Thursday, February 29, 2024

Saka, Odegaard, and other fun stuff

Morning all.

There’s a Mikel Arteta press conference this morning, ahead of our EFL Cup game against West Ham tomorrow night. I’m expecting a fair amount of rotation for this game, especially with a trip to Newcastle on Saturday evening, so let’s see what he has to say about that. We can preview the game more fully tomorrow.

Saturday’s win over Sheffield United was interesting in terms of how he managed the minutes of the players. Obviously there were some changes from the start, but he also made subs relatively early, giving the likes of Bukayo Saka, Ben White and others a few minutes off which, we hope, will translate into a bit more energy in the legs.

Speaking of Saka, he was asked afterwards about fatigue and burn-out, and played down that kind of talk, saying:

My focus is not really there. I always want to be on the pitch, to give my best, and if I’m injured and I have to be forced to be out, then of course I will sit out. But as long I’m there and I’m ready to play, I am always going to give my best and tell them that I want to play.

When you look at the top players, they are there every three days and winning games for their team. So I’m trying to be at that level, and obviously to get there I need to push myself.

You can hear Mikel Arteta’s words in there, for sure, and ultimately it’s down to the player to find the right balance between his desire to be involved and any aches/strains he might be feeling. He did sit out the win over Man City, of course, but his importance to the side is underlined by the fact that Saturday was the first Premier League game since Crystal Palace away in which he didn’t make a goal contribution.

I don’t expect him to start tomorrow night, and I hope it’s the kind of game where we don’t need to call on him from the bench. The same goes for Martin Odegaard whose recent performances haven’t been at the level we know he usually operates at. The manager confirmed he’s been dealing with a knock of some kind (I’m convinced it’s the Kovacic challenge + international duty), so let’s take care of him and get him back to his best. Like I said though, more on that game tomorrow.

Over on Patreon, we have a new episode of our Premier League podcast ‘The 30’, and there was a lot of focus on the Manchester derby. For very obvious reasons, it’s not good for our ambitions if Manchester City win, but at the same time, it’s impossible not to enjoy Man Utd being as bad as they are. Sure, the penalty was very soft, issued by VAR-man Michael Oliver – the same guy who didn’t give Kovacic the most obvious second yellow you will ever see, just weeks after he spent some time doing extra ref gigs in the UAE. Either we’ll now see a host of penalties for things like that, or we’ll never see another one like all season – a bit like Gabriel Martinelli’s two yellows in 8 seconds. Who was that again? Oh, Michael Oliver. How strange.

Anyway, the main point is just how bad United are. To say some of the defending was schoolboy is to do a disservice to schoolboys. The second Erling Haaland goal was just ridiculous. Nobody noticed the gigantic Norwegian sauntering to the back post to head home? He is hard to spot, I guess. And the third, players just ball-watching. Pathetic, and also hilarious.

I also enjoyed the stat doing the rounds about Antony who got a yellow card, and now has more bookings for Man Utd than goals. And they spent close to €100m on this unpleasant little duffer. He’s like a Jack Russell who has been kicked in the head by a mule, and tries to fight himself in the mirror. It would be more funny if that deal hadn’t screwed the transfer market the way it did, but I can no longer blame any club asking for a fortune for a mid-level player because if Ajax can get that money for someone as bad as him, why wouldn’t you chance your arm?

As for Erik ten Hag, a man who did a good job at Ajax in fairness, he just seems like a personality vacuum. There are good managers and bad managers and managers inbetween, but he is perhaps the least compelling figure in the Premier League right now. He looks like something from a 1970s catalogue, modelling the latest in beige fashions. Gary Neville can say what he wants about the Glazers, and there’s probably some merit to it, but they’re not the ones who can’t do the basics like organise a back four or ask players to, you know, run. Fun times at Old Trafford.

Right, it’s time for me to make some breakfast. We’ll have press conference stuff on Arseblog News for you too.

Have a good one.

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