Inside the Opposition: Arsenal

It’s almost Christmas but arguably City’s most important Premier League game of the season comes first. A trip to the Emirates is never going to be easy. The fragile state of the league table makes this a must win for City, or at least a “must not lose” scenario.

Arsenal, as always, seem to be existing somewhere in between being really, really good and being a total state, all while still being up near the top of the table. We talked to recurring Typical CIty guest star Michael Keshani about what to expect from Arsenal. You can find more of his writing here.

As usual Arsenal’s season seems to be full of ups and downs. As it’s more fun for me, lets start with the negatives – which parts of Arsenal’s season so far have been most disappointing? Which player have you felt most personally let down by?

Hah, there have been a few. Almost all the discontent that has arisen this season has come from not buying a defensive midfielder in the summer, despite it being abundantly clear that we needed one. Most of the players have annoyed me at one stage or another. But there’s only so angry you can get at Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla doing their best but still not being enough, as it stops being their fault after a certain point.

I’m a big fan of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but he has had a really rough time of it this season. That being said, he has at least had the self-awareness to not follow up poor performances with crowing about playing time to any who will listen, so the award has to go to Mathieu Debuchy. He has been dire in all bar one of his games this season, and in that one he just about reached ‘average’ level. Just. Yet three times since September he has gone to the French media to complain about playing time when he had his first team place stolen by a then-teenager who is better than him at everything except headers. It’s at the point now where I would rather we play Calum Chambers, Mathieu Flamini or Coquelin when fit as cover for Héctor Bellerín.

A quick shout for David Ospina, who managed to literally push the ball into his own net in a Champions League home game. Nice going, Dave.

And now a look at the brighter side of things, where have Arsenal impressed you most this year?

Going forward there seems to be new dimensions to the attacking play. Most of that is just Mesut Özil being great, which I’ll address later, but he’s properly running things now. Walcott’s transformation into a legitimate centre forward has, I admit, taken me very much by surprise, but he has developed a really effective partnership with Alexis Sánchez — though I don’t think we’ll see it start on Monday.

The competition brings the best out of Olivier Giroud, who has really got back into form lately. Alexis with Walcott has been even better he was than last season, but unfortunately limited to a small time frame. Aaron Ramsey has impressed hugely since moving back into the middle, which should come as a surprise to precisely no one.

Then there are the two full backs; Nacho Monreal has been one of our best and most consistent players for the last season and a half and though he has dropped off a little recently, Bellerín has been exceptional, especially considering that he is only 3 months older than me. Which is both great and a little saddening.

Arsenal look to have a lot of injuries at the moment. Where does that leave your team for Monday night? Feel good about the replacements?

The injury situation is a little strange. Not often can losing your first choice central midfield pairing actually lead to improvements but anything that gets Ramsey back into the middle is the way forward. Even though it’d be far preferable to have him partnered by Mikel Arteta or Coquelin over Flamini, of course.

I do think we have missed Danny Welbeck, as he exists as a perfect in between point between Giroud and Walcott and would open up so many avenues regarding how we play. I’m not sure what the situation is with Jack Wilshere at this point but it seems as though the initial plan was to play him on the right with Ramsey-Coquelin in the middle, and if his injury is what has forced us to play Ramsey wide all season then it has of course been detrimental.

Alexis is unlikely to be available to start (though he could be on the bench), which means either out of form Oxlade-Chamberlain or surprisingly useful Joel Campbell is likely to start. I want it to be Chamberlain in order to have Walcott where he is best on the right, but could see either. Yet again, so many of these things would be far less worrisome if we had just signed a central midfielder in the summer.

Arsenal won against City early in 2015 with a more defensive, reactive tactical set up. Do you expect to see this repeated? Is it the sort of game you want to see Arsenal play?

Yes and no. I like the more reactive, less possession-based football we are steadily moving towards. But we lack a controlling base in midfield, which we did well through most of 2013 with Arteta-Ramsey. The game in January was a weird experience as it’s essentially what Manchester United and Chelsea did to us for years — play not to concede, make the occasional breaks forward worth it. It’s a useful tactic but we scored from a penalty and a free kick, so you can’t exactly say we created much, but it’s more of a contingency setup for when Özil isn’t playing.

Now he is, we have approached bigger games — especially at home — quite differently. Against Liverpool (4-1) and United (3-0) we played to hit early. 15 minutes of really high pressure, really pinning the opposition back. Against United we managed to score 3 in 19. Against Liverpool it was 3 from 30-45 but it could well have been 3 in the first 20 as well.

The difference there was he had Ramsey on the right but playing as a third central midfielder. The short-wave high press may not be so easy without a guy who can do two jobs at once. I expect we’ll play to try and hit City early again on Monday. On a more general level, playing to counter in bigger games suits this lot — but we struggle to control on and off the against most opposition, which is where a new central midfielder is vital.

Whatever happens it looks like Ozil will be your main man. Can you tell us a bit about why he is so important for Arsenal and anything in particular you think we should watch out for?

He’s amazing. He’s the creative heart of our side and has really grown into a lead-by-example  figure. I did a full article about it here, but the shorter version is: the team knows how to play around him now, and in turn he makes them all better. He has changed the club in many ways just by signing, but especially this season he has been incredible, where he has consistently delivered on major occasions and in vital moments. I love him.

Predicted lineup and score?

Čech; Bellerín-Mertesacker-Koscielny-Monreal; Flamini-Ramsey; Walcott-Özil-Chamberlain*; Giroud.

*Campbell just as, if not more likely for that one.

Score prediction… going to fence sit and say 1-1. Though it’s a tough one as both teams could just as easily win by two clear goals. Both being as flaky and semi-unpredictable as they are, it’s tough to know which way to go there.

Thanks mate!

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Written by Alex Timperley

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