Morning all and welcome to matchday Thursday. Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to how we approach today’s game:
- Name a strong team, batter our opponent, then sub off as many key players as possible for Sunday’s game away to Man United
- Name a completely rotated side, run the risk of labouring to a result, or perhaps even not getting three points at all.
Personally I am all in on option number two. Our first team has laboured all season as it is, so it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that we once again struggle tonight and with the injury problems that we already have in places like central defence, we don’t need another knock, strain or tweak to add on to the pile of players currently in the treatment room.
So my hope is that there is widespread rotation and an acknowledgement from Arteta in his selection choices that we really need no excuses for performance for the game at the weekend. With all due respect to Dundalk, the United match is far superior in importance to us and we should be reflecting that in what we do this evening.
I think he’ll probably play one or two first teamers, but if it was me the team I’d pick would include:
Runarsson (he’s got to play some time, right?)
Maitland-Niles – Mustafi – Kolasinac – Cedric
Willock – Elneny – Willian
Smith-Rowe – Nketiah – Nelson
My thinking here is a mass rotation and that none of those players would start – aside from perhaps Mustafi who needs minutes to get himself back up to speed – at Old Trafford on Sunday. We will at some stage need to give Runarsson minutes because if we don’t then an injury to Bernd Leno puts us under even more pressure if he has played zero football, so I would chuck him in for a game in which we should be expecting the lions share of possession and very little for him to do for the evening. We hope.
Kolasinac has played in centre half before and whilst a back four with him at centre half is a tad worrying, again we need to remember that we should be expecting to have most of the ball and to be pressing Dundalk hard for most of the game. In at right back we simply HAVE to give Ainsley some minutes and if we can rest Tierney by playing Cedric as a left back and Maitland-Niles as a right back, then I’m good with that.
The midfield is more of a ‘what I can think of to cobble together’ approach, so if I’m honest I don’t think we’ll see it, but given that Willian has been so poor in the front three in recent matches he’s played my thinking is that trying him in a deeper role might be a good idea. Elneny to sit and keep the ball ticking over feels kind of obvious, whilst the lack of game time for Willock should mean he gets some minutes I reckon.
In front of them I really hope that Smith-Rowe gets a game tonight. We’re all so desperate for a player like that to emerge like an 18-year-old Jack Wilshere did and he’s now completed a couple of loan spells and had a few cameos in the first team. We need to see something of him to see if he can step up and if he does it and does well tonight, perhaps Arteta can have another player that he needs to consider a little more seriously for the first team.
The other side of of the pitch I hope features Reiss Nelson. Arteta admitted yesterday that he could have gone out on loan but he asked the manager to stay and fight for his position. If that is true and his hunger remains that positive, then he’ll be itching to go and will have a point to prove if started. This game represents an opportunity for Arteta to give him the “go on then son, show me what you’ve got” speech and my hope is that he gets that opportunity from the left. It is where he had that impressive spell from Hoffenheim and much like how Pepe works as an inverted winger, I think Nelson works as one on the left flank too.
The striker position is an interesting one because again there are a couple of options here. Arteta can play Nketiah and see if he looks impressive again and can add to his goal tally. Or he can try to see if he can play Lacazette into form by giving him some minutes. My view is certainly Nketiah because he has more of a long term future at Arsenal than Lacazette. Lacazette has looked sluggish, off the pace and distinctively average in his last two games and my worry is that he’s not selected tonight because he’ll start against United on Sunday. That would be a mistake and would also mean we have less chance of getting a result in Manchester in my opinion. But more than that, it shows that some players perhaps aren’t being picked on form as much as we thought they might, which again would be disappointing. Lacazette’s form has been a bin fire all season, masked by a couple of goals early in the season, so I hope that this drop in form gets the response it deserves; time taken out of the team. Another reason why I think we should give Eddie a go tonight.
Let’s also not forget that Eddie is an energetic penalty box striker, who was played as a wide forward against Rapid Vienna, which didn’t look great on him or Arteta in the end as it is. Let’s get that round peg in a round hole and see what he can do leading the attack tonight, please.
As for our opponents, well, I’d be lying if I said I knew anything massive about them if I’m honest. This is a cup final for them, let’s be honest, so they will be massively up for it, but this is an Arsenal team that should win. We have players who have better technical quality on the ball, should be disciplined off it, but the question will be whether we can break them down if they sit deep and ask us to break them down with a low block. If that happens then we could be in for a long and frustrating night, whoever is in the Arsenal team from the start.
Catch you all tomorrow with some post-match thoughts.