Morning folks. Happy Tuesday n’all that jazz. Hope you and yours are doing fine. We’re at T-minus ten days and counting until the kick of to the Premier League season and I don’t know about you, but I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation about the season ahead.
What isn’t helping is that it feels like we’re largely going in to this season with practically the same team as the one that hobbled us in to 8th in the league and with every Arsenal fan holding their collective breath that Thomas Partey is somehow fit enough to play for that opener away at Brentford. When you have Arteta saying that “it’s not good” then you tend to think the worst. Partey was pictured in the evening without any kind of protective boot or hobbling at all, which is about the only positive we’ve seen so far.
He will have had his scan yesterday and so they’ll have been analysing the results yesterday and probably today no doubt. Whether we get the Ghanaian back for the start of the season remains to be seen, but given how impressive he’s been in pre season, precaution has to be the name of the game here. There’s no way he should be anywhere near the pitch at the weekend against the Scum. He should have a dozen horse placentas strapped to that ankle and be in a cryogenic chamber surrounded by bubble wrap right now.
The reason why he is so important is that after last season we’re all hoping and praying for so much from him. As I mentioned already, the reason I feel a little nervous about this season is because the options for Arteta haven’t really changed much. He can bring White in for Holding, which should be an upgrade we hope, but other than that it is the same group of players.
Now, the good news is that it is not the same players who were favoured last season. We won’t be seeing the likes of Willian, for example, plus we have Smith Rowe who has broken through. The team that finished last season were certainly in better form than the one that stunk the place out in November and most of December. But I look at the fact that Elneny got so many minutes on Sunday and has done all season and that worries me. Like, a lot, I have to tell you. He is not a player who should be anywhere near the first team at this stage and the fact we’ve seen a few impressive cameo’s from Sambi Lokonga makes me think that he should be starting alongside Granit Xhaka in a week on Friday.
Yes he’s young. Yes he’s only just joined a new team. Yes he’s in a new league and yes the Premier League is the hardest league in the world. But we paid £17million+ for this lad and he’s been captain of Anderlecht for over a season. That tells me he’s got some broad shoulders and should be given an opportunity as soon as possible.
What we’ve seen from Elneny in the last two games has been a couple of mistakes and, as usual, nothing spectacular at all. In the 20 minutes that Sambi was on at the weekend he looked calm, assured, plus played a pretty tasty ball in to Pepe who was only just beaten to it by a Chelski player. That’s what Partey has been doing all summer. That progressive passing has been what Partey has delivered for us and whilst we are all hoping that he’s back for Brentford, if he isn’t, surely Mikel can’t opt for a Xhaka/Elneny midfield?
It would be slow. It would be able to be breezed past when we don’t have the ball and it’d only take one physical and athletic midfielder with a bit of pace to expose just how ponderous that midfield pairing would be. But my worry is that Mikel does have his hierarchies. He does like to do things his way and can be quite stubborn; so unless Partey is fit for that Brentford game, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Elneny and Xhaka trudge their way through the middle of the park at the Brentford Community Stadium. I hope I’m wrong.
Even a Sambi/Xhaka midfield could look pretty good if the youngster is racking up the metres on the pitch given Xhaka can’t. Let Sambi play and let’s see whether he is a good foil for the Swiss. One thing we can certainly do this weekend coming up, which is to give Sambi at least an hour against the Scum. What would we have to lose? We know what we’re going to get with Elneny. He’s had loads of minutes already so fitness-wise he doesn’t need minutes in his belt. But we need to see that Sambi can deliver for more than 20 minute bursts. If he’s going to stand a chance of starting against Brentford in the absence of Partey, I think that is the telling sign, in the game against that horrible lot in their toilet bowl stadium.
I also thought we bought Sambi as the Partey understudy, no? It certainly looked that way given the two’s respective profiles. Alright, we thought there might be a few weeks, or even months, before he would be needed and surely the preference would have been to bed him in and give him cameo minutes at the start of the season, but we have to roll the dice at some stage. Plus, if we’re going to lose Partey for the AFCON, the more minutes Sambi gets before Christmas, the better, because he’s got at least a month of game time with Xhaka as his partner (assuming he stays at the club and stays fit too) in January and February, so we simply MUST be thinking about him for opening weekend. Another start to the season with Elneny getting minutes ahead of him gives us nothing in the long run.
First and foremost though, we need to see what’s happening with Partey, which hopefully we get some positive news on within the next 24-48 hours.
I’ll leave it there and catch you all tomorrow.