Proper football returns with the trip to Watford inexplicably set to 4.30pm on Sunday. We know why; Sky thinks we’re ripe for the picking. Sadly, the Hornets aren’t living up to expectations set last season.
It’s three points we must take if we harbour serious ambitions of reaching the top four. Not for the reason that our season will be over if we don’t, simply beating the bottom-of-the-table team is something Champions League teams do.
And, for reasons which have nothing to do with sporting merit, we want to be in the Champions League.
To take those three points, however, Unai Emery must surely be brave? Or to look at it another way, less conservative in his team selection.
We’ve chewed the fat over the Tottenham XI to bits but is it too much to hope Unai will play less cautiously in this fixture and those of its’ ilk? There’s more chance of a leopard swapping coats with a tiger.
Emery, by nature, is cautious on the pitch, evidenced by his last team selection. It’s a pity because that probably rules out seeing the triumvirate of Torreira, Guendouzi and Willock. The latter will make way for Dani Ceballos, presumably.
There’s a fantastic interview with the Spaniard in The Guardian. He is effusive in his praise for English football, London and of course, Arsenal.
The difference between ourselves and Real Madrid, he said, is minimal; which is how it should be if we really are a big club. Transitions for players ought to be as seamless as possible if we’re doing things right.
You get the sense Ceballos is a man in a hurry, accusing Zidane of changing formations rather than playing him. Impetuous or self-belief? Our gain, for the moment, is Real’s loss.
Ceballos’ analysis of the squad chimes with many of our own. Alexandre Lacazette “is the best player: he understands the game perfectly and, if he’s 100%, he’s going to give us so much.”
Unlike Zidane, he is effusive in his praise for Emery. The coach wants him to be himself and impose himself on games. And of the issues facing his compatriot,
Fitting all the players together must heat up the manager’s head. I don’t think the míster repeated an XI in four games, which keeps us alert.
Against Tottenham, it fell to me to come from the bench and I understood my role.Dani Ceballos on the role of a squad player
Look at me, mama; I’m a grown-up. It’s far from the petulant pro we were told to expect. Mind you, the same was said of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The ambitious youngster is something which fills me with hope for the future. Matteo Guendouzi has the same hunger, desire for the game. None of the complacency which struck me as being evident in the Project Youth years.
These are players who want to achieve. And playing for Arsenal isn’t the sum total of those ambitions.
For the moment, they are directing their energies to our cause. It’s liberating to see the energy on the pitch used intelligently. In that sense, Emery seems to be the ideal coach; proactive in directing the movement rather than letting players who are still learning take on the role of game management.
Add in Joe Willock, who added to the feelgood factor by signing a new deal, and you have the basis for a strong midfield for years to come.
This where the bungee rope hauls you back to reality. These are young players who aren’t playing together regularly. They play regularly, just not together.
In any starting line-up, only two of the three will play. The final place, so long reserved inexplicably for Granit Xhaka, is up for grabs. To me, it is inconceivable that we would lose a player of Lucas Torreira’s defensive talent over the Swiss. Successive head coaches, however, rate him.
There is still a role for Ozil, of course. At £300k per week, there has to be, as well, of course, as his own talent. But more frequently, that is filling in gaps for injury and suspensions. The more I think about Per Mertesacker’s comments, the more damning they are of Mesut.
If I think back, there are elements of our current situation which mirror the mid-80s and early in Arsene’s reign. Youth and experience mixing although there are more questions over the experience this time around.
That’s a sense pervading the squad. Talented full-backs – we hope the injuries haven’t robbed them of pace and awareness – with a talented glue – Alexandre Lacazette – holding it together in attack.
There’s plenty to be optimistic about with the squad, even with the sound of alarm bells getting louder.
We don’t need a team of world-beaters, we need a world-beating team. Graham’s title-winning sides thrived with a heady mix of talented players and hard-workers. Guendouzi is a youthful Kevin Richardson; energy abounding with tenacity. Lacazette bridges Charlie and Dennis, probably closer to the latter with his aggression on the ball.
Comparing now to then is fraught with dangers, not least because the opposition has changed. But there is a sense of something building, with a few positions still to resolve. Whether Unai is the man for that job is one of the questions waiting to be answered.
Reasons to be cheerful, 1-2-3.