Bournemouth arrive at the Emirates on a potentially pivotal night in the season. So long as we take three points, the pursuit of a top four finish will receive a boost in one form or another with Chelsea hosting Tottenham. If Palace could do us a favour as well by taking points off United…
Unai Emery received a boost with the timely return to fitness of Ainsley Maitland-Niles which allows the omission of Stephan Lichtsteiner from the side. The Swiss is “being assessed” which is the new way of saying “out for the three weeks”.
It’s inevitable that Emery will rotate the XI for tonight’s match but the question is how many? It’s a relatively quick turnaround to Tottenham at the weekend so those with knocks or just returning from injury will miss out.
The outcome is likely to see Mustafi partner Sokratis with Koscielny once again on the bench to ensure we have one half-decent centre-back fit for the weekend.
The bigger question is over Denis Suarez. Spanish media reports suggest Barcelona hope we pay €20m in the summer. To be honest, Emery raised questions about that. Asked yesterday about his compatriot, he said that Suarez “is improving” and that he has the “quality” to improve the side.
However, concerns must surely be raised when Emery noted that “it’s not okay today [for him] to play 90 minutes because he needs rhythm”.
“He is working every day, improving and knowing us. My philosophy is that adaptation needs time and after, little-by-little he will grow confidence and know his teammates in training and after playing matches.”
To Exude Isn’t Rude
He doesn’t exude confidence as a player; maybe that’s his nature and he will grow as a player. As yet, nobody can say it will be €20m well spent. I wonder if that depends on whether we reach the Champions League anyway? Midfield is the least of our issues if we have just a £50m budget. A couple of centre-backs and a goalkeeper are more important. That’s a decision for another day.
Tonight, Emery tantalised that he might start which given Iwobi’s knock at the weekend but is it the right choice? Should Mesut Ozil feature against a side deemed to physical for him earlier this season? The argument against the German’s inclusion is Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman was part of the XI which played very well during the first half against Southampton and as far as the midfield is concerned, keeping that quintet together as much as possible is surely the objective?
It means no place in the starting line-up for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Alexandre Lacazette impressing once again up front. The Frenchman doesn’t score as many as PEA but his overall play contributed to a more cohesive performance.
That the standard of opposition was poor did contribute to it, there’s no doubt. However, Arsenal still had to play effectively. Reproducing that against a better side is the test.
The line-up I expect Unai Emery to ignore in favour of a better one is:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Suarez; Lacazette
Emery was questioned on the Kepa incident at Wembley but kept his thoughts to himself. I should think Sarri is less than impressed with just a week’s wages being docked from the player but pragmatism means dropping your best goalkeeper is not feasible, especially when you need three points against a team above you in the table.
Boot Wrapped Round Your Head…
Elsewhere, it was sad to hear Abou Diaby retired at the age of 32; injuries won in the end. He recovered from Dan Smith’s assault but Michael Essien’s stamp proved to be the career killer. Unsurprisingly, Mike Dean was the referee on that occasion so Essien received no punishment.
Diaby never realised his full potential through no fault of his own. How good he could have been is subjective. Some think Vieira Mark II but I’m not convinced. He was a decent player but world-class? It’s a term bandied around too easily these days and the truth is we’ll never know.
However, we’ll always have this moment:
There’s no little irony that a player who suffered so horrendously with injuries is celebrated for causing an injury. But it’s only John Terry so it doesn’t really count, does it?
Disby proved karma is alive and kicking. Smith’s career effectively ended with his tackle on the Frenchman. Smith was quickly an ex-Sunderland player and he managed just a further dozen more games professionally as far as I can see. But Dean, however, still prances around the pitch seemingly impervious to criticism and thriving on his own incompetence so karma is imperfect.
Which is a word that sprang to mind when Mauricio Pochettino said that it could be a decade before Tottenham showed the bottle to win the title? That’s a magnificent condemnation of his own squad, the one the media raves about, as well as his own competence.
And on that cheery note, I’ll bid you farewell for the day.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.