Many thanks to The Short Fuse’s PDB for taking the time to chat with us ahead of Sunday’s match. You can follow them on Twitter @TheShortFuse.
RBM: Everton have been linked off and on all year with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the rumors, to some extent, make sense - the Blues need a talented wide player, and Ox has perhaps not received the playing time he'd like. What's more, though, is a recent report in the Telegraph suggested Everton would also like to sign Theo Walcott.
Would Arsenal be willing to sell either (or both) of these players, and if so, which one? What kind of price range are we looking at?
TSF: First off, a caveat: Every answer I give about playing staff and team building intent in this Q&A is really sort of on shaky ground, because as of today, we don't know whether Wenger is staying or going. If he goes, everything around the philosophy of Arsenal's squad and its construction could change; if he stays (which at this point I believe he will), then things will continue as they have been.
So, with that said, I think that Theo would be more likely to depart than Ox. Ox hasn't gotten his fair share of playing time, but when he has played, he's been really solid and effective. Theo Walcott, as much as I love him, can't stay healthy for nothin', and when he is healthy he doesn't really make as much of an impact as I'd like him to. They're both good players, but if it were my team and I could only keep one, I'd keep Ox.
RBM: More transfer talk! Arsenal have, at points this year, been looking at the possibility of signing Idrissa Gueye, Everton's all action, N'Golo Kante-lite central midfielder. Is that rumor still on the table? How would Gana fit in the side?
TSF: Honestly, this time last year I would have said "sure, let's buy Gueye". He brings a lot to the table, and he's only 27. But last summer, Arsenal signed Granit Xhaka. Xhaka's taken his time to settle into the squad, but in the last two months has become the exact player Arsenal wanted - a strong central defensive midfielder who isn't afraid to mix it up a bit, and can also play the ball really well. So as of now, I think Gueye would have the Ox problem - loads of talent and not enough playing time to keep him happy. Although if Wenger persists with the 3-4-3, Xhaka/Gueye would be a lot of fun.
RBM: Arsenal's Champions League qualification is the obvious storyline ahead of Sunday's match, but an interesting subplot is the race for the Golden Boot. Who wins - Alexis (23 goals), or Lukaku (24 goals)? *
TSF: Did you know Alexis Sanchez does non-stop push ups in training during team talks and breaks in the actual physical parts of training? He literally never stops. I guess what I'm saying is, never bet against Alexis because he will always beat you. His level of desire to compete and win makes Kobe Bryant look like a rec league has-been.
*Note: This article was written before Harry Kane smashed four past Leicester on Thursday and jumped to the top of the scoring charts.
RBM: If Ronald Koeman trotted out an all-academy lineup, could we have, say, Kieran Gibbs? Just for free? I feel like that's a fair trade.
TSF: I'll answer this the way I answer all similar questions from other teams: You're welcome to take Francis Coquelin off our hands!
RBM: When it comes to Arsenal's recent run of form, in Arsene Wenger's case, it seems like you can teach an old dog new tricks. Has the tactical change to a back three been a major factor in the Gunners' success, or do the causes for the improved results lie elsewhere?
TSF: Oh, the volumes I could write about this question. The short answer is yes, the three man back line has shaken Arsenal up a bit this season and breathed some fresh air into an increasingly stagnant side. It's energized the midfield a lot more, unlocked Mesut Özil to a crazy degree, and allowed Laurent Koscielny to fully take charge of the defense in a way that's really highlighted his strengths as a defender.
As with everything, though, the longer answer is a bit more nuanced. Arsenal have played six games with the 3-4-3, and the only loss in those six games was to Tottenham. But, look at the other opponents Arsenal have beaten with it:
- Manchester United B (they rested most of their first choice XI for the Europa League semis)
So, not exactly a murderer's row of talented opponents there. While the formation has worked pretty well (during that stretch, it's 11 goals for and 3 against), I still maintain that it would be very risky to play a 3-4-3 against a top two or three side. My single data point of a Tottenham loss aside, there's a lot of risk in a three man back line against a pressing, attacking team, and so far Arsenal haven't really faced that style of team with that formation.
But this season, even with a new formation, hasn't played out as a markedly different season than the three or four most recent Arsenal seasons. They started really strong, were in first place at the holidays, and then a desperately poor run of form in the new year was followed by a too-little-too-late surge towards respectability. The main difference with this season is that they waited until March for the bad patch, instead of getting it out of the way in January/February like usual, which left them too little time to recover and haul their way into the Champions League places.