I don’t know why but I have an unusually positive feeling about today’s game. I’m not usually the positive one and when we do the radio on Monday night’s on LoveSport I’m usually the one to pour cold water on our chances of victory, but for some reason, I just ‘feel’ like we’re going to collect three points.
I still have the butterflies in the old stomach. I still have this gnawing nervousness about me before I head off to the Emirates later on today, but I think it’s more excitement than anything else. Excitement at seeing what a depleted and injury/suspension-ravaged Arsenal can do.
We’re missing Aubameyang. We’re missing Sead Kolasinac. We’re missing Kieran Tierney. We’re missing Calum Chambers. We’re missing Hector Bellerin. We could be missing Lucas Torreira. We’ve got a half fit Holding. Plus Lacazette seems to have completely forgotten where the goal is.
And yet, despite all of this, I still feel like we’re going to get the win. Perhaps it’s just the delirium of the fact we have a Saturday 3pm kick off though??
I don’t think it’ll be easy though. I’m not expecting a five or a six goal thriller in which we get four or five of the goals. Sheffield United are too organised, have a decent run of form for this season and under Chris Wilder they are the perfect example of a well drilled machine that is more than the sum of its parts. People are all aware of their overlapping centre halves this season, but it still causes teams trouble. Sheffield United have only lost three of their last 16 games. They have a structure about them that will be difficult to break down and in their 3-5-2 formation they will look to make the most of our depleted left hand side, which is sure to include makeshift fullback Buyako Saka on that left hand side. He’s coped admirably with what’s been thrown at him on that left hand side and fair play to the kid, but with Sheffield United preferring to overload on the flanks I’m expecting a tough afternoon from him. That’s where the inside forward we play wide left will be pivotal and Arteta has a decision to make on that front. Martinelli or Nelson should be the decision and I am genuinely not worried about either because I think both will try to support our makeshift left back whatever happens.
Of course Arteta could go with Mustafi at right back and switch Maitland-Niles to left back, but I just have a feeling it’ll be Saka today and I just hope the lad does ok.
We need to see more of the positive side of Luiz and Sokratis too today because whilst they’ve certainly improved under Arteta, there are still some moments in which you feel like covering your eyes when opposition teams attack us. We need to see Luiz commanding the game and also more of the progressive passing that seems to have happened in recent matches, the latest example of which being his forward pass and part of the build up for our goal against Palace last weekend.
That’s the defence that we’re all worried about, but the biggest question should probably be “who is going to get out goals”? Lacazette hasn’t scored since the 2-2 draw away at Standard Liege on 12th December. That’s over a month ago and his average scoring rate this season is a goal every 206 minutes. That’s not good enough for what is supposed to be one of our best players and a guy who is playing at the top of the formation, so we need him to take chances today. In recent weeks he’s been lashing at the ball, missing chances you’d normally expect him to put away and if he doesn’t contribute to a goal today then it will only intensify the pressure given that we have Auba out for Chelski on Tuesday and Bournemouth in the FA Cup next weekend.
But again, despite all of that, I have a funny feeling he will score today. The stats don’t back it up, Sheffield United are certainly nowhere near the newly promoted, mid-season, fodder that you’d hope would be rocking up at The Emirates today, but I have a feeling. That goal drought has to end some time, right?
Sheffield United have played 11, scored 11, conceded 11, away from home. They have three wins, six draws and two defeats on the road this season. Perhaps everything – especially given our injuries – should be pointing towards a draw today but I’m just not feeling it. I feel like this game needs to be an Arteta win at home and if we can get a few goals then great, but i’d settle for a scabby 2-1. I say 2-1 because I think they will score and I think we will score. But I guess a lot will depend on which order the goals are scored. As I mentioned above they’re an organised and if they go a goal ahead it could make for an uncomfortable afternoon. But I’m still staying positive.
I just hope that the football karma gods look after me today. I so rarely get this feeling of overwhelming positivity like I have today, so it would be nice to think that my intuition can serve me right for a change. And given that we were denied a stonewall penalty up in Sheffield for the reverse of this fixture, I’d like to think there can be a little more karma chucked in there too.
Catch you on the other side friends.