A match day blog. How about that then. I’ve almost forgotten what one of those looks like. But here we are a mere 12 or so hours away from the resumption of this Premier League season and even though we’re playing City, even though we’re probably losing tonight, I’m still excited.
My expectations have been duly managed and tonight i’m not expecting anything from this, our ‘game in hand’, but what I am hopeful for is that we at least give City a game and hopeful that we can at least come out of it saying that we’re going in the right direction. It has been one of the most bizarre introductions to football management that anybody has ever witnessed, but as the old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and Mikel Arteta will certainly have learned a lot about himself and about football management in this short period. But the good news is that tonight feels like a free hit. You’ll get long odds for an Arsenal win and that is, frankly, because City are better than us in most areas of the pitch. But what I’m hoping for tonight, is that we show at least a tiny sign that the gap is shrinking.
I’m thinking of that game at home to Chelski. I thought we were excellent that day and it was two simple lapses of judgement, as well as general fatigue of the team, that cost us. But there have been very few games where I’ve seen us lose and think “at least there was a plan. At least we know what the potential is and at least we can see a style that could potentially develop”.
That’s what I’m hoping for tonight. I’m hoping Mikel has thought long and hard about how to firstly negate Man City, then secondly give them a serious run for their money/points this evening. And if we get that I think we have to take it.
This all might sound a little ‘small club’ defeatist and yes, perhaps it is a little Spursy, but to me it doesn’t matter because as I’ve said for a while this is a free hit this season as far as I’m concerned. And tonight of all night’s is a free hit too, so let’s hope we see the players play with some freedom to express themselves, because we have some good players in this team and I hope they do themselves proud.
As for Arteta, he’s going to have to learn fast the ‘in game’ management side because with five subs allowed between now and the end of the season, he’s going to have to get better at timing it right. Do you save some subs for the last 25 minutes and then change most of the front line, hoping that fresh legs can unlock a defence? Do you make sweeping changes at half time because the players have pressed so hard in the first 45 they’re knackered? How much are you going to rotate your full backs because they are a key component to the way you want to play?
These are all the decisions he’s going to have to wrestle with and again, given it’s a free hit, there’s no need to be too concerned just yet.
And the five subs situation, coupled with the need to have more rotation due to the number of games being played over the next five weeks, might mean that the team selection isn’t obvious tonight. Were we playing in a week’s time after tonight I’d probably expect to see Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But we play Brighton on Saturday and that game is arguably more winnable and therefore something where we need to be thinking about more of the first teamers, so I wonder whether one or more of the likes of Nelson, Saka, Martinelli, Willock and even Maitland-Niles might start. There’s also a question mark over Soares but perhaps he’ll be saved for the weekend given he hasn’t taken part in the two friendlies that took place last week.
If I was to pick a rotated team I’d option for Leno in goal, a back four of Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz and Tierney, with a midfield of Xhaka and Maitland-Niles, followed by a three in front of Pepe, Willock, Martinelli, then Aubameyang up top. I think that front three has more pace and energy about it and each can run and run hard with the ball. City will have most possession so getting ourselves players who can transition from back to front quickly might prove to be very fruitful indeed. It would at least give Man City food for thought in terms of pressing us high to keep us penned in to our own half tonight, because they’ll know that if they leave too much space in behind, then we have the players who can react.
As for our opponents, they’ve had a full and clean bill of health, so my gut feel on their starting XI would include Ederson with a back four of Kyle Walker and Mendy as the full backs and LaPorte and Otamendi as the centre halves. In front of them I suspect it will be Silva, De Bruyne and Rodri in a midfield three, with Sterling, Aguero and Bernardo Silva and in those three we have a force that worries me. Not least because our back line is hardly water tight. In fact it leaks like an old tin roof sometimes and if we’re going to get anything from this game we’ll need to see a 10,000% improvement in performance from the side that blew us away at The Emirates late last year.
I still can’t really see us getting anything from these games, but I think that at least it gives us a chance to see just how different an Arteta team is with the same players, to the car crash that was Unai Emery’s team that played them in December. Yes, I know it was Freddie that took charge last night, but that was certainly a side still with the funk of the Emery era surrounding them.
Let’s hope the breath of fresh air that Arteta has brought on the team has removed said funk by the time we kick off at 8pm this evening.
Catch you tomorrow for a debrief of what transpired.