One day to go until the real nerves kick in, eh?
And I do mean REALLY kicking in, because it feels like this game has become even more essential in terms of the potential future of Arsenal; another Sliding Doors moment for the whole team, manager and everyone associated. There were even some pretty spurious rumours that Sarri (via Football Italia) being linked with the Arsenal job as Mikel could leave his post in the summer, but I just don’t see that happening personally. There’s no way Arsenal stick by their man all this time and then bin at the end. Nothing has even remotely suggested that and in fact the hierarchies resolute defence of the manager by sticking by him at every opportunity has become more admirable as the season has gone on.
It doesn’t mean it is right, because if somebody isn’t doing the job then you don’t just stick by them for no reason, but I’ve kind of been ok with the club staying with Arteta and backing him so clearly up until this point in time. Of course a poor performance tomorrow night and a slow and painful meandering to the end of the season won’t help the detractors calling for his head, but whilst I have started to think there is life after Mikel recently, I’m not even sure that I’m in a place where defeat tomorrow will have me calling for him to go.
I’d certainly have to let some dust settle after tomorrow before I was able to crystallize my feelings about the manager; I’m in no doubt his report card would read “D+” on it for his first full season in charge, but there’s still a big part of me that understands the mental situation he’s had as a manager. If only he’d not made mental decisions to go with the stuff out of his control, like the persistence of Willian, hardly playing Martinelli, as well as the lack of a replacement cover at left back for half the season, then I’d probably be even more defiantly backing him for next season. But some of those decisions have just made it more difficult to think this guy is Pepe, Wenger and Ferguson all rolled in to one perfectly formed hair-based human life form.
I guess what I’m also trying to say here is not to judge me if I go all ‘rage-blog’ on Friday, Saturday and Sunday if we’ve been knocked out to Emery’s Villareal. It’ll probably take me at least until next week before I calm down and so I can see it being a bit of a bumpy blog ride for me until at least we’ve played our Premier League dead rubber against West Brom on Sunday evening. Not even the potential for relegating ‘Big Sam’ will provide enough Schadenfreude to see me through at the weekend I reckon.
On the plus side at least we got some training pics of Tierney and Lacazette in full training with the squad yesterday. Whether they are ‘match fit’ or not will obviously be a big question that the manager will have to consider, but with Luiz having gone off having only just returned to the team against the Magpies at the weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them both from the bench. Tierney in particular essentially changes the whole dynamic of our set up. Lacazette and Aubameyang can be interchanged as central striker and so whilst it is good to have him back, we have players and cover in that position to feel his loss less obviously. But Tierney being out has meant our central midfielder being shifted in to the left back position and because of Xhaka’s lack of mobility it has meant Arteta has had to pick players in front of Xhaka on that left hand side who will cover ground that perhaps they wouldn’t normally with Tierney on the pitch. The left back also offers more going forward and will overlap and press higher than Xhaka at left back. So having Tierney playing is not just a natural player in a natural position, but also a complete shift in the way in which we build up play as well as how we can approach that left hand side of the pitch.
So Mikel has a real dilemma on what to do with Tierney being back in contention. My gut feel says that he will be a sub and that we should be looking for perhaps 20 minutes at the end of the game. But a lot of this speculation on who plays where will be rendered irrelevant if Arteta takes to the stage for his pre match presser and declares that Kieran won’t be able to start tomorrow.
Perhaps he won’t do that though? Perhaps he will leave it all a little grey because he knows how much time Emery spends looking at his opponent. Given what I’ve just been talking about with our style of play changing if he’s in the side, leaving that element of doubt in Emery’s mind on how he should set up could well play in to our hands? Maybe I’m just trying to look for psychological advantages that aren’t really there. But when you have a game of such importance as this one tomorrow, then you do start to overthink things, which is fine as a fan as long as our manager isn’t planning on doing the same. He’s tried too often to be too clever this season with his deployment of players and in the first leg it could have cost us worse than it did. So hopefully Arteta leans a little in to what he’s learned from Wenger and just goes with the most natural and best available fit players from the start tomorrow.
We don’t need a game of chess. None of us can probably handle the stress.
Catch you wonderful people tomorrow.