Unai met the press yesterday with Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac dominating the reporting.
As you’d expect, he welcomed them back. Not just as a boss or Arsenal employee but as human beings as well. First and foremost, he observed. He didn’t welcome them back into the starting line-up, however.
They might there but it seems unlikely. Ozil was ill during the week but irrespective of that, both players cannot be as fit as others. In any case, do you change a winning line-up beyond reasons of necessity?
Granit Xhaka’s back-knack, for example, necessitates change. It isn’t a bad injury, he could probably play but for a midfielder, anything which restricts mobility isn’t a good thing. You can insert your own joke about that here.
Nonetheless, the win at Newcastle should see Emery keep faith with the majority of that XI. Does the majority mean the youth of Nelson and Willock continues in the side? The fitness of Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos answers that question, answers Unai expects to get after today’s final training session.
Ozil might think he’s ready for the visit of Burnley but that’s a minority view. A place on the bench? It might be an idea with Liverpool and Tottenham awaiting in the next fortnight.
This is the weekend where Emery’s preferred XI begins to take shape. Unfortunately, there will be some players who lose out for no reason other than there are better players in the squad. I’d venture that for Willock and Chambers, that’s unfortunate.
The former played well preseason and at St James’ Park. The latter is much better at centre-back than we thought. Doubling up as a midfielder gives him the versatility we may appreciate as the season takes its toll.
Mum’s The Word
Yet David Luiz is more experienced and in Xhaka’s potential absence, a better range of passing. One which gives us more variety. It’s a chance for Chambers to learn; he and Rob Holding are the future so this might be a season where they don’t feature as often as they might expect.
Whether Ozil will is another question. Debates over his future were almost moot. But not quite. Unai, you see, doesn’t sit around all day thinking about selling the German. Shocking, huh?
Even more shocking is someone asking the Spaniard if he is considering selling Ozil. Or expecting an answer; not everyone is as open as Neil Lennon although the Celtic boss doesn’t have a Cluj about much these days.
It was highly unlikely that Emery would admit the player can leave if he wants under normal circumstances. Now, it’s even less so. He knows how that plays out in the media so will be careful what he says.
The smoke for the story comes from his agent meeting DC United. It would be remiss of him not to hear what they have to say; he’s only got his client’s best interests to be concerned about, not those of Arsenal.
That doesn’t affect tomorrow’s team selection; it shouldn’t affect it any time unless there is a sale on the horizon. Ozil, a week or so out of training, won’t be as fit as others. Ceballos is more likely to start unless Joe Willock gets another chance.
Emery’s dilemma is Ceballos. If he doesn’t start tomorrow, playing him at Anfield is a huge risk. Training cannot replicate the pressures and intensity of ninety minutes; it prepares them for some semblance of it but nothing, we’re told by former pros, gets close to the real thing.
Early Burnley Thoughts
Burnley will be a tough introduction for those not used to English football, Pepe included. Good, honest professionals, he says patronising them.
At home, they are good opponents for Ceballos and Pepe to meet English football. Newcastle were supine, nowhere near as intense as a home side should be on the opening day of the season. Burnley, fresh from a win over Southampton, will pose a sterner test.
Last season’s European misadventures cannot hinder them this season and they are primed for a top ten finish, maybe seventh if the wind blows in the right direction.
Sean Dyche’s side plays a bit more football than Stoke or Bolton ever did and will certainly ask more questions of the defensive side of our game. But we’re at home and given the history between the two sides, we ought to win.
And we expect to. The season is picking up pace, as much as one game per week for the first month permits.
Not quite quick enough; two games every week can’t come soon enough!