By Phil Gregory
Before I kick off the preview proper, I thought I’d briefly mention the Commons Inquiry into Football Governance. As long-term readers will know, about a year ago I put together a submission for it, and wrote it up in a series of articles for Untold. What was great though was the recognition of my report getting cited in the committees final report (on page 51 of the report, which is 51 on the pdf itself). The report came out a few months back and I intended to mention it in article but it totally slipped my mind. I only remembered it now as one of the very pleasant men who interviewed me for a job on Wednesday had a copy of my submission, and quizzed me on a few aspects of it, which came as a surprise. That said, there are worse things than spending half an interview discussing football finance, so I’m not inclined to complain much. If you’re interested in reading my submission in full, you can find it here .
The main point to take from this is that work does get noticed. I’m just an undergraduate economics student who’s a contributor to a blog, and yet my work was considered and quoted in a government inquiry. Leaving aside cynicism as to what impact the Inquiry will actually have on those clowns running the FA and the Premier League, it shows that things can be done. We’ve already seen the great work done by our Referee analysis teams get quoted on the BBC, so the sky is the limit really if you consider some of the great work put in to the Injury Index or various “Watch” series.
Onto the game, however! Andre Santos picked up a knock in the match versus Olympiakos, leaving us with both left and right backs out for a while. Santos’ selection and subsequent injury has drawn criticism amongst some quarters of Arsenal fans. While I can understand anger that our only remaining fullback was involved in a dead rubber tie, there is also the point of putting out a reasonable team in order to respect the competition to consider. Leaving out Santos would have meant that we had either a young centre back playing out of position (Miquel) or an even younger kid from the reserves making his debut at leftback. I can understand why Wenger played Santos – after all, what are the odds of him getting injured, really? – but I can also see the gripe of fans who wonder why our only remaining fullback was played in a game that was of no importance to us.
Regardless, the situation is as it is. The right back situation doesn’t seem too bad: Djourou is doing OK out there, so he can keep playing out there until Jenkinson is back, which if Wenger’s “three weeks” prediction (made two weeks ago) is accurate won’t be too long. The left back situation is a little ropier. Gibbs won’t be fit for at least another two weeks, and time must be allowed for him to get back to match fitness after a stop-start opening to the campaign. My solution would be to move Thomas Vermaelen to leftback, a position where he has plenty of experience. While that would be moving our best central defender out of his most potent position, I think both Koscielny and Mertesacker are up to the task of forming an effective partnership in the middle until Gibbs’ return. Moreover, Vermaelen would offer something going forward from left back, and it is important we don’t lose all our attacking potency from the fullback positions.
The main issue will be rotation over the Christmas period. Even if Jenkinson and Gibbs are back in the squad in two weeks time (which can’t be taken as a given), we will still only have one player in each position, so zero opportunity for resting tired legs when the games come thick and fast. Worrying. Perhaps Vermaelen will make the occasional appearance at leftback to rest Gibbs, but that would mean even less game time for him at centreback, which isn’t an ideal solution. As a squad player Djourou could come in for Jenkinson from time to time I suppose, but I’d much rather have a specialist replacing him.
In other news, Mannone and Fabianski are also out of the Everton clash, so we’ll see former number one Almunia on the bench. Diaby has a minor niggle, and will miss this game. Going back to the topic of rotation, Diaby could be a good player to have in the mix for the midfield, as we only really have Rosicky who could play in Ramsey’s position.
Djourou Mertesacker Koscielny Vermaelen
Walcott Van Persie Gervinho
Well, that’s certainly a very tall Arsenal side, with four centrebacks along the back. Aside from the defence, the team pretty much picks itself.
While it is a slightly makeshift back four, Everton are unlikely to test it much given their lack of goals this season. Moyes is crying out for a striker, but the money simply isn’t there and their wages as a percentage of turnover are creeping up towards that dangerous 70% threshold. They have sold a few players since those financial results, and you can certainly see why they needed to.
Fortunately for us, our midfield and attack is at full strength, which should be enough to get us over the line despite an injury hit defence. My only concern is that if Everton park the bus, we will suffer from a lack of attacking potency from fullback. If we score early, the game becomes much, much easier as Everton have to chase the game, but if we fail to score as the game goes on, life becomes much harder. Tottenham face a tricky game away to Stoke, so there is potential to close the gap there. The gap between us and our North London rivals is eight points should they win their game in hand, yet Chelsea are a mere two points in front of us. Despite United providing the midweek’s amusement and Vidic’s injury a huge blow for them, I cannot see the top two being anything other than United and City. Spurs are where they are off the back of a phenomenal run of results, but I think it remains to be seen how a relatively thin squad will cope with the hectic Christmas fixture list.
It seems to me there is a three way fight for 3rd and 4th position, between Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal. The league table doesn’t quite have it as clear cut as that, but I think Liverpool will continue in the same vein, underachieving considering their investment this summer, and Newcastle will slip away given their recent injury woes.
2-0 to the Arsenal, though I suspect it could be a nervy 1-0 win. Hopefully I’m wrong, as those games are terrible to follow listening to Arsenal Player.