The International Break is officially behind us, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Spurs had several players with some minor nagging injuries who suddenly got Internationalitis and are now ready to go. Awaiting Spurs out of the gate is that other team in North London. I sat down with Aaron from our sister site The Short Fuse to discuss how Europa is treating Arsenal, if Jack Wilshere is still smoking on the bench, and if they’re panicking about having a real striker who isn’t playing as much as he should.
CFC: So how did you spend St. Totteringham's Day last season?
I was getting ready to watch the FA Cup final. How was your second place party?
Better than a fourth place party....or fifth. You had to realize that question was coming right out of the gate, right?
Sorry, did I mention how the FA Cup final went?
Tell us about habitual chain smoker Jack Wilshere and will you cry when he starts on Saturday?
There's almost no chance he starts on Saturday. Jack Wilshere, like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and most other English players, is overhyped by the British press. That's not to say they aren't good players, but the press write as if any English player who has a run of form, whether it be a few matches or a few seasons, is the second coming of Pele. I mean look at this:
This weekend must be the time Jack Wilshere gets a game. I begin to think Jack Wilshere must have played a practical joke on Arsene Wenger which went horribly wrong.— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) November 15, 2017
(Author’s note: Well duh, it’s the f*cking mirror and John Cross.)
C'mon. Wilshere has made two substitute appearances in the Premier League this season. He hasn't started a Premier League match. He's only started Europa League and Carabao Cup matches - the guy isn't ready yet, definitely not for a derby. SPOILER ALERT: he’s not that good! But hey, Francis Coquelin started at CB against Manchester City, so I guess anything is possible.
Isn't it refreshing to be playing in Europe on Thursdays in Belgrade?
I hear the smoking laws aren't as restrictive in Eastern Europe, so Wilsh probably likes it. But honestly, the Europa League has been great for Arsenal from both a club and fan perspective. Arsene Wenger, so far, has taken the right approach to the competition. He's using it to get/keep guys like Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere, and Mathieu Debuchy (yeah, he's still at Arsenal) in form, and to get younger players some first team experience.
As a fan, it has been fun to watch guys like Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah play. Too often with top clubs you hear "we've got great youth players" without any chance to see them in action.
So to directly answer your question, yes, it’s been refreshing to be undefeated in a competition and through to its knockout phase while arguably using a C squad to do it.
Will that approach change once Arsenal get to the knockout stages? That remains to be seen, and will likely depend on who joins the Europa League after the Champions League kicks them out.
I know you guys have seen the Recurrently Generated Football League we're doing. Which team do you think Arsenal most identifies with?
Well, none of the clubs described so far have an undefeated season to their names, so as of right now, none of them. We’ve heard rumblings of an Arsenal-esque story coming out of the RGFL, though, so that’ll be something to keep an eye out for.
Arsenal finally bought a competent striker in Alexandre Lacazette. How frustrating is it to see him on the bench so much?
To be charitable, some of Wenger's lineup decisions this season have been...let’s go with “questionable” (thinking that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain belongs anywhere near the starting lineup at a club with top 4 aspirations, the fact that Francis Coquelin still gets the occasional game, etc). The "problem" Wenger has to sort every week is who to use in the front 3.
It’s a crowded bunch. You've got Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck (who has been really good when healthy), Alex Iwobi, and shiny new toy Alexandre Lacazette. Giroud isn't even in the conversation because of the success he's had as a super sub (although I'd like to see Wenger get creative and start Giroud in the front three as a change of pace / as matchups dictate).
It's not clear that Wenger knows what his "best" combo is yet. Both Lacazette and Alexis are at their best playing a more central role. Do you move one of them outside where they are less effective? Özil also excels in a central role, albeit a slightly deeper one. How do you fit him in? Who gets relegated to the bench? For me, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's Alexis who should sit out. He just hasn't been the same player this season.
But back to Lacazette...yes, given how well he's done banging in goals so far, it's been frustrating that Wenger hasn't used him more frequently. And Wenger's apparent reluctance to let him go the full 90 minutes? Let's not even start. anything is possible.
Can you spend a minute talking about Santi Cazorla and how he's apparently lucky to even be walking, let alone thinking about playing again?
Aw man, that’s just a downer all around. Regardless of club allegiance, you've got to feel for what he's gone through. Just this week Wenger said Cazorla's injury is the "worst he's ever seen" and coming from a guy who has been around as long as Arsene, that's saying something. The guy had eight surgeries, lost 8 centimeters of tendon in his ankle, and had gangrene so bad his doctors discussed amputating his foot, and basically told him to prepare to never walk again.
He also released a pretty gruesome but also pretty cool picture of his ankle where he had skin grafted from his forearm that has a tattoo of his daughter's name on it.He's targeting this upcoming January for his return, although Wenger this week admitted that was more of a dream than a plan. Fingers crossed he reaches his goal. It will be great to see him back in an Arsenal kit, even briefly.
What's your honest expectation for Arsenal given how the season has gone for them so far?
I mean, let’s be honest: First or second in the league isn't going to happen. Third probably won't happen either but if things break right, it's not impossible. Arsenal have as good of a chance as Chelsea or Liverpool for the coveted 4th place trophy, and because I'm an optimist, I think they get there. Arsenal also have to be considered at least one of the favorites (if not the favorite) to win the Europa League, so winning that competition is a realistic expectation as well.
How do the Gunners line up on Saturday?
A few key guys are facing late fitness tests to determine their status, so the lineup will depend heavily on their availability. Both Shkodran Mustafi and Danny Welbeck may both finally be ready to go after long spells out with muscular injuries. Laurent Koscielny is dealing with his persistent Achilles tendon issue, so his status is in question as well. Olivier Giroud is most likely unavailable. Assuming Musafi, Welbeck, and Koscielny are fit, the lineup should be:
Čech | Monreal - Koscielny - Mustafi | Kolašinac - Xhaka - Ramsey - Béllerín | Sánchez - Lacazette - Özil
If one or both of Koscielny and Mustafi can't play, it's anybody's guess who Wenger deploys in the back three. He seems to have lost confidence in Rob Holding and to never have had confidence in Calum Chambers. His first choice fill-in is probably Per Mertesacker with Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Debuchy after that.
Given that recent North London Derbies have seen the better team inexplicably falter, 2-1 to Arsenal. Wait, Mike Dean is the referee? 4-0 to Spurs, two Arsenal players and Wenger sent off. (But seriously, Mike Dean hates Arsenal)
(Author’s note: We know, and we love him for it.)
As always, we want to thank Aaron for taking time out to sit down with us. I did the same for them over on The Short Fuse and the banter is plentiful. Check it out when you get a chance!