Thursday, July 18, 2024

Villa preview: Possible changes, but who and how?

It’s an early kick off today as we face Aston Villa away from home. For me, this is another one of those top four credentials games, the kind you need to make the most of if you’re going to make the Champions League.

That’s not to take anything for granted because Villa are a good side with some dangerous players, but for me it’s in the same category as Leicester and Wolves, where it’s not quite expectation, but more about what a good result would mean for us and our season, and what it tells you about our potential.

Having played Liverpool on Wednesday night, there hasn’t been a lot of recovery time, and I wonder if we might see one or two changes today. The difficulty is knowing exactly what Mikel Arteta can do. Unless there are injuries, he’s not going to mess around with his defensive unit, or the midfield. In reality, the only positions where we have the requisite quality to insert players are further forward, so you could make a good case for Emile Smith Rowe getting a start, and if you wanted to add some fresh legs, Nicolas Pepe has barely played this season and he certainly fits that bill.

The question is: who do you leave out? Gabriel Martinelli was sensational against Liverpool, so how do you ‘drop’ him for Smith Rowe to play on the left hand side? Bukayo Saka plays where Pepe plays, and while he wasn’t brilliant on Wednesday night, it’s hard to find the balance between a player having a quiet game because he didn’t quite click or has lost some form, versus the fact he was playing against one of the best teams in the world and it’s much harder to make a ‘positive’ contribution.

Even when you consider the substitutions Arteta made (Odegaard, Saka and Lacazette off), they felt like they were made with today in mind, trying to keep them as fresh as possible. So, if there are changes today, the decisions aren’t easy for the manager, and may well be informed by things that fatigue, aches and strains – information to which we are not privy, so if there’s something a bit odd looking about the line-up, we probably have to bear that in mind.

The Liverpool result, like any result, was disappointing, with Arteta admitting the players were ‘down’ afterwards. His main job today is to ensure they’re back up for this one, the memories of Wednesday locked away in the ‘One game at a time’ cupboard all the others have gone into. The results in the five previous games are much more important to how we feel about ourselves and how we approach this one.

As for Villa, they will play with energy and aggression, much like their manager did, and we know from recent seasons they have the ability to hurt you. There’s the former Arsenal connection too, with Emi Martinez and Calum Chambers, and how we control things in the first half might be key. It’s not quite the same, but very often a Saturday game after a midweek European game was one in which it took us a while to get going, so that’s something to consider. We might need to play our way into this one, but for all the talk of fatigue and short turnaround time, we’ve had plenty of rest this season so fingers crossed it’s not a big issue.

As always, we’ll have live blog coverage for you, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

Meanwhile, Arteta has introduced a new ‘non-negotiable’ but one I think most fans will be able to get behind. He was asked about becoming title contenders, and spoke about the need for more goals, saying:

To be with the top teams this season you need to score 90 to 100 goals at least. Somehow you need those goals in the team. Don’t ask me how, but you need them. They have to come. That contribution, how it’s done and how possible it is to happen, you have to find the right pieces to do it. But it’s a non-negotiable.

To be fair, I think he does know how. You get more firepower in your team, which is why there is such focus on what we’re going to do in the transfer market this summer. Obviously the more creative you are the better too, but in the end you need strikers/forwards who can apply the finishes. That’s not something we’ve had this season. Even when he was here, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struggled by his own previously high standards, and for all the good work he does, Alexandre Lacazette’s contribution to our goals scored tally is meagre, to say the least (today would be a very good day for him to augment that).

We can all see how much a top striker would bring to this team, and I’m certain that in the transfer plans/discussions the club are undertaking, that’s right at the top of their to-do list. Even with that, I don’t think we’re going to get close to 100 goals, but if that’s the aim, you have to applaud the ambition.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now, catch you in a little bit for the game.

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