Arsenal will look to put Sunday’s disappointment behind them and continue a good start to their Europa League campaign with a victory against Irish side, Dundalk FC. The Gunners seem perhaps a little lacking in confidence of late; there aren’t many players who are on particularly good form. Whilst some may view this as an opportunity to rest players ahead of a tough game against Manchester United on the weekend, I believe it can also be seen as an opportunity to get some confidence flowing through the side again. One of the positives to take from the Leicester match, was Arteta’s decision to set up in a 4-3-3 which many fans have been crying out for recently. Though any game of football is tough, this one against Dundalk is at least on paper the easiest fixture of the season so far.
With that in mind, it might be a great opportunity to stick with this formation and try and gain a better feeling of comfort with the new system. For example, one of the glaring flaws with the midfield performance was that despite there being 3 of them, Ceballos, Xhaka and Partey were all doing the same job; sitting off and filling in gaps. There was little sign of courage, perhaps owing to the new system, for any one of them to seek to float forward and find pockets of space in the final third. This meant that for another week, Aubameyang was limited to feeding off scraps for large parts of the game. For me, it would be worth Arteta playing a 4-3-3 that resembles more of a 4-2-3-1. Xhaka and Partey are clearly perfect players to protect the backline and break up play. Partey as well can do the previous job of Ceballos in picking the ball up off the defence and carrying it forward. Ceballos no longer needs to be sat this deep. We need someone to be allowed the freedom slightly further up the field. Whether this is Ceballos remains to be seen. Personally, I think it would be worth trying Nicolas Pepe in that role; the no.10 role requires someone who can take the ball on the half turn at every opportunity and, despite his final ball often not being up to scratch, Pepe for me does this better than anybody at the club. Pepe is also, perhaps more so than anybody else at the club, a confidence-based player. He goes on this streaks of looking dangerous in every game, but once losing that confidence he can disappear for spells. In a game like this, Pepe could get a great chance to really run things against Dundalk and if he can take that confidence and swagger into the game against Manchester United, he could be a real difference-maker.
The game offers up a great chance for Reiss Nelson. The youngster has featured infrequently post-lockdown, however he has always given a solid account of himself. This has left many fans wanting him to be given more of a chance to prove himself, this would be the perfect opportunity for that. When I first watched Reiss Nelson as a 16 year old during a pre-season campaign, I thought he was the best young Arsenal talent I had seen in a while. When he then had a good campaign for Hoffenheim a couple of years later, I thought he was for sure destined for great things. However, he is still waiting for a real breakout season at Arsenal where he goes from showing glimpses of quality, to developing a final product with plenty of goals and assists, like we saw from Saka and Martinelli last season. I really believe this year can be Reiss’s chance for that, and opposition like this could be a great start. I have a similar sentiment towards Saliba for this game. I understand that he will take a while to get used to things, but at some point fans will need to see what the future of our back line will look like. I would love to see Saliba and Gabriel line up for this one as it is the perfect game for it; it is fairly low-risk, in that even if Arsenal fall victim to a huge upset, it should not hamper our hopes of progressing through the group stage that much.
Whilst there are some players who I think do not need rest and just need to grab some confidence, I do not think this applies to everyone. I am an enormous fan of Leno and believe that he is one of the top ‘keepers in the league. However, he has looked a little jaded in his last couple of fixtures, reflected by a couple of mistakes. Let’s give him a game off and a chance to steady his thoughts ahead of the United game. It also allows us to see Alex Runarsson in Arsenal colours for the first time. Another guy who just needs some rest is Aubameyang. Anybody who believes that Auba is on this goal drought because he is lacking confidence must have a really short memory. The phrase ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ has never rung more true. He is a world-class striker; rest assured that once the chances start falling his way again, he will be scoring week-in week-out again. Make no mistake. I think Arteta ought to give him the week off and not even have him in the squad to face Dundalk; a win against United will require this man to be at his very best.