Tuesday, November 29, 2022

West Brom still important, just not as much as it should have been

Good morning. We can get away from all this incessant football chat with … well … actual football.

It’s unusual to play a Premier League game on a Thursday night. Clearly when Sky were dicking around with the schedule they figured this might be a game of greater importance than it actually is. It should have been one which had a direct impact on the title race – it does not. As it is, it’s about Arsenal doing what they need to do to ensure a top three or top four finish.

Maybe that’s more of the same, maybe people are tired of it, but whatever we need to do this summer – between keeping the best players we’ve got and bringing in better ones – that work would be made easier if we were playing Champions League football next season. It’s not a tournament that particularly excites me anymore, but that’s mostly on us and whatever we think of it, players want to play in it.

There’s a little pressure on us as Man Utd’s win over Crystal Palace last night leaves them just a point behind, albeit having played a game more, but also a little opportunity too. Man City’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday means we can go into third place tonight. A top three finish is in our own hands, although we do have to go to City for the penultimate game of the season.

After the 1-1 draw with Palace Arsene Wenger wants his team to ‘to add that little small margin that makes us more efficient than the last two games, where both times – against West Ham and Crystal Palace – the players were in front. We have to be a bit more clinical and efficient.’

Which I get, being more decisive in front of goal won’t do us any harm, but let’s not ignore that in both those games we let winning positions slip. At West Ham we were 2-0 up until we let Andy Carroll look like a world-beater, and against Palace we were 1-0 up and should, at least, have held onto that. So for me it’s more important we sort ourselves out defensively because trying to offset those problems by simply scoring more goals is no way to operate really.

I suspect, having played on Sunday – and struggled to an extent, and with a trip to Sunderland at the weekend – there might be some changes for this one. The manager is expecting plenty of fight from a Tony Pulis side, which seems eminently reasonable, and perhaps some fresh legs might be in order.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Per Mertesacker come into the back four, Aaron Ramsey selected in a midfield that doesn’t necessarily need two deep-lying players at home, and perhaps a change or two in the front three – Giroud for Welbeck maybe? The Frenchman hasn’t scored in the league since January 13th though – 12 appearances in total, some from the bench in fairness, so I guess it depends what Wenger sees in training and how the fitness levels of the others are.

It’s one we have to win, no two ways about it, but the unpredictability of this Arsenal team means you just can’t be sure which way this is going to go. It’s also likely to be a strange atmosphere, with tickets remaining unsold and the likelihood of swathes of empty seats, that’s something else to deal with. On that, the manager said:

You do not want to play in a negative environment, if we do we can still perform. We are responsible for the performance of the team.

In that, to my mind at least, is tacit understanding as to why things are negative. It’s not something he will ever expound on publicly, not while there’s football still to play at least, but regardless of what he says about the Thursday night scheduling or anything else, he knows fine well why tonight’s attendance may well be the lowest for a Premier League game since we moved to the Emirates. He might be stubborn, obstinate and infuriating at times, but he’s not stupid.

These are strange times we’re living through at the moment, but as ever we’ll be here with all the match day stuff for you. Live blog, match report, stats, ratings, videos and all the rest later on. Sure what else would we be doing with our lives?

Elsewhere, the manager was asked about his future yesterday. His response should be absolutely no surprise to anyone, regardless of your individual point of view:

I respect always my contract.

Getting angry at that is a bit like getting angry at the sun coming up, because everyone knows that’s what’s going to happen. It won’t lessen the debate any, but it is worth framing discussions within that context because anything outside of it is almost fantasy.

Some extra reading for you this morning. First up Tim Stillman’s column on the manager ‘Director of the Bored‘, and a piece from Dion Fanning in which there some snippets of conversation from me.

Also, thank you for such an overwhelming response to yesterday’s blog post. I just couldn’t bear the idea of more analysis or examination of where we are. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again, and I just needed to do something that made me happy. That it connected with so many is fantastic. Even after 14 years of writing about Arsenal on this website, you’re never quite sure what will hit or miss, so thank you again.

Finally, if you fancy a flutter later on, Paddy Power are offering 4/1 on an Arsenal win for new customers. Click here to register.

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As I said, we’ll have the live blog and everything else for you later. Thursday night football is rather inconvenient from an Arsecasting point of view, but I’ll have something for you tomorrow morning, I’m just not 100% what!

Right, until later, have a good one.

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