin is an intriguing one. Francis has grown more impressive in every game and even last weekend against a poor Villa side, he showed his love of a tackle and strength on the ball. If he can break up the Dane’s creative side in a similar way in which we negated David Silva, I think it will suffocate Kane’s distribution and increase the probability of a clean sheet. That gives us something to build on. There’s no doubt that victory against the Spuds will hinge on keeping those two quiet in my mind.

But we need our form players to show up today. If Santi continues his wonderful purple patch, if Giroud is up for the game, if Özil pulls the strings (should be play), then we can get a result.

Cross everything. Come on The Arsenal!

Villa: Tougher than the pundits think

I was in a good mood at the start of the weekend. I still kinda am, actually, but there’s a few things that have made me ever-so-slightly ‘harrumph’ in the last 24 hours, if I’m honest.

The first was upon listening to the always excellent Arsecast, in which I heard that Antony Taylor will be taking charge of our game today against Villa, the consecutive game this season in which he’s taken charge. Quite why the Premier League has seen fit to punish us with, quite frankly the worst referee in the league by a country mile, is beyond me. But the fact that he made contentious decision after decision last season must surely have led to somebody at Premier League HQ making a note and saying “guys, let’s not pair him up with these two teams again, at least not for next season to let the dust settle.

But no, somebody has a sense of humour in Scudamore’s administration, so let’s expect a few absolute shockers for decisions this lunchtime, eh?

Anyway, that Premier League faux pa aside, there are more than a few warning signs for this Arsenal side entertaining the Villains today at The Emirates. For one thing, we face a Villa side who have had a recent history of upsetting us on our home soil. Ignore the details of how we’ve dominated teams, Villa have rarely come to The Emirates with fear, so I’m not expecting anything different this afternoon. Tough to break down and built upon a foundation of deep-lying defenders with little desire to press on, I’m not expecting an open game and if the game has an initial 20 minutes with no scorers, expect ourselves to have a frustrating afternoon.

Villa’s poor league position belies their defensive solidity. Their issue has been scoring goals all season. But teams always have the opportunity with scabby set pieces, so it will come as no surprise tomorrow if Villa are one up after rid only attack on goal in the first half. Less so if Antony Taylor has given a penalty when it clearly isn’t one…we have been warned…

In terms of our team today, the absence of Alexis will be a loss, but you’d hope that the replacements can more than make up for his effervescence on the pitch. I do hope that Rosicky is given a chance. After his performance against Brighton and his recent displays, I feel like he’s earned it, but he’s not as big a price tag as Özil. That shouldn’t make a difference but we all know it might. Rosicky – to my mind – is better on the left than Özil and it should be a straight shoot-out between Cazorla and Özil for the number ten role and right now, if we’re all honest, Santi wins it hands down right now.

The back four should be fairly standard and I’d be surprised if the same back four that played against Moneychester City weren’t preferred against Villa, so Bellerin should see his right back spot returned to him. It should also mean a return for Monreal and I think that’s the right thing to do. Playing players on form is how football should work, so I’m expecting to see our left-back Spaniard get another game under his belt.

As for Villa, I think we’ll see the usual brute force of Benteke being a handful, but I don’t expect us to be under the kosh, so it will be counter attacking football that will be the soups de jour for Paul Lambert’s men. Carlos Gil looks like he could be a bit of a threat after his wonder-strike against Bournemouth, but if we can maintain our high-tempo start to games like we have over the last few weeks, it should peg back some of their creative players.

I’d love to see a walk in the park against a Villa team who have struggle for goals all season, but this is Arsenal and we all know it’s never that easy, so I’m thinking this might be closer than the pundits would have us believe. For once, I hope their all right and we see a comfortable afternoon of football. We need to carry on the momentum with all of the other teams around us winning yesterday, so three points has to be the order of the day, however hard we are made to work for them.

Come on you reds!