Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Not so much rest, as reset …

Morning all. Welcome to a brand new week.

There’s no World Cup today, the semi-finals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The only Arsenal player left at the tournament is William Saliba, and based on what we’ve seen thus far, the only way he’s going to play is if there’s an injury – or if France have to play the third/fourth place play-off. You’d assume most of the players who were on the fringes for the teams involved in that game would be given a chance.

Bukayo Saka and Aaron Ramsdale should be back soon, but it looks as if Arsenal have wisely given players at the tournament a bit of time off after their exit. We had an interesting question on the Arsecast Extra yesterday about the return of World Cup players, pointing out that in the same time period last season, Saka played more minutes for Arsenal than he did for England in Qatar. Is there really any need for rest?

Perhaps not, but I think there’s a need for a reset. Regardless of expectation levels beforehand, any kind of exit from the World Cup is bound to be disappointing. All the focus will have changed from domestic to international commitments, and to me it makes sense that to refocus on their club football, they have a few days to themselves to just unwind before they get going again.

Bar injury, as we’ve unfortunately experienced with Gabriel Jesus, I don’t think the physical demands of this mid-season World Cup are the biggest issue. There’s no reason why any of our players would be fatigued when it’s possible they would have played more if the regular season had been ongoing. It’s really about compartmentalising the World Cup, and making sure they get their minds back on the job in hand at Arsenal. Someone like Ramsdale, who didn’t play a minute, must surely be desperate to get back onto the pitch.

From a purely Arsenal perspective, I think the biggest issue is the way it halted our momentum. We have demonstrated an ability this season to get results even when not playing at our best, so that interruption was not particularly welcome. The job now for Mikel Arteta is to get his players ready to go again, but I’m sure this is something that will have been thought about and discussed before the World Cup came along.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see Ben White back in training after his surprise exit from the tournament. As always with incidents like this, there’s a lot of speculation about what actually happened – but he looks happy enough in the training pictures. I realise that doesn’t tell anything close to the whole story, but to me he’s the kind of character who won’t be too fazed by anything that’s said externally. If there’s disappointment about not playing at the World Cup, it will be offset immediately on his return to a team where he’s an important player, and one who is hugely trusted by his manager.

The fitness of those players not at the World Cup is another thing. On the one hand, the break will have let some of them recharge their batteries, which is no bad thing – but at the same time making sure everyone is fully match fit for the resumption of the Premier League is clearly important. That’s why the upcoming games against AC Milan (tomorrow) and Juventus (Saturday) are key to our preparations for West Ham and beyond.

One man who hasn’t been seen enough this season, is Oleksandr Zinchenko, but sounded a positive note about his fitness, saying:

“You know, I have a little muscle tightness, but I’m nearly there, so don’t worry about this.

“Obviously I’m also working hard to get my fitness back and to be with the team as quickly as I can.”

Squad depth in the second half of the season will be so important as we fight across three competitions. Zinchenko has played just 604 minutes since his summer arrival, so hopefully we see plenty more between now and May. He’s not quite LANS (Like A New Signing), but he’s close enough, and fingers crossed we can add a couple of actual new signings to the mix when the window opens in January, but more on that as and when there’s some actual news.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. The Arsecast Extra was recorded yesterday, and if you haven’t had a chance to listen, it’s below. Have a good one.

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