Morning Gooners – back on a match day and looking forward to our first away day in the Champions League for many a year. For the team and players it is just as well that the trip is shorter in distance to going to Newcastle, because the bad weather around the Luton area – where Arsenal usually fly from – was such that their flight was delayed I believe, which meant that Arteta’s press conference was cancelled, although we did get somewhat of an update from the manager ahead of the game this evening on the official site and it was some welcome news that he was able to deliver on the injury front.
Bukayo Saka is deemed fit enough to play and Arteta said he’s fine after hobbling off against Bournemouth. I’m sure he’ll start tonight given that admission from the manager, but I think there’s probably plenty of us wondering how many times we can see him hobble off before he eventually succumbs to injury. It is a fairly redundant statement to make (but I’m going to make it anyway), but Saka’s importance to this team cannot be underestimated enough. He has nine goal contributions in all competitions this season for us and he’s scored or assisted just over a third of ALL the goals we’ve got so far this season. And he’s missed the Brentford League Cup game too. He is our Starboy, he is a guy who makes things happen, he’s even supposedly not fully got going in to his stride yet and still we’re getting end product. So having him fit is vital and if he truly has no ill-effects from the last couple of weekends where we’ve seen him pick up injuries, then cool. But if he is carrying any kind of problem in to this game, don’t inject him, patch him up and send him out there; this game is important and we want to win it, but that Man City game on Sunday is basically going to need every single one of our best players fit and available if we want to stand any chance of getting anything against them.
And speaking of having your best players back fit, we’ve also welcomed back Thomas Partey to training this week, with Arteta admitting he’s been in training for a couple of days and should play some part tonight. My hope is that he can get a solid 20 – 30 minutes and providing all is good with him there, then we should be also looking at how much involvement he can have for the City game at the weekend. Another massive boost for us.
And my, how things can change around quickly within a week, eh? This time last week we were going in to the Brentford game with Partey, Rice, Saka, Trossard all as doubts, but now it looks like all might be fit for this evening and that is huge for us. Huge because it affords Arteta a bit of rotation with some of the ‘big’ players who he wants to find spaces for. You never know, but we could see Tomiyasu come in this evening, for example, instead of Zinchenko or one of the other defenders. We could have Rice start the game, but Partey finish the game, giving both much needed rest and minutes ahead of the weekend. Trossard will fancy a start and in the absence of Martinelli I suspect Arteta will grant that wish; maybe we see Trossard wide left and Gabriel Jesus through the middle, like we did against PSV?
I do think Arteta will do a bit of rotation, but I doubt it’ll be in goal. Raya appears to have secured that number one spot so I suspect he starts again tonight, with Saliba, gabriel, Odegaard, Saka, probably Havertz all getting the nod too. Maybe he could give Fabio Vieira the left eight spot as reward for his decent performances this season, but I could just as easily see him keep Havertz in there in the hope to kick-start his Arsenal career after his goal at the weekend. And I wouldn’t necessarily be averse to that. He’ll be riding high off the back of that goal and the overwhelming groundswell of away fan support he got on Saturday and he’ll know that all any of us want is for him to be a success at the Arsenal because if they’re all successful then we all get to celebrate that glory.
As for Lens, their league form is pretty patchy, but I’ve seen a few stats floating about that it is belying their actual qualities. The noises are that they are a good defensive outlet and that perhaps their goal concessions have been a little unlucky. They are certainly missing Fofana in midfield and Openda in attack is a big blow; last season he bagged 21 goals in 38 games and that is a big chunk of goals missing from their team that they need to fill. It doesn’t look like they’ve been doing it so far this season but that can all change under the lights and with the impetus of Cha,pions league football getting their team excited. They got a credible draw away at Sevilla in their last game and looked like they made a decent fist of the game, so I’m not expecting this to be easy, but it is a game that we should be looking at as one that we should be getting a result of some kind in.
Mindset has to be right though, application has to be right and we need to be taking our chances. Fingers crossed we do.
Catch you all tomorrow for a debrief.