Anderlecht Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

With the memories of the Hull game still fresh in our heads, tonight’s match against RSC Anderlecht would give the Gunners another chance to get to winning ways and most importantly, get some points in the bag with Borussia Dortmund setting the pace in the group. Arsenal has drawn six of their first 13 matches in all competitions this season, and have found themselves behind at some stage in eight separate games. Arsene Wenger has stated the Gunners need to kickstart their season, and this game offers the team a good platform going forward.

Anderlecht have not won in eight Champions League matches and Arsenal will need to win both home and away if they are to avoid finishing second for the four consecutive season. The Belgians drew their opening game against Galatasaray before they were thrashed at home by the group leaders, Dortmund. If the Gunners get six points from their double-legged affair against the Belgian outfit, it would set the tone for a mouthwatering encounter against Dortmund, with both teams knowing that victory would the winner top spot.

Team News

Wenger has thrown more light on the injury suffered by David Ospina,

“It is exactly the same one [as from the World Cup]. He had his first injury at Nice – it was a knee problem and he was a bit rushed back and did not use his leg, so his muscle became weaker. Then he got injured in the World Cup. After that, he came to us injured after the World Cup and it took him two months to play again. I had to bring him on against Galatasaray without a warm up and being prepared, so he had a recurrence of that injury. It means he is out for two to three months, now we have to be really careful because it is a recurrence of a thigh injury, which is very difficult. It is a long-term injury.”

Wenger has also talked up stand-in goalie, Damian Martinez, and he’d be hoping for the lad to put up a good shift tonight. The defense has been a major cause for concern this season and Arseblog published an article that echoed on the team’s defensive frailties but I’m hoping that the team puts up a better showing at the back. The club’s failure to sign a new central defender has been a much talked-about affair but nothing can be done till January, to say the least.

With Calum Chambers returning from his suspension, I’d expect him to get the nod ahead of Hector Bellerin with Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker retaining their places in the heart of the defense. In midfield, I’d have preferred to see Francis Coquelin in the holding role but I know that Wenger would prefer to play Mathieu Flamini in front of the back four and with Aaron Ramsey still walking his way to full fitness, Jack Wilshere (if he shakes off his knock) and Santi Cazorla would play in front of Flamini. The fast-paced attacking trio of Alexis Sanchez, the Ox and Danny Welbeck will lead the line.

Elsewhere, Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby got some game time in Arsenal’s U-21s clash with Blackburn last week and it was really good seeing pictures of the lads, especially Walcott (seems he has joined the #BeardGang movement) whose qualities have been sorely missed.

Injury Updates

Anderlecht: Fabrice N’Sakala

Arsenal: Matt Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (foot), , Yaya Sanogo (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (calf), Mesut Ozil (knee), David Ospina (thigh), Laurent Koscielny (Achilles tendon), Abou Diaby, Serge Gnabry, Theo Walcott (lacking match fitness)

Team Form


  • Last Five Games: W W L D D
  • Last Result: Mechelen 1 Anderlecht 1


  • Last Five Games: L D W L D
  • Last Result: Arsenal 2 Hull 2

Predicted Lineups

RSC Anderlecht 4-2-3-1 football formationArsenal 4-1-4-1 football formation

Gooner Daily Prediction: 0 – 3

Here’s to three points in Belgium.


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More Injury Concerns as Ospina Ruled Out of Anderlecht Game

One of the good things about supporting a club like Arsenal is that despite the fact that the team endured a bad result in the weekend, there’s so much football to be played across several competitions and everyone would be hoping for a more favorable result next time out. The Gunners would take their minds of their wretched Premier League form to focus on an all-important Champions League fixture against Anderlecht and with Wojciech Szczesny suspended following his unfortunate red card against Galatasaray, David Ospina was odds on to make his third appearance against the Belgian outfit.

However, the Mirror reports that the Colombian shot stopper will be ruled out of the Anderlecht game which means that Emiliano Martinez would get his Champions League debut on Wednesday night. I’d reckon that Ospina would be absolutely gutted as his chances of getting regular game time have been few and far between. Despite joining the club in July, he had to wait till September to get his debut for his new team and his second appearance came after a month.

Ospina has shown glimpses of his quality in the games he has played thus far and he’s looking like a dependable deputy for Szczesny.

Martinez has been at the club since 2010 but he had to wait for two more years to make his competitive debut in English football when he played in Oxford United’s win over Port Vale. A few months later, he made his Arsenal debut in the 6-1 drubbing of Coventry City in the Capital One Cup. With Arsenal progressing to the next round against Reading, Martinez had a shocking time in goal against the Gunners ran out as 7-5 winners in one of the most enthralling games I’ve ever watched.

Some of the goals Martinez conceded on the night could have been avoided but goalkeeping is a position where a player gets better with age, so many fans gave him the benefit of doubt and are always quick to play the ‘inexperienced’ and ‘youth’ card.

Last season, Martinez made an emergency loan move to Sheffield Wednesday and he notched up 11 appearances for the lower league outfit as well as displacing first-choice goalie, Chris Kirkland, in the process. The young Argentine got some preseason games under his belt for the Gunners and he began the campaign as the Gunners’ third choice goalie this season.With Szczesny out due to suspension and Ospina out with an injury, Martinez would have another chance to prove his worth to the manager, his teammates and most importantly, the fans.

The Argentine goalie has spoken with confidence about his test coming up,

“I’ve been working on being more commanding in the box. I didn’t have any experience before and I went to the Championship, which is all about crosses and making the right decision. I learnt a lot because I played nearly 20 games so I’m a completely different keeper now. I was working really hard and I played really well in quite a few wins and gained a lot of experience.

“I’ve been working with Wojciech for nearly four years already. Since I came to Arsenal I’ve been working with him.”

Arsene Wenger is a manager that has given youngsters chanced to show their talent on the pitch and this season, a considerable amount of youngsters have featured this campaign. We can only hope that Martinez is offered enough protection from his defenders and for his sake, I hope he has a great game.

More on the Anderlecht game tomorrow.


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Reflecting on Arsenal’s Poor Start to the Season

I was at Abuja over the weekend and with nobody to hold the fort while I was gone, there were no blog posts but in my absence, the Gunners deemed it fit to drop two more points against Hull, taking their Premier League points tally to 11 points in eight games, which is also a whooping 11 points behind runaway leaders, Chelsea. This means that the Gunners are far away from a title challenge at this point, but they are just two points behind fourth-placed West Ham, since that’s where their ambition seems to be in recent times.

According to the stats boys, if Danny Welbeck hadn’t converted that late chance to make it 2-2, Arsenal would have had their worst ever start under Arsene Wenger. For a club of Arsenal’s stature, the start of the campaign has been simply unacceptable. The club started the summer pretty well, with the acquisitions of Alexis Sanchez, Matt Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina. However, Wenger’s the club’s failure to sign a holding midfielder and more importantly, a central defender, especially after the sale of Thomas Vermaelen to FC Barcelona, was a glaring error.

The Gunners played Hull last weekend with Nacho Monreal playing in an unorthodox center back position alongside Per Mertesacker and it was expected that there’d be some communication lapses as both players have never played together as a central defensive unit. Many Arsenal fans are aggrieved that the referee failed to blow his whistle when Mathieu Flamini was clearly impeded by Mohamed Diame but a ‘stronger and more bulky’ DM like let’s say, William Carvalho, would not allow himself to be bullied by a fellow DM. Then again, where the hell was Monreal in the build up to that goal? I’m sure a natural defender like Laurent Koscielny would have had the positional discipline to cover his tracks. These are the kinda mistakes having a proper DM and an extra central defender would have averted.

It’s quite unfortunate that Arsenal will have to make do with what they have till January to say the least, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger chooses to fold his arms again and watch the window pass by with any investment of any sort.

Arsenal’s overall defending this season has been downright shocking. For a team that had the joint-best defense in the Premier League last season, the Gunners have only managed one clean sheet in the Premier League which came at Villa Park. First, it was the schoolboy defending from set pieces early in the season and this was followed with lapses in concentration at key moments of some games. The players have been talking about how they want to improve things but we haven’t seen them replicate it on the pitch.

Another noteworthy concern this season has been the club’s niggling injury problems.

Aaron Ramsey lies on the ground after injuring himself in the north London derby

Arsenal’s injury situation has been well documented and it has become very tiring. The Gunners are already without Matt Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (foot), Yaya Sanogo (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (calf), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Mesut Ozil (knee) but there’s light at the end of the injury tunnel as Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby are on their way to full fitness, with the three players getting some game time in Arsenal’s last Under-21 encounter with Blackburn Rovers. It’s really sad to see how many first team players are currently on the sidelines but the essence of having depth is to ensure that the team would have adequate cover in the worst injury crisis. While the Gunners are well stocked in midfield, the same cannot be said for the defense that’s thread bare at the moment.

Finally, I’m deeply concerned about Arsenal’s inability to kill off games and in most cases, the team has been settling for draws. In eight Premier League games, the Gunners have had five draws. The first League draw of the season was creditable as the Gunners came from two goals down to salvage a late draw against Everton. While the draw against Leicester City was frustrating, in all honesty, it could have gone either way. Arsenal’s third draw in a row came at home to Manchester City but it was a game that could have easily been lost following the visitor’s late attacking surge that saw Samir Nasri’s goal ruled offside as well as Edin Dzeko hitting the post.

Arsenal’s fourth draw of the Premier League campaign came in the North London Derby, a game that was actually there for the taking, and of course, Welbeck spared the Gunners’ blushes last weekend.

There are still some “winnable” games still to come in recent weeks, and we can only hope that the Gunners improve on their current form, because in all honesty, it has been dismal and downright disappointing.


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Who Would Partner Mertesacker Against Hull?

Koscielny is out with an Achilles tendon problem.

‘Laurent Koscielny will not be available. He has an Achilles problem, which has got worse. He finds it difficult to play with it at the moment. You can only trust what the players says, he does not feel ready to play and will not play on Saturday. No [he will not need surgery]. - Arsene Wenger

The international break hit the Gunners hard with Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky all missing out on their national team games due to injury concerns. With the game against Hull around the corner, Arsene Wenger will have to make do with the squad at his disposal and according to the Telegraph, the Gunners boss would be handed a transfer kitty to invest in the squad in the winter.

However, with the game against Hull, some parts of the squad would pick itself. In attack for instance, Wenger would be sweating on the fitness of Danny Welbeck that picked up a knock in the England vs. Estonia game. Yaya Sanogo is still out injured but the Gunners can deploy Alexis Sanchez through the middle, thereby handing a player like Lukas Podolski a chance from the left wing. The German is disgruntled with lack of game time and there are rumors that he may walk through the exit door in January. Arsenal’s midfield has also been hit hard by injuries but Wenger can still manage to get a couple of players that would do the business for him tomorrow against Hull. However, the main problem lies in the defense.

Wojciech Szczesny had a great game for Poland in midweek against Germany and I’d expect him to start ahead of David Ospina. With Matt Debuchy injured and Calum Chambers suspended, Hector Bellerin is odds on to get the nod at right back, except a certain versatile Francis Coquelin comes to the manager’s mind. The main dilemma would be finding a befitting partner for the stand-in captain, Per Mertesacker. The BFG stayed at home and watched as his compatriots struggled in the qualifiers, losing to Poland and drawing with Ireland but frankly, that’s none of our business. *sips Lipton*. He recently spoke about how he chose to retire from international football to prolong his career with Arsenal and that was a decision that went down well with everyone connected with the club.

But with Koscielny injured and the auxiliary center back, Calum Chambers, also out due to suspension, Arsene Wenger has only two plausible options to make in finding Mertesacker’s partner.

One option would be to give the promising youngster, Isaac Hayden, another chance to strut his stuff and with the prospect of playing a striker like Nikica Jelavic (four EPL goals this season), the lad will have to be on his toes. Hayden’s only performance this season came in the Capital One Cup third round defeat to Southampton and he acquainted himself well on the night, forging a good partnership with Chambers.

The youngster is very confident in his own abilities and with Wenger being a manager that is never afraid to hand a chance to youth, Hayden might have an extended run of games with the Gunners having relatively easy fixtures coming up. One can only hope that Koscielny would be able to recover for his Achilles injury just in time for the home clash against Manchester United next month.

The second option would be to play Nacho Monreal in the unorthodox center back position, something the boss experimented with in preseason. Arsene Wenger has even spoken about his intentions to field him in that position when the chance arises,

“He can do well as a center back because he is intelligent, because he has a good sense of interception, because he reads the game well and is a good passer.”

Monreal is clearly below Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order for the left back position and he hasn’t played much football this season. A combination of Gibbs’ good form and Monreal’s back problem has seen the Spaniard play only four games this season and I’m sure that he’d fancy a chance to get a run-out in the first team, albeit as a center back.

Irrespective of who Wenger chooses, Arsenal should have enough in the tank to defeat Hull.


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Another Chance for Bellerin: Will he Make the Best Use of it?

Well, I was hooked up at work till 8.15pm yesterday and I couldn’t watch Nigeria’s win against Sudan. I had to make do with some highlights and I must say that Ahmed Musa sure knows when to turn up. With South Africa sharing the spoils against Congo, Nigeria’s away clash against the Congolese on November 14 would be a do-or-die affair and that’s what football is all about. One minute it seems all hope is lost, another minute you’re doomed.

With the international fixtures out of the way, it’s time to focus to more important things like you know, watching Arsenal play. This season has began on a rather dismal note with the Gunners struggling to find their feet in the Premier League and despite the fact that they were ‘unbeaten’ till gameweek 7, the Gunners had won just two of their previous six league fixtures. As the season has been progressing, the Gunners have faced a lot of casualties and with Matt Debuchy out injured and his deputy, Calum Chambers, suspended Arsenal would have to summon the services of the young protege, Hector Bellerin, for the third time this season for the game against Hull.

Per Mertesacker has been quick to share his thoughts on the lad,

“He’s a good addition to our squad and he can take his chance with Mathieu injured and Calum suspended. He’s got some great chances and he has to take them now because you never know what will happen in football.

“It’s tough to establish yourself as a young player at Arsenal as a lot of the positions have two players in, so it’s hard for the youngsters to impress in regular games.

“I have to encourage them to speak to me even though I’m 30 and have a lot of international caps. They have to be brave and be themselves. He needs to talk as well and that’s what I demand from him. He listens a lot and he’s a good guy, which gives him a good chance to be a regular pro at Arsenal.”

Bellerin impressed me during the preseason campaign and I was eager to see what he had to offer this season. Having watched his games in the NextGen series, as well as a couple of times when he was away at Watford, I’d had very high hopes for the lad. He’s lightning quick, has good technique and he also has a good cross in him, but physically, I think he needs to bulk up a bit.

His first game this season was that torrid affair at the Signal Iduna Park but his outing against Southampton in the Capital One Cup third round was very impressive. He’s currently playing in a position that is relatively stocked, so he’d keep wait for injuries and suspensions to pave the way for him, which is more less the current situation.

I hope he’d fare better against a team in the Premier League and this sort of match experience can he can only get better. This is another chance for the lad to prove his worth.

For his sake, I hope he takes it.


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