It’s morning in America.
Here is a bit of stuff to talk about before the Chelsea match.
First, there is a lot of talk about Wenger coddling to some of his players, specifically Giroud and Gabriel. This talk is thanks to my respected colleague Tim Stillman. I’m going to disagree with Tim and others here.
Wenger gives players their chance and then is ruthless if they underperform. Once he drops you, you’re done unless there’s an emergency. Look at Per Mertesacker. He was dropped last year after his red card at Chelsea and hasn’t played since except on emergency basis. I know that there was an injury in there as well but I doubt we will see much PT for Mertesacker from here until the end of his contract.
So, why did Wenger extend his contract? Because he’s still useful and it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new center back. WhoScored.com (not journalists or even really a reliable source) broke a story that Arsenal have agreed to personbal terms for Kostas Manolas and that we are going to buy him for £47m. With Mustafi costing Arsenal £35m and Manolas priced at £45m+, it makes an awful lot of sense to re-sign Per.
But Per is done as regular starter for Arsenal. Now, I doubt this Manolas story with all my heart BUT what is a fact is that Wenger has been buying center backs left, right and center the last two years. Since dropping Per he’s bought Mustafi, Gabriel, Holding, and Bramall. And word is that Arsenal are interested in Manolas, but we aren’t excited about how much he’s going to… Kostas. So, Wenger is clearly shopping for a replacement.
I also don’t think Wenger is happy with Gabriel. Gab had that mental moment in the Chelsea match (it’s always Chelsea) and Wenger has since used him sparingly. Let’s put it this way, if Wenger was happy with Gabriel and Mertesacker he wouldn’t have bought three other center backs.
Giroud is in the same boat. Far from mollycoddling him, Wenger has tried to play just about every other player in the forward spot. Giroud has been dropped over and over again and is, in my opinion, Wenger’s least favorite forward. What Wenger does appreciate from Giroud is his physicality. Whenever Wenger talks about Olli he mentions how big and strong he is. And it’s that which is what got him selected against Watford, not some sort of misguided love for Giroud.
Against Watford, I think Wenger just got his team selection wrong. For Gabriel he played him at right back because he felt like he needed size and power against Watford. I sensed it before the match when I saw the team sheets and Wenger confirmed that after the match. In fact. he’s said this several times. Against West Ham he said of picking Gabriel, “I thought we’ll need some good headers here”. And again similar in the Watford post-match “We knew we had to be strong in the air with their direct challenges.”
As for Giroud, if he was “rewarding” or “worried about keeping him happy” then hauling Giroud off at half time was a huge blow to his ego and the exact wrong thing to do. When Wenger is worried about a player’s ego he leaves them on the pitch and subs them at his traditional 67-70th minute mark. That’s part of the reason he has that traditional sub, so that he can say that that’s just when he takes players off. Removing Giroud at half-time was one of the few times in his career that Wenger has openly admitted a mistake in the starting lineup. And if Giroud is as precious as everyone seems to think, Wenger would have to know that that substitution was the end for Giroud: both from Giroud’s standpoint and from Wenger’s.
He picked them for their size. He wanted more power in the team. End of.
If I’m right and Wenger is done with Giroud (I’m rarely wrong about this: calling Denilson, Vermaelen, Arshavin, Podolski, Gibbs and Mertesacker) against Chelsea we are going to see a different team selection. I expect that Welbeck will start along with Walcott and Alexis as the attackers. Welbeck for his power and intelligence, Walcott for his pace (picante sauce) and intelligence, and Alexis because he’s Alexis. Wenger will be looking for space in the Chelsea flanks with Alexis and Walcott and runs in the middle with Welbeck with Özil arriving late in the box. Alexis and Walcott will also help in the midfield along with Özil, Ox, and Coquelin. Bellerin will start right, Nacho left, and Mustafi and Koz in the middle.
I also disagree with Tim that Arsenal should pick up their high-pressure game again against Chelsea. I know that Arsenal scored the opening goal with “pressure”* but Conte will be expecting pressure and will counter by doing what he did against Liverpool and play a 5-4-1 at the start. This is designed to kill the game and make sure Arsenal don’t get an early goal. After the 55th minute I suspect he will switch to a much more attacking 3-4-3 which is what he did in the last game against Arsenal and what he did late against Liverpool (both times when he brought Pedro on). Almost immediately Chelsea won a penalty (which Mignolet saved) and probably should have won the match.
It’s going to be a difficult match for the Arsenal and a rare instance where Wenger might try to out tactic his opponent. One way to counter the 5-4-1 is to concede the ball. Give up possession and force Chelsea to play wide. Once their fullbacks are engaged in attack, close space around them and quickly counter.
If Arsenal start the fast attacking lineup and actually press low rather than high there is a good chance to get a result against Chelsea and give Arsenal supporters hope that they might climb back into the title race.
*Alexis applying pressure by himself is not a high pressing game.