Mikel Arteta is about six months older than me. I’m more fair-haired than he is, so my greys don’t show as easily, but there’s no way that he doesn’t dye his hair, I don’t believe it. And as for those white teeth, well, I can spot a bleacher when I see one.
Anyhoo, on to more pressing and footballing matters, because we had ourselves a press conference yesterday and the first thing Mikel was asked was on team news, which carried both good and badness to it. The bad was of course that Tomiyasu is out and because he didn’t go into any detail on a timeframe, my worry is that it might be a little more serious than they are letting on. I hope not. If he’s missing on Sunday then fine, but ideally we want him back for Leicester or at the absolute latest the Liverpool game. And even then, how long is it going to take him before he’s fully fit?
Until then it will remain Cedric and we all just have to hope that he can continue to be a decent understudy. He’s had two games so far in which he’s done well and hopefully he doesn’t get troubled tomorrow. He certainly won’t be by Sarr, who Roy Hodgson confirmed is missing tomorrow, which is some of the best news we could have hoped for, because he’s a big player in their team. He occupies those wide positions and has pace to burn and if you are somebody like Sarr you are probably switching and gravitating towards the left hand side to try to isolate and have a go at Cedric. But he is out so that is a positive.
He was also asked about being favourites for fourth and he wasn’t really committal either way, which is fair enough. We may have more games in hand but we also have the toughest fixtures of all of the teams up there so there is no point being bullish until you’re actually in fourth place and the points have been secured on any games in hand, which is kind of what Arteta said yesterday. I’ve been going over the fixture list a lot this week so don’t want to dwell on it too much; the focus needs to be on Watford and then we can worry about the rest after tomorrow. Again, reiterating what Mikel pretty much said, which is what you’d expect.
There was some banter about the training grounds being next to each other but that’s boring to me so I want to focus more on what he said about specific Arsenal players. Once again he praised Ramsdale – a man deserving of it this season – but he was also asked about Ben White and of course he was effusive in his praise, stating that he’d had a brilliant season and how quickly he has adapted. I’d agree to a point, but as with all young players we’ve also seen one or two mistakes in all of our players’ games. That’s not to chastise him too much, but White has had a couple of games in which he has looked a little lackadaisical to me at times. He feels to me like he has a very laid back style and I know this might seem like I’m being harsh, but occasionally it worries me that he’ll get caught out. But I, like you I’m sure, can’t really be too critical because by-and-large he’s been a brilliant signing and I am overall really happy that we got him.
Arteta was also asked about Partey and basically said his good form might have something to do with how he is playing more matches and staying fit. It feels weird to think that Partey was basically never injured before he signed for us; at Atletico Madrid I think he missed like six games in six years for the club. Yet his Arsenal career has felt punctuated by injuries since he joined and we’ve never really seen the Partey we thought we all would see for any extended period of time so far. It feels like right now we are getting to that and I really hope I haven’t jinxed the poor fella by writing this all down…
But I’ve always been a fan and have always thought that when he has a run of games – just like with Ramsey when he used to get up to speed with his fitness – we would see a Rolls Royce player and I think we’re getting the benefits of that now. Between him and Xhaka in our midfield we look a completely different team and I for one am keeping everything crossed that they can both avoid injury and suspension between now and the end of the season. If they do I think we go a long way to succeeding in our Top Four aims because controlling a central midfield like those two can at times is massive. Sometimes I completely overlook the impact that a controlled and experienced midfield can have on a game, but if you think about it, everything flows through them. Gone are the days of Route One football that bypasses your midfield, meaning you just need a couple of destroyers to break down and turnover play. Football is all about build up and most of the teams in the Premier League rely on midfielders who have the ability to retain possession well and find teammates with a range of passing options. Partey and Xhaka do that and with players like Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard in front of them, it means the transition from back to front in our team happens with players who are all very comfortable with dealing with a range of positions and passes that can be made on the pitch.
The final point from the presser I wanted to point out was when he was asked if he received a call from the PGMOL about some of the decisions that have gone against us this season. After all, if former England player Frank Lampard can be so public in his anger at a referee, then get a personal call from Mike Riley to apologise for the wrong decision from last weekend, maybe there can be some consistency and maybe that has happened with Arteta for some of the horrible decisions against us this season? Nope, not a cat in hell’s chance, of course.
Catch you all tomorrow with a match preview.