I didn’t manage to catch the training pictures from 29th that the club released, so had a little look this morning, as I pondered to myself why on earth I give a monkeys about seeing players doing their shuttle runs at London Colney more now than I ever have before. Then it dawned on me: COVID.
With Mikel Arteta out of the game after a positive test result it has reminded us all that any individual could get struck down with it. With injuries we all accept that it can happen; in training, in a game, etc. But COVID is completely random and arbitrary. Well, I know it isn’t, but it feels like it. So what I’m feeling when I nervously flick through the 30-odd pictures a couple of days before the game, is who hasn’t trained and who isn’t in the pictures. But even then it doesn’t stop a positive test today ruling them out for the game tomorrow. So whilst the training pictures off some comfort, that comfort is short-lived when you realise these players are testing every day and any of them can pull up a positive result.
It must make planning for a game feel like it’s an impossibility at times. You can set the team up, give players instructions, tell them that they need to mentally get themselves ready to be in the starting XI, then suddenly a positive test changes everything. And if you think about the different styles of players that we have in different positions, it changes things too. For example, imagine if Bukayo tests positive today for COVID. Who replaces him? You could go with Pepe, who will want to have a player overlapping him more to create space like Cedric. I’ve always though Pepe worked better with the Portuguese because he likes to overlap. Tomiyasu can do that, but it isn’t where he is at his best and our whole system set up is geared towards having Tomiyasu operate a little more centrally and be a little more defensive-minded. Granted, he’s ventured forward more of late, but the position and approach we’ve had with him so far has been much better than that over an overlapping and marauding right back, like we have in Tierney on the left hand side.
So all of this needs to be thought about based on one situation – albeit hypothetical – of a player being hit by the virus just a day before the game. Or even the day of the game. Imagine that! Having to change a well thought out game plan on the day of the game. Arsenal have had six days to prepare for the inevitable onslaught that Man City will bring tomorrow lunchtime, but a couple of positive test results in key positions chucks every best laid plan in the bin. Elite sport is about those fine margins, those marginal gains, but how can any team properly prepare for getting those margins right when they don’t even know if their team will be ready come kick off.
There is no answer other than to hope that as many players test positive each week as possible. We’ve all been talking as Arsenal fans about how we’ve been lucky so far (don’t worry, I’m touching wood as I type this!) with the cases we’ve had. We have lost players but not a batch of key players to COVID tests just yet. But with those cases still rising it feels like we are due a bit of bad luck any day now. We just have to hope we don’t get any nasty surprises. Cross everything people.
In terms of other news ahead of the game, well, there isn’t really any worth getting too excited about to be honest. I can’t be dealing with transfer rumours and so I don’t think i’ll bother talking about whether Ainsley is leaving us for Roma, whether Aubameyang will even return after the AFCON, having just left early so he can join up with the Gabon national team, or who else might come in. It’s all horrible speculation in which 90% won’t come off. Don’t get me wrong, in about a week’s time I’m sure I’ll be writing about my thoughts on a whole manner or different players linked to us, but perhaps it is just the festive mood I’m in, because I don’t really feel like using up too much grey matter on the subject of transfer right now.
With that in mind I think I’ll cut today’s musings a little short, wish you a Happy New Year and catch you when I see you next. It’ll probably be on the 2nd January as I’ll be absolutely hanging tomorrow morning and so getting some thoughts out ahead of a 12.30pm kick off is probably not one for me.
Catch you all tomorrow.