Managing momentum can be a tricky thing, but in this season of all seasons, it’s going to be essential. Arsenal are one game through their exhausting nine-game schedule in October and find themselves on top of the Premier League and on top of the world in terms of confidence. In the footballing world, though, it’s impossible to forget that even the most solid seeming of foundations are only truly ever built on sand. A couple of bad results and suddenly a club is in crisis all over again.
That’s why it’s essential for Mikel Arteta to keep his side winning in this bizarre condensed campaign. “That’s what we have to do, and obviously the best way of doing that is how we prepare every day,” he said when asked about the importance of maintaining the upward trajectory in the red half of north London in his pre-match press conference ahead of this Thursday’s Europa League clash with Bodo/Glimt. “Keep focused on the task and everything we’re doing well, and keep being humble because there are a lot of things we have to improve still.”
On paper, at least a visit from the team in second place in Norway’s Elitserien doesn’t feel like too big a threat to that delicate balance Arsenal have built up in the early part of the season. However, keeping the squad of players who aren’t necessarily playing all the time happy certainly does. So how far does Arteta bend in order to keep his reserve players on the boat this Thursday?
Matt Turner replacing Aaron Ramsdale in goal is certainly a place where he will start. Ramsdale wants to be playing in these Europa League matches, having not actually made his European debut yet in his nascent career, but giving Turner a chance to get minutes under his belt is essential on the off chance that he’s needed down the line this season.
It’s a similar situation in the back four where Cedric’s timely return to fitness means that Arteta can make a clean sweep of changes if he so desires. The Portuguese international can be expected to come in at right back, with Rob Holding a dead cert to start in defence and Kieran Tierney potentially a necessity after Oleksandr Zinchenko missed training on Wednesday.
This would allow Takehiro Tomiyasu to come into the middle of the back four, and which side he ends up playing will be fascinating. Should Gabriel pick up an injury, then there is no natural left-footed replacement for him in the squad, but Tomiyasu’s ambidexterity makes him a candidate to come in and play the role. Should the Japan international start in the left-sided centre-back position that he plays with his country on Thursday night it will offer a decent insight into the pecking order Arteta has at his disposal.
In an ideal world, having Mohamed Elneny available to play in this game would facilitate a complete midfield switch too, but then again, in an ideal world, Arteta probably wouldn’t choose to play nine games in the space of 29 days in order to make space for a World Cup totally unnecessarily sandwiched in the middle of the footballing calendar. Without the Egyptian, you would imagine Albert Sambi Lokonga will play in the six and Granit Xhaka will continue in the left eight role where he has been so superb all campaign. Fabio Vieira, meanwhile, will come in for Martin Odegaard, who has been making sure his teammates know the score about the champions of his home country.
Out on the wings, it was more or less confirmed that Reiss Nelson is going to get an opportunity in the absence of Emile Smith Rowe until after the World Cup. The noises from Arsenal were that they planned to keep him around regardless of his contract situation over the summer, and Arteta did tell football.london that he wanted to give the 22-year-old one last look. These Europa League group games provide him with an unexpected opportunity to earn himself a future at his boyhood club.
Marquinhos, meanwhile, will have a point to prove over on the right-hand side and will be looking to resume his link-up with Eddie Nketiah, that worked so effectively in Zurich. Nketiah himself spoke really well in his press conference ahead of the game about the minutes he’s had this season, and will now be quietly confident that he can use these Europa League games as an opportunity to make his manager’s team selections for the Premier League games, that little bit trickier.
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