I’m sure there are some morning’s where Mikel Arteta wakes up and thinks to himself:

“eugh, I have to do a presser today”

I bet after comprehensive victories like Thursday night, yesterday was NOT one of those days. So over he must have sped to London Colney to deliver his virtual conference to the assembled hacks and thanks be to that, because it gives us something to pour over before the game tomorrow.

First and foremost, some team news and with Auba contracting malaria, there is a question over his return. It’s a tough one because we know it is a horrible disease to contract but by the sounds of it the player himself is ok and back at home and wanting to link up with his teammates. I guess the club will have to monitor it but personally I don’t see what there is to be gained to be rushing him back. We have options there, even if we want to rest Lacazette and if I was in Mikel’s position I’d be thinking about a lot of rotation. Not because of fatigue, because there will be some players who will probably be fine, but because I think we need to start looking at other players like Martinelli up top, or Balogun. He might even decide to give Nketiah the nod against Fulham on Sunday, although I suspect that is less likely as it looks like he might be heading out. But you never know; could be one of those “play him to increase his value” or classic “shop window” stuff to get him out there against Fulham.

The heartening news from my perspective was also that Arteta has clearly shown his hand in terms of his thoughts going forward from now on in terms of rotation. He even said yesterday when asked about how it affects our remaining Premier League games: “It has an effect because it is a real challenge playing Thursdays and Sundays it’s a real challenge in terms of recovery, preparation and rotation”. Good. That is showing your hand and saying there will be changes and I am all for that. The Premier League needs to be the test bed environment from which we start to look at some other players who could step up for next season. We’ve had success from Hale End so far so why can’t we have more? Let’s have a look at Balogun. Let’s take a look at Azeez. Let’s have really young players like Charlie Patino on the bench. It is clear to us all now how the Europa League needs to take precedence, so let’s use the remaining Premier League matches to have a look at some other options. We don’t have much money in the summer so if another gem can come through the academy then let’s do it and supplement next season’s squad with some young, hungry players, willing to prove themselves.

He was of course asked about the atmosphere after the Slavia game and of course Arteta talked up both morale and the character the team showed. There are times with which you need the stick to motivate your players for games but right now, after a solid and impressive performance when there was a bit of pressure on to reach a semi final, the team delivered. So of course you need to lean in to the ‘praise’ element of the side. As Arteta himself said it is about winning football matches and that is what we need to be doing to build that momentum. If you’re going in to the semi finals of a European competition in a rich vein of form then you are more like to pop the ball around with a little more swagger, you might take that one touch less which moves the ball around quicker, which can also unsettle your opponent. So whilst I’m advocating having a look at some players in the Premier League this weekend, I wouldn’t go ‘Full House’ on the Hale End players. Perhaps sprinkle one or two in amongst some of the senior pros.

We could certainly do it. I mean if you think about a team that didn’t play on Thursday you could still fill it with experience:

  • Ryan
  • Bellerin
  • Holding (I know he did play but I’m thinking a one to 11 and can’t think of a right-sided centre half who didn’t play or is fit)
  • Gabriel
  • Cedric
  • Elneny
  • Azeez
  • Nelson
  • Odegaard (if fit)
  • Martinelli
  • Balogun

There is a fair few in that side alone that would be senior enough for us to rotate and give some chances to players. I’d be stunned if Arteta did that on Sunday but he might be thinking about maybe one or two from the subs bench, which I think is fair enough. I guess my underlying point here is that we can afford to rotate and I think Arteta should be thinking about just how much he does switch players around this weekend.

He was also asked about how difficult it would be to play Fulham but of course he just batted those away like questions he’s been asked for decades. He’s hardly going to tell the press Fulham will be a walkover, or that our minds are on Europe, so I don’t take much notice of those questions asked if I’m honest.

He also waxed lyrical about Lacazette – rightly so because he put those demons of the first leg to the sword by bagging himself a brace on Thursday – but it was Smith-Rowe’s praise that I liked a lot. He didn’t get too effusive in his praise but that didn’t matter, because in his subtle words I can tell Smith-Rowe is a guy that Arteta loves and as long as we can keep him fit, he’ll be a very important player as the season draws to a close.

Right, I’m offski, so I’ll catch you folks tomorrow for a match preview.