It feels like a long time since we last played, but we’re back in action tonight, away to Nottingham Forest.
Mikel Arteta was relatively open with regards team news at his press conference yesterday, confirming that Thomas Partey wouldn’t be in the squad despite his return to training. He’s been out so long that it’s probably going to take a little bit longer to get him back to the fitness level required to be useful in the Premier League again.
He also admitted that there was some uncertainty over Declan Rice and Gabriel who both came off in the game against Crystal Palace ten days ago. While the focus is always on the next game, you can’t help but look at the fixture list when thinking about this. Could Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest without those two? It would certainly make life more difficult (let’s not forget it was their combo that helped break the deadlock against Palace), but it’s not impossible.
Could Arsenal beat Liverpool without Rice and Gabriel? I’d say that’s much more unlikely, so I’d imagine there will be some risk assessment applied to tonight’s team selection. If there’s a danger that either or both of them could aggravate a problem that would see them miss the weekend game, or that tonight has come just a bit early for them, that’s got to be taken into account.
He kind of hinted at that being part of thinking, saying:
“You need your best players in the team available. When it comes to March, April, and you are fighting for everything, you need your best players and the squad, everybody fit and available to push.
“Because the margins are so small. And the difference that the big players can make in those moments are huge. And we missed that last year.”
Part of that may well be not taking any risk and turning something relatively minor into something more serious. Of course, he could be just doing that thing he often does to muddy the waters and not give the opposition manager any kind of clear info about who is and isn’t available, but I hope if there is concern, we err on the side of caution this evening. That would likely mean starts for Jorginho and Jakub Kiwior if both didn’t make it, but let’s see.
Ahead of them, we could see Gabriel Martinelli come back into the side on the left, but if he sticks with Leandro Trossard after his goal against Palace, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. I imagine it’ll be Gabriel Jesus up front, and the rest more or less picks itself.
As for Forest, they’ve been better under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo but some injuries and a clutch of players away at AFCON limits their choices. Last season’s game didn’t go well for us, and there are some parallels with their situation then and now. They had to scrap to stay up last May, and although we’re only in January, they have a potential points deduction hanging over their heads, so it’ll be interesting to see if that informs their approach – particularly to home games.
Ideally, we’ll pick up where we left off against Palace, and hopefully that performance and those goals have restored the confidence in the final third. You can’t take anything for granted in this league though, but hopefully the fresh legs play a part against a team who haven’t had the same time off we have in the last week or so.
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As expected, and it sort of goes without saying, Arteta shot down the rumours saying he was going to quit the club in the summer. I think we all knew that those stories were some weapons-grade bullshit anyway, but just for the sake of clarity, it’s worth mentioning.
Ok, we’ll leave it there for now, catch you later for the game.