Before I talk about the game Arsenal are playing today, can I just take this opportunity once again to bemoan the absolute travesty that is the state of refereeing in the Premier League right now. Yesterday’s game between West Brom and Brighton involved an incident in which a referee – Lee Mason – decided to blow his whistle twice on a free kick, allow the quickly taken free kick to stand, then disallow the same decision. It is yet another example of the incompetence of our collective of referees and serves to highlight that we have a body in the PGMOL that is not fit for purpose, with a collective of members refereeing at the top of the game who are equally unfit to effectively deliver proper management of football matches in our country. Led by Mike Riley, it is a closed-shop ‘old boys club’ with no accountability and no signs of any improvements for decades. Riley was a terrible referee and he has let his organisation deliver equally terrible and incompetent individuals to administer the laws of the game. Until something is done about the PGMOL I’m afraid we’re just going to continue to see situations like the one that unfolded at the Hawthorns yesterday.
But back to our chief concern today as Arsenal fans, which is the away game we face against Leicester City. I think we should probably have a dose of realism about today’s game, because personally I’m not expecting too much from Arsenal today, away to Leicester. Form wise we are patchy at best and so that is a consideration, but in addition to that Arteta will have questions for his team that he needs to answer in terms of fatigue of his players and who needs to be rotated. I’ve seen quite a lot of people talk about how these are professional athletes and tiredness shouldn’t even be a consideration for men in their late teens, 20s and 30s. But when we talk about fatigue we’re talking about mental more than physical fatigue. It’s the tiredness that leads to lac of concentration and with an Arsenal team that certainly suffers from concentration issues at the best of times, the onset of it as a result of fatigue is a worry. There is also the issue of risking injury. Fatigue can manifest itself by your body breaking down and when you are relying on certain players to be fit for the culmination of this Premier League season, risking them in a game like today is, I think, not really worth it.
That’s why I would be thinking about rotating some players today. I would be telling Saka and Aubameyang to take a seat from the start, that’s for sure. I’d probably also think about Smith-Rowe as an option for the bench. The kid has had an injury-hit career so far and the reason we all said we wanted Odegaard is because we want to keep him fresh and ensure he doesn’t get overloaded and end up with injuries so today, after a trip to Greece on Thursday and an early kick off, we should be looking at shuffling our pack a little I think.
So my team for today would look a little like this: Leno, Cedric, Holding, Pablo Mari, Tierney, Partey, Xhaka, Pepe, Odegaard, Martinelli, Lacazette. It isnn’t my favourite team but it is a team that ensures enough rotation that we will have fresher legs. Plus, if we need to, we will have options on the bench with the likes of Saka, Aubameyang and Smith-Rowe on the bench. My thinking in this line up is that Tierney has had a bit of time out and so we should be looking at getting him more minutes under his belt, but I’d be equally happy with Bellerin coming in and Cedric slotting in as a left back to give Tierney a rest and not risk him breaking down having just got back. The situation with Partey is different and that’s why I think he should start in this game. He came back and got 15 minutes against Benfica and so tiredness shouldn’t be an issue for the Ghanaian and Xhaka doesn’t seem to ever suffer with too much fatigue and so he will probably slot back in. I’ve mentioned my thoughts on Odegaard starting and I’d have him behind a rotated Lacazette, who would have willing runners with Pepe left and Martinelli right.
Sadly I doubt this will be the team because Mikel will almost certainly want to wedge Willian in there somewhere. I just hope it isn’t on the left if he does and if Willian once again stinks the place out on the right hand side, I hope that Mikel makes a decision quicker to use his subs.
In the return game this season at the Emirates Leicester staged somewhat of a smash and grab against us with a late goal from Jamie Vardy coming off from the bench to get his customary goal against Arsenal. It is almost inevitable that he will score today and I wonder if Brendan Rodgers is tempted to play him from the start or if he will look to replicate his explosive pace and form against us in the latter stages of the match today. Vardy played on Thursday night for the full 90 in their defeat to Slavia Prague, so whilst we have considerations on rotation, that must be the same for Rodgers too. Vardy is 34 years old and playing twice in three days has to be something Rodgers is mindful of because the Englishman is still so important to their attempt at grabbing a Champions League spot this season.
Leicester have plenty of injury concerns too. Thier main creative man Maddison is out injured and whilst that is a boost for us, they still have the likes of Tielemans and Barnes who are fit and can find those passes to set Vardy through if he plays. They might be missing Fofana, Morgan, Maddison, Perez, but they still have plenty of firepower; enough to make me feel like getting a result today is probably an outside bet rather than a no brainer to chuck a few quid on the Arsenal winning.
Let’s just hope we don’t gift Leicester something easy. We did that twice against Benfica, we did it against Man City, we did it for the second goal against Leeds and also the goal Villa scored at Villa Park. We shoot ourselves in the foot so I just want us to not do anything stupid today. But I know the likelihood is that we probably will.
Which is why there will be more pressure on our front line today, whoever it is, to produce. We haven’t created enough chances all season and that is something we need to get over, particularly today, because it already feels like we are one down with Vardy playing!
I don’t hold out too much hope for today and I think all of our eggs are in the Europa League basket, but what I do want to see is more signs of progress, so let’s see what Arteta and his charges can deliver. Up the Arsenal!