With such a quick turnaround time in between Premier League games this week, it feels like this is the period of the season in which Arsène’s squad is tested to its limits for the first time, as the manager needs to make some decisions on how he rotated his squad differently to the usual ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ approach he’s adopted thus far.
We’ll get a hint to that by way of a press conference or team update at some stage today, but I suspect that he’ll all but confirm that some rotation will take place, especially ahead of a difficult game against United on Saturday evening.
He’ll no doubt champion his whole squad but it will be the first time that both midweek and weekend teams are intermingled and so this will be the litmus test on how he integrates some of those players who haven’t exactly excelled in Europe and the Carrier Bag Cup.
Talk amongst my mates has very much been on who he will pick. I have my theories. I think given his talking up of Jack Wilshere at times this season and how he will get game time, we’ll surely see him start, but some of the other positional choices are less obvious. Does he give Koscielny’s exploding Achilles a rest against a Huddersfield side who do like an occasionally robust challenge? Does he try something different with the full backs knowing that at some stage we’re going to have to find one or both of them some cover? Does he give Giroud a shot at mixing it with the better players? Is Özil fit enough to start?
Lots of questions but I’m sure we’ll get some answers in part today at some stage. I’ve always admitted that I’m a child of the Championship Manager era and so I always used to rotate my squads based on fitness. A game like tomorrows would have seen me make at least four with United in mind, but real life is a little less clear cut than the game I wasted my youth on. Some players recover better than others. Some manifest fatigue not in their running or effort but in their lack of concentration. Whilst some players simply break down. So it’s hard to get the balance perfect and tomorrow evening I suspect we won’t get the most scintillating performance if wholesale changes are made.
But that doesn’t matter right now. If you told me that between now and the Sunday after next when we’ve played Southampton away we’ll pick up three of the most dreadful 1-0s against Huddersfield, United and then Southampton, I’ll jig my way the length of this Metropolitan Line Tube train I’m currently sitting on. This time of the season is when the grind is needed. December is a month with a lot of games and so it’s just about getting as many points on the board before January as you can possibly muster.
Whether or not we’ve ‘turned the corner’ as good ol’ Pete Cheque has told us remains to be seen, but the game against Burnley felt gritty enough for us to feel like this team has the capabilities to at least challenge for the top four spot. There were times last season and the beginning of this season in which I wasn’t so sure. So the hope is that now we can start to build some momentum. Tomorrow could be a good opportunity but after that we have two very difficult games. United will be tailor made for at least a draw and Southampton away is a very tough fixture for us, always has been, feels like it always will be. If we somehow miraculous got nine points from our next three games then I’d start to get excited but as it stands there’s still too many questions hanging over us.
Hopefully the questions can start to be answered tomorrow night.
Catch you all tomorrow.