Morning all, a quick Friday round-up ahead of Mikel Arteta’s press conference this lunchtime as we prepare for tomorrow’s early kick-off against Man Utd.
No doubt he’ll be questioned about the future of Eddie Nketiah after his two goal haul against Chelsea, and after the game at Stamford Bridge he said:
If there is one player that I have been unfair with, I think it is him. He has given me every right to do something different, so if Eddie hasn’t played more, it’s my fault and because as a manager I have missed something or I haven’t had the courage to play him more, and today he showed me again how wrong I was.
During the week Eddie confirmed there have been contract offers, and the fact nothing has been signed suggests very strongly he sees his future elsewhere. At this point, he’s bound to have a few offers on the table, and perhaps a few more after his performance the other night. Arteta has been consistent enough in saying he’d like him to stay, and I suspect we’ll try again, but this is one that’s more or less out of the club’s hands at this point.
It’s clear from his comments that he wants to play regular football, and during his time at Arsenal Nketiah has had established, senior strikers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette ahead of him. You might be able to convince him that the pathway is more clear now, but everybody knows that this summer Arsenal are going to sign a striker and given that we play in a one up front system for the most part, even if he was the obvious number 2 centre-forward, he’s not going to start a lot of games. I don’t know how you convince a player to stay and do the exact opposite of what he publicly says he wants – and remember, Eddie is an Arsenal fan, so it’ll be a wrench for him to depart.
What he has done with those two goals on Wednesday night is assure his place in the team for tomorrow’s game. He wanted a run of games, and while circumstance has played a part in him getting that opportunity, he put in the kind of display that merits another chance. Can he do it again? Can he be dangerous and produce consistently? That’s the key here. That position up front is his to lose now, and if it works out the benefit to the team is obvious, but for the player it could be opportunities elsewhere that may not have been open him otherwise.
I’m also interested in what way we might approach the United game in terms of system/formation. Was that three/five at the back specific to an away game against a top team, or is it something we might use a bit more often. We started with the three centre-halves, shifted to a back four, then back to the three mid-game, with Arteta saying:
We had to have the flexibility and we needed the personnel to be flexible, adapt and change things that could work in our favour. It was demanding for the players to understand a few things, but I think they’ve done a great one.
I know we conceded two against Chelsea but one was a combination of a lack of security in possession in our own half (easy to remedy) and bad luck; while the other was poor defending (again, relatively easy to remedy or at least to point out the problem for the players to do better). However, in the second half as we sat back in to defend the lead, I don’t really remember a clear cut Chelsea chance despite all their pressure. Which isn’t to say this the ideal way to play, but we’re at the point of the season where pragmatism really matters.
I saw a Tweet directed at me, perhaps before the game, bemoaning the presence of Mohamed Elneny in the side ahead of Albert Sambi Lokonga (apologies, can’t find the original now). I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the thrust of it was there was no long-term upside to using Elneny and these games should be seen as foundational for Sambi’s development. The thing is though, we don’t need to think about the long-term with regards one player when we’re dealing in the short-term with the entire team. That selection against Chelsea wasn’t anything but than trying something else to secure what pre-game would have been considered an unlikely win.
I get that Elneny isn’t the most exciting player we’ve ever had, but I thought his experience was very important in the last half hour in particular. His positioning in our box when Chelsea threw in crosses, winning a couple of late free kicks to ease the pressure, and a 90% pass completion rate despite some early loose touches due to rustiness (Xhaka also had a very good game, but his passing was in the 70s%). If you’re really thinking about Sambi and the long-term, an important part of that will be securing European football for next season and letting him play in those games to broaden his experience further. If that means a bit of time on the bench now, so be it.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to me if that aspect of team selection was ever-present between now and the end of the season, but maybe the manager might expand on that a bit more today.
Finally for today, Andrew Allen has some details of how fans are being consulted with regard some of the improvements and refurbishments of the stadium planned for this summer – you can check that out here.
As we played on Wednesday night, the regular Friday Arsecast was published yesterday (listen below), and later on we’ll have our Man Utd preview podcast on Patreon. Press conference nuggets over on Arseblog News later too.
Until then, take it easy.