Match-day! Whoop! After gawd knows how long, we finally have a game with a full house of fans and even though I’m on a stag weekend in Edinburgh and none of the gents are football fans, there’s no way I won’t be watching tonight’s game from my phone.
It’s an irritating one because Brentford is right round the corner to me and so I’d have liked to have gone to this one, but because of timing it makes it pretty difficult, so I’ll just have to contend with watching from afar. Hopefully Brentford can stay up and I can have an away day next season, because that would be handy, particularly the tube journey home!
I quite like Brentford. I think a lot of people do. They’ve come a long way and it’d be nice for their model to succeed in the Premier League. But for today we are enemies and I am hoping that something clicks in this Arsenal team that sees us get goals, remain resolute at the back, pick up three points. I can’t say I’m too expectant though.
It’s that pre season, you see. Although the games are about fitness and we all tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter, the reality is that whilst the scores don’t count, what you’re looking for is signs that the team are in a good shape ahead of the season. As it stands it doesn’t feel that way so much. We can talk about how poor we’ve been in the market, but ultimately it’ll be that team sheet tonight that will tell us a lot. Will Arteta opt for the same team that started in the Toilet Bowl last weekend? Or will he shift it up a bit?
My gut feeling is that he goes with the same line up, so I’m guessing that is Leno in goal, I think Bellerin will play at right back with Tierney on the left, then a central defensive duo of White and Mari. Given Pablo’s pretty shoddy form I’d be tempted to drop Rob Holding in there tonight, but Mikel loves a left footed centre half and in the absence of Gabriel – not to start training again until September – he’ll get the nod.
The worry is that Ivan Toney will expose Mari with swift counters, so I fear that we might get a fair bit of possession and then see the two isolated, which will only end in one winner. And it ain’t our lanky Spaniard.
So ensuring we aren’t caught with a high line and exposed on the counter will be key for me today. Brentford are a possession-based team, or at least they were last season, but I suspect they’ll have to change their style slightly this season. They will know they can’t control the football for most of the games with the increase in quality in the Premier League so I think they might try to lean in to the pace they have up top.
Perhaps in that regard it could be a good time to play Brentford. Yes they have confidence having just come off the back of promotion and winning more games than losing, but if they haven’t shifted their style and try to play a little bit further up the pitch because of the swagger that last season’s confidence afforded them, then maybe it will creat pockets that we can capitalise on.
We do need to capitalise though. That’s the one thing that you’d have to say has been the biggest disappointment for the recent friendly games, in that we haven’t taken our chances, which now that the real stuff commences we need to be sorting. I worry that Arteta will shunt Aubameyang out wide and it’s becoming very clear that it no longer works. We need creativity on those flanks and whilst I understand that people are suggesting Laca’s form gets him in to the side ahead of Auba, it’s important to notice that Auba has spent a big chunk of pre season wide left. If he was playing through the middle for all of the games this summer, would we still be talking about how out of form he is? I’m not so sure.
We saw last season that Aubameyang surrounded by runners is going to get him chances and he’s quality enough to take them. Lacazette involves himself in the play more but he isn’t as prolific, so for me in a team that doesn’t create that many chances, you need your best goal scorer. That’s Auba. Full stop.
Midfield i think we’re all hoping that it’s Xhaka and Sambi and unless Arteta really wants to troll the fans before kick off I can’t see how he opts for Elneny. Sambi did enough in the Tottenham game to show that he’s a decent understudy for Partey and so that’s what I’m hoping for today.
We have some really tough matches until the international break and Arteta can’t really afford for today to be a dud. My expectations of points against Chelski and City is low, so it makes today’s match all the more important to get our campaign up and running. We’ve all talked about how Arteta can’t afford to have a dodgy start to the season like last November, so that means he needs something from tonight’s game. It won’t define his future on what happens tonight, but it will tell us just how much work there is to do.
Catch you all tomorrow, maybe, as I’m on a stag weekend and so dropping 1,000 words from my phone when my head is pounding is probably not going to be high on my priority list.