Mikel Arteta had his press conference in the afternoon yesterday and the first good news is that Timber aside, everyone is fine to play this evening. I had a look at Wolves yesterday and from what Gary O’Neill said in his press conference, there is no Neto, as he has only just come back from injury, no Cunha from last week and no Semedo. So that is a bunch of dribbly players who they will be without and that has to be a boost for us. But the question that Arteta will be asking himself – because he wasn’t asked yesterday (probably because he wouldn’t give the answer anyway) is:

Who is best placed to start tonight?

For me I do wonder how much rotation he will actually do. Has he said to his players “six games, just give me your all and we’re done” or has he realised that in the last two matches we’ve faded in the second half and so he needs to find a solution to that. That doesn’t have to be to completely rotate the team – and I don’t think he will – but perhaps he knows that some players should only be giving about 60 minutes before he makes some changes. The problem we have is that when he’s made subs in the last couple of games we’ve looked a little disjointed, so in terms of turning games around when it isn’t going our way, it hasn’t really worked. So I have a feeling that the team will have a similar feel to it to the side that has played in midweek. If I was forced with a gun to my head to pick an expected line up, i’d go for:


White   –   Saliba   –   Gabriel   –   Zinchenko


Odegaard   –   Havertz

Saka   –   Jesus   –   Martinelli

Tomiyasu is, I don’t think, going to be able to make two starts in a week given that he has not played very much recently. I know Zinchenko isn’t really in great form, but I still think that the choice is between him and Kiwior and it feels like Arteta has slotted back in to the mindset of Kiwior as the third choice back up (fourth if Timber is fit) and so I suspect Zinchenko gets the nod. I’m also applying the same logic for Jorginho too, given he played against Munich from the start. I think most of us agree that Havertz in left eight isn’t ideal and that we look a bit better when he’s up top, but I don’t know who else would slot in there if you do that. Arteta doesn’t seem to fancy ESR or Fabio Vieira and he’s not giving Partey minutes either; Partey fully fit would be my choice but I just don’t see it. Then I’ve gone with Martinelli and Jesus up top because of their relationship, but also because Jesus didn’t start against Bayern and so hopefully he’s able to get more minutes in today.

And it feels like this team needs to score first. I talked about it yesterday in terms of when Wolves score and concede, but that consideration aside, it just feels like we need to get our noses in front rather than chase a game. We haven’t looked like scoring in second halves recently and I think a lot of that is down to fatigue.  So we need to get ahead in that first half and then hopefully the last two “excellent” training sessions that Arteta mentioned in his presser have been spent on not giving away silly goals.

As Arteta said in his presser though, the key has to be responding tonight. The team shouldn’t need any more motivation from going top and if we can overcome what I still think will be a really tough game, despite Gary O’Neill talking like he wants to rotate for this one given they have three matches in a week. I wouldn’t say that it sounded like Arteta came out fighting, as he seemed quite calm when chatting to the media, but it was interesting to see how he spoke about how football is constantly testing your ego, that one minute you’re up and then you’re down. That old Arsene comment of going up in the stairs and down in the lift rings true; it is a lot harder to build up momentum and belief on the back of back-to-back defeats, but that is the challenge in front of this Arsenal team and they simply must respond today. The competitors we are up against – as he mentioned – are such that they are the best the league has ever seen and to finish above them feels like it is an almost impossible task. The level of consistency they show across multiple positions is staggering and if you just look at how City are continuing to win matches, to fight and fight and fight across multiple fronts and still come out on top (they have Chelsea today at 5.15pm and I really hope that goes to extra time!!) is quite crazy really. He made a really good point about Bayern’s schedule too, because he spoke about how they rested ten players ahead of the first leg, then nine players for their game before the midweek second leg, then they also had extra days to prepare for their game (one extra for the first leg and one extra for the second leg where we played Villa on the Sunday and they played on the Saturday), it does make you think that perhaps the Premier League could be helping out the English clubs with some unofficial rules about matches played ahead of these games. It’ll never happen, but when other countries do it to give their teams the best possible chances, it does seem silly that we don’t give it a try in England. But as Arteta said “it is the reality” and we have to live with that.

But the opponents we’re up against are also so much harder than any other league in the world. We are up against the best teams that have ever been in the competition, which is the ‘estandards’ that have been set and that is what Mikel will be drilling in to the lads as they make their way up to the Midlands for this tough evening fixture. You have to go and go and go again. And then when you’ve done that, you have to be ready to go again and again. This isn’t just elite sport, this is hyper-elite sport and the margin for error is basically zero.

But that’s the challenge before us. Wolves have a really good record at home. They’ve beaten Chelsea, Man City, as well as The Scum, had a draw against Villa whilst down to ten men, so they’ve taken a few scalps. So they’ll fancy another one today and we need to be ready for them to hit us on the counter.

Fingers crossed we get a performance that will have us back to believing we can take this title to the end. We have to win tonight to even contemplate thinking about that happening though.

Catch you all tomorrow with some post-match thoughts. Might be a little later than usual as I’m travelling back in the morning from seeing some friends in the North East.

Have a good’un peeps.