So. We’re off to Goodison Park then, are we? Well. This fixture has been a tough one of late, what with us losing in four of our last five visits, the most recent setback being Dyche’s triumphant debut seven months ago when another Burnley bastard, James Tarkowski, headed home to end our 14-match unbeaten run and signaled the end of our title-tilt. Dyche has his side playing predictiably Pulisian tactics, and we’d do well to prepare for a grueling, gritty affair.Continue reading
|Those were the days…|
There were such high hopes for the vaunted “British Core” that Arsène had finally deemed worthy of his interests after years of seemngly going out of his way to find each and any Francophone available. It’s one thing to sign Thierry Henry or Robert Pirès or Marc Overmars. It’s quite another to sign Yaya Sanogo, Pascal Cygan, or Sebastien Squillaci. It had seemed for a time that Arsène was willing to set aside at least one stubbornly-held principle, if only for cynical reasons. He looked beyond that certain je ne sais quoi to make room for British lads to play for the Arsenal. Heck, he even let them start.
Well, it seems as if that flirtation is all but over. The sale of Gibbs to West Brom is certainly not the first signal, but it may be the most telling. As alluded to above, Gibbs looked likely to supplant Cole and Baines for England; in the process, he would have salved the wounds left by Cole’s departure to Chelsea—and Clichy’s to Man City along the way. In short, he would stand as a stalwart symbol against the oil-money that was threatening to obliterate Arsène’s vision for Arsenal’s future.
Alas, it was not to be. Gibbs would not be the first to fall, and he would not be the last. There have any number of loans that at first seemed, as loans should seem, temporary: Akpom. Jenkinson. Chambers. Wilshere. Each of them had featured for Arsenal to varying degrees; some of them had even delivered memorable performances. In short, it was starting to look like Arsenal, the most-foreign of the First Division and the Prem’s clubs, was at long-last starting to resemble the country in which it played.
Many of these British players now look as if they’ll never again get a whiff of first-team action. Likeable lads such as Jenkinson, Akpom, and Chambers might still have futures as squad-players, ready for cameo appearances in low-risk fixtures like the League Cup, early FA Cup, or the
Champions League (ahem) Europa League group-stage, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see them in crucial fixtures as we seek to win the Prem or any other silverware.
Still, they’re little more than cannon-fodder. Brighter prospects have fallen on harder times. Oxlade-Chamberlain has been sold, with hearty cheers all around for hood-winking Liverpool. Theo Walcott looks fortunate to feature against non-League sides in League Cup and FA Cup ties. He might even score in Europa League play if he’s especially lucky.
Against this backdrop, the sale of Gibbs to West Brom, reportedly for a fee as low as £6.75, should signal to other players that no one’s future at the club is safe. Heck, even Jack Wilshere, heralded as the future of the club since his performance against Barcelona in 2011, has had his future doubted. There were open and persistent questions about whether his loan to AFC Bournemouth would become permanent.
He’s back, at least for now, but the idea of a British core under Arsène seems dead in the water. His first-choice XI features only one hold-over, and that one comes with an asterisk—Aaron Ramsey. He of course is Welsh, which doesn’t quite count as being British in the same sense that an American opining about football doesn’t quite count as being insightful.
Look at that. We’re about to face a club managed by Tony Pulis, and we’re only just now getting to him. Saints be praised, Gibbs has not yet adopted the Neanderthal “tactics” that Pulis preaches. He (Gibbs, that is) might still have a future after all.
As for Saturday’s clash, it goes without saying that we’ll do our level-best to see the Baggies relegated. We can’t quite count on Agent Kieran to play his part, so it’s up to Ramsey and the rest to see us through…
On that Boxing Day, the first and second clubs ever formed in England played the first-ever inter-club match. Sheffield FC defeated Hallham FC 2-0. A closer connection to Arsenal formed in 1888-89, the Football League’s first 22-match season, when Preston North End defeated Derby County on its way to the first-ever “Invincible” record. We of course achieved the same in 2003-04 and will face Preston North End in the FA Cup in January. So that’s Boxing Day for you.
Now, for the actual match. On this Boxing Day, we “welcome” West Brom, which is to say we don’t welcome them at all. They’re in middle-of-the-pack form, squeezed in among six other squads somewhere between 24 and 21 points. They’ve fought through tough losses to Chelsea (1-0) and Man U (0-2) either side of trouncing Swansea (3-1). They’re not awful on the road, but after our own recent setbacks, it is absolutely imperative that we get back on track, finding either the form or the grit that once launched us to the top of the table. It might be encouraging to suggest that, despite our worst performance of the season, we emerged from the Etihad having lost “only” 2-1.
We’ve looked jaded of late, so there’s some hope to be found in the fact that West Brom feature the Prem’s oldest squad. Mainstays like Gareth McAuley (37), Chris Brunt (32), Ben Foster, (33), Jonas Olsson (33), and Darren Fletcher (32) are no longer spring chickens, and they are likely to struggle to hold us off, what with the pace and movement we have in attack. Still, we have to know what to expect from a side managed by our old friend Tony Pulis: a well-organised defense and rugged, physical play. This lot may not be quite as stingy as his infamous Stoke sides but we should be prepared for a low-scoring match.
With that in mind, I hope we see Olivier Giroud played as centre-forward. Against the size and physicality that the Baggies offer, we are going to need more muscle than Alexis, chiseled though he may be, can offer. Giroud can wear McAuley and Olsson out for 60-70 minutes, after which the Energizer Bunny that is Alexis can run circles around them. One or both should even find a few chances to score. With Giroud as a target-man, our offense, which has lacked direction or focus in recent outings, should be able to find its way past Pulis’s defense.
Arsenal 2-0 West Brom (21 April 2016)
West Brom 2-1 Arsenal (21 November 2015)
Arsenal 4-1 West Brom (24 May 2015)
Cazorla, Welbeck, Mustafi, Debuchy, and Mertesacker are out; Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey face late fitness tests.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech, Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Bellerín; Xhaka, Elneny; Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.
Although we’ll likely have to endure long, fruitless spells, ultimately, there’s too much at stake and too much firepower available. Arsenal 3-0 West Brom.
What do you think? Can we get back on track after two dispiriting losses? This one represents the first of a half-dozen or so from which we really should seize all three.