It’s not often the Arsenal web team judge the mood correctly but they did in the latest batch of training ground photos. Hard at work was the message, with the only laughter on the faces of Lacazette and Aubameyang; the untouchables from last weekend, along with Mateo Guendouzi although the latter is a matter of taste. Apparently. He’s either a talented youngster or out of his depth; it’s a black and white social media world for Mat.
Bizarrely, Unai Emery appears to pay heed to social media. “I work over the criticisms of me,” he said, making a mental note that Barry from 23, Grebe Gardens, needed a good working over for badly punctuating his stream of almost unintelligible invective. Kant was a philosopher, he needed reminding.
Huddersfield, Emery admitted, is a must-win match, not just for keeping in touch with the teams above us but also for our confidence. The team must rediscover its’ appetite for winning away from home. Emery is well aware that our fundamental problem is the defensive side of our game. We’re always likely to concede which isn’t down to just one player, it is a collective problem.
However, individual players not being up to the task adds up to a collective mess. Shkodran Mustafi will pay the price for that by leaving in the summer. We may well end up giving him away so bad are his performances while if Stephan Lichtsteiner wasn’t thinking of retirement last summer, you can bet he is now.
If either doesn’t appear for the first team again this season, we can consider a revolution truly underway at Arsenal. Sadly, I think Mustafi will be called up time and again; the remaining ten players have to think of a way to negate his brain farts.
There was a hint of exasperation in Emery’s words over the away form. “We’ve tried playing with three centre-backs and two centre-backs,” he sighed. “We’ve won with three centre-backs and two centre-backs.” The unspoken “and had some right good gubbings with both as well” lingered in the air.
It’s not an easy solution to find. Last year, we were pathetic and embarrassing for five months until we won 1 – 0 at Huddersfield. This year, around the same time, the same issues are surfacing. It isn’t even difficult to work out why. When injuries struck, starting with Rob Holding at United, results suffered because the right-side of the defence is incompetent.
Will Ainsley Maitland-Niles make a difference? Surely, any improvement on Lichtsteiner helps while if the reports of Mustafi being sold are true, then he must be dropped. Dinos Mavropanos is sitting in the wings, hoping for the opportunity to prove the doubts about him wrong. At Huddersfield, a team more woefully out of sorts than ourselves, he surely must be given the chance?
He genuinely is the only alternative to Mustafi, who unfortunately is back in “full training”. I know we’ve got problems in defending from the front away from home and we can’t even ignore the defeats at City and Liverpool. They ruthlessly exposed the frailties which we’ve shown at every ground since December.
In all honesty, they won’t be corrected until we sign new defenders and resolve the midfield question. Xhaka’s inconsistency will, I think, ultimately cost him. When he’s good, etc; the trouble is that he’s being horrid more often these days. Perhaps niggling injuries held him back; maybe it’s confidence.
Whatever, the sum total is six without a win away from home, with little to hang your hat on as a sign we’re moving in the direction of ending the run.
Giving In To Temptation?
Let’s be honest, if we can’t win at Huddersfield this season, we may as well pack up and accept sixth. We won’t, of course, and we do have form, not just in the Premier League era, of losing at the season’s awful team. Even Swindon held us to a draw at Highbury while Stoke’s relegation in 1985 saw them win twice all season, against us and Manchester United.
Is the top six any further away, ability-wise, than in yesteryear? I don’t think it’s any closer, that’s for certain. Maybe this season, it seems that way. However, I don’t believe it’s anything long-term, not even for a whole season. Each of the top sides has moments of frailty but they recover; it’s our turn to reboot the away form.
We’ve got to earn it, however. Lucas Torreira said we deserve to be in the Champions League. Something might be lost in translation but we don’t deserve anything; we’ve got to earn it. Starting tomorrow.
Team news was encouraging in the sense we’ve got options. Mkhitaryan is fit(ish) but I’d expect Denis Suarez to start ahead of him. Indeed, probably coming in for Iwobi who’s become a Marmite player. Stats show he is a great attacking midfielder; shame we’re using him as a winger/wide forward which needs goals more than anything else.
Xhaka and Maitland-Niles are both “being assessed”, which in old money is “doubtful”. I suspect AMN is closer to be selected or maybe more needed. To be honest, Lichtsteiner’s performances are so woeful that Jenks must be wondering what he has to do to get a game. I’d rather the younger player started if AMN isn’t available.
I don’t think tomorrow’s team is an easy selection with last weekend offering more problems than solutions. It seems almost impossible to choose a back-three given form yet that must be the temptation, hoping numbers provide the answers. Surely we’re beyond full-backs as makeshift centre-backs? Somehow, I don’t think so but we shall see.