Yep, I’m excited, despite all of my cynicism about the Project Restart, despite the fact we still don’t quite have the balance right in midfield (as Mikel alluded to in his press conference yesterday), as well as the fact that we have a mountain of injuries already. I’m still so excited to see Arsenal rock up at Craven Cottage today to pit their wits against newly promoted Fulham.
Of course there will be heartache, it might even start today, but the great thing about the start of the season is that everybody starts on zero points and every possible eventuality remains ahead of you for the forthcoming season. And then when you get Arsenal dropping videos like the ‘It’s a family thing’ one that was released for the new third kit, it only whips up more excitement in my mind, so I’m at fever pitch as I type out these words to you this morning. Butterflies in the stomach and everything.
We just don’t know what we’re going to get as well. We’ve seen Arsenal step it up against the big boys and Arteta having a plan for taking on the best teams in the league, but what about those expected to be lower down the league? That’s where we really struggled last season and amassed countless draws in which we just couldn’t finish teams off, or couldn’t hold a lead, against teams where we really should have. I’m thinking Brighton away, Watford away, Crystal Palace at home and away. It was so frustrating and that is the challenge that Arteta has to turn this Arsenal team from the mid table mediocrity of last season in eighth, to genuine challengers for the top four.
I think he has the capability to do it. It is whether he can squeeze any more juice from some of these very flawed players.
He hasn’t exactly been dealt the easiest of cards to start the season with though, has he? I mean for today’s game Fulham have zero injuries, whereas we have seven, which is the highest in the league of any team. It does feel like we’ve spent the best part of ten year’s in the Premier League Injury table top three. It would be nice if Mikel Arteta could at least have one period of time in which he has a full deck of playing cards to play with. What also happens with Arsenal is they are usually all in one position and so it seems for today too. We have Mustafi, Mari, Luiz, Chambers and Sokratis all out injured. That’s FIVE first team players in one position all out. It’s crazy. Mikel has admitted that we are imbalanced as a squad in certain positions but with the injuries we get it does feel like we should be able to stockpile about eight players for every position!
What I think it means for today is interesting though, because we’ve been playing three at the back since the end of last season and I think the players have got into the swing of that formation, but who is deployed there will be fascinating. I think certainly Holding will start, then I think Tierney’s position deputing at left-centre half will also happen. But on that right hand side it will have to be one of the new guys. Saliba or Gabriel though? If I had to guess I’d say Saliba as he’s been training with the team longer and Gabriel is a left-footed centre half, which we know Mikel likes to deploy on that left side of the three. If that happens though, who plays on the left?
The options are Saka, Maitland-Niles or Kolasinac. Personally I would play Saka as I think it will give us a bit more in terms of trickery in the final third, but Maitland-Niles has shown an engine and physicality that we know Mikel likes. Saka’s final ball distribution is also far superior. But perhaps Mikel is trying to convince Ainsley he’ll have a big role to play this season?
On the right I think it’ll be Bellerin and I just hope he has the opportunity to continue the good form we saw from the big games at Wembley.
In goal it’ll be Leno as Martinez is left out and whilst I think that’s a real shame that he’s on his way, I have no problems with Leno, unless he brain farts today and then everyone will be super panicky about letting the Argentine go.
In midfield I think Xhaka and Ceballos has to be pretty much nailed on, but where we have a dearth of options in defence, the same can certainly not be said in attack, as Arteta has a wealth of players to choose from. If we play three at the back then we’re looking at three in the pointy end of the pitch and in those positions Arteta has to choose from Aubameyang, Lacazette, Nelson, Willian, Pepe, as well as Nketiah. I suspect we’ll see a familiar look to the team. I’m not sure if Willian makes the starting XI but he’s the only one I’d have a question mark over. Personally I’d love to see him on the left, Aubameyang through the centre and Pepe on the right, but I think it’ll start with Auba on the left, Laca through the middle and Pepe on the right, like the Cup Final. That ‘feels’ to me like what Arteta will do in the first game, but there will be plenty of options on the bench for him.
Certainly if Guendouzi and Ozil are both now available for selection. In addition to those two, there’s a Willock who is a year older, Torreira, Kolasinac and Cedric who haven’t really been mentioned by me so far. So we have an experienced bench. The question is who Arteta even picks for that and I do wonder if there might be a surprise in store. Maybe if Ozil has been training like a ‘beast’ then he might get to the bench? You never know.
As for Fulham, who knows what we’ll get. They’ll have the confidence of a team full of spunk having just been promoted and no doubt ex-Tottenham man Scott ‘Scotty’ Parker will be trying his best Churchillian impression. I just hope he goes full Gilet Sherwood today because we could do without an inspired performance from them given our run in for the start of this season. We need maximum points from today and West Ham next weekend because it starts to get a bit scary after that.
In the Championship Fulham were a possession-based side with the ball firmly on the deck. Against lesser teams not in the Premier League if you’ve got better quality then that works and got them up. But against Premier League teams that won’t cut it I don’t think. You wouldn’t expect Fulham to have much of the ball today so how does their counter attacking options stack up? We know they have Mitrovic and he’s the guy where most of their goals come from, but he’s not rapid and if we can isolate him then it may be beneficial for us. They have signed KNockheart who has a bit of pace and trickery about him and will look to new signing Lemina to sit in front of the back four for protection today I reckon. I think they’ll rely on an instant connection between Knockheart and Mitrovic. I just hope that doesn’t get started in earnest today.
Fingers crossed guys – only a few hours to go!