I don’t know if it’s just a consequence of the times we’re living in, or something more deliberate, but specificity in terms of team news is in short supply these days. I suspect it might be a little from Column A, a little from Column B, but at his press conference yesterday, Mikel Arteta described the situation as ‘volatile’ when speaking about the availability of players for tonight:
I don’t know what the situation is that we will have today or if it is different to yesterday. Obviously I cannot get into any detail with that. It is what it is, in the last week or so we lost so many players for many different reasons and we are trying to adapt to that. I will use the players that we have and make the most out of it.
Some injuries, some Covid, some absences with players that have to be away with the African Cup of Nations.
Which is to say it’s hard to predict what kind of a team we’re going to put out this evening, not to mention the fact we have a North London derby on Sunday. Liverpool’s false positives have skewed the way I look at this cup tie now. Yes, it’s a semi-final, and having gone out of the FA Cup on Sunday, it has grown in importance when it comes to our chances of silverware this season, but I find it hard to look beyond Sunday as the most important game of the week. Had this first leg taken place when it should have – and there’s no doubt in my kind it could have (but we’ll never know for sure) – I’d have gone really strong in the first leg. Now, I’m not so certain.
As I mentioned yesterday, players who have been sidelined through injury might return tonight but there’s also a measure of risk. On Emile Smith Rowe, for example, Arteta said:
He’s had an issue that he’s been carrying and obviously that’s been affecting his ability to train, his ability to compete, the amount of minutes that we can give him and we are trying to get that situation resolved as quickly as possible, because we need the best version of Emile for us to be successful.
I could be wrong, of course, and the manager is privy to more information regarding player fitness than any of us, but that doesn’t sound like a player who can do 90 minutes tonight then again on Sunday. For me, having him around for the derby is more important. Similarly, Takehiro Tomiyasu who has been carrying a calf problem for a couple of weeks now could probably play tonight but what if that means he can’t do the next game? It’s certainly a headache for the manager, deciding on how much risk you can take for a game you want to win before you play a game you really have to make sure you don’t lose – at the very least.
Midfield may well be a problem this evening. We don’t know if Granit Xhaka will be available. From what Arteta was saying, it doesn’t seem like he will be, but maybe he’s playing his cards close to his chest, giving nothing away beforehand. If he is, it solves a significant problem because the alternative is a young player who isn’t quite ready yet, or shifting other players around to fill that gap. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine with regards the selection.
I suspect the manager might look at this next couple of weeks in two chunks: let’s give as much as possible for the Liverpool and Sp*rs games, then see where we are on Monday and assess what we can expect to do for the second leg and the Burnley game. After that, there’s a bit of a gap in the fixture list, although I’d expect one of our postponed games to scheduled at some point.
Liverpool are weakened up front with the absences of Salah and Mane, but they’re certainly not weak. This will be a tough game, away from home, against a team that will look at the cups with more interest given their title chances are now extremely slim. We obviously need much, much better than we got at Forest on Sunday, so let’s hope there’s a response, a better performance, a decent result, and a clean bill of health afterwards. It sounds like a lot to ask, but there you go.
For some extra reading this morning, Tim’s column looks at the challenge we face when it comes to back-up players/squad depth.
Mikel Arteta speaks about Nuno Tavares (and it sounds like a line has been drawn under that situation, which is good), as well as transfers and the club’s ability to attract the best players. We might see more evidence of that this month, fingers crossed. The Vlahovic stuff rumbles on, and it seems as if a loan move for Juventus midfielder Arthur is on the cards – probably the best kind of solution we can hope for this month, especially if we’re looking to go all in on the striker signing early.
Finally for this morning, there’s a preview podcast available right now over on Patreon, so get that into ya if you’re a member, and if not, you can sign up for instant access.
Right, I’ll leave it there. Back here tomorrow with post-Liverpool analysis and an extra Arsecast Extra. Until then.