With it being Wednesday and the national team representatives on their way back to Arsenal, my mind is now turning to the daunting task of facing Liverpool on Saturday, looking at who might be fit and available for this difficult game. Of course the Liverpool press is talking up all of the players they might have injured, with Robertson the latest guy who supposedly limped out for Scotland over this international break. That means Henderson, Mane, Firmino and Robertson are all supposed ‘doubts’.
But as you and I both know and as somebody pointed out rather humorously on Twitter, if you’re new to this, then you might believe it. But you can get your bottom dollar that by 4.30pm when the team sheets are announced, all of those players will be fighting fit and ready to go against our lads.
Of course for us it works the other way. Rumours grow and evolve into fact and we end up with a decimated team. We saw it all at the beginning of the season; excitement as we go in to it, then rumours about some players absent, then we are missing a bunch of players for the start due to COVID and injury and we have half a team lining up on match day one against Brentford as well as the subsequent two matches. And we all saw what a difference it makes to this Arsenal squad when there is a bit of a mini crisis going on at Arsenal. Our quality in the first XI looks there and we probably have about 13 or 14 players that you’d say “that’s a decent side” when any of that 14 are selected, but once you start going deeper and in to the 17th or 18th players in this team – or in specific positions – then it starts to get a little bleak.
So given our good run, given the fact we’ve been in form and given that we have been able to play a pretty settled and consistent side so far this season, it’s no wonder us Arsenal fans are terrified of what we might find out from Mikel when he does his press conference tomorrow. I’m assuming it’s tomorrow anyway; we play on Saturday evening and he’ll want to get his team travelling up their on Friday afternoon I suspect.
It’s not as if we haven’t heard those rumours of players anyway. Kolasinac is out for a long time through injury as a result of this break and whilst he isn’t a player that would have featured this weekend, it’s still a player that has been used this season and so it’ll frustrate Arteta. It’s frustrating too because if he’s out for longer than a couple of months – i.e. the January transfer window – then we will not be finding a home for his expensive wages either any time soon. Imagine if he’s out for the season? Then we’re looking at basically paying a players wages for him not to be available at all, all at the expense of international football. And THIS is why I hate it so much. They take our players, chew them up and send them back to you like broken pieces of crockery. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t been playing; he’s a player in the squad who could be used.
The players we are sweating on, however, are Aubameyang and Partey and it is the latter that will be the biggest worry. The fact he’s played no part at all in Ghana’s two games says to me that he’s probably a doubt for Saturday and that will be a massive blow if true. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sambi Lokonga were good against Watford, but thinking that those two can be that effective against Liverpool is like believing the White Cliffs of Dover are actually turquoise in colour.
Watford cede possession, sit deep and look to counter with longer balls. It meant that those two players could control the ball higher up the pitch and have less pressure on them in our defensive third. If both players play on Saturday evening they will need to show a totally different side of their game and so far it is a side that I’m not sure we can say with any degree of confidence that they have excelled at. In fact the one area I think I’ve heard most Arsenal fans that I talk to speak about with regards to Sambi, is how he probably needs to work on the defensive side of his game a little more. That’s fine, it will come, no need to panic. He’s a young kid though and getting him alongside Ainsley for that trip to Anfield is already causing me some concern.
I do indeed feel like the only way we get anything at Anfield is if we have Partey fit. I hope that he is.
There has also been some mutterings about Aubameyang and that too would be a blow. Lacazette could come in and do a job and his form and confidence will be such that it is not as big a blow as Partey missing would be, but that combination of Laca and Auba has been superb and having that taken from us in a game like this feels like just as we’ve stumbled upon a way to optimise their playing together, it is taken away from us. Odegaard can come in and I’m sure he’d be great, but it just feels like HE giveth with one hand, taketh away with another, know what I mean?
Still, let me try not to get too hung up on this yet, not at least until we have a little more clarity on the situation from the manager. Until we play the waiting game of worry.
I just hope the worry is unfounded.
Catch you all tomorrow with some more thoughts as we creep ever closer to this game up in the North West.