When they come off, tactical gambles make you look like a genius.
If they backfire, however, you suffer twice and gain nothing. That is the tightrope Mikel Arteta now walks after resting half-a-dozen key players for today’s FA Cup clash at Southampton.
Missing from the starting line-up were Kieran Tierney, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Alex Lacazette, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe, and, when you take that amount of quality out of a team, you can’t expect to perform at the same level. It’s just common sense.
While the manager might have hoped for more from his ‘second string’ in the first half, it was no great surprise that they failed to deliver. The same players who have underperformed before did so again and, despite a vastly improved effort after the break, they ultimately slipped to defeat and out of the cup.
Southampton, on the other hand, are attempting a different type of gamble. They fielded their strongest available XI and, presumably, will do so again on Tuesday. The first part of that gamble paid off today. Only time will tell if it will do so again next week.
In an ideal world, we’d have fielded our full strength XI and gone full-tilt for the win in both games. The reality of the situation, however, particularly in terms of the injuries we have suffered, means we simply can’t do that. Though the outcome was not what we wanted, Arteta’s gamble was the right one. The players we have who are making the difference, the likes of Partey, Smith Rowe, and Tierney must be protected where we can afford to do so.
What is essential now, though, is that Arsenal pick up the win when they return to the south coast next week. If sacrificing a cup – and our recent momentum – is to be rendered worth it, it can only be justified with three points. It’s that simple. A second defeat would be costly for Arteta and for the sense of progress that’s been building in he squad.
For all the furore that surrounds every Arsenal defeat, this one is fairly easy to compartmentalise. The performance, overall, was middling and told us little that we didn’t already know or suspect. We rolled the dice and, this time, we lost.
There was enough in the second half, though, to convince me that, at full strength, this Arsenal side is capable of getting a result at Southampton. It’s not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination but Arteta has ensured the stage is set for his side to kick-off what is a particularly tough run with a win.
Let’s hope Arteta’s next roll of the dice proves to be a lucky one.