Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Arsenal vs Hull: Match Preview


The next step to a potential title challenge is against Hull City, a game that we really must take three points out of, particularly owing to the fact that it's at the Emirates. It's a match which allows room for rotation, ahead of a demanding schedule where we face Everton, Napoli, City and Chelsea in a row, not so long after facing Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and United in a row. It's like the whole universe is conspiring against us to mess up our lead at the top of the pile.

Of course, it would be understandable if we fail to win all those challenging matches in a row, but it wouldn't be acceptable if we fail to defeat a team like Hull City. At home. In a team which has Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Arteta, Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky on the bench.

I would be very surprised if we fail to find rhythm in this game. This is the kind of match where we can play Park Chu Young as a striker and yet manage to win, and that's saying something. While it is important to not underestimate the opposition, we need to rest our key men (or all the starting XI, if possible) tonight. Granted, we don't exactly have a team with fantastic depth in the striker and the defence area, but players like Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla or even Olivier Giroud (who looked particularly jaded at Wales) aren't really a necessity for three points tonight, and should be given a breather to prepare for the daunting fixture list ahead.

I've never really appreciated Arsene Wenger's style of man management over the recent years. I still believe that he was the culprit for Cesc Fabregas', van Persie's and Jack Wilshere's continuous injury worries, due to overplaying them. And when he played a full-strength squad against Crystal Palace back in October, it simply underlined my thoughts about him. However, he has spoken about rotation being crucial in this match, which has led me to believe that he might indeed be resting a few key men.

His hand is forced on Sagna though, with our best full back out with a small hamstring problem, Carl Jenko set to fill in. I would like to see an experimental backline of Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal tonight. Arsene has hinted that the club captain might start by emphasizing his importance at this club, and while I don't think that he will start Nacho tonight, he really should, because the rumours of Monreal being unsettled at the club is, well, unsettling me.

Of course, we should be seeing a lot of rotation in midfield and in the forward area. If you ask me, the central midfield pairing of Arteta and Ramsey is the way to go, because I wouldn't want to risk Jack Wilshere and Flamini going in the red zone on a game like this. In the attacking midfield role, Ozil seems set to get a rest, with Rosicky likely to slot in. It's telling that even after resting Flamini, Wilshere and Mesut, we're able to field such a strong midfield, capable of beating any Premier League side. It's a midfield that can certainly dominate the middle of the park comfortably and contribute to a comfy win tonight.

The front three should be a problem though. We do have a lot of combinations to try out, but we need to rest our key men too. While I think a forward trio of Walcott, Gnabry and Park (yes, I said Park) might be a decent outlet, I suspect that the manager will go for Theo, Wilshere and Giroud. If that's the case, then I'd like to say good luck to Giroud, because if he won't be rested for a match like this, then he won't be rested for the entirety of the month.

The same goes for Mesut Ozil too. I feel that his recent dip in form had a factor of overplaying, and he simply needs to be benched for a game like this, which in hindsight, isn't as important as made out at all. We have a team that have good players in reserves, and tonight is the time to use those players.

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In other news, those hoping for a striker in January (which should include the entire Arsenal fanbase) will be left utterly crushed, with Wenger categorically denying bids for Alexandre Pato or Alvaro Morata. Regarding the current striker issues, Arsene said:

"I am not concerned about that. We have at the moment Yaya Sanogo who is a striker we brought in during the summer, who is coming back from injury in January. Hopefully he will help us in the second part of the season." 

Oh Jesus. Just when you think that a manager cannot be any blind, Arsene has yet again defied the odds. Even after failing to get a goalkeeper in August 2010, an experienced midfielder in January 2011, a replacement for Fabregas in August 2011, backup for Robin in January 2012, a replacement for Song in August 2012, a replacement for van Persie in January 2013 AND a striker and a center back in August 2013, Wenger is still adamant that the team is complete, instead choosing to focus on Yaya Sanogo (Who? Good question). Even the chief executive has admitted that we need a striker, for crying out loud!

Make no mistake - a striker is an absolute necessity in January. Tonight, as Gunnerblog points out, is exactly the kind of game where another striker could fill in for Ollie (APART from Bendtner, I mean). For people thinking that Lukas Podolski is the person who could be that spare striker, think again. Personally, I feel that he offers us much more on the wing, and that his recent performances as striker haven't been hugely impressive for us, especially the ones near the end of last season.

Maybe I am incorrect about questioning Podolski's ability as a striker. Players tend to perform much better in their second season at a new club, just ask the aforementioned Giroud. There does remain a possibility that Podolski will be back to his prolific self in this season. However, what are the chances that Giroud shall be fit in the reserves then? What if Podolski is fit and Giroud gets injured and we have to rely on Lukas the same way that we are doing with Ollie right now in the future?

The need for another striker couldn't be clearer, really. We only have four proper, out-and-out strikers at the club, three of whom are Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu Young and Yaya Sanogo. While a world class signing in that area would be a luxury rather than a necessity, I feel that an intelligent signing like Demba Ba, Alvaro Morata or Christian Benteke shall surely seal second spot for us. While Wenger did deny talks with Morata, he had also done the same for Mertesacker and Podolski. And even though he still is denying Morata signing on a six-month loan deal, contradictory reports are yet emerging from reliable sources confirming the deal. Not speculating, mind you. CONFIRMING.

Of course, that won't mean that the deal is finalized at all. However, the confidence in the report has surely set me thinking if Wenger has manage to pull off another productive signing. I can surely confirm this, though: if Arsene does get a striker to the club, he will most definitely arrive in the late hours of the transfer window, or at January 30, at least. In reality, Giroud has two more months to carry the striker burden. Arsene is a procrastinating person, and we just need to live with that now.

Maybe Wenger does have another trick up his sleeve. At least, I hope he does. For now, it's time to focus on the short term and three points at the Emirates. Be back with the match report tomorrow, a little late though.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )