A noon kick-off on Sunday after playing on Thursday night is far from ideal, but thanks to BT Sport that’s what we’ve got today as we travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.
Mikel Arteta ‘rested’ seven of the side that started in the Premier League against Nottingham Forest last weekend, and Granit Xhaka’s suspension meant he got the very occasional luxury of some time off. The injury to Takehiro Tomiyasu must surely rule him out of today’s game, and it gives the manager a decision to make because I think the Japan international would have started today if he was fit.
Kieran Tierney played well and scored in midweek, while Oleksandr Zinchenko returned the bench. The last time he started was the North London derby on October 1st, so you’d think it’s unlikely he’d be thrown in so quickly. However, as Lewis pointed out on the preview podcast, before the win over Sp*rs, his previous start was against Man Utd on September 4th. He only missed two games in that period because of an Interlull, this time around he’s been sidelined for nine, so we’ll have to see if Arteta feels he can get into the rhythm straight away – but there is some precedent for his return.
Beyond that, the team picks itself. Gabriel Jesus, having saved all his goals for this game, will be the man to lead the line, and the idea of Gabriel Martinelli running at Cesar Azpilicueta – who is likely to start at right back for Chelsea – is an exciting one. Bukayo Saka on the right was kicked out of the Forest game, and I fully expect he’ll be on the end of a meaty challenge or two today. Whether he ever gets another free kick again remains to be seen but if referees are going to give penalties for the kind of ‘contact’ on Kevin de Bruyne yesterday, there should be prison sentences for what happens to Saka.
Chelsea have been solid under Graham Potter, and while last week’s defeat to Brighton was their first under him, it did demonstrate some vulnerability. Brighton blew them away early on, and Arsenal have been fast starters this season and I’m sure that will be part of the plan today if possible. No doubt Chelsea will be expecting that too, and will be prepared, but hopefully the energy that has helped us do so well so far this season will be there again.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Aubameyang stuff is just a sidebar to the main event. Obviously facing a former player who left in contentious circumstances always adds a bit of drama, but the reality is we’re in better shape now than we were when he was here. He made a fantastic contribution on his best days, but by the end his level had fallen considerably. It doesn’t mean he’s not still dangerous, a striker of his experience is always someone you have to watch out for, but hopefully whatever he does or doesn’t do today is irrelevant because of what we do at the other end.
Come on you reds!