It’s been a tough week, but Saturday presents an opportunity to go again. Ahead of the big match, we spoke with Nathan from The Short Fuse to find out a bit more about our opponents and his thoughts on the game.
Q: Do you think Arteta and his team have turned a corner lately? Or would you perhaps say it’s too early to tell?
A: There are always more corners to turn I suppose, but Arsenal have definitely improved since last year. They aren’t a nailed on top-four team yet, but they also don’t seem like a side destined to finish 8th for a third straight year. Part of that improvement is down to the new players, such as Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, and Takehiro Tomiyasu, and the other part is to the continued growth of the young players like Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli.
Q: The Aubameyang situation is never ideal, he’s certainly built a reputation as a trouble maker. How much do you think this will disrupt the Arsenal camp?
A: I think it’ll impact the team less now than it may have a year ago. While Aubameyang has been a great player for Arsenal over his time here, he isn’t the first-choice forward that he once was. The feeling around Arsenal is that it is time to start a new era of strikers at the club and this might be the final piece that sees Aubameyang exit in January or the summer. Additionally, Mikel Arteta’s position and power over this side have increased over the last year and he’s making a statement by not letting things slide anymore whether it’s the club captain or a new signing.
Q: And off the back of that, what do you think happens next for him?
A: There were thoughts that perhaps Lacazette could leave early, but now with this situation perhaps it’s the other main forward. It really comes down to the right offer. If a big club that can afford his wages needs a striker due to injury then there is a chance Aubameyang exits early. The more likely scenario is that he remains at Arsenal for the rest of this season, eventually works his way back into the team, but without the captain’s armband and Mikel Arteta looks to replace him over the summer. Maybe they can convince Newcastle to spend some of that new money?
By the time the weekend's games roll around, every Premier League side will clearly be utterly depleted like never before or, in other terms, be dealing with a regular Leeds United matchday squad— Amitai Winehouse (@awinehouse1) December 16, 2021
Q: Who do you see as the long-term captain of Arsenal? Would you say there are players in the squad that represent the spirit of Arsenal and what the fans expect in a skipper?
A: I think Arsenal needs a leader, or leaders, that set the example not only with how they perform and communicate on the pitch but also off of it. In the locker room, at training, with their schedule, etc. The club does have a few good candidates who can fit that role such as Kieran Tierney, Aaron Ramsdale, and Gabriel. Plus all three are young.
Q: The likes of Smith-Rowe, Saka, and Odegaard represent the real potential that Arsenal have in the coming years, though there is debate around the Premier League as to how good these players actually are. Can this trio lead Arsenal back to Europe?
A: Yes, I do believe they can. Those three are or can further develop into Champions League level players and they are still just 20 to 22 years old. Plus when you add in Gabriel Martinelli that attacking line before the forward looks set. But behind them, you see a similar transformation that is just as crucial. Ramsdale and the backline (Tierney-Gabriel-White-Tomiyasu) all look to be players who can give Arsenal a top-four defence once again, and they are either 23 or 24. But yes, the spotlight will be on that exciting young trio upfront.
Q: Is there anyone in this Arsenal team that is perhaps a dark horse of sorts? Someone who people outside of Arsenal are overlooking?
A: I suppose Takehiro Tomiyasu best fits that mould. He wasn’t a known player, at least around Premier League circles, and he wasn’t signed for a huge fee. Right-back had been an issue for Arsenal the last two seasons as Hector Bellerin both fell out of favour and out of form at times. Cedric and Calum Chambers used to fill in, but neither were up to the level Arsenal needed. Now they have a really solid player, at a great deal, who can hopefully secure that spot for the next few seasons. After him, Nuno Tavares the new left-back behind Tierney might not have gotten much attention outside of the Arsenal-sphere.
Q: When we spoke to you last, Ben White wasn’t quite living up to the £50m price tag. How has he fared since, and where would you rank him with Gabriel and Tomiyasu at centre-half?
A: Just like the team, improved a bit, but still plenty to work on. He has done well when they’ve been at home and struggled in the away matches (Liverpool and Everton in particular). He is CB #2 at the moment behind Gabriel, but Tomiyasu is securing the right-back option, and would only be used at CB if Arsenal were to play a back-three. White’s spot is pretty secure at the moment, with Rob Holding as the only real challenger. So right now I’d give him a solid B.
Q: Another former White, Eddie Nketiah, has made just two league appearances this season, while he also (just about) scored against Leeds in the cup. Where do you see his future, since it’s clearly not Arsenal? And what does he need to do to either make a breakthrough or maintain a Premier League career?
A: There are rumblings that the club wants him to resign, but I don’t see it. Even with Aubameyang and Lacazette destined to exit in the next few windows, Nketiah hasn’t really ever taken his chances to validate being Arsenal’s number one up top. With Folarin Balogun waiting in the wings to take that young striker spot, Eddie needs to head to a new club for the sake of his career. Like Joe Willock, Nketiah should land with a lower half of the table club or abroad where he can start consistently. It’s always hard to see these long-time academy players unable to make that final step, but it’s the nature of the sport.
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s pre Arsenal press conference (English edited) #lufc https://t.co/SDzlPwvlSS— Adam Pope (@apopey) December 16, 2021
Q: Thomas Partey has recently rated his performances for Arsenal as being far below the standards expected. How do you see Partey fitting in and have you seen any sign of the player you thought you were getting this season?
A: Partey’s form is a constant rollercoaster it feels like. He is a good player, but not the great player we were hoping for. He is securely in the starting XI, but that is also because of what is around him. Granit Xhaka has had his own issues and injuries but is the only CM who can challenge Partey at the moment. After them, it’s the newly signed Albert Sambi Lokonga who looks to have potential but needs more time. Then there is Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Partey has another level, but he needs to find it consistently and this season because the midfield is going to get a lot of attention in the summer transfer window.
Q: Finally, how do you expect the game to go? And what are your score predictions?
A: More of a toss-up than you might think. Arsenal just won twice in a row, including over West Ham, but both were at home. Leeds just had a day to forget against Manchester City, but I’d imagine will feel the pressure to respond being back at Elland Road. The Gunners have been dreadful on the road this season. So it’s hard to predict which Arsenal and which Leeds we get. If this were at the Emirates I’d say 2-1 Arsenal, but I think instead it’ll be a 1-1 draw at Leeds.
Go check out the reverse fixture at The Short Fuse!