There’s only one thing on anyone’s mind this week, and that’s tomorrow night’s game at Man City.
Mikel Arteta will hold his pre-game press conference this morning, and as ever we’ll cover it for you over on Arseblog News. I don’t think he’ll be giving too much away in terms of his plans, and whether or not he’ll be making any changes to his team. We obviously have some concerns about personnel, maybe even formation, and those are things we can talk about in tomorrow’s blog, and on the preview podcast over on Patreon early on.
I don’t know if this will soothe anyone’s nerves, but I went back to look at our team the last time we visited them in the league, and the starting line up was: Leno, Cedric, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Saka, Aubameyang.
It’s safe to say we’ve come some distance since then. Whether it will be enough to bridge the gap of that result (5-0) remains to be seen, but we also played most of that game with 10 men, so if it’s 11 v 11 for 90 minutes, I’m more optimistic than I would have been back then.
One player who won’t be available is William Saliba, with reports ruling him out of this one and casting doubts on his return before the end of the campaign. The back injury that forced him off against Sporting is clearly a serious one. It’s been reported that he has ‘structural damage’ to his back, which doesn’t sound good at all, given the importance of backs in general. At this point, barring some kind of miracle (which don’t tend to happen in real life), we should probably consider his season over. Which is a real shame, because he’s been such an important part of what we’ve done, and for the player himself it must be frustrating to have his first season in English football curtailed like this.
More importantly, do whatever is necessary to get him better. I would imagine that they’d try to avoid surgery if possible, having an operation on your back at 21 would be something to avoid if you could, but if that’s what it takes then explore that option. In the meantime, given he is at something of a loose end, perhaps now might be a good time to try and finalise a new contract. He’s got just over 12 months left, and while his performances this season will certainly give him options elsewhere, he’s looked happy here too. He looks settled, comfortable on the pitch and with this club, so let’s hope that’s something they can sort out sooner rather than later.
Elsewhere, Ainsley Maitland-Niles will leave the club this summer. We didn’t take up the option extending his contract for another year, and he’ll be allowed go on a free. He says:
It’s been a great journey but it has come to an end now. It’s time for a fresh start and to find a new home.
I wonder will he have regrets. I think there was a chance for him to make a real go of the full-back position, but he had designs of playing in midfield. Designs that didn’t really align with those of the manager, and thus he became more and more peripheral as time went on.
Speaking last week ahead of the Southampton game, where Maitland-Niles is on loan, Arteta said:
He was a really important part, and he’s a player with incredible versatility that has played in many different positions. For different reasons, some professional, some personal reasons he had to move around in the end.
So maybe there’s more to his story than we know or understand, but it’s fair to say it hasn’t been plain sailing. There was that deadline day plea on Instagram to be allowed to go to Everton, but that didn’t happen. A few games here and there in midfield, but that was it. I’ve seen it said we should have taken the offer Wolves made back in the day, which is fair enough, but let’s not forget he had been a key part of the team which beat Man City and Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and final respectively, and had been called up to the full England squad.
I absolutely agree that as a club we need to sell better, it’s been a bit of a weakness in recent years, but while that offer looks fantastic now, it didn’t look quite as good back then. Especially given his versatility at a time when our squad building was not at the same level as it is now. I suppose you could look at a sale we did actually make, Joe Willock to Newcastle for £28m, a figure most people thought was excellent. As he continues to make progress as a player, will we get complaints that we didn’t get enough for him? That pass for Alexander Isak against Sp*rs on Sunday, oooof. Anyway, it’s water under the bridge, and fingers crossed wherever he ends up, Maitland-Niles makes the most of his talent. He’s gonna be 26 this year, so his next move is a really important one.
Right, that’s it for now. As I said, we’ll have press conference coverage on Arseblog News. We have a brand new episode of The 30 – our Premier League review podcast on Patreon – and there’s a lot of laughing at one particular result. We’ll also have a City preview pod for you there later on too.
Have a good one.