Morning all, how we all doing then, eh? I have a bit of a headache this Monday morning. It’s not the kind of selection headache Mikel Arteta seems to have these days (ba-dum, tsch!) but an actual headache caused by sleep depravation on Saturday evening following a rather unhealthy amount of white and red wine drunk with some friends. People have always talked about getting older and facing the wrath of a two day hangover, so I’m wondering if it has finally hit me as I approach my 40s. No thank you kindly, I say. I can do without that.
I could also do without any Arsenal players getting injured over the next few days. We’ve got the latest round of fixtures in the international World Cup qualifiers taking place and so what we really need is a clean bill of health for our lads. Why am I thinking this today? Well, the fact that I read that Mane limped off for Senegal in one of their games over this weekend, as well as Jordan Henderson apparently withdrawing from the England squad to return to Liverpool for further assessments, made me think about how easy these international breaks can turn from celebration of the success of players stepping up like Smith Rowe, to disappointment of losing them for matches in an Arsenal shirt.
Of course I fully expect both Liverpool players to be back on Saturday and have the games of their lives against us, but I’m more focused on our lads and how they get on, because there might be a few playing over the next day or so. The England lads might get a chance given they are playing the worst team in the competition in San Marino, plus Tierney playing this evening for Scotland against Denmark. Elneny is with Egypt on Tuesday, who face Aubameyang’s Gabon, with Pepe’s Ivory Coast up against Japan. Tomiyasu has a long old trip from Oman to Japan to content with (although that’ll be a little easier to travel back from than Japan itself), Odegaard is in the Netherlands tomorrow too and whilst Sambi is unlikely to play much for Belgium against Wales, he’s still in the squad. So we have plenty of players who still need to get through their matches before we can be a little more sure of whether we’ll be taking a fully fit squad to Anfield or not.
If we do come through these round of matches without any worries, it could be almost an unchanged squad again that Arteta has to contend with and given the turmoil he’s had since becoming manager, this is a nice feeling indeed. Honestly, since he’s taking over it feels like he’s basically spent his managerial career fighting the next fire from a player availability perspective. We had Aubameyang out for chunks last season, there was Leno out the season before (although Martinez did step up to soften the blow), we’ve had Partey injured for big chunks of his Arsenal career last season, as well as Gabriel out with COVID, Luiz out for patches, Tierney missing at a crucial point in the Europa League latter stages, etc. Perhaps it is just me but over the last two years it has felt like every week – almost – Arteta has had some kind of player injury worry to concern himself with. If we can go in to the game against Liverpool with practically the same squad that played against Leicester, then Watford, it will start to feel like these constant injury worries are behind us.
And the fact we play less games through the season will also help us out. After this round of international nonsense our schedule between now and Christmas reads – Saturday, Saturday, Thursday, Monday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday – all league games. Given how hectic it is over Christmas it is just as well we haven’t had to play in Europe because that fixture list there with an additional two matches for Europe will be testing plenty of teams in the run up to Christmas. West Ham, for example, have had an amazing start and look great but they play practically every four days between now and 1st January. That is going to test their squad I suspect and from an Arsenal perspective you hope that it means they start to suffer the fatigue as they compete on multiple fronts. We’ve seen how we have suffered in Europe when having to do all of that travelling and even though Moyes and his team have qualified for the knockout stages already meaning they can rotate, he’ll still want to win the group. Plus there is the fact that the team still have to travel even though some of the main stars can stay at home.
So what we have to hope for is that those extra days rest for our players by not travelling across Europe allows for a little more recharging of batteries. The Christmas period itself is pretty crazy and so will test every team, but if we can go in to it not having been smashed about by travelling and the inevitable drain on the legs that so many matches provides, I am hoping it can stand us in good stead. We need it to, because we’re all aware of just how tough our games are in January and having to do that without four of our first team squad due to the AFCON, there is going to be a stretch for this squad coming on the horizon.
That’s all I got for you today. Maybe we’ll see some of the England lads rock up against San Marino tonight. Might make a nice change to have some kind of emotional tie to this England squad for a change.
Catch you all tomorrow.