Morning folks and welcome to another Friday. We’ll get a Mikel Arteta press conference today and the main question marks will be around who is fit, most notably Bukayo Saka, who Arteta admitted had been carrying a knock last weekend and came off in the win over Man United. Obviously from an Arsenal fan perspective we need to hear good news. We’ve had so much negative news in terms of players injured in the last six to eight weeks, that it feels like some good injury karma – aka a “Saka is fine” from the boss – would go down like a nice glass of Bordeaux right now.
(Well, not LITERALLY right now, as it’s 7am in the morning and that’s a little too early for fine wine for me).
He’ll be asked about West Ham and he’ll of course talk up their credentials, but with them playing last night against Frankfurt, I suspect behind closed doors he’ll be telling our players that we have to show a high level of intensity against an opponent who played a big – and potentially emotionally draining – game in the Europa League semi final. Last season we played Villareal on Thursday 29th May, then three days later it was Newcastle United at St James’ Park. In that league game Arteta rang the changes playing Ryan instead of Leno, Chambers instead of Bellerin, Gabriel and Luiz instead of Holding and Mari, Xhaka at left back (same as Villareal), instead of Partey, Willian, Martinelli and Aubameyang instead of Pepe, Saka and Smith Rowe. So if we’re going to draw any parallels between us and West Ham in the same position last season then perhaps we will see the same from West Ham at the weekend and Moyes will rotate his side against us.
If you could argue a bit of a case for West Ham this weekend, it is that they can still finish in the Europa League spots. Last season that was pretty much done for us earlier on in the season and we just saw the domestic campaign out to a pretty lifeless conclusion. But if West Ham pick up three wins out of their next four they will probably end up pipping United to a Europa League spot, after they drew against Chelski yesterday evening. That draw means that we need just one win to mathematically finish above United and I have the feeling that one more win should all but guarantee us at least the Europa League spot for next season. At the start of the season as an Arsenal fan both you and I would have probably have said that is good enough for progress, but having come so far and to get so close to the possibility of the Champions League, it will feel like a retrograde step[ given the revisions in expectations because of our performance at times in the league this season.
I certainly hope that West Ham undertake a mass-rotation exercise on Sunday. But even if they do there will still be some good players on display. They rotated heavily against Chelski and were still able to field a side with Fornals, Benrahma, Yarmolenko, Soucek, Coufal, Cresswell and Fabianski. So whatever happens in terms of team selection on Sunday, we’re facing a tough opponent. I also am note sure about this whole “they’ll be knackered” thing either. Firstly, when all players step on to the pitch then they are all feeling fresh. I don’t really think that even if Moyes was going to play a full strength team on Sunday, that they would show any signs of wear and tear until the second half, so that is where I hope Arteta is telling his players not to do anything stupid like we did at the London Stadium last season. We clawed back a 3-3 having gone three goals behind, but the first half was littered with errors and at this stage in the season Arsenal can’t really afford that.
It’s not as if our away for is stunning either. We sit sixth on away form in the league with 25 points, seven defeats, a -1 goal difference and 10 other teams who have conceded less goals away from home than us. We aren’t amazing away from home and with the way we’ve been defending of late, the worry Arteta will have for this weekend will be the way we’ve shipped goals on the road.
Hopefully though we see the return of Tomiyasu and that will – fingers crossed – give us a little more stability at the back. It will shift our tactical approach more and hopefully give more licence to Nuno to get forward. That’s the second part of today’s press conference injury update that we’re all keen to find out, i.e. “how fit enough to start is Tomiyasu?”. He’s had more than a third of the season out so how realistic is it for us to expect him to play a part from the start? He came on for just a few minutes at the end of the game last weekend and that was welcome, but to go from a couple of minutes to starting? I’m not sure.
Perhaps he’ll share the minutes with Cedric and if that’s the case you wonder if you aim to give him 60 minutes from the start, then bring Cedric on depending on the game state. Or do you bring him on for 30 minutes if we are protecting a lead? There’s a lot to ponder for the manager over the next couple of days but hopefully the press conference will at least give us an idea of what options he has available at his disposal.
I hope those players are super focused though. Laser focused. Because dropping points this weekend is easily done and we cannot really afford to slip up. I hope we don’t but more to come over the coming days as we countdown to kick off.
Catch you all in the morrow.