Ahh December the first. The first day of the month in which I officially now go crazy by listening to Christmas music all of the time, over-indulging by basically being out drinking most evenings, watching Christmas movies whenever I can and overloading my company Microsoft Teams chat with gifs related to the festive season.
But will The Arsenal deliver us an early festive treat tomorrow evening by picking up three points away at Man United? Who knows. What we do know, however, is that Michael Carrick will take charge for probably his last game as caretaker manager because Ralf Ragnick’s work permit has not been cleared and so he will not be allowed in the dugout tomorrow.
I’m trying to work out if that really makes any difference to us or them if I’m honest with you. The players already know he’s coming in, they will probably have had a few Zoom sessions and I’m sure he will be speaking to a number of members of the coaching staff. It’s true he won’t be able to give them that pre match and half time team talk and he won’t be able to take training at the ground because of the rules around his visa and it not coming through, but he’ll have spent a long time with Carrick giving him some initial tips on style of play I suspect and so I’m not going to be foolish enough to think that it won’t be incredibly tough against them tomorrow.
You’ve also got the fact that we have a terrible record in Manchester that constantly hangs over us like the sword of Damocles swinging above our metaphorical heads. It doesn’t matter how terrible they are, how in form we are compared to them, whether they’ve got a caretaker manager or even a mountain goat who is blind and cannot even bleat, they still somehow always seem to get the better of us in the league. Last season that was not the case, but last season feels like an outlier in so many ways; we lost loads of home games that you wouldn’t expect us too, plus there were no fans in the ground, so to me victories like that last season always felt a little…well…hollow in the COVID behind-closed-doors season.
My only hope is that usual service isn’t resumed tomorrow. Although Carrick did pick up a good point away to Chelski and a win away from home at Villareal, so it’s not as if he hasn’t had some kind of impact after their woeful showing against Watford in Ole’s last game.
We heard yesterday that Maguire is fit again, but we’ll get most of the news today from both Carrick and Arteta and I’m hoping to hear that Bukayo is ok. And if he’s not ok, I am hoping that it’s a minor injury that keeps him out for a few days only. We have players who can come in and hopefully have a point to prove. We can play Odegaard out wide, Martinelli made a superb cameo at the weekend against Newcastle, plus there’s Nicolas Pepe who could come in on that right hand side if we want a more like-for-like player. We’ll get an idea from Arteta today on what he is thinking and I wonder if he’ll be asked about the absence of Pepe. It’s been enough games now that you expect the press to start talking and so I suspect there might be a few questions aimed in Mikel’s direction about the Ivorian.
Whoever he chooses tomorrow evening, we’re going to need them to step up significantly if we want to win away at Old Trafford. It doesn’t matter how United have been playing, they will definitely be up for giving us a bloodied nose and so my hope is that what we get from whoever starts, is a performance that enables us to pick up something away from home. Our home form this season has been middling. Literally. We’re currently 11th in the league in terms of our away form and whilst those away games have included City and Liverpool away already, only two wins away out of six games means we’re not exactly looking the strongest side on the road. Our home form sees us sit second and that’s what you want to continue, but we need to get that away form up and running and there’s no better place to do it than Old Trafford tomorrow.
On a separate note, Chelski’s participation in the FIFA Club Cup means that the game we were supposed to play against them at Stamford Bridge on 12th February has been postponed due to Chelski’s involvement in the Club World Cup in January and February next year. That could be good news for us because if the fixture is pushed back then we should have our absent players from the AFCON returning. In January and early February – when the AFCON is running – I think we all looked at the fixture list with some trepidation. A home game to Man City on 1st January, then FA Cup Third Round, followed by The Scum away, Burnley at home and another FA Cup game before we were supposed to play Chelski on 12th February meant one heck of a tough run in to be missing a host of players. But with that game moved it could give us more opportunity to get players like Partey and Auba back for that game. Having looked at the respective fixtures they could potentially do 5th January, but that would mean coming at the end of a really tough Christmas period for all teams, then you have an FA Cup round on 8th and 9th January, followed by the Premier League the week after. They could do the midweek after that on 12th January, but again we’re talking about asking players to play a lot of football in a short period of time. I haven’t even factored in the League Cup though. If Arsenal or Chelski get through their opponents, the games are played in both of those midweek slots, so if that happens the game definitely cannot be played then. It just goes to show you how congested it’s going to get in the new year and whilst we don’t have Europe to contend with, it’ll be interesting to see how Chelski cope with the sheer volume of games. They have a massive squad so they’ll probably be able to cope better than we would, but I wonder how much it might impact them in some games?
Anyway, let’s not spend too much time worrying about their fixture list, instead just hoping that this gives us an opportunity to have a bit of an advantage in terms of recovery time. Only time will tell.
Until tomorrow when I hit you all with a match preview. Have a good one and let’s hope for some positive news from Mikel later today.
Catch you later.