Tom’s Weekly Ramble: Arsenal Back in Business Ahead of Busy Festive Period

It feels great to be writing this blog on the back of two big wins! The trauma of November now seems a distant memory following last Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Sunderland, and perhaps most significantly, Wednesday’s sensational 3-0 win in Greece against Olympiakos.

Be honest, if at the start of the season someone had said that Arsenal would be two points off top spot in the League and safely through to the knock-out round of the Champions League heading into the festive period, you’d have probably snapped their hands off! Irritatingly, had we not imploded so spectacularly in November, we probably would have been even better placed.

But let’s talk about the Champions League. When I was in Zagreb at the start of our campaign, bemoaning a lack-lustre and sloppy display, I said that the loss would not have any impact on where we would finish in the group. Providing we won our home games, we’d still finish second behind Bayern Munich. That of course didn’t quite go to plan, but eventually I was proved right!

Far too much was made of our 5-1 defeat away at Bayern Munich. Although it was a disappointing display and clearly had an impact on the confidence of the team in the Premier League, it didn’t really have any bearing on our likelihood of qualification. When we had beat them 2-0 at the Emirates in the previous round of fixtures, most fans had accepted that we would need to beat Dinamo at home before winning by two goals in Greece. Why this was touted as ‘mission impossible’ baffled me; it wasn’t as if we were playing one of the power houses of European football, regardless of their impressive domestic home form.

Now, it’s important for me to clarify that this was my thought process before the injuries to Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez. Optimism destroyed.

Fortunately, Arsenal Football Club have a habit of making me miserable one day, and then elated the next. On Wednesday, Arsenal produced the perfect performance. Every single player showed exactly what it means to play for our club and did us proud in every sense of the word. It would be easy to pick out individual performances, and there were plenty, but that would do the rest of the team a disservice.

We defended well, we attacked well, we bided our time and we pounced when necessary. It was a terrific all round performance and tactically spot on. Wenger has often been criticised for his lack of tactical know how, but this display yet again dispelled that ridiculous theory.

Arsenal now return to League action and confidence should be high. A victory over Aston Villa on Sunday will set up a crunch game against Manchester City next week, a fixture that could really accelerate our title charge. Two wins would more than likely see us top at Christmas and although trophies aren’t won in December, it would surely give the players a psychological advantage heading into the New Year, where we could welcome back some key players.

Following Aston Villa’s 1-1 draw away at Southampton last week, they will head into the fixture with a bit more confidence than in previous weeks. However, Arsenal will be red-hot favourites and although have had to contend with a midweek fixture away in Europe, the team should be itching to get back into Premier League action.

Last weekend, I thought for sure Theo Walcott would start upfront at Villa Park. However, it would be incredibly harsh to drop Olivier Giroud on the back of his sensational hat-trick in Greece. Walcott also looks like a player who is working his way back to full fitness and given his injury history, it’s imperative that we don’t rush him back.

This could well see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain return to the starting line-up, having started on the bench on Wednesday night. The England International has it all to prove and it would be fair to say that he might not necessarily be ahead of Joel Campbell in the pecking order anymore.

I would imagine the starting XI will be very similar to Wednesday night, with the above change likely to be the only alteration. It will be a very different game at Villa Park than the one in Greece, but the outcome has to be the same; three points!

 

 

 

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