After a little more than a week away, it’s good to be back home. While my family trip out to some of California’s beautiful National Parks was certainly not relaxing by any means, it was a needed break away from the world at large before I head back to school in a few days. Out in nature, away from cell phone service and Wifi for much of each day, I was able to refresh my mind a little bit. And that’s always valuable.
However, it killed me not to be able to watch any of this weekend’s season opening EPL action. I followed matches through texts from one of my friends that would come up when we randomly hiked through a spot with service – I got to watch Aaron Ramsey’s winner on a video of my friend’s tv, hardly the ideal scenario. But my excitement level all weekend remained sky high though regardless. For from now until May, we’re in for another wild ride.
I’ve only now watched some brief highlights from the action across the league, so I can’t really offer anything in the way of commentary about this set of matches. But from here on out, expect thorough post match coverage of all Arsenal games and further analysis of other EPL story lines.
From what I could tell, Arsenal weren’t very good against a manager-less Crystal Palace. But in the end, getting three points is all that matters right now. This was a type of game that teams of years past wouldn’t have won – think about all the times Arsenal couldn’t find a late winner last year. So maybe this performance was what was needed. It tells everyone from the fans to the planers and manager that this team is far from ready. But it also gives the team some confidence that things can go their way in the end.
I have read a lot about how poorly Jack Wilshere played on Saturday. Going off of those articles alone, I would think his career would be over and he’d never start another game. But we all should know better. However bad he and Santi Cazorla were, it was only the first game of the season. Remember how disastrous that was last year for all involved? Never judge a player or a team by the first game. Wilshere’s Arsenal career is not over. And I fully expect him to pick up his play in the coming weeks.
The one concern I do have though comes from the injuries on the back line. With Kieran Gibbs out two to three weeks now, Nacho Monreal can’t be the emergency center back Arsene Wenger wants him to be, as Monreal will need to be starting on the left. And with Laurent Koscielny hurting too, Arsenal could be facing a crisis at center back in the next week. Hopefully a new arrival is on his way, but the lack of depth in the back scares me right now.
This afternoon, Arsenal travels to Turkey to face Besiktas in the first of the two-leg Champions League qualifier. Everybody likes to freak out about these ties, as it seems like every year Arsenal are supposedly drawn with the worst team possible. Wenger talks about how important qualification is, and the script stays the same. But the reality is that Arsenal should have little trouble with Besiktas. I’m not saying it will be easy, but there is a huge difference in quality levels between the teams.
I expect Wenger to make a couple changes today, given the injuries and the short rest. I do think Koscielny will end up starting out of necessity, but it’s a gamble I wouldn’t want to take. Were it up to me, I’d start Mathieu Flamini at left back and move Monreal to the middle. Olivier Giroud should start up front in place of the injuries Yaya Sanogo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tomas Rosicky take the place of Santi Cazorla or even Alexis Sanchez, who still lacks some fitness. And Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should make the starting XI as well.
Tactically, I want to see Arsenal push forward today, trying to find an offensive rhythm before Saturday’s match with Everton. They might be on the road in a Champions League tie, but Besiktas doesn’t possess enough talent in the midfield to control the game themselves. Arsenal are weakened in the back right now, but will be most exposed if they sit deeper and play for a draw. Demba Ba hasn’t had time to acclimate with his new team yet, so while he is a big name, he won’t be at his best quite yet for Besiktas.
My prediction for the match is Arsenal 2 Besiktas 0. I think the Gunners will look a lot better today than they did at The Emirates on Saturday, putting some things together in the final third. By the end of the match, fatigue will set in hugely. But there shouldn’t be too much trouble in Turkey.
I might not be able to get the player ratings and post game reaction up until tomorrow morning, but I’ll do my best. It’s good to have soccer back.