Morning all, a very quick Friday blog for you.
Mikel Arteta will meet the press this morning as attention turns to the North London derby on Sunday. No doubt he’ll be serious about that, but if he had a smile on his face after Wednesday night, you couldn’t blame him. Arsenal is a feel-good place at this moment in the time, a club where top players want to be – as evidenced by the arrival of someone like Declan Rice – and our continued ability to tie down our best players to new deals. Who knows when we might get more good news in that regard?!
The win over PSV couldn’t really have been better preparation in a week when our local rivals had no midweek action. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard all scored, but also weren’t required for the full 90 minutes. The manager had the luxury of being able to use his squad well from the bench.
The other goalscorer, Martin Odegaard, did play the full game, but there are a few in this squad who have the capacity to do that on a consistent basis. I loved Ben White steaming forward in the 82nd minute to provide an overlap for Fabio Vieira. The game was won then, everyone knew it, and he could have saved his legs a bit and just sat back, taken a pass, and recycled the ball around the back. Not a chance. This is how we play.
Even right at the death, when we had a free kick in midfield, Jorginho made William Saliba and Gabriel go up to contest it in the PSV box. To be fair, I suspect if our centre-halves were a little more experienced, they’d have suggested to the Italian that he just make a short pass and play it around until the final whistle, but maybe too it says something about the mindset of the team. You can help but like the intent.
Discussion of Sunday will undoubtedly focus on the goalkeeping situation, and David Raya spoke to the press in the mixed zone after the win over PSV. He was asked about coming into the side to replace Aaron Ramsdale and said:
I’ve just been selected for the last two games, that is just the choice of the gaffer — that is his choice, not my choice, and when Aaron comes in he will need to also fight for the team and to win games.
I think it is the first time that two top goalkeepers are in the same team, so that is just part of football now. The gaffer wants two top players for each position, and that is what we have to work with. I have played the last two games and now we see what happens on Sunday.
I strongly suspect that Raya will get the nod for this one, and that the manager had made a decision about the best way to play against Sp*rs and Man City. That meant blooding the Spaniard before these games, and to be fair he’s been good, if not exactly called into too much action. We saw some impressive play with his feet, and when he needed to be decisive with his hands, he was. I think he will face tougher days than Everton and PSV, but as a way of settling him into the side, it’s probably been beneficial if the plan was to use him in these bigger games.
The question about where it leaves Ramsdale is a bit of an open-ended one at this point. As I’ve said here and on the Arsecast, I’m not entirely convinced that we’re about to enter a new era of time-share goalkeeping selections. It feels more like this is an example of Arteta’s ruthlessness, a trait we all appreciate because it has helped us make progress, but there’s a human element to this which is hard to ignore.
We want to the team to be as good as it can be, and if Raya is deemed 2% better/more suitable than Ramsdale, then so be it. However, in building this team and rebuilding the connection between the team and the fans, Arteta has ‘used’ – if that’s the right word – the characters and personalities of these players along the way. Ramsdale is a very popular figure, and while ultimately results will mostly dictate how people feel, I do think there’s a need to be mindful of the dressing room. Nobody cares if a manager gets shot of dickheads who don’t really give a shit, but it’s different when it’s someone who has contributed a lot to our progress, and who people actually like.
Anyway, let’s see. The Arsecast from yesterday is here if you haven’t had a chance to listen already, and we’ll have a preview podcast for you on Patreon later this afternoon.
For now, have a good one, and we’ll bring you all the press conference news over on Arseblog News in a short while.