If ever Arsenal needed an international break to reset the team and put distance between the prior few match results, it was this one.
Injuries, COVID, and a red card all contributed to three Arsenal performances that lacked fight or an organized attack.
Now having spent a record amount during the summer transfer window, how can Mikel Arteta rebuild the team’s confidence and begin to climb up the Premier League table. A key factor in those efforts will be the return of several key pieces of this season’s squad.
The club announced on Thursday that Mohamed Elneny (hamstring) and Granit Xhaka (COVID) are unavailable for selection this weekend, but that Gabriel, Ben White, Thomas Partey, and Eddie Nketiah are back healthy and in contention.
When Mikel Arteta spoke to the media he brought up several other issues that the club is monitoring ahead of the match against Norwich and as players return from international duty – (1) Emile Smith Rowe battling illness, (2) Takehiro Tomiyasu’s work visa, (3) Sead Kolasinac picking up an injury while with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and (4) Bernd Leno’s return to camp and availability for the weekend.
Much like Arsenal, Norwich City has opened the season with three defeats in the league, including a 5-0 loss against Manchester City, and won their League Cup tie 6-0. The Canaries have managed to find the back of the net once in the Premier League, something Arsenal are still looking to accomplish.
It may early days when analyzing the table, but with players returning and playing at the Emirates, this is a must-win for Mikel Arteta and the Gunners.
Left Out: Sead Kolasinac (international injury), Emile Smith Rowe (illness), Arthur Okonkwo, Cedric Soares & Eddie Nketiah
Out: Mohamed Elneny (hamstring), Granit Xhaka (red card)
Aaron Ramsdale was brought in to be the eventual #1 at Arsenal. He had a strong debut in the League Cup and it’s rumored that Bernd Leno could depart this summer.
Despite the three losses, and scorelines, Leno’s play has screamed out for a switch in front of the net, but the international break offers Arteta the perfect chance.
Add in that Bernd Leno is traveling back from national team duty with Germany and we could easily see Ramsdale take charge on Saturday.
Will we finally get to see the presumed preferred center-back duo? And might we even get the ideal backline for this season? Gabriel and Ben White have returned and been in full training.
Kieren Tierney is currently, checks notes, healthy at the moment. And Takehiro Tomiyasu’s work visa should be finalized in time for him to feature Saturday.
Typically you’d like a new signing more time to practice with the squad, but with Chambers and Cedric struggling at RB this season, I’d take Tomiyasu from day one, or if he isn’t ready, giving the start to Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
You could argue that Sambi and Thomas Partey might be Arsenal’s best midfield duo, even if everyone was available. At least the most mobile and attacking pairing. But with Xhaka and Elneny out, they are locks to start, with Maitland-Niles as coverage or Calum Chambers in a pinch.
Emile Smith Rowe is doubtful at the moment due to illness, so rather than rush him back, and considering how many attackers are now healthy I think he could be withheld and rested for Burnley.
With Odegaard in the center and Saka on one of the attacking wings, that leaves two spots between Aubameyang, Lacazette, and Pepe.
PEA is traveling back from international duty with Gabon, I’ve given the start to Lacazette up top. However, no one in Arsenal’s attack can stake a hard claim to being undroppable at the moment coming off three league matches with zero goals.
Arsenal – 4
Norwich City – 1
With most of the squad fit and available, or at least what feels like the biggest selection thus far this season, will Arteta make the move for Ramsdale in goal?
If his work visa arrives, will Tomiyasu get the immediate start? And how will he restructure an attack that has underperformed in the league? At home and against another side struggling to create, this is Arsenal’s best chance to shift the momentum.