Well, we all survived the over-commercialised nonsense that is Valentine’s Day, so we can get on with our lives and focus on the really important things, like how Arsenal are preparing ahead of facing off against Brentford next weekend.
The good news is that it looks like Tomiyasu is back in training and that is a big positive. As Arsenal fans when we get news of a player absence that then doesn’t actually seem to have a specific date attached to the return, the alarm bells start to ring, because we’ve had plenty of that in the past haven’t we? Reemember when Rosicky was injured and that was expected to be a couple of months but ended up being over a year because the club had trouble diagnosing where the source of the injury came from? Or how about how Vermaelen went from captain and a guy we all thought would be immense, who then was out for about a year and never really returned as the player we thought he was. I’m sure Santi had a spell out that was just supposed to be short term that then got extended, whilst the Ramsey and Eduardo horror injuries meant players returning not quite the same as before. In Ramsey’s case he came back and had some influential moments for us, but let’s also not forget that after his leg break it always felt like he needed half a dozen games to get back to the full-flowing Rambo that we went on to know and love.
So we are scarred by the warnings of those little injuries (and sometimes big injuries) that go on to be something worse, which means that every time a player returns to training and has a smile on his face then our collective nerves can all take a rest. Until the next time it happens.
The return will boost a team who have already been boosted by victory away at Wolves, probably also followed by the players at home or at London Colney watching all of the weekend’s action unfold in our favour. I wonder whether the players do the same kind of random air-fist punching that we all do after results like that. I do it all the time and not just immediately after a result too. On Sunday evening I was tidying away the plates after dinner and I reminded myself about Tottenham’s defeat and West Ham’s dropped points and I gave out a muttering “get in there!” under my breath. It felt good to see the chips fall in our favour over last weekend and so looking ahead to this weekend coming, the hope is that we can have a few more weekend’s like that in the coming weeks because if we do, then it might open up that buffer I’ve been speaking about; ye olde ‘wiggle room’ that I spoke of yesterday.
Man United play Brighton tonight though and that’s at home, so I’m not expecting that the chips will continue to fall in our favour. They’ll beat Brighton tonight. Brighton are a good side, a side playing in their managers image and a team that won’t be pushovers, but when you have the quality United have in their team, even if things appear to be going wrong on a more regular basis of late, this is the sort of game they will most likely win. It won’t be great to watch, it might be close, but they’ll scrap that out.
That will open up a four point gap on us and whilst we have three games in hand, on paper that gap always looks a little scarier when you don’t have the points on the board. For all of the introspection and frustration going on in Manchester, we would still only go level on points with them if we win and draw those two games in hand. Which is why there isn’t too much to get too excited about and projecting that we’re in the driving seat for top four. We are not simply by virtue of the fact that the points haven’t been secured. If we’d have played our three games in hand and won them all then of course you’d say we are favourites and have the buffer. But until that becomes a reality then we still have to be outsiders looking up. Just look at The Scum; a few weeks ago we were level on points with them and they had two games in hand. Over the last week that has swung and now we are level on games played but we already have our additional three points in the bag.
The margins are fine. So fine that injuries, illness and suspension for any period of time to any major player we have in our first XI, is acutely felt. Cedric became an able deputy last night but it was a short term solution. We have seen how he is most of the time and that performance is more of a positive outlier; to rely on him to perform like that for half a dozen games in a row, for example, is probably too much. So the return of Tomiyasu is a welcome one, it is a positive one, it means the way our team sets up can also change for the positive too. Tomiyasu brings aerial dominance that Cedric does not, he brings better composure on the ball, he is also quicker across the ground and more likely to win duels compared to the Portuguese. His arrival in the team means that we find it more easier to transition in to a back three when in possession and that releases Tierney to venture forward more. That could be beneficial for this weekend because Smith Rowe and Tierney together on that right hand side (in the absence of Martinelli) is a good partnership. It worked fabulously in the NLD at home last season.
Tomiyasu in the side also means – I think – that we see less of Xhaka dropping in to that left channel to cover the Scot. To be fair to Xhaka he operated less in that position against Wolves in what feels like clear tactical instruction since returning from Dubai, but I don’t think it a coincidence that without Xhaka there, or Gabriel able to shift his position across to make us a back three, Tierney struggled a bit. I didn’t think he was great against Wolves and got isolated a few times and beaten a few times when Wolves did the big switch. Now imagine that the game is replayed with Tomiyasu in at right back and that switch happening to Tierney’s side. I wonder if it is actually Gabriel contesting those balls over the top? Or at least Gabriel and Tierney are closer together to snuff out any wide threats. Then, if Wolves do a big switch from their left to their right, Tomiyasu is winning more headers than Cedric, that’s for sure.
I guess what I’m trying to focus on here, is just how important a role the Japanese international has when he plays for us, in terms of the way we set up. He is a vital cog in our machine and we should all be celebrating his return to the team if it comes this weekend.