When you have a big game like the North London derby coming up, there’s so much to talk about from footballing perspective. There’s the intense rivalry; the tactical battle between two managers who know each other well; team selections; systems and formations; key individuals; big game players; and so much more.
But that stuff can be a bit complicated so why not just ask some dope to put together a combined XI because that’s easy. Let’s be clear about this, combined XIs are the clickiest of all clickbait. They’re stupid and lazy, and for the most part they seem to be designed to annoy people. Regardless of what kind of team the dope picks, there’ll always be someone who complains about something. Or you might get one lad who thinks he’s clever and picks all the players from one team then clutches his pearls when there’s a bit of kickback over that.
They are the football equivalent of the ‘free bird fud’ signs that Wile E Coyote leaves out for the Roadrunner. And despite the fact birds are flappy and terrifying, the Roadrunner treats those traps with the kind of contempt they deserve. We need to drop a 100KG anvil on combined XIs. Even in yesterday’s pre-derby press conference Unai Emery was asked which Sp*rs players he’d like to have in his side – basically looking for him to list off a combined XI.
It’s an absolute waste of a question and a waste of everybody’s time, because there’s nothing he can really say beyond the response he gave which was:
I am very, very happy with our players. Really, I respect them, I respect their coach, a very big coach and also they are doing a lot of things very positively with their players. But I trust and I want our players.
There’s another response that springs to mind, but it’s probably not a good idea for a manager to tell someone to go and attempt self-penetration. It’s a shame he didn’t have an iPad in front of him with a GIF of Mesut Ozil sipping a cup of tea. To be fair, given his propensity towards illness, it’d probably be a Lemsip rather than a cup of tea, but there you go.
He was asked about the front three though, and revealed that Alexandre Lacazette has been suffering a bit with an ankle injury. We know he picked up a knock in pre-season, and hasn’t quite been at 100%, but I’d wager his place on the bench at Anfield was more tactical than physical. Nevertheless, that’s water under the bridge at this point, and the bigger question is whether or not they’re going to start the derby on Sunday.
In typically vague fashion, he addressed the possibility of fielding that front three, saying:
Yes, but be calm. My decision in each moment is thinking about how we are. I think they can start together and they can play also during the match as all three, it depends how we decide our gameplan. But I am very optimistic for that situation, but not also those three players, also Nelson, Mkhitaryan, Willock, Ozil.
We need to be able to make the best decisions, but above all, to have different possibilities with the players.
It’s something we discuss on today’s Arsecast, but obviously we’ll have to wait and see what he does on Sunday. Will he really go for it from the start, or hold one of them in reserve should we need to change things? He does cite the likes of Ozil, Mkhitaryan etc as potential attacking changes, so he’s not without options, but I really hope we unleash this trio from the start against Sp*rs.
Meanwhile, there appears to be good news from the injury room with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney apparently a bit ahead of schedule, and both are expected back in full training during September. Emery says that during the Interlull they’ll be able to make a fuller assessment of their readiness, and hopefully we can start to integrate them back into the team soon.
With all the necessary caveats about giving them time to get properly match fit and taking care not to overburden them too soon, it’s not difficult to see how much of an impact they could have when they are ready to play on a regular basis. With Monreal set to depart, we have Sead Kolasinac who Emery doesn’t seem to trust in a back four, so Tierney’s natural fit for that position will be important. He can get forward, but he’s first and foremost a defender, which is where the Bosnian kinda falls short a bit. Tim also made a great point on the podcast today that if we’re a team that’s wedded to playing out from the back, passing isn’t Kolasinac’s greatest strength, so assuming Nacho goes the introduction of Tierney will be very important.
On the other side, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is manfully deputising for Hector, but I’m just not sure the natural defensive instincts are ever going to be there. He has good games, and others where he has moments which let him down because he’s grown up as a more attack-minded player. One of the interesting things about when Hector is back is what we do with Maitland-Niles. Even if that position isn’t entirely suited to him, he’s got a lot of experience under his belt and developed a lot in the last 12-18 months, so do we let him sit as back-up for Bellerin, or re-purpose him into another position? You could see how he might be moulded into midfield, an area of the pitch where his attributes could be well suited. Time will tell.
Right, for some extra reading this morning, here’s Tim’s column on playing out from the back, and if you’re an iOS user, you can find a brand new update for the Arseblog app in the app store. It won’t work on some of the older iPhones etc, so if you don’t see the update, don’t delete the old app! We do have an update for Android in the works too, so I’ll give you a heads up when that’s ready. More on the iOS app here.
Remember, the Europa League draw takes place today, so we’ll find out who we’ll face in the group stages. Coverage of all that over on Arseblog News.
For now I’ll leave you with a brand new podcast. Listen/subscribe below, there’s loads of derby chat, get it into your ears!