Beating QPR and West Ham during the Christmas schedule has been most welcome. Minus a crazy Giroud moment and a little bit Welbeck thigh niggle, it's gone pretty much according to plan so far, but today represents our stiffest challenge of the three.
Southampton drew against Chelsea a few days ago and it was a very late Alexis goal at the Emirates that prized away two points from their grasp. Basically they have had their blip and now they look to have recovered. The good news from an Arsenal point of view is that they will be without two influential players in Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne because of suspension and injury respectively. I wonder if opposition blogs write that stuff about us all the time?
'Today should be made far easier as Arsenal are without Welbeck, Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta, Gnabry Diaby etc....'
Tomas Rosicky is back in the squad after his precautionary rest at West Ham and that may prove to be pretty handy given Welbeck's injury. I wondered whether or not Theo Walcott would get a start but Arsène has all but ruled that out.
“He has a chance and if it is not Thursday it will be Sunday," confirmed Wenger.
“He has been out for one year, he was injured on January 4 and he has to go for contact, and today the game does not forgive you any lack of contact or defensive focus and we have to get that.
“He has been impatient, he has been injured so of course you are always impatient. He is 25 going to 26 and this is an important part in his life for a player. He is certainly a bit edgy as he has been out for so long… you must have [the first tackle] in your mind and have to go through that.
"He is fit because he has done a lot of` work," added Wenger. "I have always handled [Theo] progressively.
"Let's not forget he only had two days of training with us before the game against QPR. Not in total, he has been out, in and out again as he was sick and had a groin problem when he came back from England. Fitness-wise he is there but he has not had a lot of practice in training.”
So with Giroud suspended (silly boy) and Welbeck out, Arsène will need to make a decision on who starts in attack and perhaps number 10.
Even if Podolski was not involved in a battle to leave the club, Arsène's comment above 'today the game does not forgive you any lack of contact or defensive focus' would have probably meant that the German would have been overlooked anyway.
Alexis is likely to play as centre forward and it makes sense that Oxlade-Chamberlain starts on the right. Arsène could move Cazorla to the left of attack and that would be a familiar position to the Spaniard and would also aid us when it comes to wrestling some more control on the game. Tomas Rosicky could then replace Cazorla in the middle of the pitch. Trouble with that is you would be moving arguably our best player in recent weeks from a position where he has played his best football for some years. Even though the left of attack isn't ideal, I'd rather leave Cazorla where he is and start Rosicky on the left which should cause less disruption to the rest of the team.
I guess the other option is to use Joel Campbell on the right and switch Oxlade-Chamberlain to the left but unless he has been tearing up trees at London Colny, I just don't see that happening. Mainly because tearing up trees doesn't help win football matches.
Moving all the way back down the pitch, we could see our first choice back four again. I'm too lazy to count the amount of times we've played that so far this season but I'm guessing it is a ridiculously low number.
I wonder if we'll play a counter attacking game again today, leaning on the strength of our defence before springing in behind the usually disciplined Saints.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
Wouldn't it be just swell to see us race into a 3 goal lead within 30 minutes? Taking our first 3 half chances on the break. But as we know, Arsenal life is rarely that simple so I expect a hard fought match that will be dependent on small moments throughout the 90 minutes. If we score in the first 10 minutes then proceed to only have 29% possession, defend for the remaining 80 minutes and throw on all the defenders at the end to secure the victory I'd snatch your hand off for that. 9 points out of 9 with players shortly returning would be a remarkable platform for the second half of the season but I can't shake off the feeling that this game will end up as a draw.
At this stage, I think I'd take that.
It's been a rather difficult few weeks for me so the usual pre and post match stuff has not happened. I shall try and get back to that today with the post match Q&A and Podcast later. Tim from 7am Kick off should be joining the crew. The guys will be talking about the match, a look back at 2014 and the transfer window so keep your ears pealed or something.