Happy Match day folks!
Is it happy though? Do you every REALLY enjoy matchday?
As I mentioned on my blog yesterday, I did a stadium tour yesterday, which was pretty awesome because The Management had sorted me out a VIP Legends tour, which meant I was shown around by Lee Dixon and Nigel Mitchell, who is the chap who does the presenting on match day at The Emirates. Both lovely people and it felt very natural just listening to them talk about Lee’s career, but also walking around the stadium and getting access to changing rooms, etc. Anyhoo, the reason I am bringing this up is not to show off, but merely give you an insight on something Lee said, which was that actually most players hate the build up. There are nerves, tension, you’re on edge for the whole time. Lee said that as a player you never really ‘enjoy’ the match, not unless you are four goals up after 20 minutes, which of course doesn’t happen very often.
But what he said about not enjoying the match really resonated with me because that’s how I’m feeling right now. I am nervous about today. Leicester are a good team, score goals and their shocking start to the season belies where they currently are. They have steadied themselves over recent weeks and that 3-0 loss to United at Old Trafford goes against what we’ve seen from them of late. In fact, Arteta even referenced that game against United; Leicester should have been a couple of goals up were it not for some fantastic saves from De Gea. It absolutely most certainly WAS NOT a 3-0 romping that the scoreline suggests.
So today they are going to be a really tough opponent and they are going to cause us a lot of problems. Which is why I am nervous and why I rarely enjoy build up to matches or the matches themselves, because there are too many nerves kicking in.
So I wonder if the current crop of players have that feeling now themselves too? Do they have the same butterflies as me right now? The good news for them is they can do something about it (win), whereas I am reliant on other humans who are miles away from where I’ll be watching the game this afternoon on my sofa, so at least they have it in their own control. And we still have our own destiny in our own control. But only if we keep on winning football matches.
That’s what we have to do today against a Leicester side with – oddly given how difficult a place it is perceived to be to go – the second worst record at home in the league. They’ve picked up 12 points at home all season and have three wins and three draws to go with their five defeats. They’ve conceded 13 goals in their 11 matches, but they’ve scored 15, so I think it’s probably unrealistic to expect us not to concede today. So with that in mind, it does feel like we probably will need to score at least two and probably three today. It’s certainly doable, but what we have to do – which we haven’t done a lot lately – is bag ourselves the first goal. Villa went ahead twice against us, as did City before finishing the game off with the third goal at The Emirates. We were pegged back after scoring later on in the second half against Brentford and we succumbed to the only goal of the game away at Everton. What we therefore need to see is an Arsenal team that is quick off the blocks. Villa Park was rocking when they got the early goal and if Leicester score early and first then their home fans will probably equally find a loud voice.
For Leicester it looks as thought there’s a supposed fitness test for Maddison because of knee problems, but I suspect he will absolutely be 100% fit when the teams are announced at 2pm this afternoon. Their injuries are James Justin, Jonny Evans and Ryan Bertrand, which means their back line will be Castagne, Souttar, Faes and Kristansen, who will most likely have Tielemans and Dewsbury-Hall/Mendy playing in midfield. That is a defence that looks get-at-able, but it’s in attack where they will cause our defence problems. Barnes is livewire and good with the ball at his feet, Maddison has been on fire and Tete isn’t a player I’ve seen too much of, so I don’t really know his style. In front of them Iheanacho is a definite threat and in Jamie Vardy they have a threat from the bench who absolutely loves a goal against us. It’s bloody annoying at how often he does it, to be honest with you.
They are a team who will provide plenty of threat, but when you look at their underlying metrics, they really are like a box of chocolates – you have absolutely no idea what Leicester show up. I hope it is the one in which they look fragile defensively and we can impose ourselves early on. The hopeful good news is that Partey trained yesterday and Arteta confirmed that in his press conference. If he’s fit and able to then you have to play him; if he can only play one game out of this or Everton then you prioritise this and give Jorginho the starting spot on Wednesday against an Everton team who won’t have much of the ball at The Emirates. But I make Leicester better on the ball than Villa and so somebody like Partey in front of the back four is going to give us more control on the game off the ball than Jorginho will.
As for the rest of our team, I suspect Arteta will opt for the usual XI, so that’ll be:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Xhaka
Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli
Trossard did ok last week starting, but Martinelli’s explosive pace against Castagne might be something we want to exploit, so I think Arteta will bring the Brazilian back in to the fold for this game. The good news, however, is that we have options from the bench if we need to freshen it up. ESR has had another week of training under his belt and along with Trossard and Vieira we have more creative options should Leicester frustrate us. But I don’t think they will and can do that to be honest with you; they are built to go forward and try to score more because their defence has been a little leaker than previous iterations of a Rodgers team. That doesn’t mean they won’t all suddenly turn in to the most miserly defence you’ve ever seen today, of course, but up until this point and based on what the numbers say, you’d hope we will get time and space to be able to have a go at this Leicester team today.
It’s going to be another nervy afternoon, I’m not looking forward to it, but hopefully we can overcome this latest test.
Catch you all tomorrow for the usual debrief.
Have a good one!
Ooh, quick ‘P.S.’ – we’re off to Lisbon to play Sporting in a couple of weeks. Got to be happy with that draw, but we need to do the business and Mikel will have to put his thinking cap on re: how he rotates. It feels like a game in which he could go hard at first and then bring something back to the Emirates for a bit of rotation, but that’s a good two weeks away yet, so I’ll park any more thoughts on that tie just yet.
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