There were a few bits on the Arsecast yesterday that I think might be worth mentioning today. First, although I spoke about him a bit in the Sevilla review blog, I’m really glad to see Takehiro Tomiyasu get his flowers for his performance against Sevilla. I say that as someone who has always thought he was an excellent player, and also someone not quite as down on Oleksandr Zinchenko’s performances at left-back as others seem to be.
His injury issues were a slight concern, but last season’s slip and knee problem was not like a player who continues to have muscular problems. It was just unfortunate. I would consider Thomas Partey far more injury prone than Tomiyasu, and while we don’t have any detail on what the injury he picked up in training this week is, I’ve seen it suggested it’s a thigh problem again – a kind of catch-all for the repetitive muscle injuries he’s been sidelined with since his arrival at the club.
I think the injury that Tomiyasu picked up last season clouded people’s view of how involved he had been to that point. While he wasn’t a ‘first name on the team sheet’ kind of player, he still started 13 games (including that great win over Liverpool at home when he kept Mo Salah so quiet he was hauled off), and had made 31 appearances in all competitions. Obviously the William Saliba injury had a big impact on our final period of the campaign, but I genuinely believe the Tomiyasu injury was the double-whammy we just couldn’t deal with. If we’d had him available, either as right-back or that right-sided centre-half, we’d have coped a lot better.
The signing of Jurrien Timber was, to my mind at least, a nod to that, as we brought in a defender who we thought was comfortable at right-back and centre-half, but who it turns out can play left-back too. And this is something I think gets overlooked a bit, just how good you have to be to be able to do that. Most defenders are specialists in their position. I love Saliba, but don’t ask him to play as a full-back. You couldn’t put Zinchenko at centre-half. We have a nice right foot, left foot balance with Gabriel and Saliba, but go back in time to the era of two right footed players and you usually had one who is more comfortable on the left and the other outside him.
To be able to play both full-back positions, and both centre-half positions with such quality is a testament to Tomiyasu’s physicality, of course, but also his quality and intelligence as a footballer. His defensive instincts are just so good, he’s someone I enjoy watching because his first thought is about where he needs to be and how he’s going to stop the opposition. That he can couple that with calmness on the ball and a superb range of passing makes him, as I’ve said before, the Swiss Army Knife of this defence. Against Sevilla on Tuesday, the best compliment I can pay him is that I wish we had another one of him to help us see out the final stages of the game.
As fans, there’s a certain element of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to players who are injured. I saw plenty of discussion as to whether we should ‘move on’ from Tomiyasu, and I’m glad that’s now been put to bed. He turns 25 next month (although until then he remains 24, that’s how it works), and while Edu’s contract pen is still warm from other deals we’ve done, I’d be very keen for us to think closely about a new one for Tomi, sooner rather than later.
Another thing we spoke about was Martin Odegaard and his recent dip in form. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s been below his best of late. We speculated about whether he misses that connection with Thomas Partey, and that could definitely be a thing. Increased defensive focus from the opposition on our right-hand side attacking threat might be another factor. And he could, like many players, just be experiencing a bit of a blip in terms of his own high standards.
Then I remembered this:
Is it too simplistic to draw a line between the fact he had his ankle crunched, then played two games for Norway during the Interlull, and his performances since? We know players will push themselves through pain on a regular basis, but in our last two games he has had just 36 and 30 touches of the ball. It’s noticeable because in the previous fixtures, he had 61, 49, 71, 47, and 61 respectively. That is a considerable drop-off, and perhaps indicative of a player who is either feeling the injury or protecting himself a bit.
It could be coincidence, there are myriad reasons why players don’t quite reach their best level in certain games, but I have a suspicion this may well be part of it when it comes to Odegaard’s displays against Chelsea and Sevilla.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. Have a great day.