Blimey. Talk about so much #content you don’t know where to even start, eh?
Yesterday we got Mikel Arteta’s press conference and there were some spicy and fantastic words said by the manager. Then we had wind of a bid from a Saudi Arabian team for Aubameyang. That was followed by the rumours of betting investigations on a yellow card received by an Arsenal player in a game earlier in the season. And it’s match day today too!
Why can’t Arsenal’s news be more evenly distributed throughout the week!?!
I haven’t even mentioned the widespread rumour about Arthur Melo’s agent being in London for talks with Edu about the loan deal we’re trying to secure.
Let’s knock down the easy ones first before we go through the thoughts on tonight’s game though, I think, so I’ll start with the transfer rumours. Arthur’s agent in London is a good thing, we can probably expect this deal to get done and as Arteta said in his press conference, after the Burnley game we have a bit of time so I suspect the club are looking at getting through these next two matches over the next couple of days and then having a proper run at the transfer window from 24th January onwards. The clearing of the decks of some of those players running their contract down or not playing would also suggest so. With that you also expect Aubameyang to be gone too if these rumours are true about two Saudi clubs being in for him. The talk is of taking on his full wages and us getting an €8million fee and whilst I’ve seen plenty of people say “tell them to do one” I am not in that camp. I would love us to have a fully fit and firing Auba available to play for us, but by the sounds of it there have been bridges burned and if there really is not point of return for the Gabon international, then what is the point in keeping him around? If you can get somebody to take his wages off your books then that’s practically a transfer fee in itself, in terms of the accounting side of the business. I don’t know exactly how much he earns but I’ve seen people say around the £250k-per-week mark. In the summer he has one year left on his contract (£13million) and between now and 1st June he’ll be entitled to 18 more weeks of pay at £4.5million. When you couple the two together that’s £17.5million the club could save on wages alone if he goes in the next week. Then you take in to account a £7million fee and you’re talking £24.5million that the club can claim back from the deal. No brainer for me. Especially if we can get a striker in this January.
I am still sceptical that we can and that is why Arsenal are said to be ‘mulling over’ the deal, but the only way you don’t accept this, is if you are integrated Aubameyang back in to the team. Let’s see how that unfolds in the coming days.
Before all of that though, we have ourselves the small matter of a League Cup semi final tonight and we are in action against Victims FC as we bid to beat them on our own turf. Arteta had his press conference ahead of this game and he was very clear that he would not give any team news away ahead of the game. Now, that either means he didn’t want a media love in and ‘good versus evil’ discussion with Liverpool depicted as the paragons of virtue (not that thee media don’t do that already, given that very little was said about the clear lying that went on with regards to the number of false positives that went on – in my opinion), or that we really are touch and go with a number of players. My hope is that it is the former rather than the latter because I think Arteta has to go as strong as he can tonight. Klopp will, so we have to as well. Liverpool had the lions share of everything in the first leg and so we need to be able to use home advantage and a home crowd that will be boisterous and hopefully angry after the first leg was re-arranged, to try to help the team over the line tonight, and I make this game tight.
Liverpool are the bookies favourites and you’d expect that. They have a heap of wins against us both home and away and they’ll have a full strength side other than Salah and Mane who are at the AFCON. Partey will most likely be back in the UK for now but I doubt he’ll play given that he started just 48 hours ago and whilst Arteta said in his presser that we want him back as soon as possible, I don’t think he’ll risk him tonight. Which begs the question: who plays in midfield then?
I suspect it’ll be Odegaard and Partey. Personally if I were Arteta I’d be thinking about having a back three with Odegaard and Lokonga in the middle. Get White, Gabriel and Tomiyasu/Tierney in the central three, then play Tavares/Chambers as one of the other wing backs. Or you could use Saka as the right wing back and Tavares as the left. A back three affords a little more protection and I think enables Lokonga to sit, but also for Odegaard to play a little more advanced to receive those diagonal passes from your defenders and Lokonga. If you go with that you then have three spaces in attack and that has to be Martinelli, Lacazette and one other on the right. If ESR is fit then go for him. It means he and Saka can partner up on that right hand side and whilst Saka is going to have to play as a wing back and do a bit of defensive work, if we have Tomiyasu I think it could work if he plays right-sided central defender in a three. He could cover that space behind Saka when he gets forward and adopt a more familiar right back role. When in attack it would also mean Saka and Smith Rowe could double up.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, as I think Arteta has been resolute in sticking to a particular style whether home or away, as well as whoever the opponents are. So although I think a back three would be the most pragmatic and allow us to catch Liverpool out, I suspect he’ll stick with a back four tonight.
Liverpool will come hard at us. They are missing The Ox, Salah, Mane, Origi and Thiago, as well as Harvey Elliott. But they will play with Allison, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Jones, Fabinho, Jota, Firmino and Minamino all expected to start. Aside from Salah and Mane that is a pretty strong team and we will have our work cut out for us tonight. We certainly have more players missing than they do.
The numbers don’t look good for us – having won just one of our last 17 against Liverpool and conceding 43 goals in the process – no team has conceded more. But this is an Arsenal team whose performance in the first leg has shown that we can be defensively resolute. Let’s just hope for no stupidity and a team who is ready for a fight. To get to a final we are going to need it.
Catch you all tomorrow for a debrief.