Morning kids, we all excited for match day? I know I am! Didn’t go to bed until midnight and here I am at 6.30am wide awake.
There’s something very special about the first game of the season when it’s a homer. Everything is new, hope has been renewed, the bad tastes of last season (unless you’re a City fan) have subsided (I’m not sure it will eve go away, as I’ll always be a little ‘if only’ about the 22/23 season) have abated somewhat and what stretches out in front of us in nine months of football. It may be the hope that kills you, but right now before a ball has been kicked (properly), the excitement is absolutely palpable.
And especially amongst us Arsenal fans. We’ve done our business early, our squad has been improved and on paper at least, we look ready to tackle what will be a much tougher season than last season. Our rivals have strengthened, we will have more competitive games because of the Champions League, plus the expectations have been raised amongst the media, the players, as well as us as fans, so the big question is how the boys will respond to that increased expectations.
The good news is that I think they will. I hear some of what these Arsenal players are saying and they seem very grounded. There is no more comments like “this is the best squad I’ve ever seen” from players like Theo Walcott who, whilst a good player for us, wasn’t exactly elite. When he said it all those years ago I loved to hear it at the time, but I never really believed it. This team we have now feels balanced, it feels deep enough, so if one of the current crop talked like that I would be more inclined to believe it. But here’s the thing: they’re NOT talking like that. They have been grounded. They know that they haven’t won anything yet. They know they have a good mentality, Arteta has set them on the right path, but football has so many variables in it that they know there is no point bigging yourself up because you’re only as good as your last win and your last trophy.
(To be fair to them, technically their last win WAS their last trophy 😉 )
So that means the game faces need to be on, the focus needs to be laser-sharp, the desire, drive and game plan needs to be right for the visit of Nottingham Forest today. I had a couple of looks at some Forest fan channels and they’re all thinking that Turner is going to start for them today. If we haven’t put in some kind of clause that he can’t play, or have a gentlemen’s agreement in place, then I think we’re mad. Because if he plays you just know he’s going to have the game of his life. But that’s us to be fair, we’re always ‘nice guys’ when it comes to this kind of stuff. Personally I say ‘screw that’ and I’d want every and any marginal gain we can get against every opposition in the Premier League. They reckon they’ll go for a 5-3-1-1 formation with Chris Wood up top. So that means set pieces and target man to the big lump, probably with Gibbs-White looking to hit the pace on the counter.
They reckon they’re dropping low block football today and you can understand why. They’ve had a couple of supposed injuries, we’re at home, we have high expectations and we should have too much quality for Forest.
In terms of us, there are obviously many decisions that Arteta is going to have to deliberate over for his starting XI this lunchtime and I have to say fair play to him, because as somebody who watches all of the time I have no idea what team will be put out today, so I’ll be dammed if the Forest analysts will have any idea too. I have an inkling that he will stick with the same team that played against Man City a week ago, but I kind of hope he doesn’t. And the reason I say this is because I look at some of the Forest fan responses to how they will play – low block football – and I just think we need more lock pickers rather than big physical presence.
So for me I’d be looking at a Trossard starting at the nine rather than Havertz or Eddie. I know Havertz has pretty decent feet and balance for a big fella, that his game isn’t a target man one, but Trossard is just elite with his close ball control. I think he is better in small spaces and I think when we’ve got the ball in and around their penalty area, it is going to need to be those players who have that ability to twist and turn rapidly to evade the sheer volume of bodies we’re going to get in the Forest box.
So, my line up for today would be:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Timber
Odegaard – Rice
Saka – Trossard – Martinelli
There could be an argument for Havertz instead of Rice as we should be looking at having more ball and Havertz is probably better in the attacking third than Rice, but if Forest look to spring traps and hit us with the likes of Gibbs-White on the counter, then Rice will be the kind of guy you can see bombing back to make up ground and break down the transitions. There could also probably be an argument for Zinchenko but given how well Timber played last weekend, I think Arteta should be telling Zinny that he needs to pull up a pew and take a seat for this one.
I don’t see this game being the same as the 5-0 drubbing we gave them last season. I think they will look to frustrate and we might have to be patient. It’s the first game of the first Saturday of the season and so they aren’t going to want their arses handed to them, so I think they’ll look to be super compact and that may mean we’re waiting until they tire in the second half. We just have to be patient. The good news is that we have plenty of options from the bench; Eddie can come on, if Havertz plays then Trossard will absolute get on the pitch, Smith Rowe is looking sharper, as is Fabio Vieira. We have plenty of creativity and so we need to make sure that we make it count. A nice early goal will settle any nerves and will also mean Forest probably have to change their game plan, but let’s not set the bar of expectation too high that it’ll be as easy as that.
Just get the win, Arsenal – by hook or by crook.
Catch you wonderful people later. Have a good one.