30 September 2013

Gonzalo finally arrives at the Emirates...for real, this time.

After a long, drawn-out saga that came as close as agreeing to personal terms and setting up a physical, Perez went and pulled the plug on the deal and Higuaín finds himself in Italy, and we had to settle for some German punk instead. So it goes. Given
the choice between Mesut Özil or Gonzalo Higuaín (assuming I had to pick one or other other with "both" not an option), honestly, I'd plump for Özil every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I know that we're going to worry about Olivier Giroud's fitness and form as the season progresses, and we may have to rely on some make-shift solutions until January should Giroud suffer an injury, but Özil is a unique talent and the kind of player who can make everyone around him better. Higuaín, for as good as he is and may become, will only be as good as the service he receives. The service that Giroud receives from Özil, the mentoring and demonstrating that Ramsey and Wilshere will get, and (dare I say it) the inspiration Özil can give to the entire squad tip the scales in his favor.

This is not to say that we would have been fools to sign Higuaín. He's going to do well for Napoli, and we would have been much improved with him. However, we saw how the saga unfolded, and rather than rue what could have been, we have much to savor. Over at Napoli, I'm sure they're satisifed, but I almost wonder if they saw our deal with Özil and aren't sucking their teeth just a little. It's not that Higuaín has failed to deliver—far from it. He's scored four goals in six matches for Napoli and has put in a number of strong showings. The squad itself is off to a very good start, going for six wins in seven matches, dropping just two points in a draw with Sassuolo and sitting second behind Roma. This is especially impressive given the number of new players (eight) that they've added and had to bed-in.  Speaking of several of these new players, Arsène had this to say:
Napoli’s counter-attacking style struck me in the Emirates Cup...When they win the ball they come out very quickly with Callejón, [Marek] Hamsik, Insigne and Higuaín—they all come out like bombs every time they win the ball. This means that the transition from our team from offence to defence will have to be very quick.
It's therefore important that we field a squad capable of blunting those counters. Frankly, with our injuries, there's not a whole lot to debater. I'd like to see Wilshere rested, if not because he's still working his way back after surgery, then because he tends to neglect his defensive responsibilities. We may get away with that against Stoke or Sunderland, but we can ill-afford against a squad like Napoli's. With Hamsik and Insigne on the left, Wilshere will have to track back so that he doesn't leave Gibbs isolated. If Wilshere can't be trusted to do this, it may be necessary to play Monreal, who is less attack-oriented than Gibbs is. In either case, we'll need to play tighter defense than we've done so far. We haven't kept a clean sheet since the North London Derby, a stretch of five matches or almost 500 minutes of football (including the overtime against West Brom). I'm not suggesting we need a clean sheet on Tuesday, but we can't expect to concede goals and win. That's just common sense.

For as well as we'e played to start the season, this will be the first time we're up against a truly in-form and potentially elite squad. Nothing against our other opponents to date, but Napoli are in fine form and, on paper, look capable of beating most teams they face. They beat Dortmund, for one, something that only a few teams can lay claim to doing in the last thirteen months. I won't make much of our Emirates Cup clash because it was a friendly and both squads have changed considerably since then. Having said of all this, I find it hard to argue against the form we're in and the fact that we're playing at home.

The last time Matthieu Flamini faced Napoli was in April, and he scored in a 1-1 draw that helped AC Milan qualify for this year's UCL playoff-round. Then again, he also got sent off for a reckless tackle. I'll use that as a spring-board for predicting that he'll score, as will Özil, in a 2-1 win for us.