I’m probably going to spend the vast bulk of today’s ramblings talking about how worried I am with regards to William Saliba’s fitness concerns, so before I do that, I’m taking a moment to remember the wonderful player that was David Rocastle. He sadly died 22 years ago today and whilst he didn’t end his career at Arsenal, being an Arsenal fan and racking up the most time at our club than anywhere else, it is with us that he is most closely linked and it is with us that we saw the best of his fantastic talents.

I was born in 1982 and really only started properly ‘getting in’ to football at the end of 1989 and during the 89/90 season. that was just at the point in which he was at his creative best and by the time I’d properly started ‘getting in’ to The Arsenal, he was my favourite player. I was sad when he left but so was Rocky apparently, as has been well documented, because he didn’t want to leave the club. That was how much of a Gooner he was. Gone but never forgotten, Rocky, RIP to the first number seven I loved to watch in an Arsenal shirt.


Moving forward to today’s Arsenal news and, well, it’s fair to say that if you were on social media yesterday the stories coming from journos about Saliba’s availability are worrying indeed. When he came off against Sporting, then when we had a couple of journos who saw him walking off seeing that he didn’t look to be in much pain as he left the stadium, the expectation I had was that we should have him back sooner than later. Maybe the club would give him time to recover by making him miss the Leeds game, but that would mean he’ll have had over three weeks to recover for the trip to Anfield and so hopefully that would be enough time.

But as news broke yesterday about how the back injury was not just a slight knock that his body could quickly get over, the worries amongst Arsenal fans started to kick in and when you are starting to hear words like “surgery”, then the concerns get even bigger for a player who has been so integral to our success this season.

And he really has. He has physical presence alongside Gabriel. He is strong in the tackle and wins his duels. He can carry the ball out from defence and that draws other players towards him, which creates space. He has recovery pace and can win a foot race with most defenders in the league. These are all attributes that have been vital for us this season and when you add that to the fact that Gabriel shares some of those attributes, as does Ben White, it has enabled us to play a brand of football at the back that can support so much more in the build up.

With three very good, quick and physical defenders in the back line such as White, Saliba and Gabriel, it enables Zinchenko to push forward and join the midfield, which has been a key facet of our tactical approach this season. Saliba, Gabriel and White effectively take up the lions share of defending that we do and that frees Zinchenko up. Without one of Gabriel or Saliba, we simply aren’t the same team in build up and if Saliba is out for an extended period of time, I do worry about the remainder of our season and our title charge.

What has compounded the issue, however, is that Tomiyasu is also out for the remainder of the season. Were Tomiyasu to be fit then I would not be nearly as concerned. That’s because he is a good one-on-one defender, he has pace, plus he can play both right back and centre back. If Tomi were fit then I think we’d probably see him come in for Saliba this weekend, or Arteta reverts to last season’s right hand side and plays the Japanese international at right back and Ben White moves to the middle of the defence. No problems there.

But Tomiyasu’s injury – whilst not exactly a surprise given his injury record – feels like a massive blow to us. His injury means that White has to play the remainder of this season at right back because we have no other real viable options there (I’m not seeing Partey as the best option I’m afraid, sorry) and that means that Arteta has only one other choice, which is to bring Rob Holding in alongside Gabriel.

And that worries me. A LOT.

Rob Holding seems like a great guy. He’s always wearing a smile, he seems to be really liked amongst the group and he’s somebody that has been a long servant of the club. But I’m sure by now we all know his limitations as a player and it is those limitations that has me seriously fearful of our title charge if we have to see him in the side for a prolonged period of time.

Against Crystal Palace he did well; he had a rash challenge where he tried to win the ball high up the pitch within the first 10 minutes and it eventually led to Zaha’s chance off the post. Other than that he was fine and when you’re playing a team who isn’t going to create a lot of chances and is going to spend the majority of the time defending in their own half, then Rob Holding is fine. Perhaps even for Leeds United this weekend he’ll also be fine; they will come and make a load of tackles, but the expectation from us should be that most of the ball is played in their half. I’ll do more on how Leeds set up tomorrow but in a game like tomorrow my hope is that we can mask the drop down in quality from Saliba to Holding.

But against Liverpool, City, Newcastle or the likes of Brighton…that’s where I start to worry. And those are four of the remaining 10 games we have. Holding is a decent penalty box defender; he’ll be able to camp in his own box and nod the ball away all day. But we don’t play penalty box football; we press high and with a high line, looking to force turnovers higher up the pitch (we have made the most attacking third tackles of any team – including Leeds in second place – all season by the way). When you do that you have to squeeze your forwards up, your midfield up, your defence plays on the halfway line. Rob Holding is not a great defender when there is green grass behind him and that should be a massive cause for concern.

We’ll get the tiniest of hints about how bad it is from Arteta today I think, although he won’t give too much away, but we might at least know if they think this will be a long term thing or something that the club can manage for the next two months.

Let’s just wait and see.

Catch you all tomorrow.