Let’s get this show back on the road
Just over a week ago Newcastle United held us to a goalless draw over 90 minutes in the FA Cup. We managed to beat them in extra time but there’s no extra time in the Premier League so we tonight we have to do better.
The good news is that Tierney and Martinelli are both back in training and are available. That’s particularly pleasing in the case of our Brazilian attacker because his looked like a bad injury when he broke down during the warm-up for the cup game against the Barcodes.
Only Mari remains unavailable because of injury (he is “continuing to rehabilitate” from a calf injury).
It gets boring to keep saying how important each game is, but this one does indeed seem to have some significance.
We ended a truly awful run of form when Mikel Arteta either decided to (or was forced to – take your pick) shake up the team, bring in Emile Smith Rowe and play him in a No 10 role and push Saka out to right wing.
Victories over Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom followed. There was a real sense of momentum. Then we struggled in the cup tie when Arteta brought Willian and Pepe back into the starting line-up. and we huffed and puffed against a well organised Crystal Palace team last week without finding a breakthrough.
Some of the encouragement we felt after West Brom has dissipated a little. We have by no means gone back to the cluelessness of the bad run but there was a lack of smoothness in our play.
To my mind a fairly clear first choice eleven is beginning to come together, but it brings selection problems for El Patron.
Barring injuries and the need to rest players, that team would be Leno – Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney – Partey – (Elneny/Xhaka) – Smith Rowe – Saka – Lacazette – Martinelli.
The two obvious problems are: who plays alongside Partey in central midfield? And can we really drop the captain from our first team?
The answer to the first question should be Elneny. He does his job unfussily and has more positional discipline than Xhaka. But then we’d have to drop Xhaka just as he is finally hitting some really good form and I doubt Arteta will do that.
The second question is one which I fear Arteta will not have the courage to address in the way he should. Martinelli should be starting, with Aubameyang as the back-up option.
For tonight’s match I expect the following:
- Martinelli will not start because of his recent injury but will probably appear off the bench. I wholeheartedly approve of this approach because he is too important to risk aggravating his injury with a full 90.
- Therefore Auba will get to start and wear the armband.
- Tierney will start because he’s almost indispensable. We need better back-up for him.
- Gabriel will be recalled ahead of Luiz.
- Saka possibly should be rested but won’t be (Arteta talked in recent days about potential burn-out among the squad).
- Smith Rowe will start (notwithstanding the burn-out fears) because we really need the three points tonight.
We have almost five days before our next match – an FA Cup fixture away at either Southampton or Shrewsbury, when there will be an opportunity to rest some of the over-worked players.
With the right team selection we should be able to overcome Newcastle. They are struggling to score goals (they couldn’t even bag one against bottom placed, winless Sheffield United in their last outing, losing nil-one in the process). We just need more crispness in our decision making in the final third of the pitch.
Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney
Xhaka – Partey
Saka – Lacazette – Aubameyang
I fancy us to win by a couple. Let’s see.