Solving the Crisis of Confidence
The eve of Arsenal’s FA Cup clash verse Liverpool is upon us.
Arsenal are deep in the heart of their February fixture list from hell and have thus far not fared as well as supporters, or the manager, would have liked.
The 5-1 thrashing away to Liverpool seven days ago created an open wound in the psyche of the team that has started to scab over after gaining a vital point against Manchester United on Wednesday.
That scab can be easily removed if Arsene Wenger's men do not come out guns blazing from the opening whistle.
Team belief would get a major boost if Arsenal can nick an early goal.
Here’s how they should lineup to make that happen:
Welcome back Matthieu Flamini:
Flamini is eligible and needs to be immediately restored. He should be fresh and chomping at the bit. Start him alongside Mikel Arteta as the second holding midfielder. Flamini will demand high pressure and maximum effort from his peers, and he is one of the few players in the side that provides leadership by example while demanding defensive accountability.
Play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through the middle:
I sound like a broken record constantly calling for the tactic that was so successful against Crystal Palace but I’m not ready to move the needle from this track of thought. Ox should be given the chance to dictate a big match. With the likes of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey missing through illness and injury, it is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s moment to shine.
Serge Gnabry/Lukas Podolski:
This is a tough one for me. I awoke this morning thinking that it was Podolski who should be given the chance to prove his worth to Wenger. On paper, the German international has a great understanding with Mesut Özil and seems like the qualified and experienced choice.
You don’t become the youngest ever Die Mannschaft centenarian by eating sauerkraut and chugging boots of Lowenbrau – or by being 80 or 90 percent there. I have no qualms about Poldi getting the start tomorrow.
My gut says that Gnabry is the better choice to join Ox and Özil in the midfield; he possesses the unbridled confidence of an 18-year-old coupled with something Podolski has started to lose -- pace. Pace, acceleration, and guile: a triumvirate of skills that only Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry can lay claim to now that Theo Walcott is out; and the loss of Walcott cannot be overlooked.
Player’s like Walcott are the perfect foil for the likes of Özil and Cazorla as they truly unearth and underscore the abilities of the pass-masters. Gnabry can do just that tomorrow. Gnabry, who many view as Walcott’s apprentice, should be given the chance to star in the role of the speedy and tricky winger who runs at defenders, cuts inside for a sight of goal, and draws penalties and fouls all around the canvas of the 18-yard-box.
Final thoughts before kick off:
Wojciech Szczney, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gnabry, Olivier Giroud.
I call for these Gunners to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders.
Nacho Monreal was exposed at Anfield, and I think Gibbs can match up better with the front three of Liverpool (as well as any can against that trio) and save the center-backs from being dragged all over the defensive third again.
Flamini is called on to make a significant contribution. It is his steel and mettle that will determine how the pendulum swings in the midfield battle.
I continue to call for Jack Wilshere’s drop from the starting 11. He is not producing the goods. If I’m being honest, my guess is Wenger will stick with Wilshere, and allow him to play further up the pitch (as he’s suited for) now that Flamini is back. I won’t go on and on about why I think Wilshere should be dropped because, if you’ve been watching as I have, you know his performances have been poor.
We continue to wait for Özil’s reemergence and rebirth in a big game; with Cazorla, Arsenal’s best player this season apart from Ramsey, out due to illness let’s hope we don’t have too wait too much longer.
The crisis of confidence is at hand - Wenger must look to the youth for salvation.
Look to Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain.