Arsenal are without Thomas Partey against Leeds on Sunday.
Waking up on Friday morning, excitement was building. Heading both into the weekend and Sunday’s end to a dreadfully long fortnight break from club football, something very Arsenal-like happened.
Normally, the gradual climax of optimism before any given Gunners matche evaporates during the match. Maybe the opening five minutes look like the team at their very best, only for a moment of ill-discipline or lack of focus to burst the bubble of belief.
Given this is 2020, things are different. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. Instead of being allowed to simmer away in anticipation for a few more days, reality came and slapped supporters across the face before the weekend’s activities kicked off.
Thomas Partey is out of the Elland Road clash. Game fully over, right?
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You know what? Maybe. Maybe it is over. Perhaps we needn’t even bother heading up north and take the loss in our stride to save the team the travel.
A touch defeatist, no?
Resigned to losing the game at this point may be the immediate response. One that isn’t too reactive when you consider any side losing a world-class player will be handicapped. In Arsenal’s case that’s unavoidable. This is a big loss.
The game, however, isn’t lost.
Whichever pair occupies the other two roles have a huge job on their hands. Leeds are at full-strength in regards to their starting XI, with Kalvin Phillips due to return from a shoulder injury for Sunday.
Arteta’s central areas are lacking in mobility, be that midfield or centre-forward. Leeds do not. They are orchestrated by Phillips, who isn’t the quickest, although he is surrounded by Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo, Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling. All of whom love to run.
Running is key here, as the major fear is Arsenal being overrun.
Arsenal have found a knack of performing in the so-called ‘big games’. When faced with adversity, something flicks a switch and on-field unity becomes more apparent. At Elland Road, it will be a matter of seconds before Arteta’s men know they’re ‘in a game’, so to speak.
The same occurred against Aston Villa, but the mindset was all wrong. Sunday will demand absolute cohesion in both collective movement and tactical authority, with the spine being integral to wrestling an element of control from proceedings. Every single member of that team has to be in unison. Everything will fall apart if not, as per Villa. for those reasons, this is a ‘big game’.
We believe, hope, that to be a watershed moment for this team. A signal of what will come further down the line if the standards aren’t adhered to. Arsenal head to Yorkshire hamstrung with fatigue and absentees. Backs against the wall.
Now, above all, and regardless of personnel, the squad have a point to prove. The manager has a point to prove. Supporters have to believe that the players themselves believe in what they’re capable of. When that faith fades the club is no better off than it was at this stage last year.
Arsenal may very well lose to Leeds. Leeds may very well lose to Arsenal. At a time where the team needs absolute backing, the selection situation is damning, granted.
Not as damning as giving up on the team completely though, regardless of how apprehensive one may be.