Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Refocus : Upgrades

Morning all, happy Friday to you.

There is no real time to dwell on Wednesday’s result and – perhaps more importantly – performance, as we prepare to face Newcastle. Having just played a game against a team who shit-house their way through 90 minutes, it’s going to be more of the same tomorrow night.

They waste time, they’re physical, they’re constantly in the face of the officials, they elbow people in the head because they’re allowed to elbow people in the head – it’s all ahead of us. And while I’m pretty sure that Eddie Howe’s plan would have been more or less set in stone anyway, if he watched our game against Porto it would have solidified it.

Mikel Arteta said in his post-game press conference they had prepared for how Porto would try and make the game stop/start, I suspect they were still a bit taken aback by how far they leaned into that. Not to mention how amenable the referee was to their antics. Like most people, I’m disappointed with the result, and how we played, but I do believe the second game will be different. That felt like a very ‘home’ leg for Porto, and they managed to nick it late on because we made a host of small errors and one of their lads pulled off a pretty decent finish.

For now though, the focus will have to turn to the Premier League, and we’ll hear from the manager this morning as he meets the press. Some good news on the injury front would be very welcome, because while I don’t think fatigue was a key factor in our performance on Wednesday, the inability to properly change anything from the bench was certainly a consideration.

There was plenty of discussion about the lack of subs, but as I said in yesterday’s blog, I more or less understood it in the context of the way the game played out and our bench on the night. Maybe you could have given Reiss Nelson some minutes in place of Gabriel Martinelli, and with your Captain Hindsight hat on you might say their goal doesn’t happen if you do that and break the chain of errors, but that’s a bit reductive. The players out there should have seen that game out.

There’s so much focus on the players we don’t have available, and for obvious reasons. If you have guys like Partey, Zinchenko, Timber, Tomiyasu and Jesus available, you can do a lot more with your team – both from the start and during a game. Timber is a special case, due to the seriousness of his injury, and the way it was sustained in his first game, but there’s a lot to be said about the others. You hear a lot about how we have to ‘move on’ from some of these guys, but I think we have tried to do that to an extent.

Partey has never been reliable, and even when available towards the end of last season he wasn’t fully fit. Remember Man City burning him during that game at the Etihad? However, we did make ourselves much less reliant on him by spending £105m on Declan Rice. I don’t think we expected to have basically a zero contribution from Partey on top of that, but there’s no doubt we addressed the core of that issue.

Similarly, the fact that Zinchenko is a player you can only push so far before he breaks down was addressed by the arrival of Timber. We got really unfortunate with his injury, and that’s been exacerbated by the absence of Tomiyasu (although he has made 21 appearances in all competitions). The fact we have had Jakub Kiwior has been very useful, but the other two players give you a bit more variety and scope to change things tactically.

For me, as much as I love Gabriel Jesus as a player, a big question mark hangs over his role in the squad. He was brought in to be our number 9, but his ongoing fitness issues – which I think are a contributory factor to his fairly average numbers in the Premier League this season – should put him in the same bracket as Partey and Zinchenko when Arteta and Edu think about their squad building. He still has a big role to play, in my opinion, but we can’t ignore his physical reality.

Beyond that though, when we think about the bench, it seems obvious that there should be some focus on the players who are available (mostly), but don’t get used. Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe (see mostly above), they are there but upgradeable. We can bemoan what it would be like if we had our injured players back, but I think it’s important we acknowledge that there are some shortcomings with the players we do have available too.

Anyway, it’s all part of the process, Rome wasn’t built in a day etc etc, and I’m sure that the plan for this summer involves not just the perpetually injured, but raising the level of the players who are fit and ready. Whether that’s an £80m Pedro Neto, or someone else, we’ll have to just wait and see.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. We’ll have press conference stuff for you on Arseblog News, and a preview podcast over on Patreon later this afternoon.

For now, have a good one.

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