I really want to delve in to some of Mikel Arteta’s comments from the interview on the website that I saw yesterday, because he talked in a little more detail than we’re used to, about the pressing of the team and ensuring that the lines between the players is a little narrower and more compact. In the video I saw he went in to more detail on his thought process and also how some of the players are undertaking ‘coaching’of their own with their communication on the pitch. It was a slight door ajar in to what he and his staff are trying to do and I thought it was a fascinating – if only brief – bit of intel.
But we’ve got a game on tonight and I am on the tube writing today’s ramblings as I hurtle towards London, so my time to pen some thoughts is finite and I want to ponder as to what he might do in the game against AFC Wimbledon this evening.
In the piece I watched yesterday he suggested that he might put his strongest side out this evening and whilst I understand that winning breeds winning, playing a similar line up compared to the one that played at the weekend just feels like its asking for trouble ahead of the North London Derby. After all, we are a team who, when needing to ride its luck with injuries, almost always sees the opposite happens. We’re not like that scum down the road who have players with legs hanging off, only for them to return a week later after they’ve injected a kilo of horse placenta right in to the centre of where the pain is. We get punished for taking chances.
So whilst I want us to progress tonight (I’m going and so of course I want to see goals, etc), I don’t really want to be seeing many – if any – players that are due to start the NLD at the weekend.
And if you think about it, Arteta shouldn’t need to, given the experience of the squad he could pick this evening. For example you could completely change one to 11 in the starting line up from last weekend and next weekend and still have a team that should be capable of a win over AFC Wimbledon. He could – and in my opinion, should – line up the team something along the lines of:
Cedric – Holding – Mari – Tavares
Lokonga – Chambers
Balogun – Maitland-Niles – Martinelli
Now, I know you’re probably looking at that line up and thinking that I’ve lost the plot here, but let me at least show my workings before you furiously type my idiocy in to the comments. I am thinking that this team has enough experience, physicality and pace to trouble Wimbledon going forward, but also enables us to give vital minutes to squad players. And that is key for me. It’s all very well having your best 11 players playing as regularly as you like, but in the modern game injuries are just a way of life and there’s no way that our first XI is playing every game without picking up a knock. So with that in mind, you need to make sure that players who come in are at least physically match sharp. You don’t have to go very far to see players and ex-players talking about how match fitness and general fitness through training are two different things. Players need to feel the turf, the ball at their feet, in a packed stadium, to be able to get a ‘feel’ of first team match sharpness. So to me you play those rotated players as often as you can in games like this.
The back four enables that and by shifting Chambers to central midfield – a role he has played for a whole season at Fulham and won player of the season – you give that defensive stability. Alongside him you give Sambi the opportunity to play the Partey role; progressive passing, ball carry and movement, etc. The clear question mark is obviously Maitland-Niles but to me he has the profile and athleticism to play higher up the pitch and although he can come across as a little lackadaisical in his play, if Arteta tells him to act as that high press like Odegaard did at the weekend, he can do that job.
We also need to remember that Wimbledon are not a Premier League outfit. They will work hard and this is a big game for them, of course, but putting Ainsley in that central role in amongst the attack gives him a little more licence to roam and it’s a worthy experiment to make on a night like tonight.
Balogun and Martinelli is about minutes, as is Lacazette and that makes sense. It’s also a line up in which you would expect the players have enough to best a Wimbledon team who have scored 15 and conceded 13 in their eight league games so far. That suggests to me that they are decent going forward but perhaps a little shaky at the back. With the increase in quality of opponents they face tonight you’d expect there to be more space for our players to take advantage of and so my hope is that we see more space open up for us to exploit. I had a quick look at WhoScored to see their characteristics as a team and it said avoiding through balls, individual errors, but also that they are very weak at defending from the flanks. That’s where you would hope that someone like Tavares might get some joy so if he plays tonight – I have not reason not to think he won’t – then I’ll be looking at that left hand side, which we are naturally designed to emphasise anyway, as a place where we might get our joy. If that’s the case you’re then looking at seeing how Martinelli gets on and I’m hoping that he has a good one tonight. We are short of scorers in this team and he is an end-product merchant. But we need to get him up and running with his end product so I hope he starts, plays well, bags himself at least one this evening.
We of course can’t take AFC Wimbledon for granted, but we should have enough for them this evening, so I’m hoping for a continuation of the winning streak. Even if it’s a rotated line up.
Catch you all tomorrow with a match review.