The Premier League season continues with a late afternoon kick-off at Bournemouth.
The good news from an Arsenal perspective is that right now we have a clean bill of health, and it looks as if everyone is available for Mikel Arteta. After Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira got some minutes for the U21s in midweek, the manager said:
They look fit, they trained with us all week so they are available for selection.
This could be Vieira’s first inclusion, and if he does make it, it’ll be interesting to see which of the nine subs from last week might drop out. It might well be Nicolas Pepe whose loan move to Nice looks like it’s making progress, so to ensure he doesn’t pick up a knock that might scupper the deal, he could make way. The former Porto man played on the right for the U21s, something Arteta asked for, so he could be seen as the back-up/alternative for Bukayo Saka in the absence of Pepe.
Beyond that, I can’t imagine there’ll be much different from the team selection from the first two games. At this point of the season there’s an ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ kinda vibe going on, but with a bench that looks like it can provide plenty if we need it.
Bournemouth won their opening game of the season against Villa, but lost 4-0 at Man City last week. It’s presumptuous to say they’ll approach this one in the same way, but you’d imagine what they saw of Arsenal in the two games we’ve played so far might well see them sit deep and look to frustrate us. This was something we struggled with at times last season, and one of our big challenges in this new campaign is to improve on the things we didn’t do particularly well.
Obviously the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, and the way he combines with others, gives us a greater ability to pull and stretch defences, so if that’s the way the home side play today then I’d feel a lot more confident about being able to deal with it than I would have done this time last season. We also have more on the bench if they’re needed, but ideally you’d bring on Fabio Vieira for his debut today in an already comfortable position rather than needing him to produce under pressure.
Which is to take nothing for granted. In this league if your standards drop, even a little bit, you drop points. We’ve seen that already with some of the results this season, and while they’re funny when they happen to someone else, we know fine well that it’s not as amusing when it’s Arsenal on the other end of it. So, ensuring these players keep their feet on the ground and work hard will be important for the manager.
That said, if we can play as well today as we did against Palace in the first half, and for the majority of the Leicester game, then it’s not unreasonable to feel confident that we can take all three points.
Elsewhere, the manager sounded a positive note about the issue of Bukayo Saka’s contract. He still has two years left, but that deal was signed in 2020 and his current deal is simply not commensurate with his importance to the team or the contribution he’s made. He absolutely deserves improved terms, and with that comes an extension that also suits the club.
“I’m very confident that we as a club, Bukayo, his family, his agent, everybody, we are very much aligned with what we want to achieve.
“Now it’s about putting it on a piece of paper.”
Recruitment is obviously an important part of team building, but ensuring your best players stay with you is part of it too. Saka’s extension, as and when it happens, won’t be a massive statement in itself. If this current Arsenal, one that we all hope is on the up, can’t convince an Academy graduate to pledge his immediate future to it, we should all be quite worried.
However, it is another positive building block as we continue to make progress, and with a couple of other young players whose contracts require some attention, it might just play a part in convincing them this is the place to be.
A couple of quick things to finish. First up, condolences to the family, friends and club colleagues of Steve Braddock, Arsenal’s long-time head groundsman who has passed away. You can read more about him and his incredible work here.
May he rest in peace.
Also, a great Islington pub needs people’s help. See this Instagram post from the wonderful Compton Arms for more on that, and if you can spare a bit of time to send an email of support, it would certainly be appreciated, I’m sure.
Right, that’s it for now. As always, we have a Premier League preview podcast over on Patreon now, Lewis and I look ahead to the Bournemouth game, among other stuff. You can listen/subscribe here.
Until then, take it easy.