The usual five talking points ahead of this afternoon’s home match v Crystal Palace.
Getting three points is all the matters …
Crystal Palace at home should be a “gimme” as they say, but any team with Townsend, Zaha and freekick and penalty specialist Milivojevic should not be taken for granted, which is why some pundits and sites are predicting that the Eagles could get on the score sheet looking at their daily btts tips. This is especially so in a week when, remarkably given how the season had panned out so far, Arsenal have achieved successive away wins, both with clean sheets. Now for a repeat at home; and if that means the winner coming in the 91st minute with a lucky deflection off Mustafi’s left buttock, then so be it. Mind you, to be honest, I would rather that neither of Mustafi’s buttocks were anywhere near the pitch, on Sunday or any other time.
Stay on your feet Shkodran…
To secure 3rd or more likely 4th place, the team needs to be calm and patient; and this means Mustafi especially needs to remain upright and not dive in recklessly. Xhaka has, by and large, learnt the art of restraint in recent months under Emery, but our German centre back has yet to absorb that lesson. With Sokratis suspended and Koscielny needing to be nursed through the rest of the season, Mustafi has an important role to play. Let’s see him prove the doubters wrong, by staying on his feet and helping Mavropanos through the games he will surely have to play. If only Rob Holding was fit, life would be much easier.
The art of squad management …
This is something which Emery will have to prove his mettle at over the coming weeks. No game is easy and Emery must balance the need to rest players against the need for team continuity and maintaining momentum. Koscielny and Monreal, the elders of the team, can’t play every game between now and the end of the season. So, when to play them, who replaces them, and what formation at the back is used will be crucial. I expect and hope Mavropanos gets another chance and steps up, and with Ramsey likely out for the next few weeks, keeping Torreira and Xhaka fit and available for the tough trips to Wolves and Leicester should mean more chances for Elneny; it was interesting that the Egyptian came on rather than Guendouzi in Naples: is the young Frenchman at risk of first season burn-out I wonder?
Who to play up front?
It’s difficult to see Emery risking both strikers against Palace and maybe even against Wolves and Leicester; the question is who is best for which opposition? I would imagine Aubameyang is better suited to Palace at home, with Ozil back to supply the ammunition. Lacazette’s work rate against Wolves would seem a better fit than the somewhat overly casual Auba. Oh, for a third striker to share the load: why didn’t Arsenal find a journeyman to cover Welbeck? Spurs have Llorente and a similar kind of loan signing would have been a better use of resources than the rarely seen Denis Suarez. Even Glenn Murray would have been better than no one. Or will Eddie Nketiah get a chance? Probably not for the increasingly pragmatic and risk-averse Unai Emery.
And finally, ignore the mob up the road.
Let the Spuds have their moment. It won’t last. Ajax will tear them apart, so says my friend Barney. I have my doubts, but I am hopeful, if not confident; and if the Dutch wonder boys fail to deliver, then Barcelona will. Ignoring what happens to the Spuds and the other teams, whoever they are, challenging for a top four spot is as important for the fans as it is for the team. Now that the nouveax riches at Abu Dhabi City have taken their revenge on the Spuds we can focus on preparing for St Totteringham’s Day, even if it comes on the last day of the season.
The team needs to focus for 90 minutes against a tough Palace side, one which contains several potential matchwinners; Mustafi especially needs to be disciplined and to show his worth. Emery needs to shuffle his resources carefully, especially sharing the workload between his two star strikers; I think he will do the latter but I have my doubts about whether the defence can maintain its recent discipline. If it can, all should be fine in N5. And finally, if Aaron Ramsey has played his last game for us, then I for one would like to say thanks Aaron; thanks for the Cup Final goals and your constant commitment to the cause. But above all, respect for the way you handled life after the horrible leg break courtesy of that player from Stoke whose name I refuse to type. Au revoir Aaron, enjoy your time in Turin, but please come back. Once a Gooner, always a Gooner and all that.
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