After managing zero points in two games from which we should have taken at least four and possibly all six, we’re about to go on a run of challenging fixtures.
We entertain Leeds United today, then we have Benfica away, Manchester City at home, Benfica at home then Leicester away.
So that’s two very important Europa League games (important because that competition is our only chance of salvaging anything from this season) sandwiched between three difficult league games.
In that context today’s visitors represent the “easy” game of the bunch – and it’s vital that we get back to winning ways.
I have written before about the self destructive gene that lurks deep in the current Arsenal DNA. We’re capable of digging a hole, falling into it, heroically climbing our way out with much effort and determination, then slipping on a banana skin and falling straight back down the hole.
Results like the ones against Wolves and Aston Villa really are the pits. In both games we showed some of the footballing class that has dragged our disappointing season back into life. But in both games we also found those banana skins.
Until the players make clear to each other what is acceptable and what’s not, setbacks like those experienced at Wolves and Villa will continue to happen.
That fragility (where two steps forward are always followed by one step back, a trip and a fall down another hole) has been around for years now and I’m not sure how we exorcise it. It is undoubtedly something to do with collective discipline, focus and determination and while those qualities can be inculcated to some degree by the coaches, they really have to come from the players themselves.
But that’s enough negativity. Our good spells – even in those two defeats – are cause for optimism. At times we have played ‘top four’ football and if we click today we should be too good for Leeds.
Partey and Tierney are both still out with injuries, but Leno and Luiz are available again after their one match suspensions (the less said about that the better). We can assume that the German will be back between the sticks after Mat Ryan’s excellent debut last weekend, but whether Luiz gets an instant recall is an interesting question.
I can see why Mikel Arteta picks him so often: he is experienced and much of his play is really good. But you always feel he’s prone to a custard pie moment at any point in any game, as his red and yellow card stats show, as well as the amount of penalties he has given away.
There are certainly alternatives. Gabriel was outstanding until his injury, although he has been rusty since returning; Mari did not do a lot wrong during his run in the team.
Tierney’s continued absence may mean another outing for Cedric at left back, or we could see Saka switched to that position.
There are other difficult choices for El Patron in midfield (where he has to decide who will partner Xhaka in the absence of Partey) and up front, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of attacking options.
For the midfield I would feel more comfortable with Elneny and Xhaka together but I fancy Arteta will give Ceballos a go. Dani can be really influential but he also fades out of games for periods, so if he does start today he’ll need to be fully focused.
Up front I think Arteta will make his selection headache easier by switching Saka to left back and starting the sort-of in-form Pepe up front. Our most productive area is likely to be the interplay between the advancing Saka, Smith Rowe, Lacazette and Pepe.
Odegaard and Mrtinelli are solid attacking options on the bench. If Willian gets anywhere near the pitch I will weep.
Here’s the team I think El Patron will pick:
Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Saka
Xhaka – Ceballos
Pepe – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
It will be a hard fought game and if we come out on top I suspect it will be by a single goal. Taking our chances and avoiding banana skins are the orders of the day.
Come on you Gunners!