So it seems we are now playing the waiting game when it comes to our Boxing Day fixture. Two games were called off yesterday, including Wolves’ match against Leeds and that means Wolves will have had a full nine days rest between their 0-0 draw against Chelski on 19th and when they play us.
Hardly seems fair that we’ll have played within 48 hours, does it? It’s the same with the Norwich game though. For that one we’ll be playing a Norwich team who haven’t played since 14th December and so therefore will be fresh having had 12 days off from playing. And this is supposed to be the busiest time of the year.
I guess you could argue that these games that are being postponed will need to be played and therefore these teams will suffer a fixture pile up when we do not, but in terms of the advantage it hardly seems fair, because Norwich will get their fixture pile up at a time where other teams play them.
Say, for example, that Norwich play one of their missed games in the midweek before they play Man United. United get the benefit of a fatigued Norwich, whereas we get a side who will be comping at the bit on Boxing Day.
To be fair though, we will have had five days off since our last game in the League Cup and even then there were a number of players who were rested. So Partey, Gabriel, Saka, Lacazette, Tomiyasu, Tierney, etc, all will have had over a week off. So the Norwich game in itself should be less of a problem from a fatigue perspective, but the Wolves match is going to be a big challenge for our team. And with Man City on the horizon just a few days later, not to mention League Cup and FA Cup along with a North London Derby in January, it feels like this is going to be one heck of a testing period for Arteta. It could be the difference between losing it all and looking like another season in the trenches, or a time in which Arteta’s new batch is coming of age and the beginning of something special is looking more tangible.
But there is going to need to be some give over the next week. He can’t keep to the same XI that has been so consistent since the beginning of September. I guess it’s why when asked about Pepe after the Sunderland game he had nice things to say. I suspect he might need to use him at some point but if he needs to report for International duty before the Wolves game, it kind of forces his hand. I wonder if he’ll therefore consider minutes in the Norwich game? It’s a weird one because if the AFCON wasn’t happening you’d probably earmark some minutes for him then, but if he has to depart then if I was in Arteta’s shoes I’d probably think about starting him against Norwich with perhaps the view to being able to give more minutes to Saka or Martinelli for the Wolves game.
Or maybe we could try to see Lacazette swapped for Pepe? It’s a little random as he hasn’t played there and they have very different games to their play, but with where we are at now Arteta needs to be thinking of something to keep players fresh. Pepe through the middle as a tester for 20 minutes at the end of the Norwich game if we are winning well might give Lacazette time to recover and play both matches, or we could have Eddie getting 60 minutes over two games with Laca playing the other 120? Whatever he decides I hope that the plan is ok place as we speak because we don’t want some of these players run in to the ground.
Or maybe I’m just over-analysing all of this? After all we have the youngest squad in the league. We have a team of fresh-faced youngsters who should all be able to play a few times a week whilst they’re in their early 20s. Maybe fatigue can be pushed to one side and for the next week we will see Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli all get lots of minutes and still perform. I just worry that there’s a difference between performing to the extent that you pick up points and dispatch of your opponent, compared to dropping points because perhaps mental fatigue is more of an issue than physical, causing young players to just drop that intensity by a couple of percentage points. We all know that elite sport is a game of fine margins and if some of our players are only slightly off, then they’ll be punished, so the decision making that Arteta has to embark on now could set the tone for the rest of the season. Confidence is such a powerful drug in football and if we have more of it through winning these games over Christmas then it could be huge.
I suspect we might get some kind of press conference or at least team update today ahead of the trip to Norwich so let’s hope for good news and that we don’t have a bunch more COVID cases. Other than that it’s pretty much it from me today. Have a good Christmas Eve and hopefully you can enjoy the festive season with an excitement for our game on Sunday.