Exclusive: Why Arsenal must play the Ox against Chelsea
Former Gunner Groves says teenager can help Gunners to beat the Blues
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must start against Chelsea on Saturday – as the Gunners face a massive test of their top-four credentials.
That’s the view of former Arsenal winger Perry Groves, who believes the England Under-21 star can give Arsene Wenger’s side a timely boost as they tackle a mini-midfield crisis following Monday’s shock home defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Mikel Arteta will miss the rest of the season with a suspected broken ankle – a blow as the Gunners have failed to win any games without the Spaniard since he joined the club last August – while on-loan Yossi Benayoun, who has played in the last three games, cannot face his parent club.
In addition, Wenger confirmed on Tuesday Jack Wilshere will not return before the end of the season – dashing England’s hopes he’d be fit for Euro 2012 – while Aaron Ramsey has come in for criticism after an underwhelming substitute’s appearance against the Latics. Abou Diaby, has been earmarked for a possible return but the stage, Groves insists, is set for ‘the Ox’.
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“It is an absolute no-brainer. Alex has got to start,” Groves told London24..
“If we win on Saturday I would say we are nailed on for third. If we lose, we could even miss out on the top four and that would be a disaster.
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“So Alex needs to be out there. There are two reasons we need him for such a big game that could decide our season.
“First of all he gives the team and the fans a lift – he is young and fearless and we need a spark in the middle as we looked a little flat on Monday night.
“Secondly, he runs at players. I talk about the fact he is fearless. Well he loves to run with the ball and not many of our players do that. He offers something both fresh and different – and we need him if we want to beat Chelsea.”
Groves has also been left bemused by criticism of Wales skipper Ramsey on blogs and Twitter. Many have likened him to one-dimensional 1990s midfielder David Hillier.
“Well, for a start, I played with Hillier and he actually did a very effective job in a functional side,” says Groves who won title medals at Highbury in 1989 and 1991.
“Hillier was there to stop opponents from playing and he did that very well. That said, Ramsey is an excellent player, one who has come through an awful lot in the past couple of years, so let’s cut him some slack. He’s also a better player than Hillier was, in my opinion.”
Groves believes the defeat to Wigan has piled the pressure on Arsenal – and he is not sure how they will react against Chelsea.
“It’s a head or heart situation here,” he adds. “Even though Arsenal are still in the favourable position in the league, the pressure is now well and truly on them to beat Chelsea.
“They are on a great run of nine wins in 11 games but for the most part they have not been under pressure as nobody expected them to do this well after the awful start to the season.
“But the Wigan game showed they are still not great at adapting their game.
“Wigan played with three defenders and two full-backs bombing forward. Arsenal got crowded out in midfield and didn’t react to that.
“We need a big response and we need to deal with Chelsea’s mental and physical strength and learn how to stop other teams playing.
“And we need guys who can take the game by the scruff of the neck – like the Ox.”
Arsenal are gunning for a memorable league double over Chelsea – their first since a pair of 2-1 league wins in the 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ season – after their stunning 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge in October, and a third successive league victory over the Blues.
Defender Johan Djourou said: “We all know Saturday is very important and we have to show up for this one.
“We would rather be in this situation than where the others are. The most important thing is to come back stronger, and what better chance to do it than against Chelsea?”