With another game coming so quickly after the poor Palace performance on Sunday, there’s barely any time to draw breath for Unai Emery and his charges, as is the same for us as fans.
Taking stock of performances like Sunday is important because Emery will need to analyse just why we’re so poor in first halves this season, but with a Cup game against Blackpool as a potential opportunity to get back on to the winning horse – so to speak – I’m wondering what exactly he has planned for tomorrow night.
I’m sure we’ll find out through the team news and press conference today ahead of the game but after Bellerin hobbled off at halftime at the weekend, it will probably put in to sharp contrast just how important it is that we rotate players.
He’s been reluctant to undertake too much rotation in the European competition, but the League Cup has given an opportunity to do a little more and with such a big game looming on the horizon against Liverpool, I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a decent volume of players who are rested against the Tangerines.
We do need players back though. At the moment we’ve got three fit centre halves and with our back line looking shaky as it is for most of the season, I personally can not wait for the return of Koscielny. I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow – in fact that’s surely a certainty he won’t – but with Xhaka and Lichsteiner playing alongside Holding and Mustafi at the weekend, we looked like we were really struggling at times against a Palace team who hadn’t scored a goal all season.
Holding has been good and I don’t think Mustafi is as terrible as everyone says, but we shouldn’t be reliant on such an error-prone player in our first XI, so the sooner some of our returnees are back the better.
I hope to see a little of Ainsley Maitland-Niles tomorrow and although Emery has been reluctant to rotate up until this point, I think the injuries we’ve had should dictate that we see some younger players get a shot. Nketiah, Willock, Smith-Rowe, Thompson, Medley – I’d be tempted to chuck a few in there alongside some of those players who maybe wouldn’t play against Liverpool, like Elneny, Welbeck, etc.
I don’t think a full-scale kids team would do anybody any good, but I’d certainly hope to see five or six of the positions taken up by the youngsters.
One player who I personally wouldn’t want near the game tomorrow – largely because of his ever-increasing importance in the team – is Lucas Torreira. As every week passes by he impresses again and again and in the Uruguayan we have a special talent on hand. Eve had Gilberto talking about him on the official website and it’s easy to see why. Gilberto was a master of making everyone else tick through his simplicity of footballing style and having seen Torreira for a few weeks now it’s easy to see why. He’s a fighter, a scrapper, a player who covers ground when we don’t have the ball, but he’s also very cultured when we do have it. His range of passes is quite impressive and when you look at how he can distribute both simply and the more complex balls across the park, it’s easy to see how we’re a better team with him in the side.
It’s funny because in Gilberto, and to a lesser extent Arteta, I think many of us (me included) overlooked the importance of such a consistent player in making our team tick. These types of players are the metronome, they are the balance from which our other build up attacking work and defensive play are centred. We’ve lacked that in the last few years as Wenger tried to find one, but in Torreira we have an absolute gem of a player in that position.
If we were to get anything from the game on Saturday evening, it’ll need him breaking up play defensively, but also providing the calm composure with the ball at his feet, that is week-by-week becoming a trademark.
My hope is that we can get some of our full backs back in contention so we can release Xhaka back in to midfield alongside him. That pairing feels like the most natural for success.
But for now we just have to focus on the game tomorrow, so that’ll be what’s in my thoughts for the rest of today and in the match preview in the AM.