Morning people, hope you’re all doing well and enjoying whatever it is you are doing today. For me it’s a run, then probably a bit of time on the beach, before a wander in to town this evening for some Portuguese cataplana. But in between then, I’ll do what I always do, which is think, think and think on The Arsenal and what we’re up to.
I don’t think I want to go in to any transfer speculation today, as I’ve kind of been doing it for the last few days and there isn’t really anything new out there, but I do want to talk about the fixtures for the new season. I was going to do it the other day but then the Fabio Vieira story broke and I think I only mentioned it in passing in one of last week’s blogs. So today I want to give a few thoughts on our Premier League fixtures, if you’ll indulge me?
Firstly, the start, which looks like a favourable one and The Athletic posted a piece on how ours is the easiest of all of the Premier League teams. There’s also an interesting read by LeGrove that was posted a few weeks back here. The usual caveat applies – no easy games, got to play everyone twice, blah, blah, blah – but as I’ve said on my ramblings before, I do believe that a good start can really help a team for the season ahead. Consider how much we had to claw back last season after three defeats in a row. Granted, it was against two of the top opponents in the league, but it always felt like we were playing catch up last season and it didn’t really feel like we gathered momentum until we were hitting the halfway point in the season.
So with that in mind, I think we have to be pleased with the start. It does mean we need to pick up wins and build momentum and with the fixtures as they are I think there is an opportunity to do that. I’ve mentioned this before, but I remember in 2007/8 when we nearly won the league (season of the Eduardo leg break) we played six of our first nine games at home and we went on an impressive run of form. That momentum and confidence it bred in the team carried us forward and gave us a really good platform to build on. That is what we need to see from this upcoming season and if we can get the players in that we want, get them integrated and training with their new teammates early, then it’ll have us more prepared for that start and hopefully more able to take advantage of it.
But where that is positive (the start to the season), it means we have very difficult other parts. Remember how I said the other day that we always play The Scum first before they always get the home game after Christmas? Well, it’s happened again and that only lends itself to there being some kind of tweaking of the fixtures by somebody at PL HQ. There is no way that this is ‘completely random’ and you can be sure that people are playing god with the fixtures. So it is again and that’s why – as usual – we have ourselves a ‘death run’ in October. Tottenham, Liverpool and Man City all to be played in that month and that makes it a really difficult period for us. In comparison it looks like Chelsea have no real ‘death runs’ with games pretty spaced out other than the odd one or two in which they play the top teams within a couple of games of each other. Man United have a bit of a ‘death run’ in October too, but the Scum seem to have been given a bit of an easy time with their run as well as Chelski, with them never really playing any difficult teams back-to-back all season. So that’s a little frustrating but we have to be used to that by now.
The next frustration, which I wrote about last season too, was how we weren’t in Europe, but we were never playing teams who had played in midweek whilst we had a week off. As it transpired we did have that once with West Ham, so that was an advantage, but it was annoying to see that we had no other games where we had a big advantage against a big rival. So, who are we playing after our Europa League group games?
- Everton at home – they won’t have played during the week
- Brentford away – they won’t have played during the week
- Liverpool at home – they’ll have played in the Champions League group stages
- Leeds United away – they won’t have played during the week
- Nottingham Forest at home – they won’t have played during the week
- Chelsea at home – they’ll have played in the Champions League group stages
So a mixed bunch but some tricky fixtures against some opponents who will have had a week to prepare for us. Of course I’m not complaining too much, because it is what we want – to be in Europe – but it is interesting that when the boot was on the other foot last season we had zero teams in Europe to play against after they’d played in midweek.
Maybe it’ll make no difference at all. After all, depending on the draw we get Arteta might be able to make some rotation options with his team and therefore players are fresh for games at the weekend because they won’t have played during the week. Certainly that’s where you hope some of the squad building that we’ve been doing comes in handy. For example if I look at that first Europa League game on 8th September, we’ll have Man United away and then Everton at home. Arteta could very well mix it up a bit to ensure freshness. If the heavy rumours of players incoming do end up coming to fruition, he could play a similar side to the first team from last season for the Man United game, then in the Europa League field a side that looks like this:
Cedric – Saliba – Holding – Lisandro
Sambi – Xhaka
Marquinhos – Vieira – Martinelli
I know there is a player in there we haven’t signed yet, so you could replace him with Nuno Tavares and you’d still expect that side to do well. Of course the other alternative is that Arteta mixes both sides up, so perhaps we see Vieira at home to Everton the weekend after Odegaard has played in the Europa League? Or – as is the case with Martinelli and ESR – both players alternate depending on the type of game.
What Arteta will have to do is work out how to get the balance right though. We can’t have a clear ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ which is what Wenger did with the Europa League in his last season. We need to have a blended approach and I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking about at the moment. Certainly I hope so with the squad build options that we look to be building out.
Anyway, I’ve probably rambled on long enough, so I’m going to finish this one for today and go enjoy some sun.
Have a good one people.