The games come thick and fast at the moment, and tonight it’s Bournemouth at home. We beat them away, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring the winner in an encounter that wasn’t entirely convincing from a performance point of view. Curiously, our next league game was the 4-2 win against Sp*rs in the North London derby, and we all know who our next opponents are after tonight’s game.
It’s bound to play into Unai Emery’s thinking and team selection for tonight, and having made six changes from the BATE win to beat Southampton on Sunday, I’d expect some rotation again tonight. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is fit again and could play at right back, but he’ll have to work hard if the visitors deploy Ryan Fraser on that side – he’s just behind Eden Hazard, and level with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Christian Eriksen when it comes to Premier League assists this season.
We could see Nacho Monreal come in at left back to keep Sead Kolasinac fresh for Saturday, it’d be a surprise not to see Matteo Guendouzi play tonight, and after being left out of the away game because it was too physical, there’s surely a place for Mesut Ozil in the side tonight. It’s a home game against a side that really aren’t that physical at all, and having been left out on Sunday after his 90 minutes in the Europa League I expect him to play tonight – particularly as Sp*rs away isn’t the kind of game he’s likely to start.
I also think we’ll see Aubameyang start up front, and with Alex Iwobi suffering from cramp on Sunday, he might well need a rest so it could open the door for Denis Suarez to get his first start since joining on loan from Barcelona. He hasn’t had a lot of minutes on the pitch yet, and the ones he has haven’t exactly been convincing, but Emery says he’s building his fitness even if he’s not ready yet to do 90 minutes:
“I think he’s not okay today to play 90 minutes, because he needs rhythm, but one possibility is to start tomorrow knowing that. Or, stay on the bench and after he can help us.”
I’d be inclined to play him from the start if we’re going to play him at all. If he plays well, great. If he doesn’t, then we have some assurance in that we could bring on somebody more reliable in the shape of Iwobi, who has been improving in recent weeks, or even Lacazette or Ramsey. Also, I’m not particularly surprised that he’s not match-fit. He barely played at all for Barcelona this season, so I’m not sure how he could be.
Does it make me question the decision to bring him in? A little – I’m not sure what they were expecting from him in these circumstances. We know it can often take a player some time to adapt to English football, and when you’ve played so little football it’s surely going to make that even more challenging. I suppose what he is is a kind of insurance, someone to add some depth to the squad, perhaps for exactly this kind of situation. We’ve got a massive game on Saturday, we need to try and maintain some measure of freshness to give ourselves the best chance to achieve a good result at Wembley, and he at least gives us the ability to do that. At some point we have to get a good look at him, and a home game against an injury hit Bournemouth side seems like a reasonable time to do it.
Again Emery is looking for some help from the fans, saying:
“I hope the supporters help the players and create a big atmosphere at home. Create a positive energy to make us stronger.”
The result, but specifically the performance against Southampton was something to build on. I know what Emery means about the support, but Wenger was always right when he said it was first and foremost the job of the players to energise the crowd. There were some real green shoots in the way we played on Sunday, and hopefully there’s more of that tonight. If so, no doubt the fans will respond and it creates a kind of reciprocal energy inside the stadium.
The importance of the three points doesn’t need to be hammered home, but right now we’re sitting in the top four, and if results go our way tonight it could really help in our chase for a top four spot. Man Utd go to Crystal Palace with a host of injuries, so there’s the potential there for them to drop some points, while Chelsea entertain Sp*rs at Stamford Bridge. It’s the first game since #KepaGate and with Maurizio Sarri under real pressure it could well be a fiery night between two teams who have a bit of history for that kind of thing in recent seasons.
Sp*rs lost to Burnley last weekend, Pochettino is facing an FA charge for being mean to Mike Dean (normally something a person should be given a medal for in my opinion, but there you go), and it’s one of those games where a hard-fought draw with a couple of red cards, a few groin and hamstring strains, and some broken hearts would suit us just fine. The main thing is that we do what we need to do against Bournemouth tonight, and if there’s a nice bonus from what happens elsewhere then all well and good.
As ever we will have a live blog of the game for you, as well as all the post-match stuff – including report, player ratings and reaction – over on Arseblog News. So join us for that, and watch out for another post here on the blog a bit later on this morning.