Football returns tonight with the trip to Sheffield United. It’s not quite a case of getting the flags and buntings out but there’s certainly a lot of relief. The interminable dullness of the international break is over; proper football is back.
It’s a tricky fixture to return with. United are poor at home, good on the road; the sort of team we usually let push us over with the promise of a tickle on the tummy later as Watford will attest.
Therein is the concern from a supporter’s point of view about the number of shots we allow opponents. Even if we take points, it remains high each game. In itself, that isn’t an issue when you’re winning but it’s the sort of tomfoolery in a tactical sense which will trip you up on a bad day. Or night.
In essence, while ‘big club braggadocio’ outwardly claims three points, inwardly there are niggling doubts which are amplified with every misplaced pass or missed tackle.
That is, however, Unai Emery’s Arsenal. A skittish group, nervous to the point of timidity and playing with a tactical straitjacket, despite the squad featuring some very talented individuals. It’s why I don’t think his will be a long tenure at the club.
Defensively, there’s a sense we aren’t sure what those tactics are. It’s improving to some degree with Calum Chambers at right-back. I think he’ll remain there tonight with Hector Bellerin back on Thursday.
Bizarrely, Alexandre Lacazette is being cued up for a return straight into the starting line-up.
Previously, we were cautious in players coming back from injury. It was a massive improvement on rushing players back only to hear their hamstrings twang.
Rushing back key players is the sign of a coach struggling to find answers to his problems.
The usual tinkering in the midfield is one of the few changes I’d expect Emery to make this evening. Kieran Tierney is set for his first Premier League appearance with Saed Kolasinac getting used to cup and European football.
There is a weight of expectation on the young Scot’s shoulders, that he will bring some defensive balance to the team as well as attacking subtlety compared to the Bosnian’s bull in a china shop approach.
It leaves the line-up this evening as:
Leno; Chambers, Luiz, Sokratis, Tierney; Torreira, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Pepe, Aubameyang, Saka
There is a more in-depth look at tonight’s game in my preview for Novibet.
A win is important to us. We face three tricky fixtures in the coming weeks, none of which we won last season. Indeed, we took just a solitary point from the visit of Wolves to the Emirates.
Three points this evening takes us back to third place and keeps a healthy gap between ourselves and Tottenham. Despite the impressive early-season form of Leicester and Palace, it is Chelsea and Spurs who remain our rivals for a top-four place come the season’s end.
With one floundering at the moment, it is important for us to pile on the pressure with three points. In our own ramshackle way, it keeps us in control of our destiny. Not that it counts for much. We were in control of our destiny last season but ended up fifth and humiliated in Baku.
However, despite our obvious problems, we’ve got ourselves into a good position in the disjointed half of the season. Now, the only inconvenience is the television schedule which shoves us from pillar to post, not allowing any routine to settle in beyond Thursday night football.
That’s as much of an incentive to get involved with Champions League football as anything else. It brings a settled routine; clubs know they are playing on Saturday or Sunday. Monday Night Football is for also-rans and ne’er do wells.
VAR is our biggest enemy tonight. It’s been emboldened by ineptitude this weekend; PGMO, the FA and the clubs are all happy with the way it is working so expect contentious decisions to be avoided. As Watford found this weekend, even ‘clear and obvious’ mistakes don’t get overturned.
On a lighter note, there is a lovely piece reminiscing about that save by David Seaman in The Athletic.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.