Am super nervous about today, lads and lasses, super nervous indeed. Whereas I accepted the reality and realism of the defeat to Liverpool both prior and post the game itself, this one feels like there’s much more pressure on the team, oddly enough. It feels like we need to get something from this game and that is going to be really tough because Aston Villa are a good side.
If we come out of this period of three games in six days and only three points, there will be a few nervous shuffles amongst the Arsenal fanbase, as we sit uneasy in our seats worrying that the excellent form of late is slowly disappearing. Three points out of a possible nine represents a classic example of two steps forward, one step back and with so little time between the matches to prepare the players physically and mentally – as Arteta has already pointed out – I worry that a fresh Aston Villa will come at us today and make our lives very difficult. They have had a full week off whereas we suffered a defeat and played a high-intensity game against one of the best teams in the world right now.
So yeah, I have big concerns about today, I have to confess.
But let’s look to some positives; we were more than a match for Liverpool, we’d won five games on the bounce before that, we’d played some decent teams and our approach and set up for each of the games has been on point. We’ve had players hitting their stride and in Odegaard and Saka we have two very in form players. And here’s where I think we did well in our management of that Liverpool game; Arteta decided to make subs quite early and brought off Odegaard on 67 minutes and Saka on 74 minutes, clearly with a view to the game this weekend. Neither therefore played the full 90 and my hope is that will have helped them just that little bit because we will need them to be at their best today if we’re going to get anything from this football match. It is because he brought those players off that I don’t think he’ll rest them today. I do wonder if we’ll see one of Lacazette or Martinelli rotated but given that we played well against Liverpool, I suspect that Arteta will keep an unchanged side. But that has to be with the view that he will need to call on the bench at some stage because I would be stunned to see us offer the same intensity as we did against both Leicester and Liverpool when we start getting in to the stages of the game in which fatigue starts to creep in. So for me the roles of Pepe and Smith Rowe might just become crucial today. They may have a big part to play and I just hope that if they do, it contributes towards a winning part.
I think the back five will remain unchanged and there are some noises about how Tomiyasu hasn’t trained. I think he’ll not be in the squad and I doubt he’ll play today, because I think the club will earmark after the internationals as an opportunity for him to recover for the run in we have. If he doesn’t play today then he can avoid travelling for the Japan games and he can rest up his body and fully get over the calf problem he’s had. It means Cedric will line up on that right hand side and will clearly be a target for Villa. Whether that is via the full back or left inside forward though, I don’t know. If the rumours of the Villa line up are true (you can see a suggestion of what that might be here) then Ashley Young isn’t the guy who will have the rapid pace to take on Cedric like he used to. But he’ll be a wily operator and may provide support to the likes of Coutinho, who appears to be playing in that part of the pitch and drifts over to the left. But he isn’t a guy who wants to kick and run his man along the line; he’ll want to drift infield and link with the central striker. Whether that is Danny Ings or Ollie Watkins I don’t know, but both are hard runners and Coutinho will be looking to feed them as much as possible by coming in field.
I suspect that means Partey’s job today is important because much like how Liverpool stopped us by stopping Odegaard and Saka, if we can stop Coutinho we might be able to neutralise their attacker. It’s a big ‘if’ I know, but it feels like he is a big part to how they play. On the other side is Buendia who will look to get behind Tierney more I think, so having Xhaka giving him support is something I hope we see today. That is, unless, we continue our recent approach and see Xhaka a little more advanced and Tierney not getting as much licence to bomb forward. As always with football it feels like there are a lot of variables to consider and we’ll never really no the set up and approach until the two teams start sparring. But for me I do think we have to see big performances from key players. If Digne is out and Saka is up against Young, you want him to be running at him and in behind those 36-year-old legs. We need Saka to be on it and we need to see what Martinelli delivers against Matty Cash and potentially Calum Chambers, back to face us since his move. I fully expect him to have the game of his life so let’s see how we fare against Chambers and Mings in the heart of their defence. I think Migs is an ok defender, i’ve seen him make some sloppy mistakes, but I feel like he always plays well against us, so I’m not expecting them to give us much in the centre of defence today. Which is why I think we need to make sure our wide play is on point. The hope is that those young legs of Saka and Martinelli can handle the fact they’ve played two games in a matter of days.
This is a big game for us. It will be a hard game. I’m expecting to be a nervous wreck as usual throughout. But if we want top four then these are the sorts of games you have to take advantage of.
Come on you reds!
I think it should be a good game and thanks for bigging us up as a good team. Hopefully, we are getting there. We need a good result after losing to West Ham last week but our achilleas heal will be Young at LB. Saka should run ring round him