Before I go in to the nuances of the game today, as well as Mikel Arteta’s press conference yesterday, please allow me to indulge in a bit of smugness, having spent an hour in Alan Smith’s presence last night for the Same Old Arsenal podcast yesterday evening. We talked about a wealth of things like the All of Nothing Documentary, the game today, etc, with me bringing in some linkages to his time at the club like “what would George say to the Amazon cameras everywhere?”. My personal feeling is that George would have embraced it, after all, it was he who had cameras there when he gave the lads a pep talk post the points deduction in 1990. Here’s the link if you want to have a watch.
As for the here and now, we have a big game in some big heat this afternoon against Leicester and Mikel Arteta was asked about that – amongst other things – in his presser yesterday. As with every presser he came across as very cool and collected and as I’ve said before many times, he is ice cold when it comes to these media duties and you can’t really fault his game talk there. It’s fair to say that his team hasn’t always matched that on the pitch but with the business done this summer, the pre season we’ve had, the impressive start against Palace and an opportunity to build on that positivity and good momentum today at home, the hope is that we continue to see those steps in the right direction and that means a good performance and a win today.
It won’t be easy though. As Mikel pointed out when asked about how different Leicester will be today compared to the last time we played them last season, we have only played once this season and Leicester haven’t really changed their side much since that game. They’ve lost Kasper Schmeichel but the rest of the team that played at the Emirates in March is still there; Soyuncu, Amartey, Pereira, Thomas, Barnes, Maddison, Albrighton, Mendy, Dewsbury-Hall, Vardy, Ihneanacho – they’re all still part of the squad. The good news from an Arsenal perspective is that there are a couple of those players – Pereira and Barnes – who won’t make the side today due to injury and as I said yesterday, the Barnes injury is one that can’t help us at all. If you’re talking abut how Leicester might be stronger today than in March, that comes in the shape of Ndidi, who wasn’t fit for the game earlier this year but is surely in line to start today. He’s the guy that leads the press in their team and if Leicester are to get anything from today you suspect he’ll be a key figure to their success.
So too will, I think, hitting us on the counter, which is why we need to be on it at the back. Leicester like to play possession football but I suspect they’ll line up with a back three and move the ball quickly from front to back to try to break our intensity press. Rodgers is no mug and he’ll have watched our game against Palace and seen that this Arsenal team this season may like to start quick and press high up the pitch. Therefore if they can draw us out and hit us on the counter with the likes of Vardy – still a pain even given his age – then that’s what I think they’ll look to do.
Perhaps, if anything, the fact we were under the kosh from Palace last weekend, will also be beneficial for us. The reason I say this is that Leicester only have one true data point to look at us from a style of play perspective and for most of that data point we were asked to do a fair bit of defending. I can’t see Leicester putting us under as much sustained pressure away from home as they would if this was at the King Power, for example, so perhaps the fact we weren’t able to show our full intentions for 70-odd minutes can play in our favour? Or maybe I’m just willing every perceived advantage possible…
In terms of our team, I don’t think you can look beyond the same side that started last weekend. Ramsdale in goal, White, Saliba, Gabriel and Zinchenko in the back four, Partey at the base of a midfield which includes Xhaka and Odegaard, then Martinelli and Saka either side of Gabriel Jesus. That team needs to start this game the same way they did against Palace and with a home crowd that will be rocking this afternoon, my hope is that there is even more energy and zip about the team than there was last Friday for the first game of the season.
From a morale perspective keeping the team the same from the start makes sense, but also from a tactical side too I think. We should, in theory, have more of the ball and create more of the chances. We should be spending more of our time going forward and with that in mind, you have to pick Zinchenko because he was great going forward. In Martinelli and Saka you have two players that scored/made a massive contribution last weekend so that makes sense, whilst Gabriel Jesus looked electric in the game against Palace so he must start. You could make a case for Tierney but as I said, with us expected to spend more time going forward, Zinchenko feels a better player going forward to me than Tierney does.
It’s going to be a challenge for both sets of teams today and Arteta was asked about how the team had prepped for the hot weather. He sort of said “we just need to get on with it” but I’ll be surprised if he hasn’t done some kind of simulated warm weather training to get the players used to it. The good news is that I believe it was pretty roasting in the States when the team went out there, so they’ll have been used to the heat and again, perhaps I’m just looking for advantages that aren’t there, but Leicester stayed in the UK for most of their pre season, also going to Belgium, so maybe our players can hopefully adapt quicker to the weather on the day. What will also come in to play, as Mikel also said in his press conference, is the five subs that can now be used and I’ll be surprised if we don’t make a number of changes during the game given the heat. The good news is that it looks like we’ll have a much stronger bench this afternoon; in to the squad might come Vieira, Tomiyasu, Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe and when you add in Pepe, Nketiah, Holding and Turner, it’s not exactly a completely inexperienced bench that Mikel will be able to call on as and when he needs to.
Just to wrap up for today, I think I need to repeat that we shouldn’t take Leicester for granted this afternoon, but this needs to be an Arsenal team we see today with confidence, swagger and belief that they can get our first three points of the season on home soil. I am hopeful, but it is not like we have brilliant openings at home. Last season we lost to Chelsea, the season before that we laboured to a 1-0 victory over Norwich. The season before that it was a gritty and difficult 2-1 win over Burnley and the season before that it was a 2-0 defeat to Man City. So we never have an easy ride on opening home game weekend in the league, so I’m not expecting that to happen today.
Right, that’s me done for the day, time to get out there for a run before it gets too hot, then make my way to the stadium.
Catch you all tomorrow for a post match debrief.