It’s Leicester at the Emirates tonight and, to me at least, this feels like a big and important game.
Most Arsenal supporters agree that Mikel Arteta has done a good job since he came in. He salvaged our 2019-20 season by winning the FA Cup.
He has replaced the tactical confusion and defensive fragility of the Emery period by establishing a well organised system in which the players all seem to know their duties.
He has restored morale and gives an air of firm leadership at the helm of HMS Arsenal.
In simple terms, to continue the maritime metaphor, he has steadied the ship.
Surely all this work hasn’t been put in so that we can just settle for being a well drilled upper-mid table team that can compete with the big boys without quite being good enough but will always Hoover up enough points elsewhere to maintain respectability? That would suck.
No, I’m afraid the time has come for Arteta’s Arsenal to move into the next gear (I’m switching from sailing metaphors to motoring ones now. Do keep up).
If a team in championship winning form can be said to be speeding along in sixth (top) gear, then you could argue that – under El Patron – we have moved from second and into third and now it’s time to put the foot down.
And that means we have to beat the Foxes today.
They are a good side, level with us in the table with a marginally better goal difference, but they are a team we need to be vanquishing at home to demonstrate that we really are progressing.
There are no distractions. The transfer window is closed, the interlull is over, the players and coaches have had time to work together. No distractions and no excuses.
That’s why I see this as a barometer match: win, and you can start to see that we might actually do something interesting this season (and let’s agree, so far this season the Premier League looks more open than it has for years); lose and it means that our ship still needs steadying (oops, we’re back on the ocean blue again) and we may need to recalibrate our view of what this campaign may hold for us; even a draw tends towards that latter analysis.
Yes, it’s only one game and we are always told not to place too much store on any single result, but I’m not buying that.
Action Man has fulfilled his brief so far and completed Stage One. Stage Two starts this evening.
As for the line-up, apparently Ceballos is fit again and Willian is a doubt with a calf strain.
There has been debate about whether Aubameyang should play through the middle and it remains to be seen if new boy Thomas Partey will start after his hugely impressive full debut against Rapid Vienna on Thursday.
Arteta talked about Auba needing to be in and around the box more and some have seen this is an indication that he will be played through the middle. I don’t buy that. I suspect El Patron has other ideas for how to involve him more, possibly using Saka as a left wing back so Auba can move inside more frequently.
Leicester’s central defenders are not the quickest, so I would go with Eddie Nketiah ahead of Lacazette.
My midfield partners Partey and Elneny, with Saka forming a third midfielder when we are in possession.
Here’s my predicted line up.
Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney – Saka
Elneny – Partey
Pepe – Nketiah – Aubameyang
Here’s hoping we get Stage Two started tonight.