Liverpool is in everyone’s line of sight with the ‘first big test’ of the season tomorrow night. That’s the ‘first big test’ until you pass it; then Tottenham becomes the ‘first big test’.
The fit and healthy players are thinking about boarding the train to Lime Street. Granit Xhaka is back among them while ‘sickly’ Mesut is just Mesut; he’s over the ‘sickly’ and back in full training. It will be interesting to see if he makes the trip for other reasons, however.
Unai isn’t, however, committing their places just yet. “We are going to decide tomorrow,” he said yesterday meaning he/they decide today, just to add that extra level of confusion in your mind. “But tomorrow is the day,” he added just to confuse himself.
“Really I am positive,” he continued but told something we already knew. Emery then threw everyone by claiming it was “with some players for Saturday.” Who? Do tell, do tell. For chrissakes, tell; these people have got this far in the post and they aren’t getting those minutes back!
“But I don’t want to decide today or to say to you today how we are because tomorrow can change,” just to sap the will to live further.
Essentially, it’s down to Nicolas Pepe and Granit Xhaka. If Ozil travels, it will be as a sub I should imagine. Emery’s previous caution with players fitness has been such that a place in the starting XI doesn’t seem credible.
This is, however, football; expediency is everything. Does he believe Ozil’s presence serves the team better than Ceballos? I doubt it; the Spaniard was outstanding against Burnley and dropping him now makes no sense.
When did team selection ever make sense?
In any case, I assume Joe Willock is the one to give way. Guendouzi, Ceballos and Xhaka, or Lucas Torreira; I made clear my choice for the defensive midfield role before yesterday’s lethargy gave way to a half-arsed effort not worth publishing.
Emery will go with Xhaka, I think but possibly also the Uruguayan as he replicates the 4-2-3-1 approach at Newcastle. That puts a different slant on things; Aubameyang on the wing, Lacazette in the middle but who on the other wide midfield role?
Reiss Nelson hasn’t pulled up any trees yet but three games into his senior Arsenal career, I think he can be pleased with his progress. He’s been consistent which is the main things. Unlucky in front of goal as well but there’s a £72m toy waiting to be played with.
It’s funny but that phrase read a lot better as I typed it than it does in this proofreading phase. As if there’s any proofreading on this site…
Pepe, Emery declared, is “maybe ready” to play more minutes, without any hint of indecision or “whoops, I’ve given the game away” about his statement.
“In the first match, he played 15 minutes in Newcastle, then he played 45 minutes against Burnley,” the Spaniard said. He’s left you to extrapolate that one; it’s not straight-line progression, however. Thirty minutes more is just a weird first-half substitute or a serious injury, which frankly we never want to see.
So, it’s a case of a place in the starting line-up and Reiss drops to the bench. As if to emphasise the point, Pepe’s “individual performances are progressively getting better,” according to Emery.
It’s quite an attacking line-up with the danger of a gap developing between the midfield and forwards.
Oh, Dani Boy
For that reason, I think Ceballos fits the XI better than Ozil. He is more involved in the game and at Anfield, if we’re to give ourselves a good chance of avoiding yet another mauling, we need to press all over the pitch.
Another mauling? Unai is keen to avoid that, you get the feeling. As he said, we aren’t the only ones to come away from Anfield with a good gubbing on a regular basis. However, when you look at the company we keep in that record, is it really where we want to be?
My concern is that Unai knackered himself out offering positive thoughts for tomorrow:
“We need to take our best performance and to go there with a good feeling and also thinking we can achieve that performance individually and collectively to be strong and to have our chances.”
Did he take a breath in there at all? That can’t be good for his health and the treatment room is packed enough as it is.
Ultimately, we must do better in these matches if we are to progress on last season’s fifth-place. Even winning won’t put us back into the title race or if it does, it’s just for a short while.
Then again, we’ve made a habit of winning the league by jumping from fourth, fifth or sixth the season before; why should this be any different?
Two games in and I’m talking up our title chances. John W Henry might be right in wondering what the hell I’m smoking.
It’s nice to enter the game with a bit of a bounce in our stride. Win and we go top; draw and we still get a boost to our self-belief.
862 words and I haven’t mentioned 1989; I’ll do better in the pre-match preview.