There’s never a bad time to get a win but notching up three points before heading into the international break certainly has an advantage over the rest.
If nought else, a defeat leaves a bad taste that lingers on for weeks while the facade of international football plays out. A victory makes those same weeks carefree and filled with a feeling that everything is right in the world.
There’s a case to be made that lengthy breaks such as these can check momentum – and there is a lot to be said about that – but I’d much rather the mood around the club is lifted for a few weeks than a sort of seething rancour be allowed to fester in the wake of a chastening defeat.
Tomorrow’s clash with Aston Villa is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to get a win that’ll inch us a little closer to the business end of the Premier League table as we prepare to head into the international break.
While they enjoyed an unexpectedly good start to a campaign in which many thought they would struggle again, Villa’s momentum has slipped just a little in the few weeks following back-to-back defeats and they will face an altogether sterner test of their mettle against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
The Gunners currently boast the best defensive record in the league (how long has it been since we could say that) and come into the game on the back of a history-making win at Old Trafford. That’s not to say there aren’t still issues to be ironed out for this side – of course there are – but it means we can approach a fixture like this with a little more confidence than we’ve otherwise be accustomed to.
In terms of personnel, I would expect Nicolas Pepe to drop back down to the bench along with Eddie Nketiah, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Willian coming into the front three, although whether Bukayo Saka takes the Brazilian’s place remains to be seen.
Thomas Partey is almost certain to re-claim his spot in midfield but the spaces around him remain very much up for grabs. I’m not convinced Mohammed Elneny, as good as he was at United, is necessary for the Villa match but I don’t rule it out. I suspect Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos will be preferred for their more attack-minded tendencies and I have no objection to that. In fact, I have no real objection to either combination of players given the versatility the squad has displayed this season.
Joe Willock, for all his mid-week heroics, will probably return to the sidelines. It would be nice if his progress as rewarded with a spot on the bench but the manager has made it clear progression of the Hale End boys is being handled particularly carefully. I’d say only that the 21-year-old’s skillset could prove useful if Villa prove determined to sit deep and play on the break.
Depending how other results run over the course of the weekend, the Gunners might find themselves propelled into the top four with a win. Defeat, however, will likely see them marooned in mid-table. The rewards for being a bit daring are obvious then, especially in a season that has proved as unpredictable as this one.
Let’s hope we can haul ourselves out of the attacking mire at last and give fans a few blissful weeks before we return again at the end of the month.