Arsenal are in the middle of a bruising playing schedule and like most fans I was concerned to see the energy and urgency in the team’s performance drop off at St Mary’s on Sunday. Fortunately, Arteta’s team, despite their first dropped Premier League points since the defeat at Old Trafford, still sit 2 points clear at the top of the table.
However, in his desire to win last Thursday against PSV, to push on for early qualification for the Europa League knockout phase, Arteta has perhaps asked certain key individuals to push their bodies more than others. Because those players are so critical, particularly Saka, Jesus, Martinelli and Xhaka, when these are below their usual levels the whole team suffers. I believe this is what we witnessed in the second period on Sunday against Southampton, and it cost the team 2 points, as the first half display was so dominant.
Granit Xhaka has barely been rested this campaign and has played over 1200 minutes and Saka similarly has played over 1100. Jesus and Martinelli have also played over 1000 minutes. These players are all major contributors to our Premier League position, but we all want them to continue to be that and a good rest before Sunday’s clash with Nottingham Forest is essential in my view.
It is for this reason that I have been pondering how Arteta might reshuffle his pack when the team travels to Holland on Thursday. Obviously, despite being all but there, a point would see Arsenal secure top spot and mean he could play an entire second string in the final match at home to Zurich. So, how could the team set up against a PSV side who have been free scoring at home, stay competitive and still manage to rest the stars who have played more minutes than their peers?
Perhaps Arteta might consider a one game reversion to the system that won him and Arsenal the FA Cup in 2020 and opt for a back 3? We have seen the team shift to this during matches and we know he experimented in pre-season so it should not be difficult for the squad to adapt. Rob Holding is a regular in the Europa League and experienced playing in a back 3, where his lack of pace is less exposed. Because Gabriel has also had to play most of the Europa matches, being our only left footed central defender, I propose he be rested and would play Saliba and White either side of Holding. Both have played less than the Brazilian and the young Frenchman played a whole season at left centre back in Ligue Un.
The four across the middle would be Tierney and Tomiyasu as the wingbacks and Partey and Lokonga in the middle. Despite having started the last few, the Japanese International has only played 600 plus minutes and Tierney the same. Admittedly, Tomiyasu is less attacking, but the imbalance is not unusual in Arteta’s teams, and it offers the double benefit of allowing a specialist defender nullify Cody Gakpo, as he did Mo Salah a few weeks ago. The Scot will therefore obviously have far more licence to attack on the flank, which is his strength.
Partey has played far les than Xhaka and will offer the senior head in the centre alongside the young Belgian. Sambi Lokonga, who has looked superb when called upon and having the Ghanaian alongside him will allow to express himself more going forward.
This leaves a relatively inexperienced but talented and fresh front three of Reiss Nelson on the left and Fabio Vieira on the right (effectively as dual 10s,) supporting Eddie Nketiah. I have no concerns about Nketiah deputising for Jesus on Thursday and both Nelson and Vieira will relish the chance to show their manager they deserve Premier League minutes, or to impress potential loan suitors in the case of the Englishman. In addition, Nelson having played over 20 matches in the Dutch top-flight last season should know the opposition well enough.
Obviously, we can have some of the rested stars on the bench if this plan B is not successful but in reality, this solid shape, which will present an experienced back 5 without the ball, with Partey just in front of them, should be quite capable of limiting PSV. We may, on paper look less exciting or threatening going forward, but the young guns might surprise a few.
Either way, having seen our tired and flat Premier League second half showings post Europa Thursdays, not only at St Mary’s but also the week previously at Elland Rd, I feel this drastic action is merited. We have four league matches before the World Cup and to be top at the break we need our best players rested and fresh for those fixtures.
This represents the full and edited version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan’s View Column.
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.