Image courtesy of Stuart MacFarlane - Getty Images
Welcome back to the year 2013/14, who knew the club had been secretly working on a back to the future style car as a way to deal with the injury crisis we find ourselves in. It hasn't been totally fixed of course, needs a bit of tweaking. Petr Cech is still here thank goodness and we haven't found a way to teleport Bacary Sagna back. Something to do with the technology not recognising his hair or something.
Jokes (if you can call it that) aside, I was deselecting the unavailable players on my line up graphic and it struck me just how many changes the team will have had to make over the last few weeks. The Cazorla/Coquelin partnership has been a successful platform for the rest of the team, not all the Arsenal fan base agree but more often than not I think those two players have been fabulous for Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez will be a massive miss for so many reasons that all of us know by now.
Most of those missing parts have been recent tweaks or additions to this new look Arsenal team. By moving Aaron Ramsey back into the middle the team starts to look like the side of a few years back give or take a couple. It is actually a shame that a fit Mikel Arteta isn't available to partner Ramsey as the pair of them complimented each other very well at the time. Indeed Arteta is unlikely to be able to replicate his form of that season as you would imagine that injuries will have affected him physically but you would also hope that Aaron Ramsey was capable of making up for any of Arteta's physical limitations just as Mikel was capable of providing the team what Ramsey doesn't do so naturally.
It is looking like we will have a midfield pairing of Ramsey and Flamini, two players who have made a career of covering large distances getting up and down the pitch. None of those players are naturally suited to sitting and dominating possession, moving into spaces to receive the ball and then pass it on to team mates. This is where we are going to miss Santi Cazorla and indeed Mikel Arteta so it will be interesting to see how Ramsey and Flamini work together over a longer period of time, assuming both can stay fit long enough to develop an understanding of sorts. Will both players be a little more restricted in their game or will today's opponents likely defensive strategy mean that both players will look to join Giroud in the box? My fear is that we see both players in and around the opposition box only for a quick counter attack to expose a gaping hole in our midfield.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will surely be the candidate tasked with the impossible, replacing Alexis Sanchez. Having said that, I think Ox will be the one replacing Ramsey on the flank. Tucking inside to add an extra number in the midfield while Joel Campbell on the other wing will make the runs to support Giroud in attack much how Alexis did.
You have to think that the contributions of Campbell and the Ox will go someway in determining whether or not we can continue a challenge for the title, at least for the short term. We have to somehow replace the goal scoring threat of Alexis, not only that but the Chilean has been very creative in recent weeks, creating plenty of goals for Özil and others. Campbell and Oxlade-Chamberlain have yet to find consistency in their output, now would be a great time to put that right.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
The good news is that we have Theo Walcott back in the squad, hopefully he is ready to take up a seat on the bench. If we are to deal with the loss of Alexis then you'd imagine that Theo's strengths will be very much needed albeit in what is likely to be a central position rather than the flank. Koscielny is also able to rejoin the squad after having to come off at Norwich. I see no reason why we should rush him back into the side though, Gabriel is perfectly good enough to play in a game against a team who are likely to shut up shop.
So our old chum Sam Allardyce is back in the opposition dug out. His Sunderland team have won their last two games, keeping clean sheets in both of those games. They beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park which would have given them plenty of confidence. So expect to see them taking the game to us from the start and allowing both of their full backs to bomb past ours. Imagine that?
Instead I suspect we will watch a team that have been working all week on how to stop us from playing. I suppose the only good thing about all these injuries is that Sunderland will be just as unsure of what to expect from us as we are.
On paper this should be a nice easy 3 points and a few weeks ago it would have been just that. I get the feeling this is going to be far more difficult than we would want. We more often than not score goals through our confidence, continuity and momentum. Injuries have blown all that away and I think we may witness a team trying to figure out how to play our attacking game once more. Basically I wouldn't be surprised to see the game go into the second half at 0-0. That said we do have the chance creating machine that is Mesut Özil (hopefully not famous last words)
So back four and keeper excluded, this is a line up which we would be able to field if our injured players were healthy.
Potentially that is a better side than we will have starting this afternoon. Crazy.
Anyway fingers crossed we can do enough to get the three points and start some good momentum ahead of the busy December period.
Oh and no more injuries please.