With everything that’s been going on around Arsenal this week, it has been quite easy to forget that the Gunners do have an important Premier League game to play this weekend.
As is often the case with August games, the transfer window has hung around on this season like a party guest that has outstayed it’s welcome and dominated much of the talk around the club. The focus this weeks has been on outgoings with the departures of Lucas Torreira and Pablo Mari being confirmed as Edu seeks to trim down the squad.
On top of that the release of the second batch of All or Nothing documentary episodes the focus of the Arsenal fanbase has been drawn back to the unceremonious departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January. Speaking in his pre-match press conference you got the feeling that Mikel Arteta, more than anyone, was keen to let sleeping dogs lie.
“Listen, it’s a long time since that happened,” the Spaniard said when asked if he had any regrets in the way the situation with his former captain was handled. “I cannot go back each time there is a series. I have made my comments on that. I was really clear and honest with my opinion. What has been done has always been done to defend the club and put it in the best possible position, and be always as clear as, honest and consistent as we can.”
Instead Arteta wants the attention to be on Saturday’s clash with Leicester City. It is expected to be around 35 degrees by the time the game kicks off at the Emirates Stadium, and Arsenal will need cool heads to claim three points that would help continue their perfect start to the campaign.
One man who was able to keep his composure in and among the second half bombardment at Crystal Palace was Aaron Ramsdale. The England keeper pulled off a couple of sublime saves and despite being charged down for a few passes, his distribution was generally excellent.
Ben White drew praise as well for his performance at right back and the way he was able handle the threat of Wilfried Zaha. Arteta now has a decision to make though with Takehiro Tomiyasu ‘s lack of involvement in Friday’s under-21 match with West Ham potentially an indicator of his impending return. Arsenal are keen not to rush the Japanese defender back though so it would seem likely that White will keep his place.
Another option is of course that White will be reverted to centre back, but after his man of the match winning Premier League debut at Selhurst Park, how on earth can you drop William Saliba? Arteta’s main job now is tempering expectations for the Frenchman who is remarkably still only 21-year-of-age, and before the game he was keen to warn of how important it was to let him develop at his own pace.
“I think expectations and positive expectations are created when you see something special in a player and it’s obvious: they’ve seen that, they see the talent,” the Spaniard said ahead of the game. “What I would say is, instead of doing that, just protect the player. Let’s protect him, let’s make sure he has the right environment to fulfil his potential and when things don’t go that well that we are as good as we are when things are going well.”
Gabriel will start to the left of him as the only left footed defender in the squad after Pablo Mari’s departure, but shift one space over and there is a decision to be made. Arteta did appear to hint that Kieran Tierney is nearing 100% fitness after a lengthy layoff with a knee injury, but after Oleksandr Zinchenko ‘s arrival, the Scot is no longer an automatic return to the starting XI. Zinchenko probably did enough to keep his spot with an impressive league debut last week, but that battle is likely to be fierce over the coming season.
In midfield, despite the return of Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe to full training it seems unlikely that either will break into the midfield trio of Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard that started lest week. With five subs and the heat a factor though, you can probably expect to see the pair of them involved later on in the match.
The two Gabriels up front in Jesus and Martinelli formed the kind of rotational partnership that caused Palace plenty of problems last week and up against a far more porous Leicester defence you would expect them to start again. Over on the right side it’ll surely be Bukayo Saka looking to cap off a week in which he was nominated for the Kopa Award with another standout performance.