Writer: Galway Gooner
Date:Saturday February 1 2014
So despite the complete end of the world level disaster that a draw away from home against a top half side while playing with 10 men actually was we find ourselves in the quite nice position of knowing that a win at home on Sunday will see us return to the top of the table at least until Monday evening. City host Chelsea in the Monday night special and while I`m sort of hopeful that somehow they will both lose I think it`s pretty much a win-win for us in that if City don`t win we stay on top and if they do we open up a nice point lead on the never negative team that Jose has built.
It was clear that we didn`t play at all well against Soton, while they were very good and really should have had us dead and buried in the first 45 I felt in the second half that they were there for the taking. Wenger`s insistence on starting the talented but raw Gnarby ahead of an experienced international like Poldi is really starting to hurt us and while I like Gnarby and feel he has the makings of a very good player in him he is a good level or two below his fellow German. Poldi mightn`t be everyone`s cup of tea but he is an effective player who consistently scores and creates goals for the team. Yes he mightn`t chase back as much as others but Gnarby was pretty ineffective in his defensive duties and surely starting a game with two defensive minded midfielders in Art and Flamini gives you a bit more license at the other end of the pitch? Speaking of such I think it`s pretty clear now that Art and Flam, however good they are as individuals, do not work as a team. They not only limit our attacking play (having effectively one less option at the front) they also get into each others space leaving to a "I thought you we doing it" situation, see their second goal for example. Strangely with Flamini out for the next 3 games, thanks to his idiotic challenge possibly brought on by frustration, Art will be carrying the can for a bit. He`s a great player but I do worry about his effectiveness when the game is very fast, we`ll need him at his very Lego-haired professional best for the month of Feb.
But enough about us onto this weekends opponents, Palace. Now I don`t particularly like Tony Pulis, I don`t like his attitude to other teams, I don`t like the style of football he plays and I particularly like the way his teams tend to kick the opposition a lot. Stoke under Pulis, were possibly the worst example of football gone bad I think I`ve ever had the misfortune to see. But, and this is the hard part to say, despite my feelings for the man you have to admit that he is very good at getting a team of, lets be honest here, very average footballers, play as an effective unit. In team sports the objective is for the team to be greater than the sum of it`s parts and both Stoke and Palace are that. He joined Palace in late Nov when they were sitting joint bottom of the league and a 3 points from safety. Since then Palace have won a pretty impressive (relatively) 6 out of 12 league games and harvested a total of 19 points leaving them in 14th place a full 5 points clear of the bottom clubs. It hasn`t been pretty and the football hasn`t been what you would class as free flowing (9 goals for and 10 against) but it`s worked and Pulis has done remarkably well in such a short time with what he has at his disposal. Now that unpleasant statement out of the way we can look at the way they play.
Palace line up in an almost 4-4-2 formation. The back four are very flat and pretty unadventurous, only getting forward for set plays. Speroni is a good keeper, not an exceptional shot stopper but he`s quick off his line and is quite vocal. Moxey is a good left back just as Ward on the opposite wing. They don`t get forward too much but then that`s not their job. They both work hard and Moxey, in particular I feel could do a job at perhaps a bigger club, they are both young and their defensive aspect of his game will certainly improve under Pulis. Gabbidon and Delany form the pairing in the
centre but there is a possibility that Gabbidon may miss the game with a knock, it would be a big blow for them but in Mariappa they have decent if not quite as effective cover. The back line are all big,( bar Gabbidon who is still strong in the air) so if we are to score don`t expect it to be from a set piece header.
In front of them the midfield is lead by the experienced Jedinak in the middle alongside the underrated Bannon with Bolaise on the left and Puncheon on the right. It`s a functional and hard working midfield setup to frustrate the opposition and get the ball forward to their front two as quickly as possible. To put their style of play into perspective their midfield four have nearly 80 league games between them this season but Puncheon, with 3 goals, is the only one to have scored. Up front our old friend Chamakh leads their scoring charts with 4 league goals. They don`t really rattle the net much but that`s not to say that they are not without danger. They gave us a real game back at the end of Oct when we played them and while we won 2-0 it was not cake walk and we relied on Schzy making two great saves to keep us in the game. .
Both Jerome and Chamakh will drop deep when they don`t have the ball making it almost six in midfield. It gets congested in the middle so it`s critical that we move the ball with pace against them while at the same time play sensible football and don`t get caught on the break. They are very tough to breakdown and both City and Chelsea have struggled to do so in recent games, City labouring to a 1-0 win at home (which is the best result any side has had at the Ethiad Stadium in the league this season )and Chelsea beating them 2-1 in a game that Palace should really have taken at least a point from, Cech was exceptional on the day for Chelsea. They aren`t as physical or nasty a side as Stoke but they do share some of the same traits in that they work very hard and will be difficult to break down. Chamakh will come here with a point to prove and Jerome is a fast, physical and tricky player, Arteta will need to be switched on as a lot of their play will be based around his space. He cannot afford to lunge in a-la-Flamini but he also must be very aware of being caught on the wrong side of the attackers as he was for his red card against Palace earlier in the season. In the last 12 games they`ve only scored 9 goals, an average of 0.75 per game and their likely starting 11 for Sunday will only have 12 league goals between them so scoring is an issue for them. However, at the back they`ve only let in 10 goals in the previous 12 or 0.83 per game so it could be an uncomfortably tight afternoon for us.
Wenger needs to have a very careful think about his team selection and setup. Gibbs will come back in from Moneral, who had a bit of a mare, albeit without any support from Gnarby, against Soton but otherwise the back line stays as is. Arteta will be the sole deep midfielder and with Jack and Aaron both out I`d guess that Ozil and Thomas will form the other two in the middle. Giroud will start up front with Santi on the right, will Poldi get the nod on the left? I think he should as playing against a team that plays deep having someone who has a good shot is an important weapon in drawing their defence out. Ox is the other and for me less effective option.
I would have love to have signed Draxler in Jan as it`s unlikely his value will go down and a good few games against Madrid could actually cause his price to rise and attract other buyers but at this stage (8am Friday) it doesn`t look likely. Is someone else coming in? My guess is a midfielder with Wenger trusting the forwards we have (Lord help us!). Sunday is a chance to go back top of the league (some perspective here negative fans!) and I think we will. Likely to be tight and may not be a great game to watch but I dont care as long as we win.
Arsenal to win, 2-0.
Date:Saturday February 1 2014
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