Morning all, a quick Saturday round-up for you.
Ahead of Crystal Palace tomorrow, we await an injury update on William Saliba who went off with a back problem. Unfortunately, Mikel Arteta said Takehiro Tomiyasu’s injury looks serious, so it’s a double whammy in that sense. Under normal circumstances, if Saliba got injured you could move Ben White back into the centre-half position, and Tomi could play right back, but that looks very unlikely now.
What concerns me is how innocuous looking it was. He slipped one way, then the other, which seemed to stretch out his knee, and it’s so often the case that a player can pick up a serious problem when it doesn’t look like very much happened. I can’t tell you how much I winced when Manuel Ugarte came steaming through Bukayo Saka late in the game, but after the Uruguayan was sent off, Saka was ok. Tomiyasu had a bit of a slip and I reckon we might not see him for a while.
From an opposition perspective, the news that broke yesterday morning about the dismissal of Patrick Vieira instilled in all Arsenal fans another dose of our greatest fear. Not mega-scorpions. Not Maroon5 covering North London Forever. But the new manager bounce. The only thing is they don’t have a new manager yet, and it may well be a case that they turn to an ex-manager, Roy Hodgson, to manage the end of the season. How bouncy is Roy these days?
Tomorrow it’ll be Paddy McCarthy, up to now boss of the U21s, who will take charge on a caretaker basis. Patrick was sacked on St Patrick’s day and replaced by Paddy. Whether he can provide the new manager bounce, we’ll have to wait and see. For Vieira, it’s a bit of a shame because when you look at the fixtures Palace have in the next couple of months, they’re all far more winnable on paper than most of the ones they’ve played recently, but clearly the board lost faith, and at most football clubs when that happens there’s only one outcome.
Anyway, more on the Palace game tomorrow. Yesterday, the draw for the Europa League was made, and had we made it past Sporting, we’d have faced Juventus in the quarter-finals. Those games would have taken place April 13th and 20th, meaning our schedule would have been:
Sunday 9th: Liverpool away.
Thursday 13th: Juventus away.
Sunday 16th: West Ham away
Thursday 20th: Juventus home
And our game next against Southampton which is scheduled for Friday 21st would, I assume, have been moved to the Sunday 23rd. On Wednesday 26th, we play Man City away. Make it through against Juventus, and we’d face the winners of the Sevilla/Man Utd tie. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine United went through. That would give us:
May 6th: Newcastle away
May 11th: Man Utd 1st leg
May 14th: Brighton home
May 18th: Man Utd 2nd leg
Of course you might think that is a schedule to relish, and that’s fair enough. Big clubs should be involved in big games at the business end of the season. That’s what we are aspiring to. It’s also worth mentioning that not being involved doesn’t guarantee anything either. We still have some very difficult games, and we’re going to have to be at our best to get what we need from them.
In the preview for the Sporting game, I wrote about how in some ways it was a way of testing the depth of our squad and its ability to compete on two fronts. I don’t think we played particularly well on Thursday, but I think some of the criticism has been a bit over the top. On another night one of those extra-time chances goes in, their keeper is not as inspired, and we’re having a different conversation this morning. Nevertheless, the reality is that we’re out, we didn’t do enough against a decent Sporting side, and maybe that tells us we have a bit more to do in terms of squad building before we can be as competitive as we want.
On that basis, and when you look at some of the Premier League fixtures we have to contend with, it’s not too difficult for me to compartmentalise our Europa League exit in the context of this season. Like I said, there are no guarantees, but that extra time between games we now have for preparation, recuperation, organisation, and all the rest, could well be an advantage if we make the most of it.
Right, I’ll leave it there for now. We’ll have a Patreon preview podcast for you later today, chatting with Lewis as usual and Dan from HLTCO I’m recording that a bit later when I get to London, and it should drop around late afternoon.
For now, have a good one!