Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Chelsea preview: Waiting on Saka and Saliba

As expected, Mikel Arteta was giving little away with regard to injuries when he met the press yesterday.

Asked about Bukayo Saka and William Saliba, both of who missed the international games, he basically said it was good for them to get some rest, but that their involvement today depended on how they trained yesterday. So, I was quite interested in the training video on arsenal.com, but it seems Arteta is now both manager and creative director, and it focused on a small group of players which didn’t include the two over whom there are doubts. I suspect he knows fine well and that yesterday’s training session isn’t a make or break situation for either of them.

The training pictures were a little more expansive, lots of super white Ben White and Thomas Partey being involved, but again neither Saka or Saliba were anywhere to be seen. If I was forced to put money on it, I would say both of them will be in the team today. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s my gut feeling – and if Saka is available, it gives Arteta a chance to start with his first choice front three for the first time this season.

Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus have all played, but injuries have meant they have yet to be deployed together from the off in a Premier League game. If Saka doesn’t make it, there are options. Eddie Nketiah has started a lot this season, and the win over Man City came with him in the centre and Jesus out wide. The Brazilian is such a good player, and has so much experience out there, that it would be a relatively safe bet for the manager. Leandro Trossard is another who has started up front, and then there’s Kai Havertz, returning to his former club.

In his case, Arteta was asked in his pre-game press conference about him, and said of his contribution to the win over City:

It was difficult to make the decision not to play him but that’s why we knew that the last 25, 30 minutes against City were going to be critical and the impact that the sub had was detrimental for the result and I’m really happy the way he reacted and contributed to the team.

I can see that the confidence is shifting and he’s in a much better place and we have to continue to do that and he needs to play.

I do wonder if that same role might be the right one for him today. If he is still building confidence, do you throw him in at his former club from the start, or wait until later in the game where he can give you a different option up front for the final stages if that’s something you need? I would lean much more towards the latter, not least because I don’t think there’s a starting place for him in midfield today.

If Partey is fit enough to start, I would go with him, Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard, our strongest trio – especially away from home. If the Ghanaian isn’t deemed fit enough to play from the off, I’d be happy enough to see Jorginho in that midfield three. It worked well against City, and while I don’t think it’s going to be exactly the same kind of game, his experience would be my preference over Havertz’s more ephemeral midfield presence. That said, the player returning to his former club narrative has plagued us more than once in the past, it would be nice to be on the right side of that today if he can make a telling contribution.

Beyond that, I don’t think we’ll see anything too surprising. At the back the side picks itself if Saliba is fit, if he’s not I think I’d go with Takehiro Tomiyasu at centre-half, leaving Ben White at right back. Speaking of, I enjoyed this interview on Sky Sports, and the way he talked about his role in the team:

I could play full-back, I could play anywhere across the backline or in centre mid, but playing full-back the way he wants is, I think, completely different to any other manager.

To play full-back for him, you’ve got to be a centre mid, a centre-back, a winger, a No 10. So, it’s been about developing the whole of my game, rather than just as a full-back or a centre-back.

As for Chelsea, I don’t think there’s any doubt they have a good manager and a lot of good players, but obviously they are in the process of pulling themselves out of a significant and hilarious funk. They’ve won their last two, but the situation they’re in leads to inconsistency, and hopefully that’s the Chelsea we see today. Nevertheless, from what he said pre-game, Arteta won’t be taking anything for granted in his preparations, so we’re going to have to perform to get the points.

As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game for you, and everything else afterwards on Arseblog News. You can also listen to our Chelsea preview podcast on Patreon. Catch you later for the game.

Till later.

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