Match Preview: Arsenal vs Manchester City

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Ok so we kick off our formidable fixtures list with a home game against City. Last time around at the Etihad in a 1-1 draw we were treated to a game of 2 halves, in which both teams stamped their authority on the match at different times. Let’s not sugar coat this, it will be a tough match for Arsenal to win and here’s hoping our tremendous record against City at home, continues to ring true.

This is however possibly the best time we could have to play City since they have many of their players out, both with injury and suspensions and also the African Cup. City will have to make do without Nasri, Kolo Toure, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Maicon. Unfortunately this does leave their defense pretty much intact but takes away from their physicality in midfield and creativity and finishing quality in attack. Arsenal meanwhile will have to make do with Gervinho which will be a terrible loss I’m sure and unfortunately maybe also Giroud who has a nasty cut over his knee thanks to a Swansea player stamping on him. Last time around it was very much a game of who could counter-attack better and somewhat amusingly, both goals were scored against the run of play. This time without the presence of Yaya Toure in midfield and the threat of Nasri on the wing, I would expect Arsenal to be able to assert some form of dominance over the middle and force City to play on the counter, rather than their usual tactic of short passing and possession in their opposition’s own half.

The defensive pairing for this match will be a big decision for Arsene Wenger and could play a crucial part in this match. On one hand we can play Mertesacker for his organisational abilities at the back, governing the offside trap and starting each attacking play, or we could bring in Koscielny since City possess players with good dribbling skills who could turn the slow German inside out, much like Aguero did to him last time. Given that City have scored over a quarter of their goals this season from set pieces, I would choose a partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen, both for being able to stop tricky dribblers and because for some reason, both of these shorter players are better in the air than Mertesacker. I also think aside from the set pieces, one of the biggest threats we will face in this match will be Tevez’s movement and spontaneous shooting, so two players who are able to get tight to their markers and prevent shots on the turn will be ideal.

Attacking-wise, last time Wenger chose to use a striker with pace in behind their defensive line and deployed Ramsey at right wing to drift inwards and gain a man advantage in the midfield battle. I don’t expect this to change, though I feel Ramsey might be on the left wing this time, with Podolski coming off the bench in the second half, hopefully in the same explosive form as he was against Swansea City. With Giroud in doubt for this match, I expect Wenger to use Walcott as our striker and it remains to be seen if he’s physically tough enough to deal with the attentions of Nastasic and Kompany. I would expect Arsenal to attack mostly through the middle with Oxlade Chamberlain cutting in on the right at times to mix things up. I almost hope I’m wrong though as I’d like to see Podolski start this match, partnering with Gibbs and Ramsey on the right wing, with Oxlade held in reserve to use his pace and trickery to our advantage late in the match. The midfield trio is the key to success in this match, Arteta and Wilshere will surely have their hands full with Silva drifting in off his wing, looking to exploit any space and two volatile forwards like Balotelli and Tevez moving in and around our lines. Yet Cazorla can do the same at the other end of the pitch and unless City commit a Center Back to his movements, the City midfield may have a busy day as Cazorla is at his best, moving around and finding space even out on the wings and there’s no way he’ll just stay central in a match like this.

So overall, we have a good chance at this one, the real game changer in question is whether Mancini starts in a 4-5-1 as expected or his much-experimented 3-4-1-2, as this would change the entire dynamic of the game, for better or worse. It’s unlikely though and in the expected system this game would look to be a real arm wrestle in the center with neither having great options on the wing. Gibbs could be a deciding factor with his pacy bursts forward and Wenger’s decision on both his starting Center Half pairing and whether to start Podolski or hold him in reserve will dictate the tempo of the match, particularly in the first half. The other telling factor will be how well we deal with any set pieces they have, which also means not giving away fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch and defending corners properly.

Manchester City Dangermen: Well they’re all dangerous but the biggest threats will most likely be Tevez, Balotelli and Silva. And also Dzeko who I would expect to sub on in the second half and can be a real game changer.

Result Prediction: The similar pressures in midfield from the two teams, suggests a draw to me, I’d say 2-2 but hopefully we can nick a late win.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott

Conclusion: Both teams will compete early for control of the middle, which could be quite a high tempo start. Expect only a few clear cut chances created by either side and a rather cagey affair until the first goal is scored with City playing on the counter and Arsenal breaking their teeth on City’s defensive line. Impact subs in the second half have the potential to blow the game wide open and make it a very exciting last 25 or so minutes. Who knows, maybe Giroud will be fit enough to sub in late and make an impact along with Podolski.

If you live near the Emirates, get down there and show the timid home support how to REALLY cheer on our team as it plays a major part to a team’s performance in a big match such as this. It will be a huge 3 points if we get them and considering the fixtures that await us, a real momentum boost. Come On You Gunners!

 

Match Review: Swansea City 2 – 2 Arsenal

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Well once the dust had settled neither side emerged victorious and to be honest it was that kind of game. On the face of it I can understand how people could be quite bored watching the game until the second half when the game exploded into life, thanks to the injection of Michu into the match. But for me it was an enthralling tactical battle and one that we didn’t do so badly in as it may have appeared. Wenger sprung some real suprises with the starting lineup and while I have my doubts on why the great lumbering Mertesacker started against a team who like to attack via thru balls, I can’t fault the rest of his tactics. Ramsey may be playing out of his comfort zone as a left mid but there’s no denying he was effective at cancelling out Swansea’s usually dangerous right wing attack and also helped to keep possession in midfield. As a direct result of this, Swansea were unable to use their normal tactic of slowly pushing down the right and instead chose to fire in dangerous diagonal long balls to any of their 3 attackers. Arsenal meanwhile kept possession and played high up the pitch while Swansea sat deeper and counter-attacked.

And this is what undid us for their first goal. To put it simply, we took the bait. We were pressing forwards, playing a high line defense while Swansea happily sat back absorbing the pressure, made easy by the slow tempo of the match and then they brought on Michu. And suddenly they had a speedy attacker getting in behind our high positioned defense and the first of these diagonal long balls was pounced upon and finished off by the Spanish talent. Playing Mertesacker as the last man is always risky when playing a high line in my books and while I guess one can argue he was playing to add defensive height in the box, there is more to being good aerially than just being tall and I tend to think both Koscielny and Vermaelen are better aerial defenders than him and should’ve started this match as he had no chance of catching Michu in a foot race. What suprised me most of all is that Swansea didn’t try targeting Sagna at right back who was left isolated and unsupported by Walcott for the majority of the game and as a consequence, appeared to play poorly. Aside from looking tired I don’t think he did much wrong except for the usual lousy crossing attempts. Offensively Walcott’s movement was so random he often didn’t know where to pass to and defensively he was basically left to deal with everything thrown at him on that wing and managed the majority of it with a minimum of fuss, only helped out occasionally by Koscielny.

Our attacking formation throughout this match was uncharacteristically narrow. With Ramsey playing on the left and Walcott drifting inwards, outwards and wherever the hell he damn well pleased there was only Gibbs left to stretch Swansea’s defense even a little bit and this made our attacking efforts much harder. Little wonder then that we had very few clear cut chances in the first half and didn’t really explode into life until the second half where we suddenly started moving the ball around much quicker. Swansea’s midfield went from comfortably passing the ball around and having time to pick a pass, to being aggressively pressed and making individual mistakes as a result of the pressure. This is where we started to dominate, even before Podolski was subbed on and turned the match on its head, Swansea started panicking, lost their midfield composure and dropped deeper still to try and defend their 1-0 lead. Big mistake. Inviting that much pressure from Arsenal when you’re a top team is a bad idea. When you’re a mid-level team like Swansea it can be catastrophic and quite frankly, they were lucky we didn’t blow them completely off the park. Gibbs who had been an attacking threat all match, suddenly became a deadly force with the introduction of Podolski and Swansea’s defense buckled almost immediately. Giroud was unlucky not to bury a good chance but we never looked like not scoring and 2 in quick succession looked to have the game won, if not for some good old crappy Arsenal defending from a corner. People will blame zonal marking for the goal but really it was a lack of effort to win the ball that caused it. Szczesny did his best to make the goal bigger for Graham to score in by going to ground far too early but it doesn’t change the fact that, like the first goal this one was soft and could’ve easily been avoided with a little more enthusiasm in defense.

So overall I don’t think we did too badly except for not putting away the chances at the end that could’ve made the score a complete blowout. Gibbs was fantastic all game and together with Wilshere’s driving runs forward they spearheaded the attack. Cazorla looked a bit fatigued and could probably do with a match off and Walcott’s positioning was also a little odd for me. I don’t know if Wenger gave him free reign to roam where he pleased but against a more dangerous team, if he leaves Sagna alone like that we could be in real trouble and with Manchester City coming up it’s not something I want to see more of. This is more or less the formation we used and the blue arrows illustrate the way Swansea chose to attack.

swansAs you can see, as a result of our pressing, Swansea were reduced to bypassing our midfield trio and using the width and their pace in behind our defense. This is something to be wary of but reflects well on our midfield.  You can also see the lack of width in our attack and the lack of a forward passing option for Sagna, who unsuprisingly racked up quite a few long ball pass attempts in his match statistics. In the second half when we sped our passing up, Swansea enjoyed even less of the ball and sat deeper as they ran out of ideas, inviting the 15 minute onslaught that was made worse by the introduction of Podolski on the left wing, who drove the ball forward and allowed Gibbs to decimate their back line. We scored twice and should’ve scored more. Since many people are complaining about Bould’s preference of Zonal marking I thought I’d also cover that in this review by demonstrating the system. So let’s have a look at that moment when victory was snatched away in true smash n grab style.corner1So if we take a look we can see how the zonal marking system works. Swansea are setup pretty basically with a near receiver to flick on the ball(next to Podolski) and 3 runners who have the task of pushing into the Arsenal goalbox once the flight of the ball is determined, meaning where they have to be to attack the ball. Arsenal have a man on either post and 3 men setup in zonal formation to block the incoming runners, challenge them aerially etc. At this point I’m a bit critical of the two men standing forwards of all this, Arteta and Walcott, since they should really be a part of the blockers wall with only 5 minutes left to play. It’s worth noting here that it is our midfielders that are closer to the goal than the defenders. There are two reasons for this. Firstly to speed up the quick counter-attack by advancing the positioning of the defenders and allowing the midfielders to pass to somebody as they sweep forwards once Arsenal have cleared the danger. And secondly to play a higher offside trap incase a player should accidently misplace a pass and leave an opposition player right in front of our goal with the ball at his feet. This goal however was just unfortunate, the red arrow on the photo shows where Podolski’s glancing header ended up and the green arrow shows the safe heading option that would’ve secured the game for us. Nothing to do with zonal marking, just a missed clearance and subsequent poor defensive work by the blockers who made no move to shut down the runners’ movement, resulting in the goal.

In conclusion this is a game we should’ve won but didn’t do anything terribly wrong in. We lacked some energy in defense and fell for a very good sucker punch when Michu scored but overall we got the basics right, successfully upped the tempo when necessary and passed the ball around better than we have in previous weeks despite the deceptive appearance of the game. If we play like that in the replay I am confident of blowing Swansea City out of the water and for now I’m content to simply look forward and await the match against Manchester City.

And finally, one more look at this, what a beautiful lobbed pass and volley!

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Match Review: Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle United, A Krul Day for Newcastle..

Arsenal v Newcastle United - Premier League

Oh god, it’s in the net again!

Wow, what a cracking match! While we may have just witnessed some of our best and worst football that we’ve played this season, there’s no denying that it was entertaining. As I discussed in my match preview, Newcastle unsuprisingly changed their formation to a 4-5-1 to better deal with the threat posed by our midfield trio. Before the 1st whistle this showed the respect they had for the capabilities of our midfield and as a direct result of the middle being stifled, both teams opted to attack through the wings, with much of Arsenal’s offense channeled through Podolski and Gibbs on the left. Weirdly both teams stood off each other and gave the players room to play and despite an early chance for Chamberlain, Newcastle had the better of the chances in the first half, while Arsenal were reduced to playing counter-attacking football and managed to take the lead with a good run and finish from Walcott after Podolski picked out his run. Podolski in particular was a constant threat to Newcastle but for all the movement down that wing it was still Newcastle creating more dangerous plays with the exception of their final passes.

Most uncharacteristically of late, both our fullbacks had a bad game defensively, with Sagna and Gibbs both caught out on multiple occasions. Koscielny also looked rusty after his time off injured and coughed up the ball several times, while Vermaelen by contrast was pretty consistent throughout. The goal we conceded before half time from a set piece, will go down as Wilshere’s fault for ducking and turning his head but with the recent head trauma suffered by Van Persie who can blame him? Wilshere’s a brave lad but he must’ve been fearing for his life after Ferguson’s revelations early in the week on the danger of a ball striking a players face. Clearly Newcastle’s players should be arrested for attempted manslaughter, first Van Persie, now Wilshere, who’s next? Back on topic, Szczesny’s setting of the wall could’ve been far better and this contributed to the goal along with Arsenal’s penchant for using the shortest players in the wall. Oh and maybe Wilshere will just cop the hit next time.

So on to the second half and this is where the game’s tempo suddenly jumped. Wenger must’ve told the players at half time to get tight to Newcastle’s players and deny them room to play because that’s exactly what they did and suddenly the momentum shifted. If not for some poor decision making from Wilshere and Walcott in the final third, Arsenal could’ve been out of sight within 15 minutes. Newcastle to their credit, refused to go quietly and despite 2 good goals from Arsenal the drew level twice, the first time through the most shambolic Arsenal defending I’ve seen in a while and the second time through a defensive error and a great finish.The most interesting stat in this match was the lack of involvement by Arteta, who had only 59 touches, his lowest all season. The other more worrying stat was the lack of support given to their fullback by either winger which contributed to the goals conceded. Offensively speaking though, Arsenal were irrepressible, Newcastle were on tired legs after playing United 3 days earlier but instead of empathy, Arsenal were ruthless. The sharks smelt blood in the water and went into a feeding frenzy.

Now while I’ve mentioned that the lack of early goals was partly to do with Wilshere and in particular Walcott’s poor choices in the final third, not all of this is his fault. With Walcott up top, Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1 and with Cazorla playing too far from the double pivot, Arsenal were not keeping possession enough in the middle of the pitch to create the sort of chances Walcott needed and in turn, Walcott was not dropping deep enough to help win the ball and dominate the midfield battle. That’s because if you were to typify Walcott in a forward role you would say he’s a Striker, not a Center Forward and therefore isn’t accustomed to dropping deep into the midfield from a central role. When Giroud was subbed on late, the effect was immediate. With Giroud dropping deeper and aiding Cazorla, Arsenal suddenly looked like a new team. Factor in Newcastle’s tiredness and it’s no wonder we ripped them apart in the final minutes and I wish to god Giroud’s third shot had gone in rather than hit the post but still, 6 touches of the ball for 3 shots, 2 on target and 2 goals is not a bad return for our sexy frenchman. But it was Walcott who will grab the spotlight for his hat-trick and 2 assists and it’s hard to argue with the quality of finishing(and 1 beautiful cross) on display for those 3 goals, though the same can be said for Giroud. There’s no doubt in my mind that Podolski’s technical solidity, workrate and attacking efforts in the first half wore Newcastle down but in the end the flood gates opened once Walcott shifted to the right wing and along with Giroud, their combined movement completely confused the defense and had Newcastle chasing shadows in the final phase of the match, ultimately destroying them. All in all this was a strange match with Newcastle playing the possession football and Arsenal for a change, playing a deadly counter-attacking strategy.

I realise it’s hard to criticise a team when they score 7 but with matches against both Manchester City and Chelsea looming in the New Year I feel I should highlight some problem areas made apparent in this game. Firstly the 2nd goal scored by Newcastle was catastrophically poor positioning in defense. This in-game shot shows you everything you need to know. Even before Sagna is beaten far too easily, Wilshere is caught out jogging back slowly rather than realising the problem and getting tight to the player in the middle Gibbs is marking and Gibbs is unaware of the unmarked player at the back post who scores a tap in uncontested.

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For the 3rd goal Gibbs was guilty of again leaving a player unmarked at the back post and despite a wonderful first time volley from Demba Ba, no striker should be given that kind of freedom. So onto the attacking errors we made. Or rather, the poor choices. The choice the player made is marked in red, while the green shows the choice they should’ve made and the player they needed to work with.

oops1 oops2 oops3 oops4 oops5

It may not matter missing these chances when you stick 7 past your opponent but against a tougher team where chances are fewer, these kind of poor decisions will often hurt you on the scoreboard. Overall I think the players tried a little too hard to give thru balls to Walcott, Podolski sent several balls that resembled a missile in pace, whizzing his way, while Arteta made a few 50 yard long balls to him and in general the tactic didn’t work. The chemistry on the wings is also questionable. While Gibbs and Podolski doubtless work well together I have my suspicions about Chamberlain and Sagna as a partnership. I couldn’t help but notice during the match how Gibbs and Podolski would either give a back slap, high five or yell encouragement to each other whereas on the other wing when Chamberlain played a pass to where he thought Sagna would run he was rewarded with a “what the fuck” stare instead. I’m still not sold on Walcott up front despite the hat-trick and if anything I believe he is a good plan B to have. Wilshere’s lack of determination to shoot was frustrating yet again and our defensive efforts need to sharpen up a bit before we take on the big boys. I also feel it’s important that we keep Walcott during the summer transfer window, both for his ability and to prove that we can hold onto our players. Whether it be for playing as a striker or in his proper role on the right wing, I don’t care. Just sign the damn thing.walcott

Finally I’m disappointed that after 3 wins in a row, the home crowd were just as silent as ever. The sooner these useless yobs are thrown from their seats and replaced with boistrous, thunderously loud fans the better. Time now for the team to get ready for Southampton and dish out another thumping, Come On You Gunners!

And as always after a goal-fest, enjoy…

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Finally, is anyone else disturbed by this? :D

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Match Review: Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal, Our lack of depth exposed

I feel your pain mate…

Yet another frustrating result for those of us who bleed red and white. And yet another bitter reminder that there are no easy games in the Premier League regardless of ladder position. So what went wrong? Why do we continue to struggle against teams in the relegation zone after the top teams have pounded them flat just a week ago? The key answer is in our squad depth, or rather the lack of. While the likes of Manchester City and United can afford to bench their superstars in favour of other excellent talents being paid an obscene amount of money to sit on a bench each week, Arsenal’s bench is brimming with considerably less talent, which was highlighted very late in the game when Giroud who’d picked up an injury, was substituted for the defensive-minded Coquelin. Now whether Giroud was fading or Wenger wanted to ensure we didn’t concede a late goal and simply accept the draw result, only he knows. A tough fixture against Everton just 3 days after this one prompted Wenger to rest several key players, most notably Wilshere who is still recovering from his long term injury and shouldn’t be overplayed. But the problem didn’t stem from this, it stemmed from the injury to Walcott and the decision to play Jenkinson and not Sagna at Right Back. It must be noted that Wenger’s hand was forced here due to Sagna still recovering from a lack of fitness due to his broken leg.

In fact the key players that required more rest than anyone else, played 90 minutes, Arteta and Cazorla. Both looked quite lethargic in this game with Arteta uncharacteristically slow in his movement and rather tellingly having less touches on the ball than his Central Midfield partner Aaron Ramsey and also Santi Cazorla. I can’t recall another game this season where Arteta has failed to manage more touches and passes than any of his team mates so this is a real indicator of his level of fatigue, also backed up by the fact he made around 15/69 of his passes back to our Central Defenders. Annoyingly the movement in the double pivot was actually very good for a change, Ramsey acquitted himself very well in the role, both in his defending and attacking play, ensuring Arteta was free to move around and couldn’t be man-marked. Aston Villa played an extremely aggressive pressing game that pushed our midfield pairing back towards our defense, thus separating the link to Cazorla and Giroud. Giroud’s frustrated response to this was to drop deeper and try to become the link in the advanced midfield, leaving no player up top to press their defense and this made our transition from defense to attack ie when we won the ball back to counter, even harder. Villa also tried to expand this problem for us by having Benteke man-mark Koscielny, leaving Mertesacker as our only passing option out from the back but the big German absolutely shone in this task and managed to distribute the ball to Arteta and Ramsey easily throughout the match.

But where we truly failed to capitalise on the risky aggressive game Aston Villa was playing was on the wings. While the potency of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is a constant threat for any team, it’s no good if you don’t pass there. Podolski looked fairly uninterested in this match and was again substituted(god knows why he’s so tired) although bringing on Gervinho instead is not something I’m a fan of. But this does little to mask the fact that we didn’t attempt to pass to them each time we looked to counter attack. This is due to Arteta’s fatigued performance and the winger’s poor positioning. Ramsey was situated on the right of central midfield and since he was the main man trying to create any kind of attacking play, it’s logical he would pass to the closest wing, being the right. But the inexperience of our right wing duo, Oxlade Chamberlain and Jenkinson, meant we wasted chance after chance to score on the break. The pair managed only 1 successful cross from 11 attempts and with Cazorla clearly fatigued and less influential than in previous games, this proved catastrophic as we were unable to create much in the middle(not aided by the heavy rain throughout the game making quick passing more difficult) and therefore crossing balls for Giroud seemed to be the best route to goal for us. Jenkinson is more of a defensive-minded fullback and I can only imagine the frustration that Ramsey must’ve been feeling every time he passed for Jenkinson to run onto it and take the ball to the corner to whip in a cross, only to have it passed straight back to him. Oxlade-Chamberlain also failed to make any impact filling in for the injured Theo Walcott and is yet to show his potential this season. Andrei Arshavin did come on for him late in the match and looked great, creating one good chance to steal the game from under Villa’s nose but in all honesty it would’ve been a “real smash and grab” style victory and not at all earned by our performance.

With Arteta playing poorly on the left of central midfield the service to Podolski was limited and is the main reason why our counter-attacks weren’t launched down the more potent left wing for Gibbs to whip in a cross for Giroud. I think it’s a rather telling stat that our best chance for a goal came from Giroud making a run down the left wing before delivering a low cross which Koscielny hoisted over the bar. Perhaps if we’d made a few more crosses from this side we would’ve gone home with 3 points. But the wingers did both Ramsey and Arteta no favours by playing too far forward, meaning that the passing distance was increased and becomes a less attractive option with the possibility of interceptions, mis-placed passes etc. If the wingers had realised this and dropped deeper to allow for a safer pass I am confident that our passing would’ve been faster and we would’ve made Aston Villa pay for their bold approach to shutting down our attacks early.

On to a huge positive! Despite the disappointing draw and lack of goals, our defensive shape throughout this match was nothing short of excellent. The continued confidence flowing from the back 4 is a very good thing to see, Szczesny had a quiet game but once again when called upon, he responded in style by making a brilliant fingertip save to parry a 25 yard screamer from Brett Holman onto the bar. Mertesacker was dominant at the heart of our defense and Koscielny once again excelled as his partner in crime. Gibbs looked lively and had a good game returning at left back and Jenkinson was solid in defense despite his lack of attacking impetus. It’s also worth noting that although obviously fatigued, Arteta did a good job of screening the back 4 although the real credit must go to Ramsey who’s workrate in this match was phenomenal.

So what do we do from here? Well clearly we need an extra striking option as Gervinho is inconsistent and if Giroud is injured we may find ourselves in real trouble. If Maroune Chamakh can’t even make the bench for this match then I’m afraid he’s finished at Arsenal. Tomas Rosicky back and fit would be very welcome so that Cazorla can have a well earned rest and I’d like to see Ramsey doing the same for Arteta once Wilshere is fully fit and established in the starting eleven. Looking at the rotation in this match, clearly the boss isn’t underestimating Everton but it’s a real shame about our lack of depth because I feel that with both Sagna and Walcott available for this match, Aston Villa would’ve been destroyed. I also think that despite Ramsey’s solid performance in Wilshere’s role, we need to look at getting a player that can cover for Wilshere as I truly believe that Ramsey is an understudy for Arteta and that one day in the future we will see a double pivot comprised of both Wilshere and Ramsey as the starting choice. Perhaps someone like Moussa Sissohko? Or another utility style midfielder who can play anywhere like Lewis Holtby.

So here’s hoping that Walcott and co are fit to play against Everton and we field a really strong team despite the fatigue to certain key players. I’ll leave you with a picture of hope, good to see him back in training finally. Now we just need him to be fit enough to start a few, Come On You Gunners!