I don’t know whether or not it is because I have the rest of my Sunday ahead of me and therefore plenty of other things to occupy me ahead of the game at 4.30pm later this afternoon, or that I have a stinking hangover and therefore my thought priorities are being monopolised by finding a way to stop this pounding headache that has enveloped my skull, but as it stands I don’t feel nervous about the game against Leeds today.
Perhaps it is some kind of misplaced optimism that I am feeling, which Arsenal will surely contrive to rectify when the high intensity and pressing Marco Biesla’s side take to the Emirates pitch. Whatever it is, it is nice not to have that horrible nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Hopefully I can maintain that for the whole day. I’m not couting on it though.
Maybe it is the fact that deep down I know this result is important for morale only, because our league campaign feels pretty over right now. Even Mikel said that Europe is going to be tough now so it feels like he knows that we are heading for a mid table mediocrity season. But even that could quickly change unless we start picking up some results. Back-to-back defeats turning into three in a row becomes a very serious issue if we lose today, because we have Man City and Leicester City in our next two league matches and with those two at the top of the table right now it feels like we won’t see much return from those matches. So, like I say, this game today feels more about morale than points, because we could find ourselves at the end of February having lost five in a row unless we stop the potential rot today.
It is why I have some sympathy for Mikel because not only does he have key injuries, but he also has to contend with a really tough set of fixtures over the next two weeks, with Benfica away from home twice (effectively) sandwiched in between the City and Leicester games. Does he prioritise that idweek game over this one today? I don’t see how he can when you take into account the run we are on. So whilst I wouldn’t be averse to a little rotation today, I don’t think Arteta can go too far, because that would really cause issues in terms of our ability to stop this potential bad run of form being extended.
I think he’ll go with the same back four that played against Villa. Luiz might come in for Gabriel but I do wonder if Luiz will be ‘saved’ for Benfica and also Gabriel needs more game time. He is the future of The Arsenal and the back line and David Luiz is not, so you don’t really want to relegate him to the subs bench. Maybe we’ll even see Pablo Mari come in but I feel like Gabriel would be the right call. So it’ll be Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel and Cedric as our back four. Then in front of them after Granit Xhaka you really do have a bit of a mess because the options of Ceballos or Elneny feel like being offered a filling in your bacon roll of diarrhoea or vomit. You don’t want either ideally, thank you very much. But somebody will have to go in there and I think it will be Ceballos, who will do his usual thing of going wandering all over the pitch and taking about 28 touches before releasing the ball. It hardly fills one with much inspiration, does it?
At least Arteta’s attacking options are there though and after drawing a blank against Villa he needs to have his front line hitting the onion bag today. For me that means Pepe on the left and Saka on the right, but who plays number 10 and as the central striker? I’d go with Smith-Rowe and Aubameyang I think. Auba’s form has hardly been amazing but he was out for 14 days and has been finding his way back in to the team and after a couple of games in which Lacazette appears to have reverted to the ‘meh’ striker we saw earlier in the season, I would play the Gabonese and have him surrounded by the aforementioned pace to see if that has an impact on the positions he takes up and the runs he makes. He is a deadly striker in the box and that is what we need with the chances we are going to get so for me he should play today and let’s see if we can get him back up and scoring.
But there are attacking options on the bench and in Martinelli and Odegaard we have players who can come in if needed and we don’t have to see Willian at all. That doesn’t mean we won’t get the seemingly obligatory 15 minutes in which he comes on at the end, offers nothing, misplaces a few passes and we are back talking about why we ever signed him, but there you go.
As for Leeds, we know they will create chances today, because they’ve been doing it all season. Alioski has already made a joke about seeing his ‘mate’ Pepe again so be prepared for the gamesmanship and avoid any silly fouls or actions that will give referee Stuart Atwell the decision to send off, give a penalty, or anything else that could damage our chances.
They will look to drive everything through Kalvin Phillips, who whilst he limped out of their last game against Palace, you just know will be absolutely fine today. It’s like the rules or something. So we will need to ensure that he cannot distribute from deep and hit us with balls into channels for the likes of Rafinha to get on today. Leeds will commit bodies forward though so whilst I expect us to have more ball and try to exert pressure, where we might see the best opportunities for us might come in transition if a Leeds attack breaks down. If we find ourselves being able to counter, we have to make better decisions in the final third and that really good chance we had with Lacazette messing up a pass to Saka when he should have played in Pepe comes to mind. Better decision making leading to goal scoring opportunities in the final third. That will be key today.
Let’s hope we get it.
Catch you all tomorrow.