It’s December 5th. On October 6th, we played Bournemouth and won 1-0. That was the last time Arsenal won a Premier League game. It’s safe to say that three points tonight are both necessary and long overdue.
Freddie has had a few more days to work with the players, and I thought it was interesting watching the training video how everything was done to the stopwatch. That was something Arsene Wenger always did – precisely timed drills – and it looks as if that particular coaching apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
In terms of the team news, we don’t know enough about how he’s thinking to make predictions about his line-up. What I would say is that Hector Bellerin looks to be involved again, and with Kieran Tierney also fit, I’d like to see the two of them start tonight in the full-back positions. I don’t envy him trying to pick centre-halves, he’s been dealt a difficult deck there, and you have to wonder if he just has to try and muddle through. He could recall Rob Holding, who hasn’t played since the 2-0 defeat to Leicester so that’d be a bit of a risk, or use Calum Chambers in there, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sokratis and Luiz the chosen two from our three stooges (there’s surely no room for Mustafi again).
In midfield, we talked about transition and providing some security for the back four yesterday, so it’d be a surprise to me if he didn’t turn to Lucas Torreira. I suspect he’ll partner him with Granit Xhaka, and then look to use home advantage with our forward strength ahead of that.
Mesut Ozil + 2 + Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be my pick. The question of how we get the captain and his great mate Alexandre Lacazette into the same team is one that Unai Emery struggled to find an answer for, so perhaps the solution is that you don’t. I know the Frenchman is far more effective at home than away, so leaving him out tonight seems counter-intuitive, but if we flanked Aubameyang with Nicolas Pepe on the right and Gabriel Martinelli on the left, I’d be more than happy to see that.
It feels well balanced, plenty of running power to trouble the Brighton defence, it’d give us a very solid goalscoring option from the bench if we need it during the second half, and a lack of firepower in reserve has been an issue that’s gone without much discussion. We’re so reliant on Aubameyang first, and then Lacazette, to score our goals, when we need to turn a game or look for someone else to contribute there really isn’t anyone there.
Among our myriad issues at the moment is that this is a team which really lacks goalscorers. Pepe was supposed to ease some of the burden on the two strikers but it hasn’t really happened yet, and we’ve seen Martinelli do the business in Europe and in the Carabao Cup, but not thus far in Premier League games. After that, where do the goals come from? We must have the least potent midfield this club has seen for a long time. Ramsey used to score fairly regularly, even Mkhitaryan and Iwobi were good for a few each season, but now we’re looking at the instincts of 20 year old Joe Willock and that’s about it.
It’s another issue for Freddie to solve, but in the very short-term he’ll look to build on the positives from the Norwich game. I don’t think there’s much we can take from the second half, but the first 45 minutes showed signs of promise. We began brightly and confidently; we played higher up the pitch and moved the ball more quickly; and we created chances in open play and from set-pieces.
If we can do that again tonight, get the crowd going from early on, and build some momentum without then shooting ourselves in the foot by getting caught on the counter-attack, then this might well be the recipe for breaking that winning drought. I know people are anxious to see the club make progress on the pitch, but off it you have to wonder quite who is going to come in and take charge of a new team at the most difficult and hectic point of the season. There are so many games over the festive period that it’s hard to work on anything substantial in training, so I suspect that we’re going to see Freddie in charge for a little while.
Let’s hope tonight is a step forward in terms of result, and if we can get a performance out of it too, then all the better.
Speaking of Pepe, the former Invincible says he’s going to have a chat with him to let him know what he’s looking for from him:
Nico is someone who is a very, very good player. But sometimes when you come from a different league it takes time to adapt; off the pitch and on the pitch.
Nico is someone I plan on talking to. I’m going to have a little chat with him about what I expect and how I want to play.
His complete absence from the Norwich game was a bit of a shock, particularly as we brought on two teenagers to try and get the goal we needed to win it. With all due respect to Saka and Martinelli, young players of genuine potential, that’s a lot to ask of them, and when they come on ahead of a £72m signing who had 20+ goals last season, you have to wonder what exactly is going on.
This could be one of things that plays a significant part in Freddie’s chances of doing the job in the longer-term. Arsenal can’t afford to pay that much money for a player and for it not to work, so if he can help Pepe find confidence and form again, it’ll be seen a real positive by those who sanctioned that spending this summer. As I said above, I’d like to see him start tonight, but even a decent cameo could be beneficial.
Right, that’s your lot for now. Remember, tonight’s game kicks off at 20.15, a bit of an odd one, but there you go. We’ll have a live blog as always, and join us after for all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News.
Catch you later for the game.