After the wonderful adventure of this weekend, Arsenal play host to League Two's Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday (I'll go ahead and spare you the rant about how stupid a name League Two is when it's really the Fourth Division). Shrewsbury currently sit 14th in that division, with five points after four games - but they are coming off a win against sixth-place Port Vale, which is more than Arsenal can say after Saturday. Sigh.
Shrewsbury is a town about an hour west of Birmingham, right next to the villages of Pulley, Little Pulley, and Hook-A-Gate. Seriously, sometime you should look at a map and check out the names of some little English villages, because they're hysterical. Upper Thong! Preston Gubbals! Bishop's Itchington! Man, I gotta get out of this rabbit hole or this whole preview will be nothing but funny place names. Cheesefoot Head!
Anyway, back to Shrewsbury Town. A bit of history first - Shrewsbury have never played in the First Division/Premier League since their inception in 1886, bouncing between the lower divisions. With the exception of the 2003-04 season, which saw them dropped to the Conference for one year, they have been in the second or third division pretty much every year of their existence. They have a bit of previous giant-killing in them - in the 1980's, they beat the likes of Newcastle, Chelsea, and Middlesbrough. And they once won the Champions League! Sure, it was the Midlands Champions League in 1937-38, but still! Champions League!
Shrewsbury reached the semifinals of this very competition in 1960, beating Everton to get there. They have also gone as far as the sixth round of the FA Cup, in 1978-79. They reached the League Trophy final at Wembley in 1996, and this was about the pinnacle of Shrewsbury Town.
As for this season, forward Marvin Morgan is the top scorer for the Shrews, with six goals in all competitions.
OK! So now you're an expert on all things Shrewsbury Town, which is more than you could have said 5 minutes ago. But what about the match? Hmmmmm. In a normal season, this wouldn't be a game I'd pay much attention to - this would be a game that Arsenal would be expected to win pretty comfortably with the third string, and would mostly be notable for the fact that it's at the Emirates, which means a nice payday for the visitors and cheap admission for the home fans.
But this, as we are all painfully aware, isn't just another season. This is The Season Of Disaster And Peril. As much as I objectively believe Arsenal can beat Shrewsbury Town at the Emirates with ease, I also believed Arsenal could beat Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, so I don't trust my objective brain for this one.
I have never seen Shrewsbury Town play. You have never seen Shrewsbury Town play. You won't see them play on Tuesday, either, as it's not broadcast anywhere that I can find. So I'm piecing together what follows from the Shrewsbury Town website and match reports - it's not a thorough analysis, but it'll do.
What with Shrewsbury being in League Two, it's hard to find a whole lot of in depth positional analysis, but Shrewsbury's preferred formation seems to be something of a 4-4-2 with midfielders Nicky Wroe and Mark Wright also pushing forward quite a bit to create space and chances. They like to hold on to the ball - they tend to average about 55% possession over their last few games - and they like to shoot (12 attempts against Hereford! That'll show those cows!).
Arsenal...well, where do I start? Saturday was, at least for me, a worse game than the 8-2. At least in that game, Arsenal were completely outplayed - if that were a baseball game, the manager of the team on the receiving end of a beatdown would say "games like that, you just gotta tip your cap to the other team, forget it and move on". Against Blackburn, though, they beat themselves, and did so rather handily. If they can attack like Saturday's team, they should be fine; if they defend like Saturday's team, though, this could be a long afternoon, even against Shrewsbury Town.
I think we can all agree that the high line plus pressing doesn't work, at least not against Premiership opposition; hopefully Arsene will take that lesson to heart and try something a little different defensively in a game like this that ultimately doesn't matter, and start to rebuild some confidence in the back (this is becoming a recurring theme of this year!) before getting back to the league program.
What does all this mean? Who knows. I can't draw any grand conclusions from the bits and pieces I've read about the Shrews, and Arsenal are in such a state right now that a loss on Tuesday wouldn't surprise me in the least. While a loss wouldn't rank up there (down there?) with the Wrexham FA Cup game, this is not a game that Arsenal can afford to take lightly at this stage in their evolution. They need to defend - they don't need to defend better, they just need to defend.
I'm not much for predictions, in fact I hate them, but I'll make one here - Arsenal go 1-0 down before winning a nervy game 3-1. Prove me wrong, Arsenal - blow them away. Please.
EDIT 7:03AM PT 9/20: Lineup, via Tizoc in the comments via Young Guns Blog:
Fabianski, Djourou, Gibbs, Miquel, Jenkinson, Benayoun, Coquelin, Frimpong, the Ox, Park, Chamakh
Boateng, Miyachi, Yennaris, Aneke, Özyakup, Sanchez Watt, Martínez