While the vast majority of us have been tuning in and watching the Bundesliga’s return with glazed eyes, there is still something not quite right.
The obvious omission of supporters and the atmosphere and intensity that follows is having an impact on football as a spectacle, sure. That we all miss. But we also miss our team, our players and the Premier League. Oh so painfully much.
Seeing actual live football has provided welcome respite from our regular Saturday Netflix binges, but we’re still missing the highs and lows of backing our own respective clubs.
In the case of Arsenal, it’s been predominantly miserable lows this season, but with English football not gracing our screens for over two months now, it’s best to focus on the positives for when football eventually resumes.
What are those for the Gunners? Is there actually anything to look forward to when they take to the turf once more? Believe it or not, yes there is. Some aspects of the club and squad are genuinely to be excited for, and here they are.
Kieran Tierney Returning From Injury
Upon making his £25m move from Celtic last summer, Arsenal fans were purring at the thought of seeing one of Europe’s most exciting left-backs take to the Emirates pitch. Granted, he arrived injured, but a second unrelated injury was desperately unfortunate and it’s meant he’s amassed just 12 outings for the side in nine months since he joined.
Fans were so expectant and enthusiastic, but were forced to make do with Sead Kolasinac instead. Then the Bosnian too got himself injured and the situation turned rather sour.
But now the Scot has recovered from his dislocated shoulder and looks primed to return to the first-team fold. Finally set to earn a regular run in the side and already receiving glowing praise from his new manager before even kicking a ball, the stage is set for a fresh start.
Even before his injury he had fans grinning, with his superb crossing ability and boundless energy making a fine first impression on his new supporters.
Bukayo Saka Playing in His Natural Position
The aforementioned injury crisis at full-back was a major inconvenience at the time, but it did allow one of the breakout stars of the Premier League this season to begin forging a name for himself.
Bukayo Saka slotted into the role admirably. He never looked fazed, showed tactical astuteness and contributed heavily in the final third with the most assists of any player in the squad. Someone who normally plays 60 yards further up the pitch came to the Gunners’ aid when they needed it, demonstrating commendable levels of maturity for someone his age.
But with Tierney coming back, Arsenal fans can revel in the thought of seeing him play in his natural position. Given how excellent he has been in and around the opponents’ box, taking off the shackles of his defensive duties could see that talent flourish further.
How Arteta chooses to lineup is not known yet, as he may persist with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left wing, but whenever Saka gets a run in the side it’ll be refreshing to see him play with far more freedom than his previous left-back role allowed.
How the Break May Aid Mikel Arteta’s Plans
The difference that Arteta has already made at Arsenal since taking the reins has been vast. They’ve lost just twice in the 15 matches he’s taken charge of, averaging 1.93 points per match.
Draws have still been too frequent, but given he was thrust into the role in December with the club in freefall, there is no questioning he’s made a positive impact. During that time he’s been unable to assess his squad accordingly due to the hectic winter schedule, so this time away from the training pitch will have offered a valuable period of reflection.
Arsenal remain the only unbeaten Premier League side in 2020, and while it will still be a huge ask to secure a Champions League berth this season, the makings of a new-look Gunners side are already in effect.
With players also returning from injury he will be closer to fielding the best lineup at this disposal, backed by fresh ideas and a new outlook on what is the best possible strategy to achieve their goals this season.
William Saliba Linking Up With the Squad
Due to the regulations of his loan deal to Saint-Étienne he will not be able to take any part in the remainder of the 2019/20 Premier League season, but with Ligue 1 being prematurely ended, he will be able to link up with his new teammates and begin training sooner than expected.
While he won’t be able to take part in matches, his impact could offer the squad a much-needed boost – particularly in defence.
It’s an area that’s been of significant concern all season, but seeing a player Arsenal spent big money on last summer may give the failing defenders in the side the necessary kick up the backside they need to step up to the plate.
And besides, who doesn’t like seeing a new signing rocking official club attire and taking part in training?
Can Nicolas Pepe Kick On?
It would be folly to suggest Nicolas Pepe has lived up to his ginormous price tag since joining from Lille last summer, but, in fairness, you’d have to do a hell of a lot in your first season to make £72m look like money well spent.
Yet, a total of 14 goal involvements in 32 games is not a horrendous return, and it was starting to look like he’d found his feet before football was postponed with three assists and a goal in his three most recent Premier League outings.
Of course, the fans want more. As will Arteta, the board and Pepe himself. He did cost £72m after all. But he’s someone who the Gunners will need firing on all cylinders for the final ten-game stretch and it will be interesting to see whether the break has been beneficial to him or could prove to be an unfortunate setback in his development.
Either way, his style is one that excites. He loves to take defenders on and use his trickery in wide areas (sometimes far too often) and perhaps playing behind closed doors could relieve some of the pressure on his shoulders.
Either a Mouth-Watering or Favourable First Game Back
With the Gunners’ midweek clash with Manchester City being postponed on the eve of English football being halted indefinitely, there is every chance that Arsenal could take on the champions in their first game back.
That could be moved to a different midweek date, though, as it could be the case where the Premier League sets up a full weekend of fixtures and Arteta’s City reunion be played at a later time. It’s the club’s game in hand and if they are to launch any meaningful bid for a top-four spot then they’ll need a positive result from it. What exactly said result is will be intriguing to see.
Should that fixture not be their first played when the league resumes then instead they have a favourable away clash with Brighton to contend with. The Seagulls are flirting with relegation and are in desperate need of points themselves, so in that sense, it won’t be easy. Yet if you were to ask Arteta which side he’d like to take on as a first game back then Brighton, you’d imagine, would feature quite high on the list.
Graham Potter’s side haven’t won any of their last ten matches in all competitions, meanwhile Arsenal have lost just one of their last 13 clashes – a damaging Europa League defeat to Olympiacos.
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