Morning folks and welcome to Saturday. And it’s a slightly different blog today because it appears as though not only we have a match to digest at lunchtime, but also a signing and one more that seems virtually on the way.
On the one that is on the way – Odegaard – I’d like to take some personal credit here, because it feels like every time I say “nope, that ain’t happening, can’t see how”, well of course the football fates stick two fingers up to me and push it through. That’s what came out yesterday and it seems Arsenal just need to fly the player over and a loan deal is agreed. It’s a sensible move too. Young, hungry player, with whom we have not spent a fortune on and if it doesn’t work out we send back and go again in the summer with a new target. But I’ll talk a little more about that when it happens. Right now, let’s focus on the actual loan signing we made, which was that of Maty Ryan from Brighton.
This is a good move. He has been a good ‘keeper for them and I do remember one or two very good games he had for Brighton against us. He’s also apparently good playing the ball out from the back and if he can get a few games before now and the end of the season then he may even fancy his chances of a permanent deal. We can offer him a better chance of playing because we should have more games than Brighton between now and the end of the season and added to that he also has one year left on his deal in the summer, so if he makes an impression I would imagine that Arsenal would be tempted to take up the offer.
The key for him though would be game time. If he wants to be a number one then he might go somewhere else, but as it stands right now this works for us, it works for him, it doesn’t really work as well for Brighton but they’ve obviously decided to do something which is best for the player, which is fair enough.
He’s an Arsenal fan too, so that’s a nice little bonus, as well as kind of making me hope he smashes it here and earns a deal he wants to take.
Maybe he’ll even start in a few hours? You never know. After all, he trained yesterday, so Arteta has him as an option and I do think he travelled with the squad. Let’s see.
So, to the game then, eh? A Saturday one too at that. Love a Saturday game, me. That’s probably because it feels like we never get any more so despite the fact it’s at a ridiculously early time of 12.15pm today, I am still glad we’ve got a Saturday game, not least because it gives me time to get over a disappointing defeat if it happens in the cup!
I kid, I kid….or…maybe….
Anyhoo, it is FA Cup fourth round day today and we play Southampton at St Mary’s in quite an intriguing game, given that we also play them on Tuesday night. I don’t know why, but I feel like the pressure for this game might be off a bit and I hope that the players feel like that today. Winning the FA Cup has kind of been our ‘thing’ but in my head I would rather be picking up points in the league right now if I’m honest. The table is so congested that it feels like a number of wins in a row in the league would see us quickly climb up that table and with the games we have coming up, if some kind of deity said to me that we had to lose one from our next six, I’d probably choose this one.
I know, I know, sacrilege and all that jazz. But it’s just how I feel. The FA Cup has been kind to us and we’ve picked it up more than anybody else, but it is also a competition that sees you qualify for Europe if you win it. So I should be more nervous and getting more worked up than I am. But I just am not for some reason. Let’s see what happens in a few hours though, eh?
Perhaps it is because I think both managers will undertake a little bit of squad rotation today in their line ups? I think Arteta will certainly be looking at giving opportunities to some of the fringe players and so I wonder if there will be spots for the likes of Pepe and Willian today? Or Gabriel? He certainly has some options. If it were me I’d give Ryan that debit start in goal, Cedric at right back – with a view to rotating for Bellerin on Tuesday – Luiz and Gabriel in the middle, then probably think long and hard as to whether Tierney can play both matches. If he can’t, I’d think about Maitland-Niles in at left back and tell him that he’s got another opportunity to erase the poor performance from Palace.
Of course one option Arteta could toy with, which I wouldn’t be completely against, would be to go three at the back and play with Cedric and Ainsley as wing-backs. Maitland-Niles is certainly more comfortable there and it is, after all, the formation that saw us win the FA Cup and him play such an important role in doing so. But despite that, it seems a little bit over-engineered to switch the entire shape of the team, just to accommodate a player who is a replacement for our main left back. It would also mean removing a creative player as we’d need another centre half slotting in. So I’d be surprised if that happened today.
In midfield, again, there is the question as to whether Partey plays both games and personally I’d start with Xhaka and Ceballos and save him for the league game. Ceballos did ok in his last outing and our midfield wasn’t the problem against Palace, it was our attack, but this game will be very different today I suspect. I’d be surprised if Southampton sit in a low block and so our attacking players might get a little more green grass to run in to. That’s why I am hoping Pepe starts and shows he is capable of delivering a performance. We need him to. A low-confidence Pepe is no good for anybody associated with The Arsenal.
On the other flank I’d be really tempted to go with the returning Martinelli because I think his hard running could bear fruit if Southampton do attack us more. If he finds space to run he will do just that and if you play him today you can also have him as an impact sub on Tuesday. Feels like that makes sense to me. So in that case the only question is who plays up top. Does Arteta give Eddie some minutes? Or does he pick one of Auba or Laca. I am really not sure on this one but my gut tells me he goes with one of the two experienced forwards. I’d be ok with both but I wonder if Auba will get the nod.
In terms of Southampton, like I say, I think it’ll be some rotation. But who that is I just don’t know, mainly because I don’t know their squad that well. But I think Hassenhuttl will keep some of his key players, so for me that means Ward-Prowse, Adams and Ings, but the question is whether he goes with Walcott, for example. Southampton apparently have quite a few injuries so will be missing the likes of Romeu and Redmond I believe, so that might force him to play a stronger team and rotate less. But he’ll surely be mindful of playing a full strength team and then going again against an Arsenal team that may have been rested. We’ll see.
It’s an intriguing one, a competition we like, hopefully we get some good news, but we’ll have to see.
Catch y’all tomorrow for some post match thoughts.