Morning folks and welcome to Match Day!
It’s the most wonderful time, of the week…
But also it can be the most nail biting time of the week and what with us already losing some players to injury, the Arsenal fanbase is going full Calculus to try to work out how we are going to maintain our playing style that has delivered four wins in four, with some key component parts missing for this evenings game at home to Villa.
Zinchenko is probably out, Partey is definitely out and now to add to the list we have Elneny out. Of all three, I think the Zinchenko blow is, oddly, the most difficult one for us. In just three short games the way he was playing that left back position has shifted the composition of our team, with him drifting in field to create an extra midfielder, which has allowed Xhaka licence to venture forward to some degree of success it has to be said. But with him out KT provides a different type of team set up and now that Elneny is not occupying the base of our midfield, Arteta is going to need to find a different solution for us to overcome what will be a tricky opponent in Villa, no matter what their form is saying at the moment.
Does he play a number six as a lone ranger, with two eights in front of him? I’m not sure. He has a few options to call upon. He could bring Ben White in to midfield to give us a defensive solidity, a bit more of a passing range, but a player who I think I am right in saying has never played there. Sure, I think he’s done it for Brighton, but we’re talking a couple of years ago now and in an era in which marginal gains are a big thing, playing a square peg in a round hole could be the difference between a win or a draw, or a draw or a defeat.
So what else can he do? Bring Sambi in to that position? I’d love Sambi to step up and show that he can be a fantastic Partey understudy, but pre season saw him as a number eight and I think that’s where the club are thinking his future is. Last season he replaced Partey at times and he had a bit of a tough time of it, so much so that Arteta had to pull him out of the firing line and play Elneny, who then started ahead of him in the last game. So I think there is a real reluctance to do that.
What about dropping Xhaka in to play a little deeper and play Sambi alongside him? That’s an option, although it would change the set up of our team with a double pivot and how will this team react to that when what they were doing was working so well?
Could Xhaka play as the six and we have two eights in front of him? Perhaps Smith Rowe on the left and Odegaard on the right? I think I like this option the most. It doesn’t get the best out of this regen Xhaka we’ve seen, but he feels like the player who could play that quarter back role better than most others in the team. Let’s also not forget that Xhaka will have a little bit more security behind him in his defence if he plays that position; yes we’ve conceded goals this season, but they have tended to be individuals errors which all feel like they can be looked at in isolation, rather than pointing to a tactical deficiency in our team. I think, by and large, we’ve been good so far defensively and so in my head you have to try to keep your team as close to the winning variant of the side you had in the previous game. I have seen calls for rotation to keep players fresh, but there is a couple of reasons why I don’t think Arteta should look to do that where possible:
- We are only four games in to the season so the players are still fresh
- We already have injuries that are forcing changes, so you don’t want to make more changes and disrupt the team any more than it already has.
For this reason I think I’d be going for the following tonight against Villa:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tierney
Odegaard – Smith Rowe
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli
That team is as close to the current winning side as I can think of, with just ESR coming in to the midfield, so the hope is the confidence remains and the little bit of swagger we’ve seen in the performances continues against a decent Villa side tonight.
And Villa are a decent side, no matter what the form table says, in my opinion. Two seasons ago they blew us away with some clever and swift counter attacking football and I suspect that’s what Gerrard will be looking for tonight. I think he’ll opt for Watkins and Bailey who both have pace about them, with Coutinho looking to pull the strings behind them. Jacob Ramsey scored against us last season and I have to say of the little I’ve seen of him he’s looked impressive. Villa lost on the opening day against Bournemouth but were undone on set pieces and had most of the chances and possession I believe. The same happened against West Ham. They gave Palace a good run for their money despite the score line, so I’m expecting them to cause us trouble tonight.
What I’d like to see from this evening is a performance that mirrors the Fulham game. Fulham came to us as a team with confidence, playing well, difficult to break down and we dominated them for the whole game, eventually getting our reward with that late Gabriel finish from a corner. The result felt close and we went behind, but that was because of a brain fart moment and when you replay the game back in your head and see just how much of the ball and control we had, it was essentially the perfect home performance minus the silly mistake. On another day that mistake doesn’t happen and we probably end up getting the goal anyway. So if I can see a similar overall performance to the game against Fulham, then I’d be happy with that, because it would be likely that we would get the result. Not nailed on, but likely, in my opinion.
There is of course a transfer deadline day going on, but when you have a match day it is a welcome distraction from the possibility – and likelihood in my opinion – of no business getting done. And right now that’s fine, because all eyes need to be on the players on the pitch tonight and that is where my focus is too.
Catch you all tomorrow with a post match debrief and, depending on whether any business gets done, some thoughts on the window (although I might save that for Friday).