Morning folks. How is it Thursday already? Before you know it we’ll be staring down the barrel of a trip to Clobbermeister Central, aka Burnley Football Club, who with each week seem to be appearing on my timeline with ‘tackles’ that are half taking off the feet or legs of their opponents. I look forward to seeing which Arsenal play “don’t like it up ’em” having been drop-kicked in the chest, whilst referee Andre Marriner waves play on.
But there’ll be plenty of time to fear for the safety of our players, as there might be a press conference today, tomorrow, plus a pre-match preview on Monday in which I can speculate how ‘stuck in’ Ashley Barnes will get come 3pm on Saturday. What I’ve been mostly thinking about this morning is European competition. Well, specifically how we’re not in it and there’s been a round of matches over the last couple of days in the Champions League, then tonight there are matches for the Europa League, as well as the ‘Why are we doing this?’ Europa Conference League trophy too. Whilst we have all agreed we can pretty much do without the nonsense that is the Conference League, the fact that there are games on this evening has stung a little bit, because we’ve basically just taken for granted that we’re a team consistently in Europe. But we need to take our medicine and that means no football for Mikel and his boys.
But that lamentation is not the main crux of my thinking this morning. Nope, the main musing for me today is how our absence will impact us for the potential positive this season. The good news, as we know, is that Arsenal will have had the whole week this week to prepare for visiting Burnley. We haven’t had to travel to Prague, Marseille, Moscow, etc. That means no travel time for the team and more time spent on the training pitch. Admittedly we’d probably play some rotated players in a game this evening and so fitness-wise it probably would be less of an issue, but we don’t have to worry about that and it means a heck of a lot more time preparing for a match. This is where we need to see a proper performance at the weekend. We’ve talked about the fact the manager has been backed. We’ve talked about the injuries and COVID absentees. We’ve talked about the difficult start. But if you are going to finish in the top six you need to be beating teams like Burnley away and if you’ve had a week to prep then there really is no excuse.
I also think back to these types of games in the past when we’ve been in Europe. So many times I’ve looked at this sort of game and thought “hmm, tough one after all that travelling, to go away to Burnley and get the win”, but this is where we should be looking at this situation and saying that in terms of preparation and fatigue through travelling, it just doesn’t exist any more. So I want to see a proper Arsenal performance with energy on Saturday. Matching the energy and press that Burnley give.
I was also thinking about those times where our opponents have had the ‘advantage’ of a week to prepare ahead of us, having seen us have this supposed disadvantage at times, when we’ve played in midweek and then had the management and players come back from abroad. I started to think “okay, which games are there in which those teams in England currently in Europe play us?”. For example, last season we played Olympiacos at home on the Thursday night, then played West Ham on the Sunday. We also played Benfica in the 3-2 ‘home’ win in Greece, then had to travel to Leicester City. We played Benfica away before playing Man City at home, Tottenham away having played Rapid Vienna at home, Wolves away having played Molde away, as well as playing United away having played Molde at home. That’s six games in Europe against other teams that are in Europe, which means we only actually played eight games against opponents who had that advantage of extra prep time over us. Obviously we can’t tell what will happen later in the season as teams go through or get knocked out of those rounds, but based on what we do know with the group stages, we don’t play a single team who are competing in Europe. None. After the round of European games we play Burnley (this weekend), Aston Villa (22nd October), Watford (6th November), Newcastle (27th November), Southampton 11th December). So having had half of the games we play last season against teams who can be better prepared than us, we now don’t face a single side who have a disadvantage of less prep time.
That made me grumpy. It made me feel a little “why always us that gets no luck?” about the situation. But I guess that’s where we are at right now. The football hasn’t been amazing and so I’m looking for even the teeniest advantage and not getting it. It’s frustrating, but the flip side of this argument is that the extra time and less travelling is where the training ground work should come in to play. It is where Arteta has to make the difference and it is where we need to see more energy from the players. We may not get any physical advantage over those six teams in terms of prep time for those games, but that means we need to match them physically and better them technically. We don’t get the ‘fatigue’ advantage, but that is where we need to get the tactical and ‘better players’ advantage.
Mikel, that’s where you come in, and where you simply have no wiggle room or reason not to demonstrate that you are the right man for the job who can set a team up for success. It starts now.
Catch you all tomorrow.