Morning, a quick Saturday round-up for you.
At this point, having heard nothing about Burnley’s ability to field a team for tomorrow’s game, I’m going to assume it’s going ahead. Surely if they had issues or needed to seek a postponement, they’d have done it by now. The question then is what kind of team we can put out. If we pushed people to play on Thursday, can we do the same again on Sunday? Perhaps it was an exercise in gaining match fitness more than ending up fatigued, but that could be just my glass half full outlook on it.
One thing we know is that we won’t have Thomas Partey but if you just imagine that Ghana are still competing in the AFCON and Thursday never happened it makes it much easier to deal with. He wrote a message on his Instagram, not an apology really, but a kinda of mea culpa, promising to do keep giving 100% etc. I know it’s the culture we live in, but it feels to me like footballers should only really apologise for doing something particularly egregious, not what’s basically a routine error in a game. Then again, we’d have had a supplicant Mustafi every week so perhaps not.
In the end, I know they want to connect with the fans, but I don’t really think it’s necessary over something like this. As I said yesterday, I really liked his commitment to the cause, I understood the gamble from Arteta’s point of view, but it backfired and is so costly because we don’t have anywhere near enough depth in midfield – a problem we have to sort out.
After the Burnley game, there’s a full week until the close of the transfer window on the 31st. If anything is going to happen, it’ll happen then – and quite often the January window is one where deals get done late. Deadline day Nacho Monreal for example, and who can forget the Andrei Arshavin saga where we had to get special dispensation to ratify the deal after the window closed? This current football executive has some previous in that regard too. Not January specifically, but in the last couple of summer windows we’ve done deadline day deals for Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey.
As for what’s going to happen, your guess is as good as mine. It feels to me like Dusan Vlahovic has the longest garden path in all of Florence, and we’re being led up it good and proper. What then for the striker situation? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is healthy, which is good news, but we don’t know if there’s a way back for him after his recent disciplinary issue.
We talked about this on the Arsecast Extra yesterday, and as much as I really want to see us sign a striker, I also don’t want us to sign the wrong player out of desperation. This signing is so important for the future of the team that we have to make sure we get exactly the player we want, not a make-do model. In 2016 we signed Alexandre Lacazette for £50m, then 6 months later spent £55m on Aubameyang. It wasn’t the best use of resources, and it didn’t necessarily speak to a particularly coherent strategy. To be fair, they have worked well together at times, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that their friendship has been stronger than their on-field partnership. It has always felt like a combination that sort of works, but with something fundamental missing.
Hence the need to get this next signing right. And if we can’t get it done in January, what then? Well, there is Aubameyang, but if we can get Smith Rowe fully fit again, as well as Nicolas Pepe back from AFCON with some goals and confidence under his belt, I’d be inclined to give the job to Gabriel Martinelli for a time to see what we can get out of him up top with varying combinations of Smith Rowe, Saka, Pepe, Odegaard behind him. The young Brazilian has taken a step forward this season, no question, and I think it’s telling that one aspect of our recent displays has been Lacazette dropping deep to make room for Martinelli to run those inside/central channels towards the centre-forward position. If we’re keen to get him into those areas, it suggests we have confidence he can provide end product. So, in the absence of anything else, why not?
Finally for today, links to American goalkeeper Matt Turner have raised speculation about the future of Bernd Leno. Simply put, there’s no way we can let Leno go anywhere without signing another keeper, but I do wonder if our reported interest in the New England Revolution keeper now is more about the timing than an immediate Leno replacement. The new MLS season doesn’t start until next month, so it might be a case that it’s the right time to get it done, giving them a chance to find a replacement and Turner a few months to settle in to a new league etc.
It’s no surprise that Leno might want to leave, he’s not playing, and at his age that’s going to hurt. Personally, I’d hang onto him until the summer, then be fair about the whole thing and let him go. I’d also be quite disinclined to do anything which might help Newcastle’s relegation fight, because while it might just be a case of delaying the inevitable, it’s the kind of delay I can get behind.
Right, that’s it for. Join us on Patreon later for a preview podcast. Until then, take it easy.