Midweek Musings; Clean Sheets & Injury

Carabao Cup
London, England the Carabao Cup quarterfinal between Arsenal and West Ham. Getty Images

On Tuesday, Arsenal qualified for the semifinals of the Carabao Cup by edging by West Ham 1-0 at the Emirates. It was a very boring game. Next up is match-day 19 in the Premier League, the halfway mark between the season’s start and finish, and the Gunners will host Liverpool to close out the first half.

Of course, that’s not the only news as Arsenal Legend (at least a modern legend) Tomas Rosicky retired from the game officially, and there is injury news to discuss.

Carabao Cup, Injuries & Liverpool

Thoughts on the Quarterfinal

Look, if we had crashed out of the competition in the first game, I’m just not convinced anyone would really care. Yes, trophies are very nice, but this one is, save for the Community Shield, the least desirable piece of silverware available to the team.

So, let’s not get too bogged down by the performance, and instead discuss the match in the wider context of the season as a whole.

The rotated squad has put in some really dull performances lately. To go with the 1-0, they are coming off slim victories over Norwich and Doncaster in the League Cup, all one-goal games, as well as some less-than-stellar Europa League games.

The Continent

In continental competition, they’ve only lost the one (1-0 in Cologne), but haven’t found any of the other matches easy. The first game versus Cologne was decided after some major substitutions at the interval and over both matches against Belgrade there was just one goal scored.

The two wins over BATE Borisov were comfortable, but in the larger context, they are the exceptions and not the rule.

So, yes it was disappointing not to see a huge scoreline after the match yesterday, but, for whatever reason, the ‘B’ team hasn’t been doing that all year. Perhaps, instead of thinking that these sorts of performances are endemic to the team as a whole, we should be aware of the fact they only play weekly at most.

For 11 men who are not terribly familiar with each other, perhaps a three-point performance is enough in the short-term. Although, it’s worth noting that it will almost certainly be a big team awaiting us in the semifinals. This Carabao Cup team probably won’t be able to hold a candle to Man City...not that the regular starting XI did much better, though.

Still, winning breeds winning, and I would much rather go into Friday’s clash with a win under our belt, instead of our normal Christmas turmoil.

Injuries & Clean Sheets

Let’s start with the biggest news coming from Tuesday’s quarterfinal; the injuries. The lesser of them, affecting Francis Coquelin, has been revealed as simple cramps, although I’m not sure how someone who doesn’t play much gets cramps. Not a knock on Coquelin, more on our fitness regime, which has seemed suspect for several years.

The Frenchman probably wouldn’t have figured against Liverpool anyway, or possibly even against Crystal Palace one week from Thursday, so he might not miss any time. The next probable chance to rotate the team will be against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup in January.

The more serious blow to Arsenal will be Olivier Giroud, who pulled up while the team was breaking late in the game. He clutched his left hamstring uncomfortably as he awaited treatment, and came straight off.

Since there was no contact, it is almost certainly a pulled hamstring, much like the injury Aaron Ramsey suffered recently. As such, we could surmise that Big Sexy will be out a similar length, 2-3 weeks.

While Coquelin’s position can be covered by the likes of Mohamed Elneny or Jack Wilshere, Giroud is a bit more difficult to replace. He is really our only striker who has lots of strength, as Lacazette’s most deadly weapon is his movement and finishing, while Welbeck’s is pace and work ethic.

The two big games he will probably miss are against Liverpool and Chelsea, although he may not have been first choice in either match. Likely he would have taken his usual super-sub role, only getting a start against a smaller club who will sit back and absorb pressure.

In such games, however, Arsenal don’t really utilize him to his strengths. Take last week’s 0-0 versus West Ham where Giroud played the full 90.

Tactics

The team didn’t take the ball out wide to stretch the opposition defense, instead trying to force the ball through a very crowded and compact Hammers penalty area. Giroud can score plenty of headed goals, but he needs crosses to do that, and crosses are hard to come by when the ball is just yards away, especially behind the striker.

Probably the Gunners wouldn’t be in such situations against big six rivals, who are not shy about taking the game to Arsenal, whether at home or away. So, all in all, Giroud’s injury should be very manageable, so long as one of Lacazette or Welbeck don’t also go down.

Despite the dearth of imaginative and engrossing play, there is at least one silver lining to take from the West Ham win. The team just kept their third consecutive clean sheet, the second time this year that’s happened.

To give some perspective, the feat was accomplished three times in each of the last two seasons.

Also, Ospina’s shutout was the 13th that Arsenal have recorded this year, compared to 20 last season. As mentioned before, we are not quite halfway through the season.

These may seem, on the surface, to be almost useless stats, after all the only thing that really matters is who wins the trophies at the end. However, I think it may be proof of just what has caused the problems this year.

Errors

If we look at another statistic, errors leading to goals, we find that this year, Arsenal are joint-worst in the league for that metric. 7 errors have been exploited by their opponents for goals already this year.

That same stat was just 5 last season, and, again, we’re not quite halfway through.

Plus, while we have shipped more goals this year (20) than to this point last year (19), we can see that there is at least some correlation between making mistakes this season and dropping points/conceding goals.

That isn’t something to be proud of, but it does suggest one thing; last year, teams were better than us while, this year, we have gifted games away, causing our struggles.

If Arsenal can put an end to silly errors at the back, and I assure you that’s not something a formation change can fix, they will be in great position for a top-four finish.

Arsenal v Liverpool

I’ve gotten wordy today, so I’ll keep this relatively brief. I think deploying a back three is the best option, at least for the first half.

Yes, Jurgen Klopp’s boys beat ours in August with a back three, but that was then and this is now. Plus, let’s not forget their style of play; press, press and then press some more.

Having an extra body up front is useful when trying to break a team apart, but an extra body at the back would give Arsenal that extra bit of protection when two or three attackers are closing in fast.

As far as personnel goes, Cech has to start, as do Monreal and Koscielny. Les Boss has already confirmed that Mustafi is ready to come back, so he would get the nod for me.

Up front, Lacazette is almost guaranteed a full 90, while Ozil and Alexis will no doubt flank him.

Bellerin has been a bit out of form, but I’m not convinced Debuchy would be the right choice. For me, he is too slow to deal with the pace of Coutinho, Firmino, Sterling, Salah or really anyone he would be likely to cover.

On the other side, I think either Maitland-Niles or Kolasinac could fit in well, although since AMN was rested in the quarterfinal, we may already know what Wenger’s thinking.

The central pairing is a bit strange, but Xhaka is basically the first name on the team sheet, despite what fans may want, while Wilshere has done nothing to warrant being dropped.

Possible starting XI; Cech, Monreal, Mustafi, Koscielny, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Wilshere, Xhaka, Ozil, Alexis, Lacazette

Bold Prediction

This go around I will predict that the Ox will score against us, however will not pull some Adebayor-like nonsense and sprint the length of the field to celebrate in front of the home fans.

Meanwhile, I think the back three will, against all odds, beat Klopp’s pressing.

Arsenal 3-2 Liverpool

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Embed from Getty Images

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