Back to London and Gunning for Arsenal
December never looked good when the fixtures were released with three visits to London on the first four Saturdays of the month and that now sees us make the trip to Arsenal to follow the defeats at Crystal Palace and Tottenham in the last three weeks.
Those two defeats were very different. At Palace the performance was dreadful and in some ways we were very fortunate to come away with just a 2-0 defeat. That performance had relegation written all over it but in fairness there has been a massive improvement in the three games since although the results probably don’t reflect that.
The most recent of those games was a week ago at Wembley when, in horrendous conditions, we were just minutes away from securing a point from a 0-0 draw; Spurs scoring the winner in the first of four minutes added on at the end of the game. That one was harsh and we deserved much better.
Now it’s Arsenal and another really tough game against one of the top teams in the league and this, above all the others, is one I would like to win. If you look down the league, there are only four we have never beaten in the Premier League. Two of those four are actually the two below us in the table. Wolves are a third but of the teams that have been in this league regularly, Arsenal are the only one we haven’t beaten.
Tomorrow is our ninth Premier League game against them. The first ended in a 1-1 draw with Steven Fletcher having a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. Since, it has been a run of seven consecutive defeats with three of them ending in one goal defeats when the winners have been controversial and in stoppage time.
You have to go back some time to the last occasion we beat Arsenal in a league game. We beat them 2-0 in a League Cup game ten years ago this month with two Kevin McDonald goals but the last league victory saw Peter Noble score the goal in a 1-0 win at Highbury in the 1974/75 season.
Will Sean Dyche go with the same defensive system he employed last week or will we revert to a back four. Right-back Phil Bardsley would probably prefer the new system. “I enjoyed it,” he said, referring to the Spurs game. “I thought we were compact and hard to break down. We’ve got the players at our disposal to play different formations and different systems. If you look at the game on Saturday, everyone did their job.”
He added: “We’ll have to see what we do this weekend, but we have something to build on. We can always look back at that and it’s a system we’re confident we can play.”
Bardsley was one of the players who won his place back after the Palace debacle and he’s played well, particularly in the two home games against Liverpool and Brighton. He’s almost certain to keep his place ahead of Matt Lowton but there will have to be one change to the team with Aaron Lennon having had knee surgery this week.
Dyche said that Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson could be fit to return but then added that Robbie Brady had an injury so there could be a shortage in the wide positions. He also ruled out Steven Defour for a fourth successive game.
I suspect we will stick with the same formation although he did admit that he might tinker again so it is a matter of having to wait and see, but if he does stick with the same formation it will require both JBG and Brady to be fit.
The team then would be: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Robbie Brady, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Ben Gibson, Jeff Hendrick, Dwight McNeil, Matěj Vydra, Sam Vokes, Chris Wood.
While we currently sit in the relegation places, Arsenal are fifth in the table and just three points behind Chelsea as they look to get back into the top four and win a Champions League place.
It will seem strange playing against them without the grey haired, partially sighted Frenchman in the long coat stood on the touchline but when the longest serving manager in English football left at the end of last season he was replaced by Spaniard Unai Emery whose previous club had been Paris St Germain.
He took over a side that had finished in sixth place last season, just one place above us, and it was only in the last two games that they ensured that place. A Burnley win at the Emirates in our last away game would have set things up nicely for the final day.
The season has gone as well as can be expected for them. Although they went out of the League Cup this week against fierce rivals Spurs, they have only been beaten three times in the league and only once at home.
The season started disappointingly. They were beaten 2-0 at home by Manchester City in the opening weekend of the season and a week later were beaten 3-2 at Chelsea. They didn’t lose again until a week ago when Danny Ings and Charlie Austin scored the goals in Southampton’s 3-2 win against them.
Liverpool and Wolves are the only other teams to take a point from the Emirates while all of West Ham, Everton, Watford, Leicester, Spurs and Huddersfield have been beaten there although in their last home league game it took them until the 83rd minute to score the winner against Huddersfield.
Emery has confirmed that Henrikh Mkhitaryan (pictured), who scored both goals at Southampton, and Shkodran Mustafi are both ruled out tomorrow although Laurent Koscielny should be available and Saed Kolasinac will be fit.
When they lost last week at Southampton, the team was: Berndt Leno, Hector Bellerin (Alexandre Lacazette), Stephan Lichsteiner (Ainsley Maitland-Niles), Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Alex Iwobi (Mesut Özil), Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Subs not used: Petr Cech, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, Eddie Nketiah.
LAST TIME WE WERE THERE
It was the final away game of the season and we’d been beaten only four times on the road by Manchester City, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Swansea. It had been an away record, with seven wins and seven draws, that we never thought would be possible for us in the Premier League.
But if we thought we were going to get anything at Arsenal we were very badly mistaken. It was all set up for the Gunners. Not only was it their last home game of the season but also the last home game ever for manager Arsène Wenger.
Unfortunately, as Arsenal fans wore their Merci Arsène t-shirts, we conceded goals to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the first half and it went worse in the second half as Saed Kolasinac, Alex Iwobi and Aubameyang again helped themselves to goals.
It meant any dreams of finishing in the top six were over. That would be Arsenal and we had clearly packed our suitcases for the summer.
The teams were;
Arsenal: Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers (Per Mertesacker 77), Konstantinos Mavropanos, Saed Kolasinac, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Granit Xhaka, Alex Iwobi, Jack Wilshere (Aaron Ramsey 72), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette (Danny Welbeck 72). Subs not used: David Ospina, Nacho Monreal, Shkodran Mustafi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon (Georges-Kévin NKoudou 71), Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (Nahki Wells 89), Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 22). Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney.Share this page :