It’s now just nine days until football resumes. Nine days until we can pretend that football is the most important thing in the world again. What the impact will be on the game, the players, and all of us watching remains to be seen, but we’re heading into the final stretch having last played on March 7th.
Right now, we should have been preparing for Euro 2020, taking place across Europe and kicking off this Friday. Instead, the remainder of the Premier League season will play out, Italy and Spain will be starting again this coming weekend, and some semblance of normality will be returning from a sporting perspective.
For the players it will have been difficult to maintain fitness, but for a few the lockdown might have proved quite useful. Here are four for whom that could well be the case.
It was interesting to note that when the players chose a representative to speak on their behalf during the pay cut issue – an issue which has caused some serious distrust between the squad and those at executive level – it was Hector who was the man. Not the club captain, nor one of the more experienced heads. At 25 he’s still young, but now into his eighth year with the club, so it reflects his standing within the group.
On the pitch though, he has struggled. The cruciate injury he sustained was horrible in itself, but afterwards he had ongoing issues with muscle strains which saw him in and out of the team. It was clear too that the injury had robbed him of some of his power and explosiveness. Whether he has regained that remains to be seen, but in terms of his general fitness, he should be back to a good base level now, and ready to kick on.
Another man for whom a cruciate injury has had a significant impact on his career. He was playing pretty regularly under Unai Emery when the injury happened, but since then has had a very difficult time. Again, injury problems have been an undercurrent, and he made just nine appearances with one Premier League start in the 2019-20 season. When he did play, he looked a long way from the promising central defender we had seen previously.
It remains to be seen if he can get back to that level, but he is just 24, still quite young in the life of a centre-half, and within the current squad represents someone who could have a longer future than the likes of David Luiz and Sokratis, for example – particularly when you consider how restricted our spending power will be. Physically he had problems, but in tandem with that I think we saw a player who lost confidence in himself a bit. Perhaps that was down to those physical issues, not trusting his body to do the things he needs to be able to do, but he looked a long way from being ready to play regularly again.
Lock-down will have been a great equaliser when it comes to player fitness, and when he is given the chance to play again, he’ll need to impress to convince Mikel Arteta he should be in the team, but the door remains open for now.
His first season at Arsenal will not have too many great memories for him. He arrived injured from Celtic after his £25m deadline day move, and didn’t play until the end of September. One of the few Emery complaints I had any time for was when he bemoaned the fact he couldn’t play Bellerin and Tierney together. Now, I don’t believe for one second all his problems would have been solved by doing that, but you could understand why that was something he was keen to do.
The shoulder injury opened the door for Bukayo Saka rather than Sead Kolasinac, which says plenty about both of them, but Tierney remains the best option at left-back for the years ahead. He would have returned before the end of the season anyway, he was almost back to full fitness, but now should be in a position to establish himself as a fundamental part of our back four.
This one is obvious. The broken ankle that should have ended his season under regular circumstances happened just before everything shut down, so he’s been able to heal and rehabilitate during this period. I’ve mentioned before about how he’s bulked up physically, something that will stand him in good stead in the Premier League.
Our midfield remains something of a grey area. You can see how Torreira’s qualities make him a good fit in a two or a three man set-up, and while there are question marks over every one of our options in that part of the pitch, it also means there’s a chance for someone to really make their mark and make themselves un-droppable for Arteta. Torreira has a long contract, he’s the only naturally defensive midfield option we have right now, and I suspect that he’s someone who could blossom a bit under the new manager. We will see.
Right, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you a bit later on. As ever if you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
The podcast will be out for you around lunch-time. Until then.