Let’s face it, the past few days has not been up there with our best as Arsenal fans. We wait for 2 weeks to see our team, allow the anticipation and confidence to grow, as we await the visit of a faltering Liverpool, shorn of any proper centre backs and we are rewarded with an inexplicably woeful display from our team.
Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, by way of key personnel being unavailable to Arteta, but the lack of Smith-Rowe, Saka and Xhaka, cannot and should not be used as an excuse for the complete lack of cohesion, effort, desire on behave of the players and an obvious plan from the coaching staff.
Again, it seems a short false dawn is followed by a sharp tug back to a harsher reality and again for the third Europa round in a row, this Thursday is being seen as the start of a make-or-break week for Arteta and his beleaguered troops. To add to the pressure building the Manager is deprived of arguably his best and most consistent performer in Kieran Tierney.
There are many winnable matches in the Premier League between now and May for Arsenal, but the fanbase can be forgiven for focusing on the Europa League as a slightly more realistic potential route back into Europe, given inconsistency of the domestic form. For me, it is now about Arteta finding a winning formula quickly and sticking with it, in Europe and in the Premier League. On paper he has the strength and depth to rotate and I recently wrote about this, but perhaps that too was a false dawn with the senior players letting him down.
Arsenal supporters have long supported Aubameyang and Lacazette, and even wanted them to be played together but I personally think that time has passed. The 4231 the Manager wished to deploy needs creativity on the left and must decide which of his two high profile plays centrally and use an alternative wide player on the left. We have seen Willian, Aubameyang, Pepe and Smith Rowe in recent weeks and it would be no exaggeration to observe that the 2 younger squad members have surpassed their senior colleagues in the role.
However, there is an additional younger squad member who shone on the left last season and has seldom been afforded the opportunity in this campaign. The fans have been long screaming for the revelation of 2019/20, Gabriel Martinelli to be given a run of games from the start in 2020/21. Despite this fan clamour, in which we have now been joined by notable ex-players such as Martin Keown, the young Brazilian’s game time has been limited to a matter of minutes in the past few months.
I cannot, therefore, be the only fan ahead of this Thursday’s tie against Slavia Prague, after Pepe, Aubameyang and Lacazette all stunk the Emirates out on Saturday, wondering if Arteta will finally turn to Martinelli. In normal circumstances, we might expect Arteta to decide on one of Lacazette or Aubameyang and utilise the trio behind, who excelled in the North London Derby, Smith Rowe, Odegaard and Saka, with the 2 English lads back in full training. However, does Tierney’s absence offer Arteta an opening, albeit a risky one.
In a poll on Twitter, I asked whether the fans would like to see Cedric Soares or Saka played at left back versus Prague, assuming he sticks with the 4231. The majority opted for the solidity of the Portuguese International, even on his weaker left, but it was only a small majority. Nearly half hope too see Saka at left full back on Thursday. This might be seen as a gamble given the importance of the match, but we all know it has worked well for us in the past.
The left full back role, and it takes only a quick look at Tierney’s heat map in any match, is one of the most attacking roles in this set up and this is afforded by the intelligence and positional discipline and covering of Granit Xhaka, who will be back on Thursday.
If Arteta does opt for a bold selection of Saka as an attacking left back it would give him and excellent opportunity to further throw the Europa dice and play Martinelli on the left of the three behind the striker. We know Saka and Martinelli have dovetailed well last season and being right footed, the Brazilian will naturally drift in field to allow his English teammate to overlap and in so doing get closer to our central striker, doubling the goal threat.
We also know that with Smith Rowe perhaps on the right and Odegaard centrally we will have all three able to press. the Norwegian has been visibly frustrated in recent matches, by more senior peers, unable to follow his lead in the press and there is no better in that role and in chasing down seeming lost causes than Martinelli.
Go on Mikel – Gamble on Gabi!
This is the full unedited version of my Fan Column on Sun Football yesterday.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.