After an opening day defeat, it would be nice if the fixture list had given us something a bit less complicated than Chelsea, but they didn’t, and today’s game is going to be tough.
With their new old signing Romelu Lukaku added to what is an already ridiculously strong array of attacking talent, the Arsenal defence is going to be tested. And that is why I wouldn’t be surprised if we played three at the back today. I know there’s a general dislike for that formation, but when you look at heat-maps/average positions, it’s not too dissimilar from what we already do, and when we beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season we matched up their system and took all three points (albeit somewhat fortuitously).
The question is, which three, if that’s what Mikel Arteta chooses to do? Ben White on the right, Pablo Mari in the middle and Rob Holding left? Could Kieran Tierney be deployed as the left sided centre-half, allowing Nuno Tavares or maybe even Bukayo Saka to play on the left? There are options for the manager as he tries to work out which duo should be his mainstay (the return to training of Gabriel will help in that regard).
In midfield I hope Albert Sambi Lokonga keeps his place alongside Granit Xhaka. The Belgian did well against Brentford, and with fans back in the stadium, every single thing we can use to pump up the energy and the atmosphere is necessary. With no Martin Odegaard today because of his visa issues, Lokonga and Ben White are the players the crowd can respond to. No disrespect to Mohamed Elneny, but he’s not going to get anyone excited.
Up front, the question is whether or not Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is fit enough to start. He’s back in training, and if he’s ready then there’s really no other choice, but obviously it depends how he feels after his bout of Covid-19. If he’s not quite there yet, you could start Martinelli up front, and use the captain as the kind of substitute who would absolutely make a difference if we need him later in the game.
Team selection aside, Arteta’s team has to turn up today. Clearly what happened ahead of the Brentford game was less than ideal, but collectively we didn’t look ready. I think the lack of fight stuff was overblown by Sky and their dancing cheerleading pundits, but nobody can make a case that we saw the best version of ourselves last week. Today, with fans back, we need to see more. Everyone knows Chelsea are a very good side, but we can’t just sit back and let them do what they want.
Arteta was asked about the role fans can play today, and said:
In moments when there are people and there is certain negativity around the place, you need your fans and your supporters more than ever. They’ve always been with the team and I have no doubt that on Sunday they’re going to be right behind the team. If there is one thing that the team needs, it’s exactly that. If they really want to help the team, there’s not going to be a better medicine for them than to feel the fans very close with the right energy and supporting them and being behind them and the team is going to try their best.
For all the frustration that surrounds us right now, I’m sure that during the 90 minutes supporters will be right behind the team. We are good, Chelsea are relentless bastards, and nobody likes a bastard, especially a relentless one (they never know when to stop bastarding). It’s going to be tough, and I think we’re going to have really dig in to get anything out of this game, but hopefully that mindset, coupled with the energy fans can generate inside a stadium, will be enough for us to do that.
It seems there’s a new post-victory soundtrack too, with Caroline very sweetly booted down the Holloway Road like a David Luiz free kick, so let’s hope that gets a rendition today.
In brief other news, it looks like Sead Kolasinac is on his way out, heading to meet up with his best mate Mesut at Fenerbahce. I can’t imagine there’s much of a transfer fee, something nominal at best, but we take a chunk off the wage bill, make the squad a bit smaller, and move on a player who had no role to play this season at all. There are still quite a few hanging around the departure lounge, so let’s see what the next week or so brings in that regard.
Right, let’s leave it there for now. Remember, you can join us for live blog coverage of the game later on, and we’ll have all the post-match stuff, player ratings, and all the rest, on Arseblog News.
Catch you later for the game, and COME ON YOU REDS!