We need this man to stay fit
It's been a bit hectic since Saturday. I was unable to preview the Chelsea game due to work commitments, but I might have written a piece after the game had my brother not been rushed to hospital on Saturday night. Thankfully all is now well so I can turn some attention back towards Arsenal.
Saturday's performance really disappointed me. It was a real "after the Lord Mayor's Show" affair and was frustrating in the extreme following last week at Manchester City. Chelsea appeared hungrier than Arsenal and they worked hard all over the pitch to put us under pressure. Our players looked lacklustre and, aside from the two full-backs (again) and Mikel Arteta (again) I couldn't find a reason to praise any of them. Despite being so poor we should have still got at least a draw. We managed to get the chances to score but couldn't take them. Having showed so little in the game, yet still got in on goal a couple of times, you can only assume that we would have won comfortably had the requisite effort been in evidence.
The defending returned to last seasons standards at set-pieces, and in terms of the discipline of the two centre-backs. I suppose the fact that last seasons centre-backs were paired together again for the first time this term is not a coincidence. I do not understand why Per Mertesacker was dropped. Arsene Wenger's terse response to the press when questioned over it would indicate that he also knew he had cocked up. Koscielny's attempts at both free-kicks directly led to Chelsea's two goals (I am not having it that Mannone should have saved the second one), while Vermaelen's indiscipline also returned in the absence of the BFG alongside him. It seems ridiculous to leave out a player who has been playing as well as Mertesacker has so far this season. As Kevin Whitcher pointed out in his column at onlinegooner.com would Wenger have dropped an in-form centre-forward? Of course he wouldn't, so why leave out Mertesacker?
The injury to Abou Diaby was sadly predictable. There was real hope that this time he had turned the corner. Maybe, just maybe, Diaby was going to put together a long run of matches. Sadly it is the same old story, and he is simply incapable of playing more than a couple of games without injury. The fact that his injury this time came as a result of striking a shot from distance shows that there must be a fundamental weakness in the leg that was shattered. How much longer can you go on paying a fortune to a footballer that injures himself kicking a ball? We were certainly the poorer for his enforced absence as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was pretty awful when he came on (as he has been all season, to be honest).
Olivier Giroud passed up his latest opportunity to impress by missing yet another open goal. There is a real problem developing with Giroud and every missed chance simply compounds the issue. I hear people defending him by saying "he makes the right runs" or "at least he's getting in the right position". That's utter nonsense as far as I'm concerned - Kaba Diawara did all of those things but, like Giroud, he didn't find the net. I am sure that Lukas Podolski would not have missed that last minute chance had he still been on the pitch, but Wenger has so far substituted the German in every game. I don't understand why you would take off your best finisher when you're a goal down in any game - surely you want him in the penalty box trying to get on the end of something, don't you?
All in all Saturday was a real let down from Arsenal, especially since this Chelsea team really is not very good. If they win the Premier League then it will have required possibly even more luck than their Champions League triumph last season.
On to tomorrow and the team news is a concern. Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong will not be involved after their U21 game yesterday (I think we will get our first proper look at Jack at Reading in the League Cup, barring any crises in the midfield before then). But with Mikel Arteta requiring a fitness test we could have an issue tomorrow. Francis Coquelin was apparently sick on Saturday, so we need to hope he has recovered in time to play against Olympiacos. The ankle knock suffered by Arteta is even more of a worry with a trip to West Ham in the offing on Saturday. I would be tempted to rest Arteta tomorrow, if possible, with Saturday in mind - we should have enough to beat the Greeks at home without him, but Allardyce's cloggers are a different prospect. The Spaniard has been utterly outstanding this season and we really need him for Premier League games - nobody else is disciplined enough to play that role, though I think Johan Djourou could actually do a good job in front of the centre-halves.
Wenger has a choice to make up front again. Does he stick with Gervinho through the middle, or does he play the more physical Giroud? I suppose the fact that the choice is between those two tells us that we are lacking what is really needed up front. Theo Walcott will no doubt be dropping hints to Le Boss, but his display when he came on against Chelsea made me think The Invisible Man had wandered on to the pitch. Whoever does get the nod will have to hope Santi Cazorla gets going again. I think he's looked like a man who is starting to feel the Premier League pace over the last couple of games. We've seen how good Cazorla is already, and I want to see a lot more of it starting tomorrow night.
I wouldn't be overly surprised to see the much fabled rotation in evidence tomorrow. The likes of Andre Santos may well get a run out, and I sincerely hope Per Mertesacker returns to the starting line-up. I also think that Theo might come in on the right instead of Aaron Ramsey who was back to being slow and ponderous on Saturday - Rambo may also have to move in to the centre if Arteta does join Diaby on the sidelines.
If we can win tomorrow, as we undoubtedly should, we have a real chance to qualify for the second round. You always think that home matches must be won in the Champions League, and we can't afford to be as complacent as we were against Chelsea. The fact that Roy Carroll is Olympiacos' goalkeeper tells you that Arsenal will be expected to win comfortably tomorrow night. The players must perform.