Well, that was better? Slightly? I mean it could have clearly gone worse. Struggling with form and creative ideas, Arsenal battled back to get a goal and maintain the draw, down a man (once again). It’s not great to be in this position looking back at a home match against Southampton, but it’s the reality most would have expected heading into the game. There is still plenty of time to turn this around, but how far is Mikel Arteta willing to stretch his depth to find the answers?
Everton have been dangerous since the start of the season and have recently hit their stride again beating Leicester City and Chelsea is their last two matches. They are in 5th place and nine points ahead of Arsenal with an attack the Gunners had come to expect each season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin tops the EPL Golden Boot race (11) and has already found the back of the net 14 times this season from 15 matches across competitions. Compare that to Arsenal’s 11 league goals from 13 games. Looking at a familiar cast of characters who can step up and save this season?
- Eddie Nketiah
- Folarin Balogun
- Nicolas Pepe
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Bukayo Saka
- Dani Ceballos
- Kieran Tierney
- Pablo Mari
- Alex Runarsson
- Left Out: Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers & Cedric
- Out: Granit Xhaka (red card), Thomas Partey (thigh injury), Gabriel Martinelli (returning to full fitness), Gabriel (red card).
- With the expanded bench, and if the injury report remains as expected, only four players have to miss out. After starting the last match (and two for Holding), I could see Maitland-Niles, Cedric, & Holding back in the starting XI for the League Cup semi-final. Barring injuries Chambers may not see his next start until the FA Cup in January.
- Up top Arteta is still searching for the right combination, despite having limited options he seems safe starting. By this point, I would be rolling out a front line of Smith Rowe-Balogun-Nelson. Aubameyang, Nketiah, Pepe, and Willock have all managed to rack of decent goals and/or assists, but no one is stepping forward enough. However, Arteta has been reluctant to give Smith Rowe time, despite his senior contract, or Balogun, even though Arsenal need goals. It makes you wonder how Balogun is feeling watching this unfold, failing to get more minutes, and knowing that Martinelli is nearly back.
- That being said, I expect Mikel to favor Aubameyang, Willian, and Lacazette once again, with Reiss Nelson getting the chance he probably was up for before his knock in training with Kolasinac.
- The midfield is limited with Xhaka and Partey out. Even with Elneny playing the last two full matches, it’s hard to see Arteta starting a combination of Willock and Ceballos in the midfield. Would the attack benefit? Yes. But can they best protect the backline? Hard to say. As such I’ve got Elneny as the defensive midfielder and Joe Willock partnering with him to occasionally push forward into the attack. Perhaps we see Maitland-Niles and Ceballos against City.
- Leno continues to start, Hector Bellerin is back from suspension (yellow card accumulation), and with Gabriel (plus possibly on the bench for League Cup match), Luiz and Mustafi seem a safe duo in order to rest Holding. Then perhaps we could see Mari-Holding start against City. On the left, will Arteta push Tierney three full 90s knowing his recent injury history or instead opt to give Kolasinac a match?
- With the bigger bench, this squad would have plenty of attacking options for Arteta to turn to - Pepe, Nketiah, Balogun, Smith Rowe, & Saka.
How to watch
Saturday (12/19) at 12:30 pm ET / 9:30 am PT on NBC.