Cor blimey I had a skin-full last night. Eurovision virtual party with the family and I decided the only way to get through it is to drink so much booze that walking upstairs to bed felt like a pilgrimage.
**Makes noise like Sideshow Bob when he steps on all those rakes in The Simpsons**
I need to get my head in the game, literally, because in a few short hours I’m off to North London to see if The Arsenal can at least put enough pressure on City, who play at 1pm today at Everton. Real Madrid played yesterday and rotated most of their team and although Pep will be focused on Everton this lunchtime, I bet he also kept half an eye on what Madrid did yesterday, so this will be interesting to see how strong he goes with his line up.
But whatever happens there – probably a City win – we have to block it all out and get the job done against an opponent that LOVES to play at The Emirates. I don’t know what it is about them, but they’ve always managed to pick up points against us. They knocked us out of the League Cup in November – albeit with a rotated Arsenal side – and in April last season they beat us 2-1 in somewhat controversial circumstances, because Martinelli had a perfectly good goal ruled out through VAR. They beat us in the 2019/20 season at The Emirates and they picked up a draw in the 2018/19 season. In short, they have become a bogey team. But as I’ve said on this blog before, in the past they’ve beaten us whilst I’ve felt they’re not actually that good. We just seem to have crumbled so many times against them.
This season however is different, because this season I’m looking at this Brighton team and thinking “oh wow, they ARE actually good now”, with De Zerbi having fashioned himself a very impressive side that is difficult to beat and is good with the ball. They have the fourth best xG in the league behind Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool and the fifth best number of goals scored. On goals allowed they are fourth best in the league. They have launched the fewest number of long balls and they like to play a possession-based game which means they’ll want the ball today and they’ll relish an opponent who presses them as they will try to pass through our press. They will also take shots. They have the second highest number of shots attempted and the third highest number of shots on target in the league.
This is going to be a huge test for this Arsenal team today. So, who plays and how do we win?
It seems kind of obvious, but our wings will be really important. They have a few injuries with the impressive Lamptey out, as well as Veltman I think, which means they’ve tried Caicedo and Pascal Gross at right back. Whoever the makeshift choice is today, Martinelli needs to get at them. Then on the other flank we have to give the ball to Saka because Estupinan plays high in this team and that could give opportunities to Saka to get space. If we can pin back the Brighton full backs, then we may get some joy today.
Their threat comes in hitting us in transition with the likes of Mitoma a massive threat just like he was at the Amex. If Ben White and Jakub Kiwior can combine to keep him quiet, then that will go a long way to giving us a chance of picking up all three points.
The Arsenal side that Arteta picks is an interesting one, because after we were told by Ornstein that Zinchenko is going to miss the rest of the season, yesterday the club released pictures of him training and there are some noises this morning of him being with the team at the hotel today. Does that mean he’s fit to play? I’m not sure, but certainly you’d hope he’d be fit for next week if he’s been spotted in training pictures.
Whether this is another bit of mind games from Arteta I don’t know, but what we do know is that Zinchenko is a massive part of our build up play and if he’s not playing then it should change the approach we have. It will certainly keep De Zerbi and his Brighton analysts guessing and if that gives us an advantage in terms of how he has prepared for this game, then I’m all for it.
Assuming Zinchenko is fit to play he will obviously start, with Gabriel, Kiwior and White joining him in the defence. But in midfield we then have another selection question. On form you’d have to go for Jorginho. He was imperious against Newcastle and enabled us to control more of the ball. But against a hard running, hard pressing side like Brighton, I don’t know. One of the super powers Partey has always had is that he is quite press resistant. We’ve seen it a number of times where he’s had the ball at his feet, with a couple of people around him, and he’s been able to shimmy away and that sets us off behind an opponents press. But his form of late has been poor and his lack of ability to shimmy past Rice at West Ham, then his and Odegaard’s mistake at home to Southampton for Walcott’s goal, has shown that that super power has left him of late.
I’d still play him though. As good as Jorginho has been, much like a few of our rotation players, once you get three or four games in a row, their weaknesses start to show. Eddie struggled after the initial six or seven games back from the restart after the World Cup. Holding looked okayish for the first couple of games since Saliba’s injury, then we all know how that went. So I just feel like Arteta should go with the player who in the most part has been excellent for us this season and that would be Partey for me.
Then the rest of the team almost picks itself, except for the Trossard question. He’ll be massively up for this today against his old club. He’ll want to show them what they are missing and I wonder if that plays in to Arteta’s team selection. But do you play him instead of Martinelli? Or instead of Gabriel Jesus? I’m just not sure. But either way, whoever plays I’m cool with. Let’s just hope they do the business.
And that’s me done for today. Fingers crossed for three points for The Arsenal.