Back on the horse today lads, there’s an opportunity to extend the undefeated run to 13 and despite the fact we’re all bricking it for Saturday evening, we should still approach tonight’s game with the right attitude, approach and hopefully, safe passage in to the quarter finals of the League Cup.
Blackpool are tonight’s opponents and with a team currently mid table in League One, Arsenal should in theory have enough on their own soil to dispatch a club whose fans are at war with their own ownership, but who’s plight has seen them drift some distance from their heady days in the Premier League under Ian Holloway.
Unai Emery has some decisions to make though. From front to back actually. He’s already made one decision and that is to bring in Petr Cech from injury to play this evening in between the sticks. I think that’s fair enough personally and when you think that he’s been out injured for a few weeks and now finds himself getting back up to speed I don’t think anybody will be surprised.
What Emery has done this season is be very clear that there are no sacred cows. Cech was number one and played well. His injury gave Leno a chance who has played well. Now we have a situation where unless Leno is injured, suspended or out of form, we’ll see Cech in goal to play the squad rotation games. It’s how competitive football teams should operate and it shows the meritocracy that exists at the club.
But apart from that we’ve got little clue as to who starts and with such a big game at the weekend Emery will need to think long and hard about his options. The longest thoughts will probably be occupied at full back because, as it stands, we have one fully fit full back available. Kolasinac and Monreal are being assessed ahead of the game and unless both are fit I don’t think Emery will risk them this evening. That could mean another outing for Xhaka at full back but I’d be tempted to give one of the kids a go.
If he does, then I suspect there’ll be a stronger centre half pairing and I wonder if that will be Sokratis and Holding, with one dropping to the bench at the weekend. With Koscielny still not 100% and Mavropanos still out for the next few weeks, were light in terms of cover there too, although it doesn’t seem to get any better at full back. With Bellerin definitely out and being assessed for the game you’d have to wonder whether even Lichsteiner will be risked. I suspect he will because he hasn’t played that much football and so giving him extra minutes will be important with the Liverpool game coming up. It’s fair to say he’s been less than impressive in his Arsenal career so far but we’ve got to get him playing game time to be able to get more out of him I think. Players who don’t play regularly – whatever their age – need time to get up and running and playing to the best of their ability so I think it’s a gamble worth taking on Emery’s part.
Midfield won’t have Elneny and so I suspect we’ll have a smattering of youth in there. Guendouzi and Willock perhaps? With three in front of Ramsey, Smith-Rowe and Welbeck? If Emery does that we’ll have a space for Nketiah too, although I do wonder about Ramsey. His playing style, the energy in his game, it all feels to me like it’d be perfect for the weekend so perhaps it would make more sense to play Mkhi in the team and Smith-Rowe in at number 10?
Whoever plays, it will be important to see us perform better defensively, because it’s a mindset that reverberates throughout the squad in training when you win and when you defend and attack well. We haven’t been doing that and we’ve been starting games so slowly that it feels like it’s becoming a psychological ‘thing’. What we need is a game in which we’re breaking that first half malaise and whilst many of the players who play tonight won’t be playing on Saturday, at least a tone can be set from the start by tonight’s playing staff.
Blackpool will see this as a ‘no lose’ situation and so will probably be able to give an extra 10 to 20% with the pressure off. They’ve got a few semi familiar faces in Jay Spearing and Delafonso, but it’s not a team that should strike too much fear in to Arsenal and so I would expect a game that sees us control the ball, possession, not giving away too many chances and looking for something special to unlock a team who will invariably sit deep and look to hit us on the counter.
This game feels very much like the warm up act before the main event comes on, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be going hell for leather to maintain our winning run. We need to ahead of the visit of those dirty scousers on Saturday.
Catch you all tomorrow with some post match thinking’s.