Morning, a very happy middle of the week to you all.
There are a couple of bits of Arsenal stuff we can kick off with today. First is that Jurrien Timber has been added to our Champions League squad, replacing Lino Sousa who has been sold to Aston Villa who then loaned him to Plymouth Argyle. I don’t think this means a comeback against Porto is on the cards, it’s more about the possibility of having him available should we make it to the latter stages of the competition.
I suspect he’s still a little way from making his comeback, but every positive development feels like a step in the right direction. I also hope that when he does return, he is allowed find his feet again, so to speak. There is often a thing when a player is out injured where his quality is perceived as greater and greater the more he is absent. Which isn’t to say I don’t think he’s a very good player, I really do, and I can’t wait to have him back as an option for both full-back positions, but it might take him a while to get match fit and find form.
Arsenal have allowed just 62 shots on target against them in the Premier League this season – fewer than any other team.
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) February 6, 2024
As it is, Arsenal aren’t doing too badly defensively this season anyway. Which, I suppose, is part of why we all want Timber back, because to have any chance of winning the league, we have to be better in every possible area of the pitch. The stat above shows you can we can improve, because in spite of it, it feels the shot to goal ratio for the opposition is a bit high, so I’m sure that will be part of the manager’s focus.
The defensive strength will be boosted by the return of Takehiro Tomiyasu after Japan’s exit from the Asian Cup over the weekend. In an instant, Mikel Arteta has another right-back at his disposal, another left-back option, and a player who can comfortably operate on the right or left of central defence. I know his injury record is a concern, but at the same time to have a player of that versatility, with little to no drop off in his effectiveness in each position, is so rare.
Which, for me at least, makes it easy to understand why the club are set to finalise terms on a new contract for him. He’s still only 25, his best years are well and truly ahead of him, and when one player can give you that much depth, you hold on to him. It would really have been fascinating to see how Arteta would have used his defensive options this season with Timber fully fit. There was a lot of chat about how he’d have usurped Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back, but I don’t think it would have been as clear cut as that.
The full-back combinations he could have used with Timber, Zinchenko, Tomiyasu and Ben White would have been much more tailored to particular opposition, in my opinion. I also think part of Timber’s remit would have been to lessen the burden on Zinchenko in particular whose career has been littered with calf strains and relatively minor muscular injuries. He’s not a player who can deal with a heavy load, game after game, like a Granit Xhaka, for example. Zinchenko needs to be managed, and his withdrawal on Sunday, coming not long after another absence because he was needed week after week, is clearly tied to the minutes he’s had to play this season.
Anyway, Tomiyasu should be back in the fold for the game against West Ham on Sunday, so that’s good news. When the new contract will be announced, I’m not sure. There were some stories recently that because of how the Premier League are now actively cracking down on their own profit and sustainability rules, many clubs are pushing out announcements re: contract extensions, so they fall in the next accounting period. I’m sure the pay will be back-dated in some fashion, but the lack of January spending, the unwillingness of some clubs to pull the trigger on floundering managers, and these contract stories all seem to be linked to that. Those things all cost money.
Arsenal have two contract extensions pretty much ready to go, with Ben White’s new deal more or less wrapped up also, so let’s see what happens. Right, let’s leave it there for this morning.
Enjoy your Wednesday, more here tomorrow.