So much of modern football is a snap judgement. During Monday night’s game, Martin Tyler waffled on about how ludicrous it was that Nicolas Pepe was being written off after just six games. He then proceeded to do precisely that.
At £72m, Pepe was expected to hit the ground running. He hasn’t and no truck seemingly held with the argument that it’s a new league, language and culture for him to pick up. Lord knows what these critics would have made of Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry’s early days at the club.
Unai Emery is wiser than they, it seems. “I am sure Pepe is an amazing player, I am sure he is going to have a big career here,” he told the media yesterday.
You can take that one of two ways. A nervous “I’m sure there’s a good player in there somewhere” or he’s stating with certainty that Pepe is an outstanding player. Surely, we’re all erring into the latter camp?
As Emery pointed out, the pressure comes from playing for The Arsenal and the expectations that brings. It isn’t from a false construct of the transfer fee; they are just transient numbers. It’s about delivering for The Arsenal every time you pull on the red and white because you play for The Arsenal.
As Emery noted, this is what happens when you play for a big club.
Patience is a virtue long gone from football as we know. The balance is between that and indulgence. Mesut Ozil’s treatment, offensive to some, is indulgence when he is selected for the first team. If we’re judging by transfer fees, well, that’s not a place some people want to go.
The question for tonight is whether the issue of Pepe’s confidence demands a solution which includes playing tonight?
That’s one of a number of decisions Unai Emery has. Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are set to start which ought to snuff out the threat posed by Shkodran Mustafi playing alongside the Englishman.
I think this and the Bournemouth game are the last times before the great centre-back shake-up happens. It feels like there is genuine competition for one of the central defensive slots in the Premier League XI and that for the past decade is something of a rarity.
A new-look defence, the Holy Trinity. We’ll find out if they are our saviours or if it is hope born of desperation over the coming weeks.
That isn’t the only decision for Emery to make. What, for example, to do with Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Sit on the bench as a second-half replacement for Bellerin or give him a match in central midfield, the role he craves? At some point, that decision must be made.
Morally, it feels like there is a debt owed to the youngster for filling in when needed. Of course, it is a job and he fulfilled his employer’s requirements. Who knows whether he would be anywhere the first-team otherwise. And with Emery, there is no point in trying to second guess that.
However, the feeling is that the Spaniard isn’t entirely messing around with this competition this season. After last season, maybe he feels like he owes us one?
Heh. Sentiment in football, eh? No place for it, apparently.
Captain Granit is going to stumble and kick his way through another game. In fairness, the European matches suit him. There’s more time on the ball than in the Premier League and it is less physical. He looks a half-decent player on these occasions. Maybe he can be our European leader instead?
Striking a Tone
Torreira partnering him might in some way compensate for previous misdeeds on Emery’s part but I’m not expecting anything other than the Uruguayan being played out of position.
Is this the night where youth takes over? Not entirely. Surely Ozil will be selected for a home Europa League tie? The litany of excuses for not playing him is never-ending. However, it was reassuring to hear Emery state his exclusion on Monday was for tactical reasons. In other words, Ozil lacks the qualities to play in a side set to defend away from home.
At £350k per week, he truly is a luxury player. In a team which can ill-afford them.
Reiss Nelson on one side of the pitch, Pepe on the other; I’d hazard a guess that Aubameyang will start once again but were Martinelli’s two goals against Forest enough to get him the lead striker role? I’d hope so; if not the decision to send Nketiah on loan looks foolhardy. A case of putting the player in the shop window rather than any sense of development.
Which leaves the line-up:
Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Xhaka, Torreira; Pepe, Ozil, Nelson; Martinelli
Of course, that’s not what it will be. But it’s the Europa League, so who knows? Crazy days.
Enjoy the match wherever you’re watching it.