Yesterday’s game against Newcastle was about as inconsequential as it gets. That feeling was shared among both sets of players, besides maybe Fabian Schar.
While it’s nice to be back into the top half of the table, Newcastle were a non-entity on the day, hamstrung without the marauding, goal-drunk Joe Willock. They were precise in their disinterest, expending only enough effort to avoid a match-fixing inquisition and Arsenal briefly slipping into second gear was enough to see them off.
It’s always nice seeing Mohamed Elneny score. He might be heading into the last year of his contract and some of his passing has caused some inquisitions of my own about his sanity and credentials as an actual footballer. When he slots away a chance like that though, after some of his Europa League screamers, all is well in the world. It would be great if Thomas Partey could be roped into those extra sessions in training, because we’re still desperately short of goals from midfield.
It was a nice way to break the deadlock early into the game and take the pressure off both sides, although in some ways, it’s a shame we have nothing to play for in the league. Fixture congestion can make times like this tricky in finding consistency, but after Thursday’s disappointment, having an “easy” game isn’t necessarily what Arsenal needed. For some, it was still a good exercise in getting minutes under their belt and reacquainting themselves with the goal in the case of Aubameyang. In fairness, that was more than simply a reacquaintance, with a difficult finish made to look easy that rounded off a clean move.
The coasting performance still came at a price, with David Luiz being the unfortunate victim.
As noted in today’s Gunners injury update video – it comes down to severity. If it’s a grade 1, then that’s typically 7-10 days. High chance of recurrence but Arsenal physio & training staff have been really good managing hamstring issues this season https://t.co/QOSBy2X5U8— Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT (@3cbPerformance) May 3, 2021
At the very least, he’ll be out on Thursday and his ability on the ball will be missed. He’s also a big game player and given how few of those we have, if we somehow make it through to the final, he would be invaluable.
The performances of some have given Mikel Arteta all kinds of headaches before his team selection for Villareal. I’m a firm believer that Mikel himself is his biggest headache so overcoming that little hurdle would be a great start.
Beyond that, the most obvious inclusion for me is Gabriel Martinelli. Even with 10 men, Villareal seemed to hate playing against him and judging by Schar’s senseless challenge late in the game, Newcastle hated playing against him too. He’s even put to bed the idea that he and Aubameyang are incompatible, with neither’s presence seemingly inhibiting the other. The same cannot he said of Willian and Odegaard, which should also point to another pitfall for Arteta to avoid.
From there, the biggest question mark is over the left back position. Granit Xhaka flirted with the idea of giving Mike Dean an excuse to send him off but came through unscathed, not that it would have mattered come Thursday. He still has no issue getting on the ball but the midfield has suffered in recent weeks without him.
Who replaces him at left back can go one of two ways. Playing Cédric, who has been somewhat of a liability at times, or Saka. Even with Saka’s levels dropping in recent weeks, without his burst of quality last Thursday, Arsenal would have come away empty handed. There’s still nothing stopping him from having the same impact from left back, but he would have more responsibility (not that this is new to him).
If Martinelli were to play ahead of him, it would also enable them to overlap each other when needed, with both comfortable playing inside or outside. That’s a chaos factor I can get behind and it also leaves the right wing open for Pépé. With Aubayemang all-but-guaranteed down the middle, that seems like an ideal solution with the right kind of qualities to put an average side to the sword. It just leaves the small matter of actually doing so…