Friday’s are always better when you have some good news to brighten your day, or when you have something exciting going on at the weekend, eh?
For me it’s a bit of both, actually, as I’m off in to London for a 40th birthday party tomorrow evening which will be fun. But most important of all was the news from the Arsenal medical team yesterday that we have a pretty full squad to pick from. That is music to mine ears. The worries of this week have been those international players and it seems as though those players have all returned and we don’t appear to have any bumps or bruises, knocks or niggles that will keep our recognised first team players away from Anfield. The task at hand is difficult enough as it is so to face it with an injury beleaguered squad would have been a little too much for this young group of players I fear.
So we have Auba back, Ramsdale ok, Tomiyasu alright, Saka doing well, Odegaard raring to go, Sambi is fine, plus various others. And with the one real casualty from the break – Kolasinac – he had fallen down the pecking order anyway and would have been unlikely to feature at Anfield anyway.
However, most eyes – mine certainly – were on a particular player who didn’t even go away in Thomas Partey and whilst there has been no specific mention about him ‘returning’, the fact that the medical update cited only Xhaka (which we already knew) and Kolasinac, surely means that Partey is back and hopefully he’s raring to go. Mikel Arteta will surely reveal all later today when he does his press conference.
And then it will be a case of getting him, his coaches and the players together to work out how the devil we beat a Liverpool side who will be reeling from their defeat at The London Stadium. Of course they’ll be at practically full strength, because that’s how it works. Players take some kind of miracle organic compound like horse placenta or some such stuff, then that limb which was hanging loosely from their body, suddenly reattaches itself and is stronger than ever. So when Klopp does his equivalent presser to Mikel today, don’t expect anything other than “yep, we’re all good”.
So the preparation has to be about how we stem the tide of Liverpool attacks tomorrow early evening and with the new-found confidence of this team I hope Arteta has some kind of master plan to beat them. I hope he has devised a strategy that nobody has seen before and I just hope it can be executed without any brain-fart moments from our players.
To their credit this crop of players has minimised those so far, so hopefully we can give them a good game, but for me this is one of those matches that I won’t read too much in to. If it was at home I’d probably be a little more bullish, but Anfield hasn’t been a happy hunting ground in years gone by so I’ll not start getting too excited yet.
That’s pretty much all there is in terms of team news and updates for today, but if you fancy a bit of analysis in your life, I had a read of this Sky Sports article on Ramsdale today which caught my eye comparing Ramsdale to Ederson. Obviously Ederson is a top class ‘keeper, he’s been one of the reasons City have looked so immense at times in recent seasons, but I don’t think it is too unjust to suggest the impact Ramsdale has had – but more importantly COULD have – could be similar. Before this season the approach by teams to Arsenal was an aggressive high press, designed to pen in a team who plays out from the back with a worrying insistence sometimes. It makes for nervous fans and I’ll be honest with you and say that I still get those jitters when the ball is being pinged around deep in our territory. The problem isn’t the short passing out from the back though, but more that every team sussed that this was all Arsenal would do. Which makes it easier to press higher because you know the risk of leaving green grass behind you is minimised. Then, when we went long, it was under pressure and usual resulted in a turnover of possession.
The signing of Ramsdale feels like it could change that. We have seen signs already and saw it from the first game he played. I was at West Brom to see his debut and despite the fact he spent a lot of the time standing around, there were a couple of instances where we saw him play those low, fizzing balls in to the middle third of the pitch, most importantly with accuracy. When Man City and Edersonj have teams press them high, they have a ‘keeper who can play over the top or in to that middle third with accuracy. It sews a small seed of doubt in teams; “do we press high and leave ourselves exposed long?” or “do we drop deep and let them have the ball in the defensive and middle third?” is what teams ask themselves in-game during City. With Ramsdale it feels like Arteta has found that player who can pose that question to teams again. We saw this work to it’s great success at Leicester.
But players like White and Gabriel also allow for us to mix up the approach too. A team that sits back off our defenders will just find out defenders carrying the ball forward, creating that disruption to patterns of play. We’ve already seen a few times Ben White pick the ball up and drive with it. So whilst Ramsdale is a big piece of that puzzle that is enabling us to mix up our approach in-game, the likes of White and Gabriel are also enabling us to come up with different solutions.
It’s not perfect, we aren’t the finished article by a long shot and this weekend I think might be a bridge too far, but the signs are positive and I’m hopeful for our future longer term if this team continues to show these positive signs.
Catch you wonderful people in the morrow for a match preview.