It’s press conference day today and with Arsenal having dispatched Ludogorets with relative ease on Wednesday night, I suspect Arsène will be in buoyant mood and the press pack will probably go a little easier than they would normally, asking team news questions and wondering whether this team can go all the way this time.
Of course Arsène will bat away any line of enquiry navigating in that direction, merely utilising his trusted ‘one game at a time’ mantra that so many managers and players have used since time immemorial, but it’s nice to know that the Arsenal world is a happier place at the moment and the football we’re playing is good too.
I don’t expect there to be any words of arrogance or hints of complacency about the visitors tomorrow, but I do wonder if we’ll get any indication on who might start, because we have a number of questions still hanging. The obvious answer is that we’ll get a team identical to the one that started against Ludogorets. In a very in-Arsène manner, he was able to take off a number of players on Wednesday night with the game won, which means Cazorla, Walcott and Alexis have all been spared a full 90 in midweek. So my hope is that the team is feeling fresh and ready for a totally different challenge against Boro come 3pm. More on how they might set up tomorrow.
But for us, I do wonder if the question on fatigue is one that is for another time in the season, particularly given our great form. I’ve read and heard countless interviews from top level players saying that when you’re winning, you can run that little bit longer, feel that little bit stronger, so I wonder if the same can be said for all the team at the moment? Of course the danger with riding that adrenaline crest is that eventually you run out of puff, so I do hope that when the fabled ‘red zone’ is hit, players will be taken out of the firing line by the manager.
I don’t want to seem like I’m reading too much into his actions, but his substitutions feel to me like they’re showing that he’s thinking about that too. What I mean by this is the varying numbers of players he’s deciding to play. The challenge with how we’ve been as a club – admittedly down to the manager himself – is that we’ve tended to play players into fatigue and injury, then have to rely on players who haven’t played all season, with an expectation that they’ll just come in and be great. In the past, you tend to get the same two or three players on the fringes of the team coming on as a sub every week. So when we have the annual injury crisis and have to rely on more than just those two or three players, the ones that have to come in are effectiv my starting from scratch, which means it always takes them time to adapt. By then however, you’re talking four or five games and often a player has returned from injury, so the squad player is dismissed by some as ‘crap’.
It takes time to build yourself momentum in football. That’s why I think Arsène is using a variety of different players as subs. We’ve seen Gibbs, The Ox, Iwobi, Lucas, Elneny and Xhaka all get game time as subs. The more game time these players get, the easier they will find it to be at their best when they are called upon, which I think Arsène is aware of. So we’re not just seeing the same XI with Gibbs and The Ox being the only players to ever be subbed on, but instead it varies from game-to-game.
This can only be a good thing for us. We will get injuries, we all know that, but if a player can come in and quickly pick up the pace and rythmn of the team, we might stand a better chance of coping with the injuries throughout the season.
Note how I’m being very careful about talking up the title chances. We haven’t seen how this team can react to disappointment after a good run yet, so I’ll reserve any kind of excitement until after then, I think.
So we’ll get an indication from Arsène where we’re at today – about an hour from me writing today’s blog – and hopefully it can be an entertaining one.
Right, catch y’all tomorrow, with some pre-Boro thoughts.