So next up for the Gunners is what can be deemed a difficult trip to Burnley. A team that fits the template perfectly for Arsenal kryptonite over the years. A big strong physical side with the potential to disrupt and spoil any attempts at any fancy football whilst giving the opposition defence no easy ride.
After looking on jealously this past week as many teams got stuck into European football (Europa league and above) it really did hit home how important it is that Arsenal get back into the European competition as soon as possible. It almost had the air of an international football break as the midweek had an empty feel to it with no interest for Arsenal.
Time will tell if the extra day’s recovery has any kind of advantage over the teams that are currently competing in Europe. A Saturday kick off at 3pm was such a rarity over the last few years due to the Thursday/Sunday Europa schedules that it felt nice last week against Norwich and again we get to experience it today. It’s something we could witness again as the norm if Champions league football was secured come the end of the season, wishful thinking maybe but not impossible. Admittedly being more involved in Champions league usually equates to more TV schedule kick off time and date changes but it’s a nicer problem to have than no Europe at all.
Knowing the physical and aerial dangers posed by the likes of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes one of the big questions posed to Mikel Arteta will be how to set up the defensive back line and with which personnel? Last week, we witnessed a great first partnership between Ben White and Gabriel who snuffed out pretty much any dangers posed by Norwich. Will Mikel pursue some continuity to allow that partnership to grow by sticking with that pairing? He could alternatively add a third centre back into the mix by drafting in one of the more physically imposing defenders such as Pablo Mari, Callum Chambers or Rob Holding? Holding unfortunately has been ruled out so that leaves the option of Chambers, Mari or pushing Tomiyasu inside and playing someone else in the right back role.
It seems a bit unfair on Ben White that the memories of a tough baptism of fire against Brentford’s physical, long ball approach has virtually written off his abilities to handle any attack that sets up that way. He had a bad day at the office that day as did pretty much the whole starting eleven and despite his transfer fee he is still young and learning his craft. He needs a game for redemption to show the fans and pundits alike, “See, I’m not a weak link to this method”. Until he does come out unscathed from taking on such an attack that cloud of doubt will no doubt remain and hover like a bad smell.
The addition of Tomiyasu has added much needed height from a defensive aspect and it was refreshing to see him winning pretty much every high ball flown his direction last week. It could be an effective enough foil to complement White who could drop and sweep for long balls played to his side as the Japanese defender challenges.
The important thing is we have a capable squad with a number of strengths that could be utilised depending on the opposition we play. Mari hasn’t come off well from the Brentford game either and has been written off by many but many times last season he was a very capable defender. One game should never be used to draw all conclusions on a player. This is why they train all week, why they review their performances as a team. They can work on where they went wrong and make sure those same faults are not a regular occurrence.
Midfield will be an interesting choice. Last week Ainsley Maitland Niles took advantage of a suspended Xhaka and an un-risked Thomas Partey to line up in his preferred position alongside Sambi Lokonga. He did alright there whilst not showing anything to prove he would be starting if all available players were fit. The question is whether Mikel Arteta will partner AMN or Lokonga with Partey. It’s pretty nailed on that a fit Xhaka would be favoured over both by Arteta but with him not available it’s hard to call. Sambi Lokonga would get my vote as he hasn’t put a foot wrong since coming in and just oozes a silky calmness you don’t teach but comes naturally.
In the no.10 role Emile Smith-Rowe started the game on the bench whilst Martin Odegaard took up the responsibility. The selection last week may have been forced by Smith-Rowe’s illness that caused him to pull out of the England u-21 squad left him short of full fitness. Whilst on paper it seems a straight battle between the two playmakers to start in the no.10 role it wouldn’t be a shock to see Smith-Rowe deployed in one of the wide roles. In his youth he played across the three front positions often and he did make one or two starts in that position last season. Smith-Rowe playing wide right or left could come at the expense of Pepe or Saka for example.
One thing Mikel Arteta has this season is options and he has at his exposal the option to bring in Martinelli and Smith-Rowe. Either way they are all players that would be good choices from bench if game isn’t going our way.
Aubamyang as captain would give the impression he would be a starter but Lacazette could easily be chosen to add more of a physical presence and hold up play up front. Aubamyang could be deployed on the left side of attack as another wide option. It does seem a lot of changes suggested whilst Mikel has been more of an advocate for sticking with winning line ups over making drastic changes. We will see come 2pm when line-ups are released.
What is important is we build on the 3 points gained last week. Burnley currently occupies one of the bottom three places but a win for them would allow them to leapfrog Arsenal. They are yet to win a home game in the Premier league after a draw with Leeds and losing to Brighton. It might be a bit more motivation for them to register points for their fans especially to make up for their 2nd half collapse against Everton on Monday gone.
What Arsenal need to do is take full advantage of Burnley’s fragile confidence and not provide a booster like they did in the same fixture last season where a mix up playing out from the back gifted them an easy equalising goal.
There is a great opportunity to take the three points today, come on boys, let’s do this.
Born a stone’s throw (and a 271 bus ride) away from Highbury. Arsenal is my life, I celebrate every win and I suffer every defeat, it’s all about taking the good with the bad. Writing and sharing about everything Arsenal certainly keeps me sane!