I think I maybe took the misery a little bit too far on the post yesterday. We beat Leeds, a game most of us didn’t fancy, and I dominated the post with my concern over David Luiz and Willian.
It’s time to pick up the mood.
When things go well, you might as well enjoy them, because massive games like Manchester City are usually only a week or so away.
We’re playing in Rome on Thursday in a huge night out against… Benfica. Usually, we land a slightly easier tie in the last 32 of this competition, but to be honest, a night out in a nice stadium against a team with a name of prestige is good for the moment.
I genuinely think one of the first European games I ever remember Arsenal playing in was Benfica.
It felt sexy then and that sheen with Benfica has never worn off for me… even though they’re not the force they once were. The Portuguese side finished 2nd in their group to Rangers. They won 3 games and drew 3. Not exactly impressive when Poznan and Liege made up the other seats. They’re a long way off their best, sitting 4th in their league 13 points off the top of the table… which is pretty bad by their usually high standards.
The hope we all have going into the game is that some of the decisions made in the week will be remedied with the correct selections for that starting 11. This isn’t a small game. It’s a chance to win a place in the next season’s Champions League. I would like to see a good side rolled out.
That will hopefully mean minutes for Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe.
Where he makes up the starters elsewhere will have a slightly different spin on things. We shed a lot of players in January, at the same time, it’s also pretty clear that we’re trying to shove a few other names out this summer. Does he continue to give minutes to players he doesn’t want? Or does he opt for something new? Is there any point in Reiss starting?
Whatever he does, it’s important that we use Thursday nights to maintain momentum. A win doesn’t usually matter, but I do think a loss can sometimes rattle the vibes around a club.
I would quite like to see Odegaard continue to build his fitness. Pablo Mari and Cal Chambers should be finding some minutes. It might also be interesting to see Flo Balogun in the side. At the minute, it seems like Arteta is unwilling to invest minutes in someone that might leave, if he’s so confident he’ll sign, is it time to let him shine again?
I certainly don’t want to see Tierney and Saka starting…
Our two Premier League games that are wedged between these Europa games are quite mega.
Manchester City is this Sunday. They are back to peak Pep-ball and they’re the only truly scary team in the league.
Then we have Leicester the Sunday after. They could be in the title race. I’m not sure they are, but they’ve certainly been excellent this season and for me, it’s a real winnable day out if we turn up.
Going away to Italy and then following that up with Greece is really, really rough… but we’ll have to deal with it. All four of those games are important. Arteta and his staff are going to have to be very, very cute with how they organise squad rotation.
You’d ideally like to take that first half against Leeds into the 90 and come away with a big lead… but to achieve that level, you need to play too many senior players to give yourself a chance on Sunday against a City side that has a day more to prepare and a short bus ride to contend with.
Overall though, we have to head into this next batch of matches feeling pretty positive. That Leeds game wasn’t a fluke, it had been brewing, as I had written in the weeks preceding.
We’re starting to look like a clever side with exciting attacking instincts. There’s still lots to do, obviously, but the coaching is starting to kick in, and it’s hard to ignore that it’s quite innovative. Even when our xG was low against Villa, you could see that the passing patterns and positions were finding weren’t far off where we needed to be.
This squad is young. ESR, Saka and Odegaard are very, very junior. They will work out a rhythm over the next few weeks and the attacking football on show will speed up and the finishing will start to happen.
Of key importance to all of that is ensuring that we still defend well. Tony Adams advertised once again why he doesn’t have a big job in the game with this comment.
‘We saw how fragile they are defensively. The defence has always been the weak link. As the sporting director of Arsenal, you wouldn’t be getting Ødegaard in, you’d be getting good, strong defenders into the team instead.’
There are only three teams in the league that have conceded less than us this season. I think in all comps we’re joint tied with Chelsea for the best defence in the league. Conceding hasn’t been a problem, size of defender isn’t an issue, nor is ability. Tony Adams is falling back on 2018 complaints.
The big question is whether we can defend well when we’re opening up teams. The first half against Leeds seems to be how they want to go about it. Just nullify the opposition so they can’t attack in the first place. Manchester City has been doing that all season, I’d imagine that’s the path we’re going to take but on the cheap.
The Arsenal project is on the right path, what Arteta needs to do is navigate the next 6 weeks really well to stop the bi-weekly crisis sessions a particular section of the fanbase seems to revel in.
To keep the noise to a minimum, generally, you need to see good football, young players starting, combined with high energy output.
Let’s see what this week holds, could be exciting.
P.S. Le Grove fave Marco Rose landed a job at Dortmund next year. You see that? I’m getting better at this manager scouting malarkey.