Morning all and welcome to Friday. Hope you’re all feeling good? I had to take the first of my lateral flow ‘countdown to Christmas’ tests this morning. I didn’t go to West Ham on Wednesday because I didn’t want to risk it, plus the fact I was in the Tollington on Saturday and it was rammed, so I was a little apprehensive because a positive result means becoming an isolation hermit over Christmas and that’s certainly not my ideal way of spending Christmas. But I managed to pass that round and so it is onwards and upwards for me.
And it’s onwards and upwards for this Arsenal team too, who will all no doubt be taking tests left, right and centre at the moment. Especially with all of the games being called off. This weekend alone we have Everton v Leicester off, West Ham v Norwich, Watford v Crystal Palace and I believe Southampton v Brentford is also off. Teams and clubs are dropping like flies and so looking ahead to the game tomorrow we are awaiting news about Arsenal’s trip to Leeds tomorrow. I’ve been going backwards and forwards in my head as to who has the advantage with these games called off. Take Norwich’s trip to West Ham, for example, in which Norwich have had some positive cases found. Those players have to go in to isolation and hopefully they are ok, but aside from that I think their training ground will be open and other players will be able to train. That means that their next game against us on Boxing Day is one in which they’ll have had a full 10 days off to prepare for it. In that time – assuming we are able to fulfil the fixtures – we’ll have played twice. Do we have the advantage because of the regular cadence of games? Or do Norwich have the advantage because of the time to rest during a busy Christmas period?
It’s a little different for sides like Norwich who are now basically just in two competitions (League and FA Cup). They will be able to play their revised fixtures in midweek matches, but West Ham will be condensing a lot of football in the new year, as will the Scum, so I can see how they might find it a challenge with so much football. It’s for that reason that I think and hope we are playing all of our games over the Christmas period and we don’t get disrupted. Not least because we don’t want a condensed calendar in the new year, but also it represents an opportunity – if we can secure the points – to get ourselves on the board whilst others are playing. ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ as the saying goes.
Given that there hasn’t been any announcement from Arsenal as yet, or Leeds, I suspect the game will go ahead. But I had a little digging in to the Norwich situation and it appears two players had PCR tests that they were waiting on. Again, I’m labouring my point a bit here, but Arsenal were told to ‘get on with it’ at the beginning of the season with four players out. The lack of consistency in application of the rules is a disgrace, but I’ve written about this a couple of times so I’ll say no more.
Instead I hope that we get an Arteta in bullish mood in his press conference today. I hope he gives us a clean bill of health and I hope he transmits an air of confidence going in to another away game in which we will be tested and tested heavily against Leeds. Ignore the fact they just got walloped by Man City; we did too and it can happen to anyone. But they will want a reaction and I hope Arteta and his players are ready for it. I hope we have the likes of Martinelli ready for it because he’s the guy exciting us all at the moment and he came off with cramp on Wednesday evening. He should be ok for this week in terms of a squad place, but I wonder if – given Emile bagged a goal too – Arteta is tempted to use him as an impact sub tomorrow? Personally I think Martinelli is in the kind of form where you can’t drop him right now and if Lacazette is making those moves as a deeper number nine and that is allowing pacey runners like Saka and Martinelli to get joy in behind, then I say we stick to this blueprint.
It also makes me think about something I heard on the Arsenal Vision podcast. Maybe a couple of times actually. I think it was Clive who had said that teams quickly suss out ways of playing, the tactical approach and therefore you have to keep reinventing yourself and the way you play. You certainly need to be able to have many different ways of playing and I think what we’ve seen is just the latest iteration of The Arsenal, with Lacazette playing as the central striker, but dropping deeper and letting the wide men run in behind him. Previously we had the 4-4-2 with Aubameyang and Lacazette as the duet up top, but teams started to suss that out and so it is good to see we’ve got a different formula to beat teams like we did on Wednesday night against West Ham.
Of course teams will soon work out that this approach is something Arsenal will adopt more regularly and will therefore find ways to counteract it, but until that happens let’s hope that it bears fruit, certainly over the business Christmas period too.
That’s it from me today. Let’s see what Mikel says about his side and see if there are any hints on how we might shape up this weekend.
Catch you tomorrow for a match preview.