Thursday, November 30, 2023

Training pics = Fitness boost?

Morning all.

Training pictures emerged yesterday and while we can’t glean a huge amount from still images, the fact that certain players are involved is a positive thing. We’ve added to the squad this summer, but there are some existing members who will give us real depth and quality if they’re fully fit and involved.

Kieran Tierney is in there, and we know he’s probably a little way off 100%. He had knee surgery in April, and clearly they are not rushing him back. His involvement in pre-season games has been minimal, and that’s completely understandable when it comes to a player who has been a bit brittle during his time here. With Oleksandr Zinchenko now available, and Nuno Tavares still here despite talk of a move to Atalanta, it’s not as if we’re short of options in his position.

He turned 25 in June, and this feels like a big season for him. His quality is not in question for me, and I think last season was the best we’ve seen from him defensively, but there are always going to be question marks over someone who misses a significant chunk of every season due to injury. I do wonder if this is part and parcel of why there’s apparent caution over bringing him back, but we’ve seen in the past how players who have suffered a lot of niggles and absences in their early 20s can come through that.

The two I can think of most clearly are Robin van Persie and Gael Clichy, who were both in and out of the treatment room season after season, but once they got to their mid-20s, settled down on the injury front and became much more regular. Hopefully the same applies to KT and once he gets fit this season, he stays fit. There is a long season ahead, and hopefully one that goes deep into Europe and all that that means for our schedule, so having him available will be so important.

Also spotted, blurred in the background, is Takehiro Tomiyasu who has really struggled since January of this year. Having been an absolute sensation in the first half of last season, he suffered calf injuries, then when he did come back late on, played a few games before he picked up a hamstring strain. In 2022, he appeared in just 6 of the 20 games we played, and having become very important very quickly, it was a blow to miss him.

Like Tierney, I think this is one where we have the ability to ensure he’s properly fit. I’m not a huge fan of Cedric at right back, I think the gap in quality and style is too big between him and Tomi, but he is pretty much always available. However, the return of William Saliba means that he can slot in at centre-half alongside Gabriel, which then allows Ben White to play at right back. He is far more analogous to Tomiyasu in that position, and I suspect (and hope) that’s something we might see quite a bit until the Japan international is fully fit. Full backs are important cogs in Mikel Arteta’s engine, and while our difficulties last season centred more around goalscoring and the absence of Thomas Partey during the run-in, there’s no question we weren’t defensively as solid without Tomiyasu and Tierney.

Further forward, another player who struggled during the second half of last season – Emile Smith Rowe. He’s there in the training pictures, and again we’re not urgently in need as long as Gabriel Martinelli stays fit for that left-hand side. I suspect he could have done without the England U21 duty this summer, where he made three appearances in ten days, but it is what it is.

It’s hard not to think his injury problems have come from being plucked from relative obscurity back in December 2020, and becoming such an important part of the team so quickly. He spoke himself about taking care of his diet and things like that, but at 19 years of age he went from not playing very much at all, to playing almost every week. At a time when he was still maturing physically, I think we’re seeing the consequence of that with the persistent muscular niggles he’s having to deal with.

The five subs rule this season means that a fitness plan on the training ground can be coupled with some competitive minutes to build him back up to where he needs to be, and after a season when he got 10 goals and a couple of assists, having a productive player like him back in the fold will be really important.

The player we haven’t really mentioned yet is Fabio Vieira, and after the Chelsea game, Arteta said:

I think he needs another week or so before he starts with the team but he’s been working hard and he’s been really unlucky to start his Arsenal career in this way but again he’s fitting in well.

With a five game run until the first Interlull of the season, it’d be nice to see him back and involved. We’ve yet to have our first impression of him as an Arsenal player, something we’ve had with other new arrivals during pre-season, so that’s something to look forward to.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, and more from me here tomorrow.

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