There’s no place to start today other than our manager Mikel Arteta, who the club confirmed yesterday contracted COVID for the second time in just under two years, meaning he is now in isolation and will not be on the bench for the game against Man City on New Years Day.
I think this is a blow to us and our chances of picking up some points against Man City. We’ve all seen just how much energy and intensity goes in to him conducting his team from the sideline. He is constantly harrying, hassling, shouting, pointing and directing his team from the touchline and so to have him missing on Saturday as we face by far the best team and the side who won last night and are looking unstoppable right now, feels like a dagger at a time in which we need absolutely everything to go for us if we want the point.
Maybe I’m over-egging the pudding, as they say, but against a team like Man City if you are even 1% off your game against City then you won’t pick up a thing. Yesterday they heavily rotated their attacking line in a bid to be fresh for us. They will welcome back an in-form Mahrez and Sterling when they play us and whilst some players like De Bruyne have played both games this Christmas period, you just get the feeling that Pep has done enough and has a quality enough squad to give us a proper tough game in just over 48 hours.
Perhaps we can benefit from fatigue and perhaps the fact we have had six days rest will give us a physical advantage, but against City no advantage feels like it’s that big, especially given they have just won their last 10 games in a row in the Premier League. So yes, I am nervous and yes, I am worried that even this news could derail what has been an excellent festive period so far for The Arsenal.
The secondary worry I have, which should probably be a primary worry, is that if Mikel has contracted COVID, how many of the rest of our team have it? Imagine if we suddenly go down with six players all testing positive from tomorrow as a result of being in close contact with the manager, for example. Imagine if we suddenly go in to the game without Saka, Odegaard, Gabriel and Ramsdale? That would put a massive dent in our chances of playing and that should be a primary concern in reality. It also shows just how much this virus and its impact on Premier League teams feels like it is in the lap of the Gods. We could wake up tomorrow and find that our team have been decimated and the game against City is basically just a procession for them to pick up three points. Likewise in the other direction. So far we have been fortunate over the last few weeks in that our cases have been just one or two people in our first team at any one stage, with the last game against Norwich being the only time we’ve had a chunk of players out. But that didn’t really impact us too much in terms of when you looked at the first XI and so we’ve been able to put out strong sides. But with case numbers still rapidly rising there feels like a potential kick in the proverbial face that could happen to us on the horizon at any stage.
We just have to cross everything and hope that it doesn’t happen. We also have to hope that Mikel can get enough of his instructions across to his players in the build up to the game. The preparation for this game is already massively hampered. I would imagine that yesterday and today would have been key days in which Mikel would have got his ideas across to the players. He will have e been spending one-to-one time on players and will have been keen to get as much air time with each of them as possible. But this positive test result means that not only is his presence and energy missing from the touchline on the day, but also London Colney for the next week. And if you’re a desk jockey like I am, you will know all too well that Zoom calls and conversations can only really last so long. If he’s at London Colney with the players he is in their ears for hours. You simply can’t do that with Zoom. I don’t know what studies have been done to assess the optimum amount of time you can spend on Zoom before people start to naturally lose interest, but I’d be surprised if it is for longer than an hour. So that means he’ll get an hour of the players attention before they start to naturally switch off? It’s a real challenge and it’s come at a rubbish time.
But perhaps this is where we see just how good this team is? Perhaps this is where we get to see whether they are capable of yet another challenge in adversity and turn it around in to a positive situation for The Arsenal. I am hoping they can. I have more faith that this crop of young players can than I did a year ago, let’s put it that way, so I hope that we can see the best of them against the best in the country right now.
Catch you wonderful people tomorrow.