The FA Cup weekend is over now, the last one of the season for Arsenal. However disappointing it all felt we have to always look forward. We won’t be adding to our record number of FA Cup wins but there’s still plenty football to be played and targets to be achieved.
We entered this week ready to conclude round two of the matches away to Southampton, a match now with a lot at stake especially for Mikel Arteta’s reputation. The strength of the team was sacrificed at the weekend with one eye firmly placed on obtaining maximum points in the Premier League match up. A masterstroke when it comes off but serious questions will be asked of the manager if that isn’t the case at the final whistle tonight.
With the news breaking yesterday on the dismissal of Frank Lampard as head coach of Chelsea it really does shine a different light on how little time there is allowed for the modern day manager. Admittedly Chelsea have form for sacking managers on a whim and all the goodwill of being deemed a legend player for the club means absolutely nothing when you consider the amount invested over the summer that hasn’t reaped the rewards in the Premier League. Calls for the dismissal of Mikel only weeks ago were rightly ignored as he needed to be afforded time to address the problems he was experiencing. He has a transfer window to make some changes and of course he will live and die by those decisions. Time will tell but as a club Arsenal would be best to not follow the Chelsea blueprint for hiring and firing.
Southampton went full strength against the Gunners in which they are entitled to but the hope is that extra bit of fatigue will show when the two teams meet again. Our saviours so far this season ‘the kids’ will be unleashed from the off and it is hoped they will make the difference.
As per the reasons for Aubameyang to miss the weekend game it seems highly likely he will miss the game tonight which will be a massive miss. Just as it looked like a corner could have finally been turned in his patchy form, any continuity will now be disrupted as he takes time to process his personal issues. We wish our captain well and hope he can overcome his situation with full support from the club, family and close friends.
Even with an off form Aubameyang the opposition will always have a game plan that focuses on nullifying his strengths which in turn opens up spaces for the likes of Saka and Smith Rowe to exploit. Now with him out of the mix for the game who will take his place? There are a number of options, whether they are earned on merit is down to the interpretation of the reader.
Will Pepe be that guy to play on the left? He certainly isn’t the flavour of the month right now with many fans that were keeping the faith giving up. He didn’t have his best game against Southampton. In reality none of his best games have come in the league yet this season. If I’m being honest there is an extra level of scrutinising applied to the Ivoirian’s performances, every touch, every pass, every shot gets analysed more so than other players. This may lead to a bias on the overall view of his performances and he is almost written off before he kicks a ball. However given the amount of money we paid for him the expectation for him to do more goes hand in hand with the extra scrutiny he receives.
For as much as he didn’t do on Saturday there were some good pieces of play, not enough consistently throughout the 90 minutes but I could think back to a peach of a free kick laid onto Martinelli’s feet that wasn’t capitalised or a sweet through ball to Nketiah that was also wasted. We had a number of years where Ozil would be anonymous in games but his one or two moments of magic would result in chances on goal which when scored would be the only thing we crow about. Before you pick up your pitchforks and demand my extradition to Alcatraz I’m not comparing him to the German I’m just merely stating the fine margins in football when chances are taken.
If Pepe is not the option then we could go with Martinelli? The young Brazilian has been a breath of fresh air since he returned to the team this season after his long layoff. His energy and quality has been a major boost to the team and provided more options for Mikel when choosing his team. If we are being honest on Saturday he didn’t cover himself in glory and was actually more ineffectual than Pepe. This could be down to a number of reasons having just overcome that ankle jarring recently before the Newcastle game. This will likely have led to a bit of time off training and he just needed a tiny bit more time to get his groove back and fire on all cylinders. Time is on his side, he’s young and a one off bad game doesn’t trigger any red flags. The only worry is the stop start to his routine since returning with a couple niggling injuries picked up that could act as a hindrance; other than that he is comfortable operating that left wing. He seems the type that would want to play regardless of his injury state and Arteta needs to fully assess him to ensure he doesn’t trigger anything that could lead to a longer time amount of time on the treatment table.
If Martinelli isn’t risked to start then another option is Willian… erm. No comment, I have a family I need to provide for.
Two options could be to switch either Saka or Smith-Rowe to the left side, it may not be ideal to remove them from the positions where they have been excelling in recently however both are capable to play there. I doubt Mikel would get any reluctance from either if asked to play in that position and I have every confidence they wouldn’t disappoint. Playing either there would most likely lead to one of the names I mentioned earlier taking up the vacated spots. It’s a dilemma Mikel will have to think about, it’s good to have options but you have to ensure you make the right choice for the optimum possible outcome.
I didn’t add Reiss Nelson to that list because it’s hard to see how he gets back into reckoning at the moment. His absence from the Arsenal squad on Saturday could be down to a number of things, could there be an impending loan deal in the works? Does Mikel after now having spent a year with him decided he’s just not had an effective enough impact on the team like some of his fellow Hale end graduates? Or has Reiss simply been outed as the mole in the squad? Your guess is as good as mine but the youngsters absence is a question that certainly needs to be addressed to Mikel Arteta. I can’t imagine him being elevated into the match day squad for tonight after his lack of involvement in any capacity on Saturday. As far as I know he has been training regularly and there have been no updates on injuries so let’s see how that one plays out.
Roll on kick off, I’m itching to see the team get over the disappointing result from the weekend and take advantage of the immediate chance to exact revenge on Southampton.
Come on you Gunners!
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