With all Premier League teams in action this midweek, I had a little look at who Southampton were up against tonight, because we play them at the weekend and that might impact the team selection that Hassenhuttl makes, as well as how he’s going to rotate before we play them on Sunday. I saw it was Bournemouth and immediately thought “oh, that might afford him some rotation and, on top of that, it’s not even a long trip for them”.
My immediate thought was that it isn’t as much of an advantage for us that they are playing in midweek, but the more I think of it, the more I have hope that, actually, there might be signs of optimism for us come Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all ‘chess move’ on our season and discounting the Europa League game against PSV tomorrow night, but with all of the other clubs in Premier League action yesterday and tonight, it kind of feels pertinent.
So if I’m Hassenhuttl and I’m looking at these two games, what am I thinking, in terms of how to approach them? I’m probably thinking that the team can handle two games in a week and so I want to pick up three points against Bournemouth and see if the lads – the first XI and my strongest XI – can get us over the line by going again on Sunday. Fair enough, I think, but where it is beneficial for us at Arsenal is probably more to do with the preparation than the fatigue side of it, to be honest. Southampton will play tonight, they’ll get back on the coach this evening, get in late but have tomorrow off, then back in to training on Friday and Saturday to prepare for The arrival of Arsenal. They’ll have two days of focus on us, whereas we’ll only really get one – on Saturday – after we’ve played PSV. But unlike Leeds, Southampton won’t have had an entire week to watch us, prepare for us, get the game plan absolutely on point and ready to go, whilst Arsenal are off to Norway and back in the meantime. We play at home and although the opponent is better than Bodo/Glimt, the lack of having to travel overseas I think – I hope – has a positive effect come the weekend.
I also wonder whether the fact Southampton play tonight – and will probably play a similar team on Sunday – will have an impact on Mikel’s selection decisions for tomorrow night? PSV are easily the strongest opponent in our Europa League group and if we beat them at home then it almost guarantees a top spot for us. It would probably mean we only need a point from our final two games to qualify and so that prospect of being able to rotate in other games in the coming weeks is probably an appealing one. So I wonder if Arteta will be thinking about naming the strongest possible team – maybe with one or two exceptions like Turner – in the side tomorrow, with a view to getting the job almost done. If he thinks that Southampton are going to play their best side tonight and then go again with the same XI on Sunday, the levels of fatigue between the two sides might be similar, as opposed to the clear difference between us and Leeds at the weekend. Maybe as a result it means we don’t get the sluggish game that we got at the weekend.
All of this leads me to think that we might see most of the first teamers out tomorrow. In an ideal world, if that happens, we get a few goals up and bring players off for the last 30 minutes or so. I’d be surprised if Southampton can do that against Bournemouth and therefore perhaps there’s even more of an incentive to play the strongest team possible tomorrow?
Of course Arteta does also have to balance minutes for players who haven’t managed as many so far this season. So you’d expect Turner, Tierney, maybe Holding, to all start. Partey’s injury record is such that Arteta might be wondering if he can get 60 minutes out of him, but he does need to give Sambi his chance, with the player himself has spoken of his frustration towards the end of last season. I like Sambi, I think he’s got something about him and I’d certainly be starting him tomorrow because I think we need to get more minutes in the legs. But we all know about the difference in the team between when he plays and when Partey plays. So will Arteta roll the dice a little with him? Or will he l0ok to try to secure the win by bringing in the likes of Partey, Saka and Martinelli?
It’s a really tough call to make between balancing the minutes of the players on the fringe and making sure you get the job done. Of our three Europa League games this season, only the Bodo/Glimt game at home really felt like we were in control and found it quite easy in third gear. I haven’t seen enough of PSV to know whether we can roll out a similar level of performance. I’d love us to, because it could mean we can bring off players and give them rest ahead of what will be a high-intensity pressing Saints side on Sunday, but I’d be surprised if we had it our own way and found ourselves three up with half an hour left to play tomorrow night.
He’ll be asked questions in his press conference today, he’ll no doubt not give any real insight away, but nonetheless I’m still going to look for signs as to whether he’s thinking that he’s gotta go as strong as possible to get the job done against an opponent who has knocked us out of competitions before. In fact in our last three games we’ve drawn twice and lost once, so we need to be wary that these are not guys that we will find it a breeze to play.
Just some midweek thoughts for you to ponder on, as we both ponder on what choices Mikel is going to make come 6pmish tomorrow.
Catch you all in the morrow.