The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League match away to Huddersfield
It’s Now Or Never
Arsenal sit three points behind Chelsea in fourth place, a point behind a resurgent Manchester United. It is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team that is more likely to deny the Gunners Champions League football next season given the up and down nature of Chelsea’s performances these days under Maurizio Sarri. So although Unai Emery’s team may well be level with their south west London neighbours after the weekend’s games, it is United they need to keep up with. The match at the Emirates on March 10th between the two teams could be pivotal. However, it won’t mean anything if Arsenal do not start racking up the points against the likes of Huddersfield. Entrenched at the bottom of the division, if ever there was a guaranteed three points, this really has to be it. Lose this and we might as well put all the focus on the Europa League (where there could be nine matches to play against the 12 in the league)
New Manager Bounce?
Huddersfield dispensed with the services of David Wagner on January 14th. In fairness to the German, he’d achieved a lot by simply getting the club to the top flight, and then keeping them there for more than a season, especially when you look at the amount of finance made available to him. After one game under a caretaker manager, the club recruited another German, Jan Siewert, who had been in charge of Borussia Dortmund’s B team. It kind of symbolises the club’s need to shop in the bargain basement. They like to play football, but you can’t help wondering whether they might have been better going for a Sam Allardyce just to steer them out of the drop zone and then be a little more ambitious in the summer. There is no sign of a new manager bounce, which you would normally see by at least the second game, if not the first. Siewert’s first two matches have seen them beaten at home by Everton and lose away to Chelsea (5-0). For Arsenal’s frontline, it really feels like a case of making hay while the sun is shining.
Time for Mavropanos?
The young Greek defender is fit again, although Emery has left him out of the Europa League squad for the remainder of that competition. This could be good news for the youngster, as if Emery decides to rotate around the European ties, he should see some game time in the Premier League. Today is an ideal opportunity to blood him, although one suspects that may only happen if Unai Emery decides on a back three, unless he plans to rest either Mustafi or Koscielny. At some point, the head coach needs to give him a run of games to see whether or not he will be part of his future plans. There is only one way to find out, and against the level of opposition provided by Huddersfield, it’s a perfect opportunity to start finding out.
The right back conundrum
I think it’s fair to say that Stephan Lichtsteiner hasn’t quite worked out, as much as anything because the manager has played him against opposition he isn’t physically up to handling (Manchester City) or out of position to as injury cover (Southampton). Being experienced doesn’t mean you are still good. It’s a shame, but we now move on. Ainsley Maitland-Niles will surely start if he passes his fitness test. But if he doesn’t, Emery’s options include playing Mustafi at right back, or giving Carl Jenkinson a chance. Having said that, he’s played Granit Xhaka as one of a back three before, so we may even see something out of the box, such as Aaron Ramsey playing there. With Emery, you just can’t tell.
A chance to build some confidence
After Huddersfield, Arsenal’s next four fixtures are the double header against BATE Borisov, followed by home outings against Southampton and Bournemouth. The club should really be looking at five wins in a row here, before two tough matches away to Spurs and at home to Manchester United. After that, it’s just Europe (assuming BATE are disposed of) and eight league matches against non top six opponents. There is still plenty to play for, the Arsenal need to post nine points before they face Spurs, and then hope to ensure they at least beat United at home, a genuine six pointer in the chase for a top four spot. But it’s not rocket science that Emery’s team have to get meaner in defence. If the head coach can at least decide on a settled back line and formation, one thinks there might be more chance of that. That though, does not seem to be his style. Claudio Ranieri used to be called the ‘Tinkerman’. With such big squads these days, that label could be applied to a number of managers, but Emery’s changes – certainly to his starting elevens - do not always bring results.
No-one would argue that this is not a must win game for Arsenal. If for no other reason than that Huddersfield are surely returning to the Championship. So I think we should see an away win, and I am going out on a limb here and even predicting a clean sheet – the law of averages has to kick in sometime folks. So a 3-0 away win, with even a lesser spotted first half goal. If you agree that Arsenal will win both halves, you can get an enhanced odds bet of 7/2 with our partners fansbet.com on that outcome. If you sign up as a new customer, just make sure you select 'The Gooner' when you register as an Arsenal fan as half of profits they make from any future bets will then go to help maintain The Gooner.
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