It’s back to football as we play our first game of 2021 tonight, a visit to second from bottom West Brom.
Having won our last two, things feel a bit rosier in the Arsenal garden, so it’s important we build on what we did against Chelsea and Brighton. I know West Brom took a hammering in their last game, and I’m always cautious about facing a side are resolutely trying to bounce back from a result and performance like that.
As a way of predicting what we might face, I think we’d be best served looking at what they did against Liverpool, not what happened against Leeds. They are in a relegation scrap, they have brought in an experienced manager who relishes the kind of football that entails because it’s built around how much you fight and how hard you make it for the opposition, and we know Sam Allardyce would love to take points off Arsenal.
The festive fixture list has actually been quite kind to us this year. It’s been nothing more taxing than the regular midweek/weekend/midweek stuff you get throughout the season anyway. It means, if he chooses to, Mikel Arteta could probably ask the same players who helped give us a bounce to do likewise today.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to imagine some caution over the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli. Both of them have been so impressive, but we can’t ignore the fact that both of them are playing their first competitive football in over 9 months. Before he started against Man City, the Brazilian last began a game on March 2nd, and also spent a long time sidelined because of a serious knee injury. He’s now had three starts in a week. Similarly, Smith Rowe’s season has only really begun too, so as much as I want to see them play – especially ahead of some other potential candidates – we have to apply some common sense to how they’re used. If we want to see them all season, there are going to be times when they’re going to have be managed carefully. You might also wonder if away a physical team like West Brom adds another layer of risk.
Today, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them dropped to the bench. I suspect it might be Martinelli, with Alexandre Lacazette coming back in up from with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shifted over to the left. Let’s see what happens though, because as much as we might worry about the young guys, we also can’t ignore what they’ve brought to the table and how much they’ve contributed to the last two results. Making sure we maintaining the blend of experience and youth is key to keeping this little run going (if you can call two games a run).
Elsewhere, there’s been some transfer action with Sead Kolasinac departing on loan to Schalke 04. That makes room for one non-homegrown player to be added to the squad, if we wish to. Whether that’s a return for someone, or an addition via the market, we’ll wait and see. I’d put more money on the latter than the former, to be honest, but what’s so important in this window is that we don’t waste resources the way we have in the not too distant past.
This squad needs to be rebuilt, we can all see it, and it needs to be done properly. Strategically. Sensibly. Do not commit big money to old players. Look to the future. Think medium/long-term, because we’ve done too many deals of late which could possibly be justified when you look at them in the short-term, but which haven’t really had any impact on performance levels in that time-frame.
There are a lot of contracts expiring in the summer which take a huge burden off the wage bill. We can’t just replace those guys with more Willian or Cedric type signings, and the days of unwelcome and unhelpful agent influence on our transfer dealings should be well and truly over. I know we would all dig a good signing in January, but if the right player isn’t available now and we have to wait until the summer, then that’s precisely what we should do.
I don’t really think there are any quick fixes to the situation we’re in, so let’s readjust our mindset about who we think we think are, and instead focus on what we want to become. That’s the only way we can get back to where we want to be.
Right, I’ll leave it there for now.
For some extra reading, Lewis has put together a fantastic piece on Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang and his lack of goals this season (with some lovely visuals from Jon Ollington). Well worth your time, check it out here.
Catch you later for the game.