Blackburn Preview: Allardyce On The Back Foot, Let’s Keep Him There
The week ended with a flurry of activity, Sebastien Squillaci’s signing confirmed and the draw for the Champions League deciding that Arsenal had not travelled far enough in previous campaigns, send Wenger and the squad to the Ukraine in November. That draw could have been harder, no-one in the group is an obvious barrier to qualification and Arsenal’s history of failure in Ukraine, Portugal and Serbia should not be considered relevant either.
Crucially, the fixtures have worked well in conjunction with the Premier League. The trip to Donetsk precedes the away match at Newcastle, arguably the ‘easiest’ fixture of the six following Champions League group encounters. Belgrade is less than three hours flying time which should not be a factor before Stamford Bridge whilst Braga is immediately before Aston Villa. Nowhere near as bad as it could have been especially as the both visits to Manchester are preceded by home matches. The travel ought not to be a debilitating factor to the domestic title challenge.
Squillaci’s signing may be the last of the summer for Wenger although his prime goalkeeping target, Mark Schwarzer, has apparently told Fulham that he is going to leave next summer for nothing if they do not sell him now. Which is a big gamble on his part, the assumption being that a ‘big’ club will want a 38 year old goalkeeper in June 2011. The Australian says he emailed a transfer request to his employers, they deny all knowledge of it. Someone ought really to be forwarding Roy Hodgson’s emails to another employee to deal with; it’s just good business practice.
So to this lunchtime and a swift revisit to the scene of disaster last season. Arsene’s favoured line-up would no doubt be including morphine in goal, a back four of the codeine quadruplets, midfield will be the ibuprofen twins, partnered by paracetomol and his younger brother on the flanks, headed up by the aspirins.
The defeat at Blackburn was a bitter blow yet the team fielded today will be nowhere near as weakened. Indeed, it will be strengthened if as expected Cesc and van Persie both start. Despite his hat-trick last week, I would still expect Theo to drop to the bench, along with Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky. Although the Czech provided impetus at Anfield on the opening day and was at the centre of everything good last week against Blackpool, for the first hour at least I would expect Wenger to look to contain the ‘physical’ approach of the hosts. Ironically for such an attacking player, some statistics I saw earlier this week suggested 21% fewer goals were conceded with the Russian in the side (sorry, I can’t remember where that was from), a staggering reduction that cannot be down to him alone, as much as I would like to give him credit for it.
The defence knows what to expect. Allardyce bemoaned the lack of credit he is given as a coach and for the tactical nous his teams show. It is hardly surprising that he has one tactic and it is hard to believe that anyone would give him credit for that. Perhaps the FA are not as stupid as we all seem to think when they denied Allardyce the England job. It was bad enough in South Africa with an intelligent manager.
Koscielny returns to partner Vermaelen and it is key that he uses the judgement and bluff he mentioned in this month’s Arsenal magazine to good effect. I doubt he will have ever encountered anything as rudimentary as Blackburn’s attack.
Almunia needs to be confident in his area. There are lapses in judgement on his part but he needs to use his experience and not venture off his line, leaving the first phase defending to those in front of him, preparing to deal with the impact of that. Too often he has tried to claim the ball to end up ‘under’ it, rather than in control. If he gets that part of it right, his shotstopping is better than average.
The line-up I would expect Arsene to field is:
Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy; Eboue, Fabregas, Song, Diaby; van Persie, Chamakh
Which leaves Wenger with a formidable bench to call upon to exploit Rovers in the second half. Wenger recently noted that van Persie and Chamakh would be used in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation and that is the more robust approach he has demanded.
Wenger has played one more card, to the chagrin of Allardyce. Chris Foy was castigated last weekend for poor officiating at Stoke, criticism to which the referee will not have been immune. You can guarantee that today he will be looking for exactly the offences he missed last week, forcing Rovers manager to become defensive about how they play.
According to some suggestions this week, this is Arsenal’s first test this season, Anfield is presumably now a routine away fixture. It is one of the increasingly rare physical tests in the Premier League with only Stoke and Bolton regularly employing the same tactics on a weekly basis. Too much is made of the supposed weaknesses from last season, ignoring a back five of Fabianski, Eboue, Campbell, Silvestre and Traore, nowhere near the first choice. For an indication of what happens when a full strength team goes to Ewood Park, look to the seven wins and two draws out of Wenger’s eleven Premier League visits there.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
Posted on August 28, 2010, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer, Transfer Gossip and tagged Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Transfer Gossip. Bookmark the permalink. 401 Comments.