Ahh man….my head hurts…four hours at the pub yesterday afternoon and a tomahawk steak for dinner and I have all the meat sweats and head pains.
What I could really do with now is a bit of greasy food and then an Arsenal lunchtime win. I really don’t want my brain to hurt more because we’ve fluffed up yet another Premier League game at home.
There used to be a time where a game like today would see me merrily pop on the Met Line then the Victoria Line to Highbury & Islington, meet Steve Mark, Andrew and sometimes Giles at The Duchess of Kent on Liverpool Road, have a little natter and not even think twice about the hangover or opponents like Fulham. Broadly speaking we’ve tended to dispatch teams like this at home back in the old days. Even when we’ve been terrible we still seem to win these types of games. But this season, with this team, you just have no idea what Arsenal are going to show up. We could be as bad today as we were good on Thursday. Equally we could continue the good run of form by scoring goals and keeping a clean sheet. If you’re a betting man/woman you stay well away from a game like today because the margins and the value just isn’t there.
Arteta has some thinking to do about how he sets his team up though. I talked yesterday about rotating practically the whole team today and getting some of the young players in from Hale End, but I can’t see that happening en masse today, because I still think Mikel will pick a more senior side. Whilst there is still the slimmest of chances we could climb a few places in the league (we are four points from Everton and five from the Scum going in to this game and we play Everton at home next Friday) I think Mikel will have a go with the first team today. Maybe there will be a sprinkling of rotation but I don’t see it for the whole XI.
For example, I think Arteta will play Leno, Holding, Partey and Lacazette today. Leno always plays anyway, Holding is our only real right centre back option and he won’t have done as much running as Chambers at right back last Thursday, Partey has missed plenty of the season so he shouldn’t be seeing a much fatigue and Lacazette has hit a bit of a purple patch so with Aubameyang still out from his malaria I think the Frenchman will get the nod.
So I think the team will be:
Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric
Partey – Ceballos
Pepe – Smith-Rowe – Willian
It’s certainly not what I’d pick, but I just have a hunch Willian will be given ANOTHER shot at not f*cking up today. He will fail because he has done so all season, but we all know it is an experiment which Arteta seems to want to keep plugging away at. Maybe he’s thinking that a broken clock is right at least twice a day, maybe Willian can put in a good performance at least twice a season, in this instance against the same opponent that had us all purring about him when the season kicked off all those months ago.
Personally I’d be opting for Xhaka and Partey in midfield and that could still happen, as could playing the likes of Saka or Martinelli. I will be pleasently surprised if Martinelli does start on the left, that’s for sure and if he does then I think it is better for Lacazette. It ensures he has pace and runners around him and creativity and movement behind in the form of ESR. Odegaard is still out injured but hopefully he’ll be back for the Everton game next Friday and so for today I suspect Arteta will be thinking about ESR playing from the start. We just don’t look as good when we don’t have one of him or Odegaard in that connector role. So can Arteta afford to rest him today? I’m not sure.
As for Fulham, they will play with a youthful side and ‘Scotty’ Scott Parker has already said his team will play with energy and resilience this lunchtime. They will know that Arsenal have just come back from a trip on Thursday and so they could probably outmatch us on distance covered if we play a similar line up to the side that rocked up in Prague. He’s said that Fulham will take the game to us and so we need to be prepared for that. Fulham have scored just 24 goals all season, which is the second worst behind Sheffield United, and their last six games has seen one win and fave defeats. But in some of their games lately they’ve been better than the result suggests and I think we’ll see evidence of that this lunchtime. They’ll want to press and harry us and will be aggressive in trying to win the ball back, so when space appears we have to exploit it. It’s why we need to have a connector like Smith Rowe on the pitch and it’s why we need to surround Lacazette with pace, because that could have a big difference if we’re able to hit Fulham on the counter in transition. Particularly in those wide forward spaces.
Hopefully we can make it three wins in a row and hopefully we’ll also get to see another clean sheet. That would be lovely.
Catch you wonderful humans tomorrow with a review of what unfolded.