Monday, May 20, 2024

In which my mind wanders to January …

Morning all.

It’s interesting to note that there’s a full week of Premier League action this week, spread across three days, and we were supposed to be playing Man City at home. However, due to the postponements around the death of the queen, that game was put on ice for now and instead we’ll be playing PSV in the Europa League.

I don’t know that there’s ever a good time to play Man City, but I just wonder if, after we’ve had our worst performance of the season at Elland Road, while they’ve just been beaten by Liverpool and will be stinging from that, there’s a good time NOT to play them. Our momentum is obviously good right now, and with a mixture of resilience and good fortune we took all three points against Leeds. That said, we did look a little leggy – completely understandably by the way as we travelled to Norway and had little time to rest/prepare for a game against a team which had a free week.

Maybe this fixture being played at some point in the new year might be better. It’s impossible to say for sure, of course, but my gut feeling is that I’m kinda glad we’re not playing them tomorrow. Nobody quite knows what’s going to be happen after the World Cup and what impact the tournament is going to have on teams when players return and players deal with an unprecedented mid-season break, but there’s also the January window to consider.

We know that Mikel Arteta wanted ‘more firepower’ before the close of the summer window, but the central midfield injuries changed the priorities. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to add to the squad there either. However, when the season breaks for 6 weeks on November 12th, there’s plenty of time for the manager and Edu (and all the others) to lay the groundwork for a January deal or two.

Last season January looked like this:

IN

*tumbleweed*

OUT

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac, Pablo Mari, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Flo Balogun.

Without wanting to scratch at old wounds or anything, is it any wonder we ran out of steam at the end of the campaign? For me it wasn’t really a question of quality, but quantity. Players were running on empty, some had fallen victim to injury and we were left short in key positions.

If part of the process is learning from the things that went wrong, then I fully expect us to add to the squad in January – and ideally that won’t be a ‘Oh, let’s see who’s around at the end of the window’ situation. This team has worked very hard to be where it is right now, and hopefully by the time the World Cup comes around we’ll still be in good position.

That’s an opportunity that we can’t ignore, and as much as the January transfer window is difficult at times, I think this one will be slightly different because of that mid-season break and the kind of focus it allows clubs to have on doing deals when ordinarily the schedule of games is the priority. Which is to say, that perhaps by the time the Man City game is rescheduled in the new year, we’ll have a slightly bigger, deeper squad, and that will be good not just because we have to play them.

All going well, we could be involved in four competitions when football resumes again, and right now I think it’s fair to say we’re feeling the strain – just a little bit – dealing with two. Even if you leave the FA Cup and EFL Cup to one side, the Europa League knock-out games get more important and increasingly more difficult as the level of the opposition rises towards the end of the competition.

So, it makes sense to me we would strengthen, but obviously that’s a bridge we can cross when we come to it.

Elsewhere, congrats to Beth Mead who finished second in the Ballon D’Or, which was won by Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas. Elsewhere, Bukayo Saka finished 8th in the Kopa Trophy, which is awarded to the world’s best player under the age of 21. Barcelona’s Gavi won it, and while he’s certainly a fine player, I just wonder there’s a bit of continental bias to these individual awards. The Premier League might be considered the biggest league in the world, but I still think there’s a perception that the technical quality elsewhere is higher.

But then again, individual awards in football are always a bit weird, and I’ve never been able to take them seriously when Thierry Henry was beaten by to the Ballon D’Or by a literal scarecrow.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Over on Patreon we round up the weekend’s Premier League action in The 30. Back tomorrow with more here.

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