The first casualty of the international break surfaced: Reiss Nelson’s knee injury keeps him out of Monday’s game and the rest of October.
I’d say it offers a quick path to redemption for Mesut Özil but not at Sheffield United. No. Bramall Lane is altogether too rough, tough and manly for the German. The sedate pace of the Europa League and Carabao Cup suits him better.
Who knows, he may find Anfield as redemptive an evening as Julio ‘The Beast’ Baptista. Somehow, I doubt it.
The four weeks between now and November’s internationals feature seven games. Four in the league, two European and the trip to Liverpool. Europe, with seven goals scored and none conceded, can be put on the back burner with four points from the back-to-back clashes with Vittoria.
The Premier League matches, however, are tricky. The sort which tripped us up last season, embarrassingly so. From the visits of Palace and Wolves to the Emirates and our visit to Leicester, we took a measly one point last season.
Both the Eagles and the Foxes are within touching distance while Wolves are paying the price for being involved in the Europa League qualifiers. Instead of leaving them sharper than a tack, until the trip to Manchester City last weekend, they were lethargic. Will that win prove to be the spark their season needed?
It says much about the state of Arsenal’s season that despite being third in the table, there is wariness about these three games. Not that I expect the trip to Sheffield United to be easy. It’s a ground where we’ve played some notoriously bad matches. Usually in the pouring rain or freezing cold.
Having lost one less game than Manchester City, we should surely be more confident about these types of games?
Having gained so many points winning ‘ugly’, largely as a result of poor defensive play, we should be optimistic with the quartet of Tierney, Bellerin, Holding and Lacazette poised to feature in the Premier League XI. That’s ripping out half the side and replacing them with better players.
Too right but at the same time, it highlights the fragility of the squad. We’re constantly one injury away from a ‘lesser’ player coming into the team. We’ve seen first-hand how that can affect us, particularly if Emery gets back into the habit of rotating the squad.
Much speculation surfaced this morning about whether Gareth Southgate would revert to a back-three formation in Sofia tomorrow night. It suits the players at his disposal and following that logic, is it best for Arsenal?
Stop thinking Mustafi; he won’t make the three. It wouldn’t be the German although as he said the other day, he has yet to concede a goal this season. Put Chambers on the right, Luiz in the middle, Holding on the left or swap the latter pair? It works on paper.
Falls apart when you put Xhaka in the defensive midfield role, of course. But with the personnel at his disposal, Emery can use that formation if, for example, he wants to rest Pepe.
However, more likely he will stick with a flat back four. I don’t like the back-three with our squad; it wasn’t built with that in mind but when everyone is fully fit, then it’s an option.
In these coming Premier League matches, with the exception of the Leicester game, we’re going to face teams who sit back and hit us on the break. Hence the wariness I spoke of earlier; it’s our Achilles heel.
I can’t readily think of any top-six team in the past decade which has been so vulnerable to the counter-attack. I saw a stat the other day on social media which said we allow an average of 17 shots on goal from opponents each game this season.
In itself, that’s not too worrying a stat; we’ve only conceded eleven goals eight games in so opponents are particularly wasteful is the only ‘on the face of it’ conclusion to draw.
However, where it is concerning is the possession we’re ceding to create that stat. Look at last weekend’s second-half performance against Bournemouth. Surely everyone knew they would play better given their abysmal opening 45-minutes.
If we did, we never reacted to their higher work-rate and were fortunate to get away with a clean sheet. It’s that aspect of Emery’s Arsenal I struggle with. For a coach who is quite capable of changing the game tactically, how is his team so poor to respond to pressure?
I struggle to think of one game in the past 12 months or so where we’ve turned a situation around convincingly. Purposefully. It’s down to a lack of leadership which is why I’m surprised by the quartet he chose as captains. I discard Özil; he’s never picked so hardly a leader.
The Gang of Four ought to be leading the XI on the pitch but few occasions arise where they show that leadership. Not just the grabbing people by the scruff of the neck or shouty ‘look at me being all captainy’ styles. But in actions, in responding to situations and getting the team to do the same. Too often our heads go down and stay there.
That, I think, is our biggest enemy. A lack of toughness, resilience, preferring instead to ride our luck rather than responding positively.
Therein is why the next four games are so important. Once November’s break is over, club football is relentless and we will need to dig deep. Question is, can we do that?