Howdy folks and welcome to another midweek of jam-packed football action, which continues for us tomorrow evening with the home visit of Molde to The Arsenal. I suspect Mikel will take to the virtual stage and I think the key questions he’ll be asked should centre around his team selection tomorrow night, because whilst Molde will be in better shape than Dundalk in terms of their technical ability, it is still a side that we should be looking to take maximum points from.
Then you’ve got the question around the game against Villa and who plays then. I hope he gets asked some proper questions that can draw out at least some of his thinking because I think tomorrow’s team sheet is particularly interesting. The reason I say that is because the United game threw up some interesting selection decisions. Elneny was the talking point in terms of his selection, but what I find most interesting in that choice right now is the fact that he played the full 90 minutes against Dundalk. Because of that I had assumed that there were certain players that were shoe-ins to start or be benched, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Take Pepe for example. He was brought off on 60+ minutes against Dundalk and that had all of the hallmarks of a “you’re playing this Sunday mate, so I’m saving something in your tank for United”, yet when Sunday came, he was nowhere to be seen throughout. Now, some of that may have been the natural evolution of the game state against United and how it played out, but what I think it does show us is that there is no simple formulae from game-to-game. Which in itself is no bad thing because it means opposition teams are not sure exactly of the line up and how to plan for us. Remember all of those times when Arsene would always name the same XI? In the early days of his reign it would be fine because we had basically the best XI players in the league, plus opponents in the league were no great shakes. But these days every team has a lot more technical ability and they also have a better understanding of their opponents. So you need to be able to spring surprises and that’s certainly what happened to United at the weekend.
I think from a morale in the dressing room it also helps to band the larger squads together. Again, think about when we first dropped in to the Europa with Arsene; he essentially rotated the entire team and what ended up happening was that there was a clear delineation between the first team that played in the Premier League and the reserve team that played in the Europa League and League Cup. I’ll be honest and say I was always fine with it, but I’ve heard some ex-pros talk about knowing that you’ll never get in to the first team – or at least thinking that – when there are such clear differences, so it kind of makes me wonder if by mixing it up like he has, Arteta has effectively shown the players that anyone (except Ozil) has an opportunity to stake a claim. In some cases (Elneny as our current frame of reference) players could play twice within a week.
And when I think about it, that makes sense, because if we were in the Champions League Group Stages we’d be seeing the first team on a Wednesday and a weekend, wouldn’t we? So why does it suddenly become a worrying thing to see more players play Thursday and Sunday?
We/mainly ‘I’ need to shake this mentality of players getting fatigued. Especially at this stage in the season. The benefits of resting players so they are better at the weekend, like Auba, can be a worthy conversation. But we wouldn’t be moaning about keeping them fresh if we had to play him in the big competition.
So having moaned at Arteta for his team selection last Sunday, having wanted him to go further in his rotation on Thursday against Dundalk, I’m going to try hard not to get too hung up on player injuries and fatigue in the coming games. I can’t say I’ll actually achieve it, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Before I clock off for another day though, a quick shout out to Lucas Torreira, who bagged his first goal for Atletico at the weekend against Osasuna in a 3-1 win. I don’t really watch Spanish football so am not sure how he’s doing, but he’s made three appearances in the Champions League with a combined total of 31 minutes played, plus 140 minutes over three games in the league, so it looks like he’s being used mostly as a sub for Diego Simeone. Hopefully he can get more action because I always liked him as a player and what we want is a player that returns to us next summer who has improved and got his confidence back. If he’s managed to play lots of football it is win-win for us. We either get a good midfielder to reintegrate into the squad, which I suspect is unlikely, or we have the second option which would be a sale at a decent price. However if he’s used sparingly then we may find ourselves with a challenging market with which to recoup our cash for a player with one year less on his contract. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that stage.
Right, I’ll catch you all tomorrow for a match preview and some thoughts on how we’ll set up against the Norweigans.