Morning Gooners and welcome to Saturday matchday. Well, it kind of is, of sorts, as The Arsenal play at home to Sevilla in our final friendly before the new season starts in six days and it’ll be our final look at the team that will lock horns with the Eagles for the Friday Night Football game that opens the Premier League season.
As I write we’re just under two hours away from the the match itself; an early 12.30pm kick off and that works fine for me as I have some mates over for a BBQ and some booze, so I can have some lunch whilst forensically analysing every single movement of every Arsenal player to try to second guess as to whether they’ll be ready for the season proper. My hope – and my expectation – is that they will indeed put on a show and in Sevilla they have a decent opponent who will also probably want to field a pretty decent side before their season starts.
They finished fourth last season behind Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and by all accounts look like a pretty tough team to beat; they lost just four games last season and so if you’re looking at a decent and technical opponent who will put us through our paces, then I think Sevilla fit that bill. They’ve just lost their best defender Kounde to Barca, but they still have the likes of Jesus Navas, Fernando, Rakitic, Lamela – who will get a lovely reception no doubt – as well as Delaney and Rafa Mir who is their main man in attack. How many of them start from the off will be interesting, but also how they line up will be good to see how we play. By the sounds of it they go with a 4-3-3 not dissimilar to how we play, with an emphasis of playing down the right (also sounds familiar) and trying to play possession football. So in many respects this looks like a good opponent to set us up for the season.
What will be interesting is just how long Arteta keeps his first teamers on the pitch for. Personally I’d like to see the best possible starting XI for the first 60 to 70 minutes at least. That gives us a good indication of the team for next week, but also gets more minutes in the tank for each of those starters. I am also hoping to see a back four of White, Saliba, Gabriel and Tierney/Zinchenko to start. If Tierney is not fit enough then go with the Ukrainian, but on the right hand side it feels like Ben White is more like-for-like interchangeable with Tomiyasu, so for me that makes sense to go with that line up and maybe give Tomi 10 minutes as he tries to get himself back fit for the start of the season.
The base of the midfield has to be Partey and either side of him I’d be going Xhaka and Odegaard. Saka right, Martinelli left and Gabriel Jesus through the middle would complete the fittest and strongest XI I think we’ve got. Smith Rowe has been back in training but he’s been missing out on a few games and sessions so again, I’d like to see him from 60 to 70 minutes. And I think there are a few moves we can make and still look decent. If I was in Mikel’s shoes I’d be looking to switch it up with the new five subs rule coming in to play. We have the ability to switch our game tactically in play and so we might as well start it now. For example, if we find ourselves behind at halftime, why not switch it by bringing on Nketiah for someone like Martinelli, flipping to a back three with Saka and Tierney/Zinchenko as the wing backs, then seeing how we can overload the Sevilla defence with the added numbers in attack?
That approach also works if we are winning, although perhaps if we are winning on 60 minutes then we flip to a back three, same wing backs, but we bring on Smith Rowe and ask him to tuck in to more of a central attacking midfielder rather than playing two up top with Eddie playing. Either way, the good news is that by the looks of it we have plenty of options this season to have a degree of flexibility and keeping opponents guessing by changing in game. That’s what I’m looking for from today; I want us to be malleable to the managers in-game shifts because you can bet there will probably be Crystal Palace scouts at the game today trying to suss out how we’re going to set up against them next Friday. If they report back to Big Paddy V that there are a multitude of different set ups we could have, then it at least gives us that little bit extra element of surprise before we start things off properly.
In all honesty the result doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see us score goals and play well, but as long as I come away from the game today with enough belief that we’ll have a good plan, multiple tactical options and the team looks like it has a cohesion about it, then the result really doesn’t matter too much to me.
Bit of a shorter one today but hopefully back tomorrow with something more substantial based on what we see unfold this lunchtime.
Catch you all tomorrow. Up The Arsenal!