Morning folks. It’s matchday! A welcome distraction from the transfer window and it’s impending closure, eh?
That’s certainly how I think some people see it. They see the ACTUAL football as the side note and get too wound up in the count down to the closure of the window to the extent that some probably forgot we have a game today. Certainly last night when it was all kicking off as Lyon apparently closed the door on us getting Aouar to single-handedly come in and solve all of our midfield and creativity issues.
Or perhaps he is a very good player with whom we miss out on because of the terrible dealings and business by the club over the last couple of years. I admit I got a little swept up in it last night, but I will admit that a night of sleep is helpful, because today all of my nerves and worries are reserved for the 2pm kick off at home to Sheffield United.
Last season they took four points from us in the league and took us to within minutes of a penalty shoot out in the cup. They were the complete surprise package along with Wolves (although the sheer cash Wolves spent last year and this could possibly suggest that could have been expected) and whilst they haven’t picked up any points, or goals for that matter, I am fully expecting this to be a tough afternoon. I’m also expecting them to score today because, y’know, Arsenal ‘n that…
We go into the game off the back of a cup victory on penalties and a slightly disappointing but not surprising defeat to Liverpool at Anfield and with an international break due to hit us straight after this game, the need for three points is fairly self-evident. Defeat or a draw today means we go into a bit of a ‘Death Run’ of games which include City away, followed by Leicester at home, the Man United away and so if we’re languishing on six points you’d not exactly be hopeful that we’re going to hit the beginning of November into double figures of points after seven games. That would not be a great way to be looking at the opening of the season and so there really is a bit of pressure on Mikel to get something from today’s game.
In terms of how we will line up I think it’ll be rotation from Thursday’s game which probably means Pepe, Nketiah, Willock, Cedric, Gabriel and Kolasinac all drop out of the team. Xhaka, Saka and Ceballos may all retain their place and certainly in a home game in which the onus will be on us to create more chances you’d hope that we see Ceballos ahead of Elneny.
It’s difficult to pick the first XI because Arteta is trying to juggle three games in under a week, but if I had to I suspect it’ll be Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Ceballos, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Willian to make up the starting line up in a familiar 3-4-3 shape, or 5-2-3 depending on how you look at it and depending on whether we’re in possession or not. Of course formations are a loose concept with Arteta so it doesn’t really feel like there is much merit in talking about that, more the personnel and their capability, but with like likes of Holding, Elneny, Lacazette and Kolasinac all still potentially in contention, you can see why so many of us are desperate for change. In Holding we have a guy who cannot defend on the counter, which is what Sheffield United will look to do and certainly make us of their overlapping full backs to try to get in behind Bellerin and whoever plays left wing-back. It is a gamble that we keep playing Rob but needs must as it appears Saliba isn’t ready and we still have so many injuries to worry about in defence. Who’d have ever had thought we’d be glad to potentially see the return of Mustafi to the team, eh?
As for Sheffield United, they will line up in a 3-5-2 formation and will look to stifle us today. They are a compact and organised team and will sit bodies deep in a low block and probably look to frustrate us. They haven’t scored this season but they have also been a little unlucky with some of the decisions and defensively they’ve been sucker-punched once or twice already this season. Particularly with VAR. The worry is when they break on us and us over-committing too many bodies allowing them to counter attack. And where they will attack us is out wide with their approach I mention above, as well as via Stevens and Baldock out wide. That means we could see this match essentially won out wide because we know that this is how Arsenal like to get around teams, rather than bulldoze through the middle.
The game could therefore be won in the wide areas and that’s why I’m hoping that we see more from Bellerin and whoever plays wide left, which I also wonder if Saka shouldn’t be given the nod. Maitland-Niles is a physical presence and will get forward, but Saka is good at finding time in half spaces and also in getting in behind teams. I’d be really tempted to go that way today. In fact, part of me wonders whether we shouldn’t just play Saka out wide left and Maitland-Niles on the right, because it would bring that running and energy in behind a little more than Bellerin I think.
They will give us possession, look to counter out wide and get behind before providing cut backs to the lieks of Fleck, so whilst the centre of the midfield might be bypassed at times today, I think for us to win both Xhaka and Ceballos might have to be doing the more diligent work by covering space for those cut backs when Sheffield United do get in behind us.
I spent year’s being a bit blasé in my mind with home games like this. I’d go along, have a few drinks with the lads and expect a win. These days every game gets me more nervous than I even used to be, so I’m not taking anything for granted today. But we do need a win and I just hope some of the bigger name players we have can step up and give us the bonus of three points for this weekend after all of the angst some people seem to be feeling about the failed transfer window.
Catch you guys tomorrow.