I wrote a long piece yesterday ahead of the NLD this afternoon but binned it. So many questions were in the original like should Xhaka come back into a team which has won the last two League games, should Aubameyang start or Lacazette bearing in mind the latter was part of the team which defeated Toots earlier this year. Leno or Ramsdale and who should be on the bench ready to make an impact on the game if and when needed. I wrote about the passion needed on days like today, the rivalry and what a NLD means to the fans. But then I thought, what’s the point before hitting the delete button.
Mikel Arteta will make the decisions he feels are best for the team. If that means Xhaka comes back into the team then so be it. Xhaka can be a liability, his tally of red cards supports that but he can also be disciplined and crucial to the team’s performance. Do I hope he plays today? Absolutely not as Partey and Lokonga would be my choice all day long but if Arteta brings Xhaka back after his ban then I just hope that one of his better performances played out. The kind of game he plays for his country and not the rashness he showed against Man City. What’s often been the problem with Xhaka in my opinion, is who he partners in midfield. Alongside Partey, I think he’s been better. At times anyway.
But, if Mikel Arteta wants his team to move the ball up the pitch at speed to put pressure on Toots at every given opportunity, Xhaka is not the man because he can dawdle on the ball before deciding where his next pass is going which of course gives the opposition too much time to reorganise at the back. Also, he’s not the quickest, his recovery speed let’s him and the team down and as already said, his challenges can sometimes be late or even clumsy. Perhaps even reckless and the last thing Arsenal need later is to find themselves down to ten men although I’d like to think Xhaka knows that.
Nuno’s lot started the season brightly. They stifled City before nicking a goal and all three points. They beat Wolves and Watford 1-0 but then the wheels came off. Palace thrashed them 3-0, as did Chelsea. Kane is struggling to find a League goal but Son Heung-Min has a couple to his name. Both like to score against Arsenal. Not today eh, not today!
Arsenal’s football hasn’t been the best to watch, or at least I don’t think it is. The tippy tappy stuff goes on as the team keep possession but when it comes to the final third, the players lack zip, pace and movement. The reluctance to shoot from distance is frustrating yet we know Xhaka has a wicked left foot and Partey is finding the target this season, unlike last. Pepe too, but they’ve got to start beating the keeper. Might as well hit the corner flag if a shot is easy for a keeper to save because the outcome is the same. I know, not quite true because there’s always a chance the keeper could spill it and one of our switched on front players will be ready to poke the ball home. Yes, I’m being ironic.
I don’t think we can read anything into the fact that Arsenal have won both of the last two fixtures with or without certain players because the opposition has been different and certainly not at the level of either City or Chelsea but I do hope Mikel Arteta sticks with the same defence and midfield because they haven’t conceded goals. The young back line, including Ramsdale need to grow together, to improve and become undroppable.
Arsenal are struggling to score goals which is something I’m sure we’re all bored of hearing and reading but until that changes, it’s going to be the team’s Achilles heel. As said yesterday, dropping Aubameyang is an option for Mikel Arteta but I can’t see him doing that. Arsenal need him firing though but not just him. All of our attacking players are more than capable of raising their game. An injection of pace and movement would be a good place to start as it’s not just Xhaka who thinks too much before deciding what to do next.
The NLD matters to the fans, more so than any other fixture in the season even though it might not always be the most important. I really hope Arsenal can start strong and stay strong. Run the Toots defence ragged for 95 minutes and give them a good hiding.