Thursday, December 7, 2023

Injury issues ahead of Sevilla + Arteta’s ref comments (pt 2)

It’s Champions League action this evening as we take on Sevilla at home.

The team could be an interesting one, as it’s possible we go into this game with none of Gabriel Jesus, Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Thomas Partey, and Eddie Nketiah available. The latter faces a fitness test today having picked up a knock in the defeat to Newcastle at the weekend, while the captain has a ‘persistent’ problem according to Norway coach Stale Solbakken. Injuries are beginning to mount up.

I don’t think you can say we’re down to bare bones, but it certainly limits choice for Mikel Arteta. The absence of Jesus in particular will make this evening challenging. He was the difference maker in the away game, with a brilliant goal and a fantastic assist, and if Eddie doesn’t make it, the manager has got to think about who he deploys up front.

The obvious options are Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz, but the German might be required in a midfield role again if Odegaard isn’t fit enough. Beyond that, I think the team more or less picks itself. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Takehiro Tomiyasu start at right back with Oleksandr Zinchenko back on the left, but aside from that decision up front, there’s not much that would catch me off-guard.

The state of play in the group means a win would ensure Sevilla can’t catch us, and it’d put us in a very healthy position in the group – although a win for Lens over PSV would see them right behind us. Speaking to the press ahead of this one, Arteta said:

The moment you have a chance in football to put it to bed, do it. We have to do a lot of things right tomorrow to earn the right to win it against a really good team with enormous experience in this competition.

We have to prove tomorrow in front of our people how excited we are to play that game and what it means for us.

So, let’s hope we can cope without so many key players. That is going to make it more difficult, but it’s also a chance for some others to step up. Hopefully we can get our wide men more involved in this game than the last couple, but Sevilla paid close attention to Bukayo Saka in particular in the previous game, and he’s going to need to be at his robust best to make an impact.

Fingers crossed. As ever, you can follow along with the live blog, and we’ll have all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

As you might expect, the issue of officiating came up in the press conference, and it has been a major talking point this week. Not just – it’s worth pointing out – because of what happened in our game, but on Monday night, to Wolves (again), and more. And it will happen next week and the week after and so on.

This is why the gate-keepers who basically tell us we shouldn’t discuss this issue are so frustrating. Of course every manager has their own interests, but if someone has a legitimate complaint, trawling through every word they’ve ever said to pluck out a ‘DIS YOU?! GOTCHA!’ isn’t much use to anyone. Yes, refereeing is difficult, everyone accepts that, but they’re not a group of chosen-ones who are above and beyond criticism.

Shutting down discussion helps nobody; the gaslighting from prominent pundits and media figures insults fans; and I thought Arteta put it well yesterday:

Errors are part of an evolution. There are always bumps along the road and maybe these things are very necessary to improve the game in the right way. And that’s it. But we have to talk loudly.

You have a problem and you put it there in a drawer, the problem is that the drawer is going to stink at some moment. If we have a problem, let’s talk about it, let’s try to improve it and let’s try to in a very constructive way, try to improve it. That’s it. That’s what we are trying to do. Nothing else.

That said, there is an onus on managers who want improvement and change to acknowledge decisions that might go their way at the expense of their opposite number. If we get a goal that should have been disallowed, for example, Arteta ought to say something like, ‘I can understand why X MANAGER is unhappy with that’, rather than, ‘I didn’t see it’. This is inarguable to me. You can complain about decisions that go against you all day, but unless it becomes more of a two-way street, nothing will ever change. I’m happy for him to speak out right now, but if it’s for the best interests of the game, the tenor of his – and all managers – post-game remarks will have to shift too.

As for the conflation of his remarks with that of Ange Postecoglou, you have to be completely stupid not to see the difference. He literally had nothing to complain about it, with two players sent off for violent conduct, and when asked if referees should be respected, Arteta said:

I fully agree that we have to respect and this is what we try to do. We have to have respect, you have to have good trust and the capacity to have a conversation and opinions. That’s when respect is built.

Which tells you plenty. So, let’s hope we can draw a bit of a line under this stuff now, and focus on the football. That said, there’s a lot of this stuff in what was a fun preview podcast over on Patreon, and a little bit on the game itself. You can get that here, and instant access to everything we do on Patreon for around a fiver a month.

Right, catch you later for the game.

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