This feels like the proper start to the season for me today. I picked up a fresh set of home and away kits and will be rocking my beautiful red and white Adidas Arsenal shirt in the ground today for the first game of the season.
I’m right back there. Right back to the obsession and after the Europa League final I have the butterflies in my stomach ahead of this match at home to Burnley.
We’ve got a good record against them and haven’t dropped any points before but you know me, I’m a sucker when it comes to football karma and although it doesn’t seem to work the other way when we have a sh*t record with teams (think United away), it always seems to catch up with us eventually.
I thought it might be the last game of the season away to Burnley last year but Auba did his ting and we ended up with a golden boot winner and another three points at Turf Moor. But today it’ll be a sterner test I think. Burnley will be buzzing this lunchtime following a comprehensive 3-0 win at home last week and the pressure will be off. It’s the beginning of the season and there isn’t any worry about possible relegation, so I’m expecting them to be up for an upset, probably delivered through trying to frustrate us from the first minute.
They’ll be physical, they’ll go back to front as quick as possible with longer balls and they’ll try to utilise the physicality of Wood and Barnes to rattle us. It sounds a little 80s football cliché but for Burnley today it’ll be all about the knock downs and winning the second ball. And if they can do it with players like Barnes leaving an elbow in then they’ll be more than happy with that.
Which is why I’m a little torn on who should start at the heart of our defence today. I really want to say Chambers because I’ve always rated him and he did nothing wrong last weekend, but a defensive duo of Luiz and Sokratis aren’t taking any shizzle off nobody. Plus they’ll both happily dabble in a little bit of sh*thousery too, so I kind of want to see how that would look against two rugged centre forwards like Wood and Barnes.
The rest of the defence is obvious because it’s basically who’s fit. I’m not sure if Kolasinac will be selected even though Emery says he’s fine and on the other side Maitland-Niles is pretty much the only option.
Then the decisions need to be made in front of them and it’s complicated based on who’s fit I think. There’s talk that Xhaka is injured, Torreira hasn’t had many pre season minutes at all, so who will be in the middle of the park? Guendouzi and Ceballos with Willock in front? Or does Özil get the nod ahead of Willock? I’d be surprised to see Elneny anywhere near the team and after the shambles that was Elneny and Guendouzi together I would be looking at this and wondering who can be the calming influence alongside our mop-haired midfielder. He needs a strong partner alongside him and despite what some people say about Xhaka, he gives that influence, so it’d be a blow today if he’s not fit.
That midfield does concern me I have to say. We have so many questions and right now I just don’t know what Unai’s answers are. We won’t have long to find out I suppose.
When you get to the sharp end of the pitch it gets a little easier though, because of the plethora of options, which gives some comfort today and some hope we can unlock what will be a deep block of a Burnley defence I suspect. Pick three of Lacazette, Aubameyang, Nelson, Pepe and possibly even Özil if Willock plays centrally. You could put Mkhitaryan in that frame too but I’d rather not if I’m honest. His form doesn’t warrant it so if you’re giving me a choice I give Pepe a home debut, play Nelson on the left and Auba up top, with Laca as an option on the bench. That’s purely based on a question mark over Lacazette’s fitness but if he’s 100% then you swap Nelson for Lacazette and bring Nelson on as an extra creative force if we’re chasing the second half.
It’s in that attack that we can be excited and I’m hoping the variety of options can overload Burnley today. But we need to be prepared to have them create chances against us, because with our back line they will get them, and I can’t see us not conceding today. We’ve had our quota of clean sheets for the season and it was against a pretty toothless Newcastle. Burnley are waaaaay better than that and they’ll get one at least, I’m convinced, which means our forward line need a minimum of two and knowing us they need three for us to get three points.
I just hope we’re up for it today.
Come on you reds!