Morning folks. Happy Saturday to you and yours. Another Arsenal-less Saturday it is, although let’s be honest, we’re going to have to get used to that in the immediate future, because in February we only have two matches to play! I know it’s a short month, but it won’t feel like it from an Arsenal perspective I suspect. And in terms of Saturday football, well, we’re going to have to wait almost a month until we get it, because we play Brentford on Saturday 19th February at that holy grail time of 3pm, then it’ll be Watford away on the 5th March! Arteta will have so much time to analyse and over analyse the opposition that I suspect the players will even know what each opponents favourite colour, food and movie are by the time we play them.
That has to – surely – give us an opportunity to start picking up points, right? Not the knowing the favourite colour stuff, of course, but the gap in between matches and the opportunity to get the team totally and utterly prepared and fit for each match. You have to look at the time between games, the preparations, the ability to work out game plans and think that we should be very well prepared for each of our opponents. I have said many times that it has often felt like he hasn’t had much time with his team to get across his ideas and then shortly after he joined we went in to lockdown. I pondered back then whether or not he was cursed but I guess he lifted the FA Cup so obviously not.
I’ve also thought that despite the fact we’re not in Europe, the lack of matches hasn’t really felt like that much of an advantage so far this season. It’s always felt like we’ve played opponents with more time than us in matches – or at least the same amount of time. But after the game tomorrow that can no longer be said. After tomorrow there are no excuses for the team from a fatigue and game plan perspective. So I am expecting big performances from these Arsenal players. We just have to get through tomorrow unscathed.
One really good way of minimising the odds of losing or dropping points in a game, is of course red cards and the stats for the number of cards we’ve had under Arteta are mad. We’ve had 14 red cards since he took over, which is six more than any other team. But we aren’t a dirty team and when you think of some of those red cards some of them feel very stupid. The Pepe headbutt against Leeds, David Luis being sent off for the tiniest of touches against Wolves, Gabriel with a trigger-happy Stuart Atwell against Man City – there are a lot of them that are either silly from our perspective, or rather galling in terms of refereeing decision.
It was something he mentioned after the game on Thursday and admitted it is a concern for us, but I’m just wondering what you can do about it. The Xhaka red card was about him being left exposed and you could probably replace the player with somebody better, but Xhaka isn’t a guy who gets lots of cards. There’s a narrative about Xhaka that is developing amongst some Arsenal fans that every week he’s a liability, but I don’t think that’s the case when you look at the numbers. He brain farts more than anyone else, we need an upgrade, but it’s not like he’s had all 14 red cards (Xhaka has three of those 14, Luiz has three, Gabriel two). There just seems to be a way that we attract these sending’s off but I do wonder if referees like to dish out a card a little bit quicker for us. You can’t argue with many of the straight reds, but Partey’s first challenge on Thursday was a touch and go whether it was worthy of a yellow. The same for Gabriel’s second against City. But the refs on both occasions quickly get out the card. Is it that they are quicker to produce for an Arsenal player than others? It will be interesting to see against Burnley tomorrow, because they are a ‘strong tackling’ side and like to get stuck in. If you put a ‘if that was an Arsenal player’ lens on tomorrow, how many ‘strong tackles’ from Burnley players will be treated the same if they were in red and white?
I’m not saying that it is a conspiracy and the refs are deliberately looking to punish us, but if you take into account what Xhaka said when he was interviewed in the Athletic before Christmas, about a referee saying “you know Granit, sometimes he loses his head”, that suggests some kind of unconscious bias going on. That I can believe.
“These Arsenal players aren’t bad guys, but they do stupid things, so I’ll get my card out to show them that their stupidity will be punished”
That’s an unintentional bias that exists because of a pre-formed narrative in the minds of a human. We’re all guilty of our own unconscious biases and I just wonder if our reputation is preceding us in that respect. Maybe it is based on a player side and if you take somebody like Xhaka with his reputation out then you get referees who don’t get their cards out as much? In that case it isn’t the player that is the problem but more that we are also removing the narrative from the team.
I guess that’s also why I am hoping we can get somebody in this window, because it shows the potential start of that. Xhaka and Partey will be back after tomorrow and so you could argue that we don’t need another midfielder after tomorrow’s game, but if we’re looking at bringing forward a summer move and signing a Xhaka replacement whilst Xhaka is still around so we can bed him in for next season, then that seems eminently sensible to me.
Whatever happens, there’s nothing we can do for tomorrow and I suspect we’ll look to patch up the team that played on Thursday. The hope is that Tomiyasu by playing has been able to run off a little of the injury he had, which is the same for Smith Rowe, but we’ll need to be ready for a Burnley side who will look to sit in and frustrate.
More on that tomorrow for the match preview. Catch you then.
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