Wolves Preview: Young Cubs And Wise Heads As Arsenal Reshuffle?
The festive season for Arsenal gets under way slightly later than intended. The reason makes me think back to the Boxing Days of yesteryear when we used to drive from the West Country, persuading one dad or another that Arsenal v Leicester, Norwich or WBA was a potentially brilliant footballing fiesta. Curious that we had no trouble with a London derby, home or away but the run-of-the-mill games were always harder work to get to. And that was with no public transport. Were we a hardier bunch in those days…no, let’s leave it there.
As it is, Wolves arrive at The Emirates already written off for this match at least. Arsenal will be motivated; win and they take fourth from Chelsea. Win by five or more and third falls, albeit temporarily until the self-styled Best team in the English Premier League play this evening. It is a match that sees the start of a mini-blizzard of fixtures, this the first of three games in six days. Yes, Mr Mancini, six days. You have three in eight yet have the temerity to complain. Rarely has a team in top spot been so sorely marked as having a lack of winning mentality.
For Arsenal some rotation is going to be required. Defensively that is tricky but surely a home game is the one to rest Mertesacker or Vermaelen to bring Miquel in on the left? I understand that Villa Park was deemed to be a tricky outing but this and the matches against Swansea and QPR surely allow for the young Spaniard to gain the experience he requires.
In midfield, Aaron Ramsey needs a rest; he looked shattered last week and it is not as if Arsène does not have options for that role with Rosicky and Benayoun available. The return of Alex Song will mean that Frimpong drops out although both the experienced replacements could be inserted to allow Arteta a breather. And when we talk of rests, they will only be dropping to the bench in most cases although those changed so far could be dropped entirely if the manager so chose. But I don’t expect Arteta to miss out today, that is more likely to be the QPR encounter.
However up front the choices are riskier. Robin van Persie is on fire and rightly, Arsène has observed that the team comes before his captain’s personal glory. Yet to deny the Dutchman the opportunity to break Shearer’s record of Premier League goals in a calendar year strikes me as almost churlish. But we should be prepared for a cameo from him today. That gives Chamakh the chance to impress before departing. For the African Cup of Nations, that is.
Wenger noted the lack of opportunities, which is as much down to van Persie’s scintilating displays as the Moroccan’s wretched form. When selected, he works hard but with no end product, ultimate benchmark for a striker. No matter how harsh a judgement that can be, the use of the 4-3-3 formation demands that the central striker being a goalscorer and 2011 has not been a year Chamakh will want to remember on that front.
It seems his manager is more optimistic about Park. The Korean has been baffling, capable of brilliance in his finishing as equally as anonymity. Wenger believes this to be down to acclimatisation to the English game, which is possible I suppose. Yet the scant usage hints at something deeper. Sitting on the bench and not being used, even when Gervinho or Walcott need rotating, suggests that Wenger might have got this one wrong. Or is it genuinely that Park has not been able to cope with the pace and technical demands over that which he has been used to?
Putting his plight into context has been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Wenger talks more readily of his progress being positive, compare and contrast the below,
It has been difficult because I have not given him [Park] the chance to play. It takes you time. You see a player like Koscielny last year. He was sometimes surprised by the physical demands of the game and, this year, he is dominating.
[Oxlade-Chamberlain] will play games. He is not far. He is a talented boy. It’s all there. He just needs that toughness in the game. I could have brought him on the other night [in the 2-1 win against Aston Villa]. He is ready. He is just missing experience at the top level.
The youngster is ‘ready’ but Park is, judging by the language used, still not so. And for that reason, I think that Oxlade-Chamberlain will start today, on the right in place of Walcott. It is the final change but one that might profit the team in the longer run, as well as a positive result today. That means a line-up of,
Szczesny; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Miquel; Rosicky, Song, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Gervinho
Elsewhere, Jack Wilshere is reportedly ready to return to light training this week which is good. History tells us that other players have suffered minor setbacks during their rehabilitation and subsquent return. We should be prepared for that with Wilshere. Even so that is positive news nonetheless. As for players who might want to come back to Arsenal, well, those are PR powder-puff words that are being given too much credibility. Draw a line under the departure of Cesc and move on.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.