Let the countdown begin.
We’re back in action on Thursday when we face Wolves and as I said in yesterday’s post, I’m more than ready for football to return. So much of the discourse has been on what we don’t have over the last few weeks, and at this point we can’t do anything but focus on what we actually have.
I’m happy with our goalkeeping situation. Aaron Ramsdale has been excellent this season. Not perfect, but I like what he does and how he does it. I like his character and his long passing. When it comes to back-up, I don’t think there are too many clubs with better than Arsenal. Maybe Chelsea who can use an £80m signing when their first choice is out, but that’s also a sign of their wealth. I hope Bernd Leno pushes Ramsdale hard in training every day, and while I’m certain he’ll leave in the summer, if called upon I have confidence in him at this level.
Arseblog confidence level: 8
I love Takehiro Tomiyasu. I wrote about him last week and he has fast become one of my favourite players. He’s also become one of our most important players because his quality in that position brings such balance to the team. His absence is a worry because I think there’s a big gap between him and Cedric, who is so different in style that it causes us some issues. Hopefully the Japanese international can recover from his injury problem, and with just 17 games to play, I hope we can see him for most of them.
Arseblog confidence level: 8 (with Tomiyasu), 5 (without)
The Ben White/Gabriel partnership is important. We’ve invested almost £80m in the two of them, both of them are 24 (quite young in the life of a centre-half), and it seems as if the intention is for the two of them to grow and develop together for the years ahead. I do think there are elements of their respective games they can improve on, naturally enough considering their age, but I like the way they operate together.
Sometimes you can see a central defensive pairing and think ‘Oh dear, this is a bit like taking a giant swig of orange juice after just brushing your teeth’, but these two fit well with each other. At this point you might make the argument that their strength as a duo kind of offsets some of the individual issues they have, and I hope they can continue to develop between now and the end of the season.
Rob Holding is fine as a back-up option, but obviously the departures of Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers have left us a bit light in this area. Tomiyasu can play here, as can Kieran Tierney at a push (but probably in a three more than a traditional centre-half pairing).
Arseblog confidence level: 7.5
Remember last season when we had Kieran Tierney and then our next best option was Sead Kolasinac? Remember when we decided that rather than Kolasinac, we’d prefer to have nobody at all and then KT got injured so we used Granit Xhaka instead? Not good.
This time around, it’s much better. Nuno Tavares actually kept Tierney out of the side for a while earlier in the season, and he does look like a decent player – albeit one with plenty still to learn. I think we’re solid here.
Arseblog confidence level: 7.5
So much depends on the fitness of Thomas Partey and the brain of Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international causes me some internal trauma, but if they’re both fit and playing as well as they can, I think it’s a decent partnership. I reckon Mikel Arteta is banking on both of them to play a key role in what happens between now and May.
Beyond that Albert Sambi Lokonga looks promising but still raw, while you know what you’ll get from Mohamed Elneny. It’s safe, but consistent. Martin Odegaard can play here too.
Arseblog confidence level: 7 (informed by worries about Partey’s fitness and Xhaka’s brain going full Xhaka “you never go full Xhaka”).
Attacking midfield/wide forwards
There’s a lot to like here. Emile Smith Rowe, already our leading scorer. Bukayo Saka is reportedly attracting interest from Liverpool and Man City because he is a fantastic player. It’s annoying that there are those links, but this is what happens when you have genuine talent in your team. Other sides take notice. It’s a natural consequence of having good players, and if it feels worrying on one hand, the alternative is that we continue to chug along with players nobody else really wants.
Martin Odegaard is developing into a much more productive player this season, and I believe there’s more to come from him in terms of goals and assists. Gabriel Martinelli can play wide left, right and has taken considerable steps forward this season. And I’ve gone this far without mentioning our record signing, Nicolas Pepe who hasn’t done much this season but tends to end campaigns strongly so I hope that’s the case again.
For me, at least, the strongest part of our squad, even if it is lacking something in experience.
Arseblog confidence level: 8.5
This is where we can’t avoid the what we don’t have bit. What we do have are two strikers, one with 3 Premier League goals all season, and one with no goals in the league at all. It is hard to be confident, and this is where frustration over the window comes in to play for obvious reasons.
Obviously those goal tallies aren’t difficult to improve, so there’s that, but it’s also worth remembering that in December we did score 14 goals in 4 games with Lacazette contributing just two of them. The rest came from elsewhere, 10 from the attacking midfield/wide forwards area, so that’s what we’re going to have to lean into again.
That said, we’re going to face some tougher opposition in the weeks ahead, and it does place a big burden on those players to deliver. We definitely need Lacazette and Nketiah to step up and give us more, but there’s firepower behind them – not to mention we could use Martinelli as a centre-forward option too.
Arseblog confidence level: 5.5
How we cope with injuries and suspensions is another factor, but those are more or less out of control. A small, tight squad laser-focused on what we have to do could be sufficient to get the results we need. Let’s hope so.
Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra later on this morning so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @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.
Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.