Well this weekend’s rare Saturday 3pm fixture at home to a West Ham team that seem to have turned a corner, looks massive. Win tomorrow and then away at Brighton, on the back of 2 home wins in the last two Premier League outings and Arsenal may unexpectedly find themselves back on the hunt for a Champion’s League berth. Make no mistake anything less than six points from these next matches and I think we can kiss goodbye to any lingering hopes.
The real question for us and indeed for Arteta does he keep faith with the team that gained the last two Premier League wins over Newcastle and Everton, because that is also the same team that performed so appallingly against Olympiacos? Who would be a coach at the top level? Arteta must have felt that he had finally found a winning blend with his first back to back league victories. Because of this and despite knowing he had a long break ahead of the FA Cup match at Portsmouth, he decided to reward his first eleven and retain the growing momentum, only to be kicked in the teeth as his decision backfired at home to the Greeks.
Having watched his much-changed team, grow into the match on Monday, albeit against lower league opponents, Arteta must be considering a few changes at least but who are the players from assured second half on the South coast who will have given him dilemmas?
I think one selection is now a certainty and that will be Dani Ceballos retaining his role alongside Granit Xhaka, with the Spaniard resuming on the deep right of a two-man midfield. I feel he would have been selected over Torreira anyway, but the Uruguayan’s awful injury makes the coach’s decision a formality as Guendouzi had not done enough to force his way back into a starting role.
Pablo Mari made an impressive debut on Monday, yet it is difficult to fully assess whether the Brazilian is ready to face the force of nature that is Mikhail Antonio. Arteta has said Mari is ready to play if required thought I suspect Mustafi might come back in for tomorrow. That said, playing Luiz on the right and having a natural left footer, in Mari on that side is an attractive, cultured combination. I just feel the Haller, Antonio two-pronged approach may not be the match to thow Mari into.
In the lop-sided 4231 I suspect, with Tierney not quite ready, Saka will again be given free reign, with Xhaka covering his attacking forays, but I do worry about the amount of football the youngster is being asked to play at only 18. He did not get a rest on Monday but sadly his coach has no real alternative with Kolasinac out for a good few weeks more. The advantage of the current system is that it does allow Aubameyang to come off the left and be closer to his striker, but I think there is a question over who the striker will be tomorrow.
There is no getting away from the fact that the form of last year’s Player of the Year, Alexandre Lacazette is a huge concern. Yes, he managed to get back on the score sheet, yes, he can bring control and strong hold up and link play to the 4231 but even that part of his game is suffering at present. The instinctive elements to his play and his finishing are simply not there at this time and it was that incisiveness and natural finishing that set him apart at his best. Whilst not at his best he quite honestly is very lucky to be starting and I don’t think he will tomorrow.
Nketiah not only has the enthusiasm of youth but he seems to have the instinct of all best strikers to find the space and to be in that space at the right time. His all-round game involvement also improved considerably on Monday, often coming deep, holding the ball up with good upper body strength and linking play well. I know many fans feel that is Lacazette is not to play then Aubameyang should move centrally, as he is out best finisher. I just don’t see Arteta moving Aubameyang, as he is effective with Saka and still scores freely in this set up. His hold up play as a sole striker is also not a forte.
Personally, I feel Mesut Ozil is quite fortunate to be retaining his role, but Willock is not ready to be give the creative responsibility centrally and the only other alternative might have been Ceballos, but he will be starting deeper. I truly hope our German enigma steps up against West Ham and for the remainder of the campaign as I feel our success or otherwise might depend on his vision in tight matches. Of course, Emile Smith-Rowe’s form on loan at Huddersfield is good to watch and he will have aspirations to play regularly next season,
A key decision Arteta will be pleased to be pressured into making after Monday, is Pepe or Nelson on the right. Pepe has been given a run of matches and the stats might suggest he has done well. However, he is still equally as frustrating as he is brilliant. I just wish he could run in other than straight lines and curve his runs better, I wish he would not always cut inside, as every left back in the Premier League knows he will, I wish he would even try to use his right foot in anger and I wish he did not try and beat the same defender more than once. I still feel he has a great future but Nelson’s direct and effective performance against Pompey will have been a nudge to Arteta.
Sometimes, as Perry Grove’s career, and two title medals will tell us, kicking the ball past a full back, beating him for pace and then whipping a cross in, is all that is required. It is where Theo Walcott, lost his way in my view, when he stopped just beating a man with speed, when he never had the skill or trick as an alternative. Sometimes simple is effective and Nelson showed that superbly on Monday. My gut feeling is that Pepe will retain his place for tomorrow, but that Nelson will get a run in the second half.
The only other decision that Arteta can’t make yet is at right back, as Bellerin’s form must be a concern to him. I guess when I say form, it is more the lessening of his strength and his electric speed rather than his form per say. The ever-popular Spaniard was out for a long time and it is still early days but it is hard not to feel for him when you see him brushed of the ball or being outpaced, things that are alien to him and indeed us as supporters. His coach’s seeming lack of faith in Maitland-Niles at right back offers Bellerin some respite but with Cedric Soares’ return to fitness around the corner that respite could be short-lived.
In conclusion the team above is what I suspect, after some soul-searching, Arteta will select.
Thanks for reading and I really must get back into writing …. Dave