morning folks and welcome to the end of the working week (for me at least), and the start of the weekend, the most nervy of weekends in the Arsenal football calendar.
Well, when the fixtures come out, that is. Why is this so? Well to me I know we have a pretty crap record at their toilet bowl of a stadium and I know that we usually either draw or win. So I think my expectations are managed and therefore whilst it’s nervy, there’s also an element of resignation I often have before the away NLD. That then helps to temper to low when it does eventually happen. But when we are at home the expectation is on us to get the result, the pressure is probably on us more, then if that doesn’t happen – even if its a draw – you come out of those games saying to yourself “should be winning your home games”. So this weekend probably is more nervy than most in the Premier League calendar. OF course cup semi finals and finals have more nerves when they happen, but you get so little time to build yourself up to them because you don’t really know they are happening until the last minute. The home NLD has a pin in the calendar from July. So the build up is longer and you count down longer too.
There wasn’t a press conference yesterday, most likely because of the Wimbledon match on Wednesday, so I suspect Arteta will say some words today. The big questions we’re all hoping he at least gives us an inkling of are the fitness of Partey, who hopefully is fine after another hour under his belt, then the imminent return of Granit Xhaka. That seems to be dominating people’s minds at the moment and given that Arteta has shifted the style to more of a 4-3-3 with Partey sitting as the holding midfielder, you can understand why. Two wins, two clean sheets, signs of something building and the idea that we can move on from Xhaka has people excited.
I also think that because everyone’s last memory of him on the pitch in an Arsenal shirt was another one of his brain fart moments in getting him sent off, many of the Arsenal fanbase have that fresh in their mind and think that the NLD could be another time in which the red mist descends to put us at a disadvantage. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view to be honest. Xhaka does stupid things every season, we know that, but he doesn’t get sent off or boot the ball in to the net every week. If he did he wouldn’t be anywhere near the first team. Xhaka more often than not adds something to our team with his progressive passing from deep and I can understand why Arteta loves him so much. It’s like my ol’ mate Mike McDonald said on the LeGrove long read he did last week – Arteta loves Xhaka because he does exactly what the manager wants in terms of his positional play, but also how he slots in to the Juego de posicion style that the manager is trying to implement.
I have been a fan of Xhaka’s for a while and I’ve always loved his passing range, but even I have my limits and his lack of mobility and his idiotic moments have tipped me close to the brink of just wanting him gone permanently. But this is the thing with Xhaka; you just know that he could just as easily have a quietly impressive game against the Scum on Sunday and so that’s why I’m posing the question as to whether Arteta will answer any media line of questioning on whether he’ll play. Arteta will of course never give away who will start on Sunday and he’s sure to bat it away, but I’m looking for any intonation in his voice, any comments about the player that might give us a hint that he’ll start on Sunday.
There’s no doubt he dvides the fanbase and it feels like whatever happens on Sunday there’ll be a collective of Arsenal fans that will be unhappy. For me personally I think I’d like to see us gradually moving away from Xhaka, but I still have the partnership of Xhaka and Partey in my mind from last season. We’ve just spent the last few weeks talking about how the partnerships in the team are still forming and because of that we’ve been a little disjointed at times. So for all you Xhaka dissenters, can it be argued that an established partnership in the middle of the park could be beneficial for those newer ones forming around Xhaka and Partey?
I think so. I think you can make a case for it. Like I say, I’m no Xhaka cheerleader, but I can understand if he’s coming in to the side at the weekend. I can also make a case and understand if Arteta wants to be bold and go with more of a 4-3-3 and if he does then that’ll be the Swiss out of the game, because there’s no way you leave Xhaka as the deep lying midfielder with two marauding eights in your team. You’d be asking for trouble and being overrun.
If you’re playing with Xhaka then you’re going with the double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 and that’s what I think we’ll see. The 4-3-3 has looked decent and I like that Arteta is starting to lean in to it, but for his own risk aversion I think he’ll look to the formation he’s deployed most of last season in a game of this magnitude, rather than the 4-3-3 he’s been developing in recent weeks. Maybe we go back to it for Brighton and Palace, but for now it feels like this’ll be his choice.
My gut says it’ll be Xhaka back in the team. I’ll probably pen more team line up thoughts over the weekend though, so for now it’s just worth sitting back, seeing what Tricky Micky says in his presser, then trying to speculate over just how we will set up for what is sure to be a very tough, very tight, very intense game on Sunday afternoon.
Until tomorrow friends.