There are a few questions for Arsenal to answer when they face Brentford this afternoon.
Can they back up last week’s 1-0 win over Wolves to remain in control of the Premier League top-four race? Can they put pressure on Manchester United, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur to win their games later in the weekend?
Can the Gunners win at home for the first time across any competition in 2022? Will the hosts score more than once in the same game and can they avenge the 2-0 loss against the Bees in the reverse fixture that kicked off the new season?
Yet perhaps the biggest question is can Arsenalfinish the game with all 11 players on the pitch?
This has proven to be a problem for Mikel Artetasince his appointment in December 2019 as his side have received 15 red cards during this period – more than any other side in the English top-flight.
Remarkably four of them have come in Arsenal’s first six games of the new year alone, with Gabriel Magalhaes, Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli all receiving their marching orders and leaving their teammates to see out fixtures against Manchester City, Liverpool twice and Wolves with a player less.
Aside from Xhaka, the other three dismissals were for two bookable offences. But what will worry Arteta is that Gabriel and Partey picked up their second yellow cards within minutes of their first, whilst it took a matter of seconds for referee Michael Oliver to show Martinelli two yellows against Wolves.
Admittedly the Gunners boss is running out of ideas to arrest an unwanted trend that could cost his side a top-four spot.
“I’ve run out of ideas I think (to stop the red cards),” Arteta told BT Sport after the win at Wolves. “The character, how we dug in, the spirit we showed, I’m really proud of the boys. There was togetherness and unity.
“We need to play with 11 players in the last 16 games and that is key. To win games with 10 men is very unlikely.”
A repeat offender with regards to Arsenal’s poor disciplinary record is Xhaka. He’s already been shown a straight red card twice this season, the second coming against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg at Anfield as he denied Diogo Jota a clear goalscoring opportunity.
And perhaps what may concern Arteta is that his central midfielder has no plans to curb his instincts.
“It’s not like I’m planning this,” he told Sky Sportslast month. “It’s not like I’m doing this on purpose. But sometimes, I am in a position where I have to take a 50:50. It’s risky, of course. Now people will say, ‘Yeah, but why do you always [take] risks?’
“This is who I am. I can’t change myself from today to tomorrow. Of course, I need to improve and I know I need to improve.”
With 16 games left of the campaign, it would be a surprise if Xhaka doesn’t get his name taken by a referee again. Although Arsenal fans, Arteta and his teammates will be hopeful the colour of the card is yellow rather than red.
But what will happen if he receives a red card against Brentford or is given his marching orders for a third time this season?
Well, as explained in the Football Association’s Disciplinary Procedures guideline, ‘players who are dismissed for a third time will receive two additional matches and so forth.’
Now, much depends on the sending-off offence as if Xhaka was to receive two yellow cards, or deny a team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity then the punishment is a one-match suspension.
With that said, as the 29-year-old has already been sent off twice, two additional matches would result in a three-game suspension.
As seen in the image above and taking the two additional matches into account, Xhaka would be banned for four games if he’s sent off for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.
A five-game suspension would be the punishment if he’s sent-off for serious foul play or violent conduct and it’s an eight-game ban for spitting at an opponent or any other person.
Of course, it’s not just Xhaka that has to watch his step during Arsenal’s final 16 games of the season.
Gabriel, Partey and Martinelli will have an additional match added to their suspensions if sent off again as ‘Players who are dismissed for a second time in a season will receive an additional match suspension’.
Alternatively, the Arsenal players in question can avoid any of the aforementioned scenarios by simply avoiding another red card this season.