Happy Monday to thee. Hope you’re going to have a good one and if you’re winding down for the Christmas period then hopefully it is a chance to start getting in to full relaxation mode as the year draws to a close. I’ve got a week and a day until I clock off for the festive period and so can’t wait to over-indulge.
And that over-indulgence is more than just food and alcohol. There will be a glut of football too and I guess you could argue that it’s already started. From the Saturday’s win just gone, Arsenal are now plating every few days and on Wednesday we have the unenviably task of trying to beat a very good West Ham team full of confidence. They drew 0-0 with Burnley and although I didn’t watch the game, the stats show a side who has a confidence and control about them. Dominating possession, shots, corners, aerial duels – particularly impressive against a side like Burnley – more tackles too. I have only watched a few games from West Ham this season but they look like a strong, physical side, but a side with the requisite quality to turn it on when needed too. We will be tested a lot more than we were against Southampton, that’s for sure.
And we will be tested more in this festive period, as I said with Arsenal playing every few days and now is going to be an essential time for Arteta to be managing his whole squad better. We’ve now heard that Aubameyang was late back from a trip abroad and that is why he was disciplined. I didn’t really want to say anything yesterday because I didn’t want to discuss off-field stuff when there was plenty of good stuff happening on the field on Saturday afternoon, but this kind of action is unacceptable and it comes at a bad time too. As the intensity of the fixture schedule hots up, Arsenal are going to need every player in the first team to play a part I reckon, so telling Auba to stay at home on a game like Saturday isn’t a great look. It reflects badly on him in terms of his discipline and if it is the case that he reported back late and is being punished, then it’s the right thing to do. But the optics are not great because his form has been in the toilet too. When you think about how Auba didn’t get on until after Nketiah on Monday last week too, it all feels a little grubby and nobody needs this.
Does that mean Auba is back in the side on Wednesday? Doubt it. Lacazette scored and so I suspect he’ll be reintegrated in to the match day squad, but I’d be shocked if he made the first XI. And given that we have West Ham on Wednesday, Leeds on Saturday, Sunderland on Tuesday, then Norwich away on the Boxing Day Sunday game, he will be needed and has chosen to be ill-disciplined at the worst time. Especially when we all know Lacazette is gassed after 60 minutes in most games.
But you can tell that Arteta has realised he’s going to need to call on more players over the Christmas period, because suddenly we’re seeing players we haven’t seen for months. On the weekend Nicolas Pepe got on the pitch for the first time in just under two months. Nketiah got on for Everton and United and Mo Elneny started at United. I’m not sure it’s enough to get them up to speed from a match fitness perspective, but it’s better than not playing at all, I guess. It also feels almost as if Arteta hasn’t been looking at the congested fixture list and then suddenly had a look ahead and went “ooh sh*t I better start using some of these players given that fixture list!”. Whatever his motives, if we’re going to be sharing minutes amongst players he is going to need to get that balance right because if we drop too many points in the next two-and-a-bit weeks, then we could be staring down the barrel of another season of mid-table nothingness. If we come out of December looking like we’re being cut adrift of the competition in European places, then Arteta’s position should be well and truly under threat.
However, if he manages this period right, if we pick up a decent number of points, we could go in to the new year looking and feeling quite good about ourselves. We have already seen twice this season how this team can look totally bereft and we have seen one period in which we went on a good run. If this is the start of a good run in terms of results then things might feel a little more rosier. We have five Premier League games to play in the next 20 games. 15 possible points up for grabs. I think that the base line of points (i.e. anything below is bad, anything above is good) is probably nine. That’s three wins and two defeats. If we can beat West Ham, Norwich and Wolves then that will be decent. Anything above 10 points and we’d probably be happy with that to be honest. But it does mean that we have – on paper at least – the hardest of our challenges first. In some ways that might be a good thing; if we beat West Ham at home we go in to the game against Leeds within touching distance of the top four and we’d also be ahead of West Ham on points. I think it is a tough one because West Ham are very good, but it would be a massive set up for a potentially good festive period because if you can then go to Leeds and Norwich and pick up points, then you very quickly start to see your positioning looking increasingly healthy and with players off to the AFCON by the time we play City at 12.30pm on New Year’s Day, points in the bag might be helpful given the incredibly difficult January we have without those players.
It’s all going to start getting serious now folks. I just hope our players are ready for it.
Catch you all tomorrow for some more ramblings.
I think this is one incident too many for Aubamayang. Arteta should drop him and see if he can shift him to another team. Can’t have a captain acting like this. Also, he has lost his edge on his he pitch. He’s slowed and his shooting is terrible. If you’d watched him over last season and this (not knowing the back story) you certainly wouldn’t pick him out as one of his the best players on the pitch. We are better without him, playing Lacazette in the central role. He never misses. I think the team spirit is better too when Aubamayang is not around. His sulking hung like a dark cloud over the team last year.
Did watch the West Ham at Burnley match– it was gusting– making the day difficult for both sides. West Ham had chances, good ones too. Just didn’t have the requisite sharpness to bury any of them. Burnley played them the way they did us earlier this season– and ended up with a draw for their effort. Hammer’s counterattack couldn’t get started but a couple of times. With Burnley’s pugs pummeling when called upon,
Lanzini and Benrahma early– and Fornals when he came on late. Tons of corners for WHU too. No joy.
West Ham will arrive a bit bruised on Wednesday. Hope we come out firing!