Morning folks and welcome to another match day, in this mental busy period of the season which, so far, has been rather a lot of fun for us. It’s a trip to Norway for the lads today and another one of those horrendously pesky 5.55pm kick offs that they have in the Europa League. Gotta tell ya, not a fan, at all.
But it is what it is and what with it being an away game it’s not as if I am impacted that much. I’ll have to do a bit of shuffling of my work diary so I can watch the game from home, but overall it’ll be fine, providing Arsenal get the result.
And that is by no means a certainty I don’t think. Not on their ground. It’ll be cold, their fans will be rocking, plus we’ll have a fair few rotated this evening methinks. That could all add up to a challenging night for Arteta’s boys.
The good news is that the momentum we have right now feels like momentum that is squad-based, rather than ‘Team A and Team B’ based, like the first time we dropped down to the second tier European competition under Wenger all of those years ago. Arteta has managed to enable the players to get to a point in which there is a bit of interchangeability within the squad and so tonight we’ll see rotation, but it’s not as if all the kids will be hitting the cold Norwegian turf come kick off.
If I was to hazard a guess at the line up I suspect we’ll see Turner, KT, Gabriel, Holding, Tomiyasu, Sambi, Vieira, Xhaka, Eddie and Marquinhos starting. There is one space I haven’t filled – that left wing spot – because I’m not sure what Arteta will want to do with it. Does he replicate the canter at the Emirates and give the spot to Martinelli? Or has Reiss Nelson done enough to have a go? Personally I’d give it to Nelson. It keeps Martinelli for Sunday, means our whole front line is fresh for a high-intensity Leeds side, plus it gets minutes in to Nelson’s legs that could prove to be valuable.
We’re already without ESR and if Martinelli breaks down then we’ll have to consider Nelson, so why not give him 60 tonight? It might even help to build his confidence.
I’d also be tempted to go with Tomiyasu at left centre back instead of Gabriel. He was great against Liverpool, is finding his form, plays left centre half all the time for Japan, plus you can whack Cedric in there and have the whole back line rested for Leeds to. Simples, right?
Of course there are plenty of nuisances and levels of fitness different players are at right now; it’s not just a simple case of flipping them in and out and when you make too many changes you always leave yourself vulnerable to one of those clunky displays that don’t do anybody any good. But with the run we’re on in the league right now I’d not be wanting to send fatigues players up to Yorkshire to take on a Jesse Marsch side that will want to make up for losing to Palace this last weekend just gone. So personally I’d roll the dice on larger squad rotation. It’ll be interesting to see if Arteta feels the same.
I get that winning your first four games almost certainly qualifies you for the next round and I get that winning the group also adds the benefit of being able to skip a round when the Champions League teams all drop down in to the competition, but I just can’t personally agree to going too strong at this stage and I hope Mikel feels the same.
He certainly feels that way about Gabriel Jesus and that’s the right call, confirming in his presser yesterday evening that he won’t travel. Makes total sense because the way he went down after being elbowed by Tsimikas made me wonder how bad his head injury was on Sunday. If there’s a chance to let him out his feet up to be 100% though, we’ve got to do it, because he’s been so vital in our transformation this season and is 100% the first name on the team sheet for Sunday’s game at Elland Road.
As usual he didn’t give away any other details of the travelling squad, which we’ll find out this morning when they board the plane, but he did talk of one or two ‘injuries’ that will prevent some players from travelling. My hope is that these ‘injuries’ are just rotation and rest under a different name because based on what he said last night, if we are missing a few more players because of more serious stuff, that’s going to have a few of us worried ahead of the weekend.
Other than that there wasn’t really a lot else to take from the presser. Arteta wouldn’t be drawn or the Auba stuff, or the FA investigating the Henderson and Gabriel stuff and to be honest, neither of those things interest me much anyway. The Auba stuff is all a bit ‘meh’ and whilst the Gabriel stuff with Henderson could be something sinister, unless some new information comes to light, we’re all speculating on – well… – nothing really…
So with that in mind, I’ll leave today’s match preview there, which wasn’t so much of a match preview at all because I’ve hardly said anything about Bodo/Glimt. I probably should, but I don’t think we really learned anything about them at The Emirates. We won at a canter and they popped the ball around nicely enough, but never really troubled us enough for me to be able to do any kind of proper analysis. So we’ll just have to see how they fare against us tomorrow and hope that the lads can do enough to take the three points back to London.
Right, busy day ahead, so I’m offski. You and yours have a good one and I’ll catch you all tomorrow for a Europa League debrief.