I can’t say I’m overly confident about today’s match if I’m completely honest with you. Aubameyang aside, this will be the same side that looked so lifeless and defensively fragile as the one that started the season against Brentford, only this time, we’re playing a team that has just started the season with a comprehensive win over Crystal Palace, as well as the fact they’re Champions League winners. Tuchel has turned this Chelski side in to a formidable team and they have just spent £100million to bring one of the most in-form strikers in Europe back to the club.
In contrast, we have a number of injuries, players self isolating and if you believe the rumours circulating this morning, Ben White is also going to be out as he has tested positive. Now, of course this could be untrue and the sources are just some online chatter at the moment with little from the club or the journos that are regularly on the ‘Arsenal beat’, but this is usually how this sort of news starts to trickle through and at the time of writing today’s thoughts it feels like it’s going to be one of those that becomes more and more true as the day unfolds.
If that is the case then it’ll be Holding and Mari against Lukaku and if Arteta – who said he has a plan for Chelski this weekend – continues to persist with a high line like he did in the friendly game a few weeks back against them, then we will be in a whole world of trouble as Chelski will expose us with their pace. Havertz, Werner, Lukaku, Pulisic – all of them will have the run on a back four that may well consist of Chambers, Holding, Mari and Tierney. If that’s what Arteta does then hold on to your tin hats people, because it’ll be a long afternoon.
In midfield Partey still remains out and that means Xhaka and Sambi and whilst Sambi looks good and played well against Brentford, the lack of pace and fact that teams know how to target Xhaka and press him when he has the ball in his own half, I am expecting Chelski to do the same today and that could cause us problems. Without the ball Xhaka is also not covering ground as the likes of Pulisic or Jovacic have the runaround of him. The hope is that Sambi can cover the spaces that Xhaka just doesn’t get to.
Then we come to our attack, which misfired last week but did look a little more connected when Saka got on the pitch. He simply has to start today. He’s had an additional week of training and so I don’t see how you don’t play him against those west London oil whores. Play him wide left, Pepe wide right, Auba through the middle and Smith Rowe just behind and let’s hope that the quartet of attacking players we have can unlock what has become a pretty rock solid Chelski back line.
The hope is that with Auba back and with fans in the stadium we will see a different Arsenal side to the one that suffered so badly in Brentford last Friday. I hope that the players really up their collective games and I think we will see more drive from them, but if you’re like me the worry isn’t based on the isolated ‘perfect storm’ of the game last weekend (new team, new stadium, fans in ground properly for the first time, etc, etc), but if the fact that we have been pretty uninspiring throughout preseason. Arteta hasn’t been able to bring his team together to look impressive in preseason and whilst I’ve spent the whole time telling myself and anyone who’ll listen that it doesn’t matter and it’s just about fitness, deep down I’ve been concerned with how we’ve been lining up. Especially in those latter games when your team has it’s fitness back and you’re looking for styles of play to emerge.
Arteta is under pressure and today it could get particularly bad if we get tonked. The fans will start behind the team, of that there is no doubt, but unless we see signs of fight then you worry that it’ll quickly turn from excitement to quiet, then from quiet to grumbly, then grumbly to disapproval.
I think most fans know that this game might well be a write off like the City one next week. And in the logical part of our brains we know that three defeats from your opening three games is not the worst thing in the world given the start to the season we had, coupled with the sheer volume of player absentees we’re already seeing at such an early stage in the season. But that doesn’t mean that we can switch off the stark reality of what it says on paper and if it reads bad after three games come 1st September, there will be a large groundswell of opinion that Arteta can’t do it.
Is there a scenario in which we have zero points and fans can still temper their frustration? Perhaps. Say we batter Chelski today and get done on a dodgy penalty decision, or a call that goes against us if we score a perfectly good goal (think Sokratis getting the winner against Palace and VAR ruling that Calum Chambers had fouled his man, when in fact it was he who was pushed over), then we have a tight game against City and we get a narrow defeat. Maybe if that happens then people will take stock a little. But a lot will depend on the manner of the defeats and that is where I worry today.
I fear the classic ‘one down after five minutes, crowd enthusiasm dampens, we start to have a go and then get done on the counter in the second half, match finishes 2-0 and we never really lay a glove‘ type game today. It feels like that having seen the game against them in preseason. Hopefully I’m wrong, hopefully this negative feeling I have in my gut is just my own emotional self-preservation kicking in, but what I do want to see is signs of the fight that can be there after we get through this difficult week or two.
Here’s hoping folks.
Up the Arsenal. Sing up if you’re going, I know I will.