With the Arsenal players not returning to the U.K. from Athens until Friday and a midday kick off for Sunday at Leicester looming it didn’t leave a lot of recovery time for the players and with that in mind Mikel Arteta risked the wrath of the online #Arteta Out brigade and made six changes from the win over Benfica.
It was a brave decision and could have easily blown up in his face but Mikel put the health and welfare of his players first and therefore deserves all the plaudits. I can’t lie, when I saw the team I wasn’t confident myself.
It didn’t start well, a mix up between Xhaka and Willian saw Tielemans get a clear run on goal and with Pablo Mari backing off as he watched for Vardy and thus leaving a yawning chasm the Belgian just ran into it and fired across Leno and into the far corner. Leno then almost dropped an almighty clanger to let in Vardy but fortunately recovered the ball before ex England striker could take advantage. That’s when I went into the kitchen to make some lunch because it just looked like another away day tragedy in the making.
Anyway as I was scrambling some eggs in the kitchen we got a penalty and we lost it and got a free kick instead which Pepe didn’t make the most of. Then came the foul on Pepe that led to the free kick, taken by Willian it was perfectly flighted to where Luiz had lost his marker and where Xhaka blocked off another Leicester player so that Luiz had a clear run at the ball and where he met the perfect cross with the perfect header and it was all square. The Leicester players all looked a little shocked and frankly they never really recovered and ended up looking tired, a lot more tired than the Arsenal players.
As I ate my scrambled eggs we got another pen and this one was put away with the minimum of fuss by Lacazette who had led the line like a lion until replaced late in the game by Aubameyang. At half time the Arsenal players left the field with spring in their step whilst the Leicester players looked quite knackered.
The 2nd 45 was all about game management and just doing enough to save those tired legs, Pepe got the 3rd and that was that. Willian put in probably his best display in an Arsenal shirt, he seemed to have all the time he needed to do his thing and a fine thing it was, but, was he afforded those extra seconds because Leicester were knackered, I guess we’ll know more in the remaining games to come but it was encouraging to see him finally producing on the field?
Pepe had a fine game, he is an acquired taste a mixture of skill, trickery and daftness, nope never a dull moment when Nicholas is on the ball, but he was key to this result.
Xhaka was immense with another 90 minutes of leadership and commitment, he hardly ever misses a match and he usually plays the entire 90 minutes but you won’t hear him talking about fatigue.
Soares was very good, especially in the attacking half and after a slow start Mari improved and along with Luiz they had solid performances. I can’t actually fault anyone to be honest as they all contributed in this fine victory, even the subs which I thought Arteta used very wisely.
There was something else that I noticed about this game and for that matter some other games that I’ve watched in recent times and that is the slow debilitating creep of tiredness that is threatening to overwhelm some teams and especially those that don’t rotate as much. Their players are looking jaded and even exhausted with many of them picking up and suffering from soft tissue injuries and worst.
Today I saw what looked like a half fit Jamie Vardy who it seems has some groin issues, he wasn’t a threat for the entire game and that was great for us but Harvey Barnes limped of on 51 minutes and the veteran Jonny Evans limped off on 70 minutes. I’ve since discovered that Barnes needs an operation on I think his knee and that’s as tragic as it probably was avoidable. Smith Rowe also has a slight calf strain but he’ll probably be ok in a couple of weeks.
Back last summer there were moves to continue the temporary but eminently sensible policy of 5 substitutes and everyone across Europe and the Football League took that path, well everyone except a narrow minded group of clubs in the Premier League. It was suggested by them that it would give an unfair advantage to the bigger clubs with the bigger squads.
Well we got through the first half of the season without too much damage and then the 5 subs policy was revived again in December by those Premier League clubs who had originally suggested it and it was thought this time that common sense would prevail. But no. Aston Villa were thought to be the unofficial leaders of the Luddite group which included Burnley, C.Palace, Fulham. Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, West Ham and Wolves and they all voted it down again – well done.
As so here we are just over 10 weeks later and this is the injury list of those clubs:
Aston Villa 5, Burnley 4, C.Palace 9, Fulham 2, Leeds 7, Leicester 8, Newcastle 7, Sheffield Utd 7, West Ham 6, Wolves 4.
By contrast those clubs able to rotate are thus : Arsenal 1, Chelsea 2, Everton 2, Liverpool 8, Man City 1, Man Utd 5, Tottenham 1, and that with most of them having to negotiate european competitions…
Imagine now if the Aston Villa group had had those extra couple of subs to ease the load and what condition would their squads look like now?