Before I get into the usual ramblings, have a look at these little beauties from a mate of mine Gav – Arsenal-related beer mats. Kinda funky.
There’s no update on team news ahead of today’s pretty meaningless game away at Newcastle today and given the fact that the club is on a social media blackout I we won’t find out until Sky announce the team line up an hour before the game, which is a novel way of doing it. Less instant rage and responding with a retweet; it’ll be like the old days when you’d not become offended by everything and just turn up and watch the football!
Except it’s difficult for me to get too stressed about this game. If we win we’ll go ninth and if we lose we’ll stay 11th. We’re the very definition of a frustrating mid-table team and whilst Mikel has spoken of the amount of things he has had to deal with since becoming manager – all of which are true – his decision making at times has been baffling and that is what has caused fans like me to drop a little bit of the faith that saw me wanting to ‘trust the process’ only just a few short months ago.
But today is a free hit for the boss. Today won’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things, but he still needs to make the right decisions to prepare us for both Thursday, but also next season. We need to start making decisions on players and as Arteta admitted in that article I linked above, it is one of the most important summers we have because of the sheer volume of work that needs to be done.
So Arteta needs to be using these practically dead rubbers to take a look at players for next season. Is that Matty Ryan as a back up? Maybe. I’d be tempted to give him a go today. I’d also want to have a look at an alternative option at left back, because we can’t have Xhaka out there again getting roasted by Chuklwueze. The good news is that because of Ceballos’ suspension in the second leg against Villareal, he won’t be able to stink out the midfield, which will surely mean a return for Xhaka to the middle of the park. With that in mind Arteta should be using today’s game as a test-bed environment. Let’s put Cedric in there, or even test what Gabriel is like playing left back. If Arteta doesn’t trust Cedric then the Brazilian could do a similar job to Xhaka at left back and he certainly has more pace and mobility to deal with a tricky winger. But you have to test it first so I’d be tempted to give it a go. If it passes the test today then it could be an option on Thursday if Tierney isn’t fit. If Tierney can play today then great, let’s give him 20 – 30 minutes and see how he gets through it. Then you can make your decision on Thursday.
It is time for experimentation today but it is also time to get minutes in to players legs. Like Luiz. Perhaps Arteta starts him and gives him 60 minutes with a view to using that as a test to play him on Thursday. Luiz is a better defender than Holding and the Englishman had a poor game along with Mari last Thursday. The ideal pairing should therefore be Luiz and Gabriel but if you’re testing Gabriel as a possible left back, then Luiz and Mari might be worth a go.
In midfield I think we should return to Xhaka and Partey today. Ceballos could maybe play because he won’t play on Thursday and perhaps there’s a case for him instead of Partey to rest the Ghanaian’s legs, but I just don’t really want the chaos of Ceballos just now. I’d happily not see much of him for the rest of the season to be honest.
Then we come to the front four in a 4-2-3-1 formation and this is interesting. I think Lacazette and Auba – assuming they are fit – should share minutes and I’d be starting Laca and giving him 70, then giving Auba the last 20. He won’t be fully at it because of the malaria, but ,ore minutes in Auba’s legs will be better for all involved and if it makes him a more viable option from the bench on Thursday then that’s all the better for me. If you want to use it as an experimental game though, then play Balogun. Or at least give him some minutes from the bench. Here’s the problem though, I’ve already talked about Auba, about Luiz, about Tierney and now Balogun as options from the bench! Boy, how we could do with that five subs rule from last season now, eh?
Martinelli could also be a shout, but I’d be playing him from the start today, as I would Odegaard, to get his fitness back as he looked a little rusty. Pepe hasn’t played as much as Saka and Smith-Rowe lately so I’d have him playing, perhaps on the right so for me I’d go with Pepe on the right, Odegaard through the middle, then Martinelli on the left with Lacazette or Balogun up top. I doubt Balogun will be fast-tracked though. The one thing we all know about Arteta is that he has his hierarchies and Balogun is down that pecking order; it’ll more likely be Nketiah than it would be Flo.
As for Newcastle, well, they’ve hit a little bit of form lately and a win today will practically guarantee them safety for next season. I think they’ll get it because I don’t see Fulham and West Brom picking up maximum points in their remaining games, but they will be fired up for this one to secure a win at home against an Arsenal team with one eye on Europe. The good news is that they don’t have their Saviour-inChief Joe Willock, who is ineligible for this game and that takes away some goals from midfield. They will rely on Saint-Maximin and probably Calum Wilson to be their main threat. Newcastle will likely lean in to that to try and hit us on the counter and if Arteta persists with slow full backs then it will likely cause us a problem.
I would normally fancy our chances at Newcastle as we have a good record up there, but it feels like a standard mid-table Arsenal snooze fest today, so I suspect we might see a low-scoring draw. Hopefully I’m wrong. Would be useful to get a win to help the morale ahead of Thursday.
Catch you lovely people tomorrow with a post-match wash up.