Perhaps somewhat surprisingly Mikel Arteta held his press conference ahead of the Palace game on Thursday. Normally it is a day or two before the match itself but I wonder if he just wanted to ‘get it out of the way’ so he could focus on the challenge that Palace provide us this week. After all we haven’t beaten them for four matches and the last time we got any kind of victory was a home 4-1 win nearly three years ago. So there is a bit of work on the training ground to be done.
Not for Gabby Martinelli of course, who Arteta confirmed is out as we expected, but he was due to have a scan yesterday and I suppose we’ll get a better idea of the damage to his ankle at some stage either today or tomorrow.
There was plenty of other #Content to pour over from the press conference, however, with Mikel stressing just how much these next two games – both at home – could have a defining point in our season. I kind of get where he’s coming from because we’ve seen first hand just how much damage a lack of confidence can do to a team so conversely, perhaps an abundance of confidence that could potentially come with wins, would also have a massive impact going in to a really tough set of fixtures over the next six week’s or so. If Arsenal go in to the fourth round of the FA Cup on 23rd Jan having won six on the trot, then you could say that there will be an element of swagger about the team. But if they head in to it having been beaten by Palace and/or Newcastle at home – not exactly unexpected given our dreadful home form this season – then the questions we had before Christmas will once again be rightly raised.
The good news is that we are boosted by the return of Thomas Partey who will surely make the squad on Thursday and therefore get some minutes. Whether he starts or not, having not played any football for over a month and a bit, remains to be seen. I would think that if he does start he’ll be earmarked for a maximum of 60 minutes in the game with the hope he can come through unscathed and be ready for Newcastle on the Monday night. But we’ll have to wait a couple of days to see if that is truly the case.
He also talked about the man of the moment – Emile Smith-Rowe – speaking about how impressed he’s been, although he kind of played down the whole ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ that has apparently been circulating as a nickname amongst the players. Mikel played it down as you’d expect him to, but I wonder if selecting certain moments to really wax lyrical on players might also be something he needs to work on. He never really ever eulogises over players, does he? Perhaps that’s just his style in the press and perhaps on the training ground and in the dressing room he saves his praise – arguably where it is more important – but what all of the best managers in history have been able to do is balance between the carrot and stick of motivating their players through praise or trying to build up, so I wonder if that is another learning point for our young manager.
Mikel was also asked about Eddie and whether he’d leave this window, which he flatly rejected and I can understand why. The absence of Balogun in the Newcastle FA Cup game, plus the rumours he is on his way to signing a pre contract agreement somewhere else, suggests to me that the ship has probably sailed on that situation and with that in mind you can’t give Balogun any game time. You have to stick him back in the under-23s and let him play out the season there, I think. If he has no long term future at the club he has no short-term opportunities to play and train with the first team. That means we leave our eggs in the Nketiah basket for this season and it means Arteta has to give the young English striker a bit more game time between now and the end of the season. He will get it I think, but I do also think that we’re at a crunch point with Eddie. I’ve never been 100% convinced in him, despite how committed the player is and likeable as a charcater. But we need a ruthlessness that needs to have shone through by now. He’s 21, he’ll be 22 in May and by now he really needs to be looking like he’s about to break through in to the first team. If I was to ask you whether we could sell Lacazette and he step up in to the role, what would you tell me? I can’t see many Arsenal fans saying he could do it so I think that tells us all we need to know. He probably is just that level down to be number one and with a year left on his deal I think we need to think seriously about cashing in on him in the summer. But for now it makes sense to keep him around, give him minutes here and there and see if he can contribute with a few more goals.
One final bit from the press conference that I did note from Arteta, which was when he was asked about Runarsson. The question related to whether there was anything in a possible loan for the Icelandic ‘keeper and rather than dismiss a player who we only signed a few months ago, he said “there’s nothing there yet”. That hardly suggests that Arsenal aren’t willing to listen to offers and if that is the case it shows just how much of a gulf in class there is between him and Leno. Which also makes you wonder about the fact we even paid £1.5million for a guy who is clearly not up to scratch. Another strange decision from the football admin team and another one in which we should all be raising our eyebrows at when thinking about their competency. Perhaps we chalk it up to a last ditch effort to get somebody in at the club and it just being a body more than anything else, but it doesn’t really strike me as too clever from a scouting and ‘options’ point of view. I’d have thought the club would have ‘in case of emergency break glass’ players for every position in case a situation like the Martinez one comes up. Yet it doesn’t appear so. Or if Runarsson was one of those players, then they are setting the bar too low.
Anyway, enough pondering on these things for one day. I’ll catch thee all in the morrow. Have a good one.