Morning folks, hope you’re all good, albeit rather chilly if you’re in the UK like I am. My soft desk-jockey exterior wasn’t cut out for anything other than mild incremental weather and so the fact that it is in the minus here in London isn’t exactly conducive to me being at my most productive. So if today’s blog is even more incoherent than usual I can only apologise to you, lovely reader, and promise that from Monday when the weather returns to normality, normal service will have resumed.
Whether that is the case with Arsenal on Sunday against Leeds I am not so sure. But then again, I am not sure what ‘normal service’ is with this Arsenal team. Is it the horror stuff we were seeing before Christmas, or was it the mini revival we saw from Boxing Day until the last 10 days?
Obviously we’re all hoping for the latter and I think Mikel will be acutely aware of the importance of getting goals and victories under our belts after back-to-back defeats. The Wolves one you can compartmentalise; we were shafted by some poor refereeing decisions and a bit of bad luck/judgement, but the Villa game still worries me enough that I am concerned we might retreat back into the low-chance creating, low-scoring side that laboured in so many matches earlier in the season.
It is a trouble that Arteta will want to rectify and yesterday he was up in front of the Zoom-assembled media to give his thoughts on form as well as the injuries we have suffered and other things. I have said this already this season: I think Arteta has been pretty unlucky since he arrived and since he arrived it has felt like it’s been one problem after the other. He even said himself that he does not think there has been a game in which he could field the same XI three times in a row. Some of that has been the stupidity of his own players and other stuff – like the absences of Partey and Tierney of late – have just been rotten luck. But I’m sure he more than anyone else will probably have a sense of relief when this first season is over and he can get his players together for an extended bit of pre season for next year.
There is still some work to be done for this season I suppose, which is why we are looking ahead at this Leeds game and as you’d expect Arteta had plenty of positive things to say, including how brave they are and dynamic in their attacking intent. No real surprises there, but it will be interesting and I suspect surprising to see who he picks to start on Sunday. I have a feeling it will be similar to the Villa game because he talked up the improvement in Pepe, he mentioned once again that in the last couple of games it has been an ‘unusual’ way in which we’ve lost the games, so I suspect his message on the training ground – when they’ve been able to get out there because of the conditions and the snow – will have been that we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing in recent weeks.
But momentum can very easily be lost in football and if we lose against Leeds tomorrow we will probably be staring down the barrel of a barren run with City and Leicester away on the horizon. So whilst I’m sure nobody is pressing the panic button just yet, this could tank quickly, so I hope he has a master plan for Biesla and his Leeds side. He did mention how Leeds have been punished on set pieces this season and so perhaps that is something he is thinking we should be making more of, but given our terrible corners and the fact it appears we are simply not allowed 50% of the penalties we should get, I am not holding out too much hope that it’ll be a fruitful avenue for us tomorrow early evening.
There’s a couple of other things I just want to touch on before I leave you for another day, the first of which is the squad question, which he was asked about in terms of the number of injuries being picked up by teams at the moment. Many teams have suffered due to the truncated nature and demands of this season, but Mikel was asked whether we should have bigger squads this season, perhaps a comment on the 25 man squad rule. I found his answer fascinating and quite telling actually; he essentially said it is difficult because you need to be able to have everybody feeling part of the team and feeling important. I wonder if this was a subtle nod to the fact that our bloated squad from the summer that needed to be trimmed was not healthy for overall team morale? Of course he would never admit that directly but I do think his answer gave a sprinkling of that in his mind. There’s no doubt that it was unhelpful to have expensive players sat doing nothing and that from a size perspective we look better now, but as we all know there is still so much more work to do this summer.
Not least in the striking positions and one of his final questions he was asked was about Balogun and his position at Arsenal. Arteta once again – rather empathetically I thought – that he was confident that Balogun would be staying this season and that he thought the player had played a lot more than people had expected this season. It was a very positive response given that all the noises we have heard have been about him signing pre-contract agreements in Germany, or about other clubs coming to poach him when his deal expires, like the likes of Liverpool, for example. Personally I think the ship has sailed and I think if Balogun thought he had a future at The Arsenal he probably would have signed on. Perhaps it it a bit of brinkmanship from the agent in leaving it until the last possible moment, like this agent did with Saka, but Saka was getting game time so it was an easier sell than this one. Unless there have been some secret meetings to explain that Lacazette will be sold and Eddie too in the summer to make room for him – which I totally do not believe the club would do in terms of giving him that much information – then I don’t know why he would be so keen to stay if I’m honest. If I thought that I was behind four players in the pecking order and probably only one would go in the summer and yet I’d been courted by dozens of pretty impressive sides in Europe, I’d be thinking about my options elsewhere.
I also think that Mikel is just putting on a brave front for the sake of the player. If Mikel admitted he will probably leave or that he thought he would leave, the player would probably get all kinds of abuse from idiots pertaining to be Arsenal fans online. In a week in which he himself admitted to some pretty nasty stuff, as well as the last few weeks of racial abuse of players like Marcus Rashford, it perhaps makes sense to pretend that all is positive to at least save the human being the abuse of some vile keyboard warriors.
I think that’s it from me for another one. Off to do my weekly chores and see how roaring I can make my fire this afternoon.