And now we play the waiting game….That game of course is every Arsenal fan collectively holding our breaths as we wait patiently for either the club, or Arteta, to give us an idea on who is fit and who isn’t ahead of a massive game against Slavia Prague tomorrow night. He’ll have to tell us something today because I suspect the team will be travelling at some stage probably later this afternoon, so I’m expecting some kind of update, mainly because if players aren’t fit then there is no point in them boarding a plane.
It’s funny because I don’t remember ever being as nervous ahead of a bloody team update. Probably because it feels like this game is the Sword of Damocles hanging over Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal managerial career. Or at least it should be, because if we’re undertaking a review of the seaosn in June and it says “knocked out to Southampton in the FA Cup, knocked out to Man City in the Man City Cup, knocked out of the Europa League to Slavia Prague and finished 11th”, well, let’s just say there won’t be too many people clamouring to grab their copy of the season review download for a re-watch. It will look pretty bleak and there won’t be that many of us normal Arsenal fans who can make a case that Arteta has improved us. We all know about the injuries, the lack of funds due to COVID (still got £45mil for Partey though), as well as the fact that he got handed a cardful of duffers in his squad, but the summer will see a lot of raised eyebrows from Arsenal fans the world over if he’s talking about anything other than a complete failure of a season.
And here we are, this game tomorrow potentially one of the defining moments of the season, with a bunch of players who are dropping like flies into the medical room at London Colney. I just hope that when Mikel walks into Arsenal’s training ground this morning he heads straight over there to find just Kieran, David L and Bob the cleaner mopping up the tiled floors. I have a fear that won’t be the case though. My fear is that it is standing room only and that has a big impact on our chances of progression tomorrow.
We need guile tomorrow evening. We need options. We have the good news that Martinelli posted a picture of himself in training yesterday, so at least that doesn’t give Mikel the excuse that Willian plays by matter of fact that he’s the default guy with so many injured. And if we are missing a fair few of the 19-20 year-old’s that Mikel talked about as a reason we can’t play them all, then that excuse is out the window if none of ESR, Saka and Odegaard make the trip. We saw against Sheffield United that Martinelli is still raw, he makes mistakes, maybe his positioning isn’t always where Arteta needs him to be. But, by Jove, i’d take a guy who has end product than one that waddles around on the left hand side with just an occasional in-field square pass to a team mate to put to his stat-padding. There are no ‘ifs’ nor ‘buts’ for tomorrow. All the ‘technical security’ in the world doesn’t get you in to the next round of the Europa if you aren’t going to roll the dice and take your chances with players that deliver end product.
It will be interesting to see – after Mikel has delivered his verdict on player availability – as to whether he’s also asked about replicating the approach to the Sheffield United game. Xhaka at left back was fine, but that was when the opponent had no real threat on our left hand side. If Xhaka is isolated 1-v-1 against the likes of Sima then he’s going to get roasted all day. There were some noises going around on the socials yesterday evening that Sima might be out for the game. If true then that would be a boost for us, but I’m not expecting or hoping for any major boosts like that to be honest with you. We aren’t allowed to have nice things or fortunate things happen to us as Arsenal fans, so I’m fully expecting a near full-strength Slavia Prague side due to be available for our game against them.
And how the mighty have fallen, eh? When you’re starting to pray that Slavia Prague are hit with injuries to boost our chances. The reality is that we should have put this game to bed in the first leg and we totally sh*t the bed. What I’d like from Arteta’s press conference today is an acknowledgement from him on that – even if just a subtle one – with some kind of assurances that the team that gets picked tomorrow will have a level of intensity that we SHOULD have seen in the first leg.
Let’s see what he says about the game a little later though. One things for sure; we simply cannot afford a repeat of what we saw last Thursday.
Catch you wonderful human beings tomorrow with a match preview, views on line up, as well as how we might approach this game.