Morning all and welcome to Friday. We’re just over 24 hours until we take to the field against Burnley and we’ll hear from Mikel at some stage today about the team news for this one and I’m sure he’ll be asked about the fitness of a certain Thomas Partey, with whom the noises are now swilling around social media and the press about how he is most likely due to sit out the rest of 2023 with the thigh injury he picked up a couple of weeks ago. This one is a particular blow, because as we all know he is a big player for us, certainly makes us much better when he is in the side and if we’d have been able to keep him fit for most of the season then I think we’d stand a much better chance of competing for the league than we have without him around. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen some decent games from Jorginho and he was good on Wednesday and decent on Saturday away at Newcastle, despite being pretty much assaulted on a couple of occasions by Bruno Guimaraes (more on that in a sec). But needing to rely on him for the next couple of months feels like it might be a stretch too far for this midfield I’m afraid.
Arsenal must surely now be looking at fast tracking their search for a central midfielder to this January rather than the summer. The Ghanaian has had rotten luck with injuries since he joined us, he’s missed a chunk of the season every year since he signed having always been available at Atletico Madrid, but you can’t build a regular XI with him in the side and whilst that is a sad thing to admit given his talent, it is just the sad reality of life that we need to start thinking about moving on from him and finding a regular replacement. If he’s out until 1st January he’ll need a couple of weeks to get up to speed fitness-wise, then by the time he might even be moderately fit he’ll be off to the AFCON which starts on 13th January. Ghana are roughly 10th in the odds to win the thing from multiple bookies, but if they get all the way to the final it’ll be mid February when he’s back. Then he’ll probably have a few days to acclimatise and travel back to The Arsenal, so worst case scenario we could have him out until Burnley away on 17th February next year. That’s in 13 Premier League matches time and takes us to match week 25 that he’d be available for us. He’s missed the last three games which means in total in this spell he’ll have been out for 16 matches – almost half the season.
If the club aren’t already putting the wheels in motion – assuming these reports are true – that we need a replacement asap in January, I’d be stunned.
Arteta and then club wouldn’t admit it and of course the media will go into overdrive throwing names out in the hope of some clicks and hits on their channels, but the truth is that if we really want to compete on multiple fronts this season when it gets to crunch time, we need another solution. As it stands for the three options in the middle of the park we have Jorginho, Rice, Elneny, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Havertz, Vieira. If Odegaard and Rice stay fit then fine, but if either get injured – particularly Rice – then we are in a world of trouble. We saw against West Ham the lack of physicality in a Jorginho, Havertz and Vieira midfield, so we have to just cross everything that Rice remains robust enough to play as many important matches as possible.
The main question will now turn to who takes up that left eight spot, I reckon, because personally I think that is the area that needs solving. For games like Burnley at home you’d expect us to play Jorginho in at six, then Rice playing left eight, but for those games in which there are powerful midfields who want to do you on transition, you don’t really want the lack of mobility of Jorginho to cost you. So for me I am pondering what our options are and I think about options like ESR in at left eight with Rice in at six, perhaps? The problem with that is that we’ve seen Smith Rowe switch off when we need our players to be switched on when we don’t have the ball. Perhaps Zinchenko at left eight? I wouldn’t be against this for a game like Liverpool away or Brighton at home. Having played ostensibly as a left back during his time at Arsenal and at Man City, it feels like he’d be better off the ball and tracking back and with somebody like Tomiyasu behind him ensuring that he doesn’t have to worry about getting run in behind, it kind of makes sense to me to try. But Mikel has shown a real reluctance to do that so far. Does this Partey situation mean he has to think differently? I would certainly Arteta gives it real consideration.
Burnley this weekend could be an opportunity to give it another tester, providing we do the business early on. If we can be winning by a couple of clear goals (not that I’m counting my chickens, just hypothesising because of the current situation and the opponent we play tomorrow) with half an hour to play tomorrow, then why not try once again moving Zinchenko to left eight, have Tomiyasu at left back, then see what the balance looks like? He tried Zinchenko as a midfielder when we were two up against Sevilla and it’s not as if it really sucked. So why not build a few data points in which you can have a better view as to whether it works or not?
I just think we need to start thinking of different options. One of the things that Arteta has done well is find good players who can play in multiple positions. Now is the time to test whether this can work in practice.
I was going to do a bit on the PGMOL announcements after the Newcastle game, but their responses show what a joke of a protectionist Old Boys Club that entity are. Kai Havertz was a unanimous sending off situation, but punching people in the head is undecided and you can now push people over in the box if you are an attacker. Great stuff – I look forward to us bundling over defenders tomorrow by slapping them in the head and the referee saying that it’s perfectly fine because the ‘lads’ in Stockley Park and PGMOL “independent” panels will back them up. Grand.
Catch you wonderful humans tomorrow.