Well, happy Monday to you!
Starting a little 10-day break from the Premier League is always nice after delivering a walloping. Liverpool, who dished out another xG-defying win against a decent Bournemouth, played three games to our one before they meet us. It might not make a difference now, but I can’t imagine fighting on all four fronts is going to do them any favours in the long run. They can’t even flop out of the FA Cup because they play Norwich. They’ll beat Fulham and get to a cup final that’ll come in the February crunch and move Premier League games to later in the season.
Arsenal have a much simpler two months coming up. The big question is whether Arteta can learn the painful lessons of seasons’ past. Will he get too excited, lose track of the bigger picture, and blitz the same 13 players until they break? Or will we see more intention when it comes to rotating his faves so they are fresher when it matters?
The Palace game looked like a new Arteta. I know we were winning handsomely, but when has that stopped him from giving full 90s to everyone? This is a guy who took a full squad to PSV for no real reason other than winnertivity and macho vibes.
There are some key players that’ll be crucial – the first is Zinchenko, who has had an up-and-down season in the eyes of the fans. He was fantastic at the weekend, we saw exactly what we miss when he’s not in the side. Bravery, verticality, and ambition. We are better with him in the side, but he is always on a countdown to a calf injury. Can Arteta lean into Kiwior more often? Can he get rotated more when Tomi comes back? There needs to be a plan to ensure he plays the big games.
Gabriel Jesus is another player who spends a lot of time out injured. I’d rather give Eddie some starts than have to roll with Eddie for 8 weeks. We can’t afford to be without our number 1 chaos merchant for the run-in.
The real star man hasn’t played in months, but Thomas Partey could be in the mixer for Forest, and if we can keep him fit, anything is possible. I don’t want to see him as right back, but I do think his fast passing and aggressive play from deep could be really valuable. He gives us tools we don’t have right now. He won’t be here next season, so he owes us a really good sign-off after a drab 3-4 years of 3-month stints.
Jurrien Timber could be in the mixer for the Manchester City game if you track the return dates of typical ACL injuries. That’s only 10 games time. He’s a magical player and he could be very useful for the action part of the season. We might be getting a bit too excited about his return, he’ll be very rusty, but at the very least, he offers us top cover from the bench.
The final two we need to keep an eye is Saliba and Gabriel. Arteta took the Brazilian off early at the weekend. It’s hard to pick the player who is more important because I think Gabriel has been outrageously good all season, and I can hardly remember an error since he was dropped. Saliba broke down last year because of a stress fracture, and he has shared minutes with no one this season – a bit of a concern if you ask me, but at least he’s not being loaded up with cup minutes. Keep those two fit, and anything is possible.
My hot take for the rest of the season is kind of where I was at the start: I think we’ll finish second.
You have to be a realist and put a true perspective on who we’re trying to beat: The greatest team ever assembled. The greatest sporting department, buying players for the greatest manager, with no limits on spending. We just aren’t at their level, and nor should we expect to be. Beating City with our current squad just ain’t happening this season. It won’t for Liverpool either, and they have the second-best manager in the world with the best keeper, centre-back, right-back, and right-winger.
We are one transfer window away from being a true threat to City’s dominance. We don’t have a striker, we don’t have cover for our wide players, and we haven’t yet mastered playing Champions League with a Premier League chase. You need those elements if you’re going to upset a group that has done it all. Bang the table all you want that I am weak saucing this, I’m not, I’m just being blunt about what it takes to be the best. United tried to buy their way to better than City, but failed. Newcastle have tried to bully their way to contenders, everyone feared them last season, they are further away than ever before. Chelsea spent a billion and they might not make Europe. If you think you know a better way of beating City, let me know. I think the way Arsenal are approaching it is the right way and it’ll bear fruit at some point… maybe even the Champions League this season. But the league is gonna require more time in the kitchen.
Ok, that’s me done. Check out our latest free podcast with Janan Ganesh. He’s one of the finest writers in the UK, a huge gooner, and I really enjoyed our hour chatting about Toney, Liverpool, and Arteta’s obsession with atmosphere.