Good morning chums.
FIFA’s football slavery* week is over and club football returns tomorrow with Arsenal versus Swansea in a traditional 7am kickoff. Didn’t we just have an international break? Didn’t most of these players just play in a hotly contested Euro or Copa America Centenario? Oui and si, respectively. And what about Arsenal? Weren’t we gaining momentum just before the break with wins over Chelsea, Basel, and Burnley? Of course, yes. So, this international break was most unwelcome.
But as Wenger himself said “maybe the quality of a Premier League team is to be capable of refocusing quickly coming back from international games. That’s what is at stake for us – to show that, despite the interruption, we can restart at the same level we had before.”
Arsenal have their work cut out for them. Alexis Sanchez has been in great form and he has already played 16 matches for club and country this season. His last being 90 minutes of a hard fought World Cup qualifying win (2-1) over Peru on Tuesday night in Santiago. Alexis seems to be made of some kind of indestructible polymer and the extra day of rest should do him wonders. With five goals and five assists already this season for Arsenal, I expect him to start up front.
Alexis spearheads a speedy and mobile front line which features the tricky Alex Iwobi on his left and the muscular Theo Walcott on his right. Iwobi scored his first international goal for Nigeria Wenger on Wednesday which follows up on his impressive form this season for Arsenal, where he leads the Gunners with three League assists. Theo Walcott on the other side has been showing flashes of being the complete player Arsenal have wanted him to be for the last decade: he leads Arsenal in shots, coming in from the right and his partnership with Alexis up front has produced three goals and two assists in the League.
Arsenal’s midfield received a huge boost or a huge headache, depending on how you look at it. Özil only played half a match for Germany so he will start. Cazorla is also undroppable and will start. But the headache comes from news that Wenger has Coquelin available, which Arsene called “quite good news”. Will Wenger stick with Coquelin in midfield or has Xhaka done enough to impress and earn a start while Coquelin has been out? I suspect Coquelin gets the nod: Wenger will expect Swansea’s new boss (American Bob Bradley) to play defense first football. In which case, arsenal will push high up the pitch and Wenger will look to use Coquelin’s energy to press between the lines and try to win the ball back in Swansea’s half. If Arsenal lose possession, Coquelin’s excellent recovery speed will be vital.
Arsenal’s back line is completely settled with Mustafi and Koscielny forming the football equivalent of the one-two punch. Mustafi is the jab, poking away at defenders, attacking passes, winning tackles and stealing the ball. Koscielny is the haymaker, cleaning up the messes and knocking out the opposition.
Swansea have a new manager, the American Bob Bradley. Wenger was complimentary of Bradley because he is a classy man. I am not. Bradley is a decent manager but the question is whether Bradley is any better than the bog average English manager? From what I’ve seen, no. But that’s what he has to prove with this appointment in Swansea. Like when Wenger came over and revolutionized Arsenal, Bradley has to be yards ahead of the English managers in order to win over the fans. As Wenger said, best of luck to him doing that — only after tomorrow’s match!
Swansea have Leroy Fer as their main threat. He is a midfielder but he wins a lot of aerial duels and he will be a threat on set plays against Arsenal’s slightly smaller center backs. Swansea have big structural problems with their defense this year. They lost Ashley Williams to Everton and as a result the defense is the worst in the league, in terms of shot quality conceded. Bob Bradley needs to get that settled and organized and that will no doubt be the way they play tomorrow. How well remains the central question.
Swansea knocked Arsenal out of the title race last year in what was probably the most painful match of the season as the year’s expectations went up in flames. One-nil up thanks to a Campbell strike, Arsenal collapsed to a sloppy 2-1 defeat. And here is Arsenal again, on the verge of perhaps another title run and with a five match winning streak under their belt. As Wenger put it, Arsenal need to show that they are contenders and put this one to bed.
*Each of the leagues has agreed to enforce FIFA’s rule that players must appear for international duty when called up or they have to sit out of their league games for a period equal to the number of games that they would have played for FIFA plus five days. Meanwhile FIFA makes tons of money off this, which goes toward corruption and lining the pockets of FIFA’s administrators and not toward “grass roots” football. But you already knew all of that. (Article 5)