Morning folks, how we all doing? Looking forward to the weekend and a wee taste of The Arsenal ahead of the season starting back up on Boxing Day? I know I am. I might even tune in to the live feeds of the press conference I’m sure Arteta will give today at some stage.
There are so many things I’d love the journos to ask him ahead of the friendly game, ahead of the second part of this season and although we all know he won’t actually give anyone anything of use in terms of injuries, signings, approach and style of play, the opposition (other than platitudes), I would still somehow love to find the answer to:
Who partners Gabriel in central defence next weekend?
In my mind this will depend on how William Saliba is after the World Cup. On the one hand he’s barely played any football, so fatigue through physically playing will be negligible. He’s also a guy who will be desperate to get on to the pitch, which means that he could be chomping at the bit after the weekend. The temptation for Arteta and his coaching staff could well therefore be to chuck him in against West Ham. But He’ll have just been part of a World Cup squad that has either won and is jubilant and partying in France in the week leading up to the game, or to a disconsolate French Team who were one game away from doing something no other nation has done before and retain the World Cup.
I think back to how Big Per talks about motivation struggles after Germany won the trophy in Brazil in 2014. How that he came back to Arsenal and he struggled for a while before getting back in to his groove. Some are suggesting that this could happen to Saliba but I don’t think so. Big Per was 30 when he won the World Cup; he’d played as a first team regular for years at multiple clubs, so you can see why he might struggle and think “what more can I do in the game at 30?”. But Saliba is only at the beginning of his journey. He has more World Cups ahead of him, he is a guy who has just established himself at The Arsenal, plus he’s playing so well he’ll be keen to get back as soon as possible. But to throw him in on Boxing Day? That will be Mikel’s puzzle he has to solve?
Where can Eddie take us?
If you ask Mikel that directly he’d just say lovely things about Eddie, about what a great pro he is, about how he needs his chance, how he believes in him, etc, etc. But deep down in his heart of hearts – and that’s where you’d love to get a lie detector on him somehow, you just know that if you were to get the truth from Mikel, the response would be a little more hazy. That’s because – as we’ve all read, heard, watched, etc – Gabriel Jesus has had a fundamental impact on our season that will only be felt when we don’t have him. We will only really start to see the absence after about five or six games, I reckon, because I think Eddie might get a few goals. IF he scores against West Ham, or Brighton, or Newcastle, or all three, then we’ll all be starting to think “maybe you know, just maybe, we can compete at the top”. But Gabriel Jesus provides so much more from an all round game, that it is inconceivable to think that by the end of January we aren’t massively lamenting that injury he picked up for Brazil. The co-ordinated press that Gabby J drives, the relationship and quick interchanging of the ball with Martinelli, the leadership and winning mentality he brings to the dressing room because the other players know they have a guy going to war with them; all of this stuff is some of the intangibles that I don’t think we’ll get with Eddie. Actually, that’s sounding a little unfair and I don’t mean it to be; what I mean is we won’t get all of that stuff to the same level and volumes as we do with Gabriel Jesus. Eddie will give us levels of a press – his engine and drive shows us that – but he doesn’t, for example, have that trait of being able to wriggle in between defenders and draw two or three around him, only for him to wriggle free and take those players out of a game. That kind of close control is something I think we’ll miss.
How do we manage all of the deflated world cup returnees?
This is a man management question and it’s something that I’d love to be a fly on the wall of Mikel’s office and see what he does with each player and how he treats them individually. Some – like Xhaka – will need a back slap and a “you good? Good!” type chat, but others like Tomiyasu, made need a bit more of a man hug and a longer chat. Then there’s players who didn’t play that much. How are they doing? Ramsdale, White, Saliba – all Mikel will need to ‘suss out’ to work out how much time they really need. That takes plenty of conversation, but it also means looking at them in a little more detail in training and seeing how they are doing.
We got ourselves in to such a good position pre World Cup that Mikel will want to continue that momentum, but if there are any players that aren’t quite ‘with it’ and need more time, he will need to make a decision on them really quickly because he’ll not have had loads of time with them on the training pitch to see how they are doing. In Saliba’s case it will basically have been none, so I would be surprised if we saw him before the Newcastle game on 3rd January. That could mean White at centre half and Tomiyasu at right back, which i’d be fine with, but with Mikel having already shown that he isn’t always 100% happy with moving more parts around than he has to (like how he justified playing Eddie wide left because Gabby Jesus had been playing as a central striker earlier in the season, and moving the two would be moving two players out of that position), I do wonder if it might be somebody like Holding getting the nod instead of Tomiyasu for that Boxing Day game, with White staying in at right back.
So there we have it. Three questions I’d love to know the real answer to from Mikel Arteta, if that is even possible to get without finding some kind of mind control device where I can see inside his head.
What about you? What would you ask?