Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Gunners get going again in Dubai, Arteta gives nothing away re: January

Morning all, happy Friday, and for the first time in what seems like an age, we had some Arsenal yesterday.

We beat Lyon 3-0 in Dubai, and while these games are glorified friendlies, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important as we basically start our second pre-season. It’s the same as the games we play in the summer in terms of preparation, match fitness, and all the rest. This time around, you might even argue there’s an edge to these ones because we’re dealing with a scenario – a mid-season World Cup/Interlull – nobody has ever faced before when it comes to player conditioning and so on.

For someone like Eddie Nketiah, who is going to have to carry a significant part of the burden of Gabriel Jesus’ absence, there’s even more weight to them. Obviously it’s what he does in the Premier League that counts, but if he can build some confidence, get some game-time under his belt, and score a few goals, it could well be useful. I thought he played pretty well yesterday, some of his link-up play was very solid, and he scored a nice goal.

Another player who could well be important when football comes back is Fabio Vieira. We still don’t know when Emile Smith Rowe will be ready to play again – although Arteta said ‘hopefully in the next few weeks’ when asked about him yesterday; while Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka could potentially be away until the end of the World Cup. The manager has tipped the former Porto man to be more influential in the second half of the season after he missed pre-season 1 with injury.

We’ve already seen flashes of what he can do, and his goal yesterday is the kind of thing we’d all love to see a few more times in the Premier League. It was a hell of a finish, but encouraging too that it came at the end of some slick and effective Arsenal build-up play. Lyon really weren’t up to much, and you have to take that into account to some extent, but I think the manager will be pretty pleased about his team’s performance – especially when you consider how many ‘first’ choice players were absent.

There were a raft of changes in the second half, as Arsenal’s double-barrelled youth army took to the field. They acquitted themselves pretty well against a much more experienced Lyon XI, which by then included former Gunner The Jeff, and at the end – despite our 3-0 win – there was a penalty shoot-out to play for a bonus point. It was probably the worst penalty shoot-out I’ve ever seen, culminating in some Lyon lad attempting a Panenka but instead he tickled a pathetic shot … it wasn’t even a shot … you can’t call it that … into the arms of Karl Hein who saved four of Lyon’s penalties.

Next up AC Milan on Tuesday, and perhaps we might see the return of some of the World Cup players. I mentioned Smith Rowe already, and obviously they’re not going to rush him, while the other notable absentee was Oleksandr Zinchenko who wasn’t even on the bench. A bit of a worry given his injury record this season, but let’s see how it pans out next week.

Afterwards, Arteta was typically vague about Gabriel Jesus, saying that at this point they don’t know the time-frame for his return. I suspect that they know a lot more than they’re saying publicly, and perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world with January around the corner. If everyone knows your main striker is going to be out until March, for example, it has an impact on the price you might pay for a player who could help ease that burden.

And on squad depth, he said:

We have players, we have a lot of Academy players. It’s do we have the players that can give us the performances and the consistency that we need to maintain and improve from where we are?

As it stands, we just have one recognised striker in Eddie Nketiah. I know opinions on him vary, but leaving that aside, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect one player to play in every game when we’ve got Premier League, FA Cup and, hopefully, rounds of the Europa League to contend with. There are some internal solutions. Gabriel Martinelli central, and don’t rule out Arteta’s flirtation with Emile Smith Rowe as a false 9 being raised as a possibility, but I don’t think too many people would argue against recruitment in January being an absolute requirement to help continue this solid season so far and to give us the depth necessary to maintain a title challenge.

Speaking of which, those topics come up in the brand new Arsecast, as I chat with Lewis Ambrose about the state of the squad, the upcoming window and lots more. All the links you need are below. Happy listening.

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