Don’t look now, but we are officially a week away from Arsenal playing a Premier League match. Where has the time gone? Ok, well, we all know where it went, but still, being so close to seeing Arsenal take the pitch is still something worth being excited for.
In my previous article, I talked a bit about the players who have the most to gain coming out of the hiatus. Now I have the displeasure of discussing the other end of the spectrum - those who have the most to lose. While we would to think that all of our players will be returning fit, motivated, and ready to chip in, the harsh reality is that the next ten league matches could make or break some Arsenal careers.
At the start of the season, things looked like they were set up for the Bosnian Hulk to have a very strong chance to solidify the left back position. Kieran Tierney was headed to Arsenal to provide competition and depth at the fullback position, but was recovering from surgery that kept him off the pitch for a considerable time. Likewise, veteran Nacho Monreal was bound for La Liga, clearing a path for Kola to become Arsenal’s starting LB.
But the season has yet to be as promising as the defender would have liked. Injuries have seen him miss six matches over the season, and the emergence of debutante Bukayo Saka (an attacker by trade) saw him supplanted in the pecking order. Coupled with the very public off-pitch carjacking ordeal he endured with teammate Mesut Ozil, it suffices to say that this season has not gone as planned for the bruising defender. And now, with the season set to resume, Tierney is back to match fitness and ready to stake a claim on the left.
Not all is lost for Tank. With Tierney fit, Saka has a chance to rejoin the attack full-time, which means there will still be plenty of time left for Kolasinac to get minutes. However, Arsenal’s supposed pursuit of PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa in the winter window could indicate that the Gunners are ready to move on from Kolasinac at season’s end. If there was a time for him to prove his worth, the next month could be crucial.
Much like Olivier Giroud before him, Laca is the hunky French striker who holds the ball well but suffers from baffling slumps and an occasional crisis of confidence. His ability to swing from one end of the performance spectrum to the other on a seemingly match-to-match basis makes him the type of player you root for through the fingers covering your eyes.
If you’re a glass half full type of fan, the fact that he is second in goals scored for Arsenal this season would be seen as good news. On the other hand, his seven goals is a full 10 behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a troubling number for a club’s starting striker. It’s worth noting that Laca missed seven matches with an ankle injury, so he deserves a little slack to that end. Regardless, his production has been lacking. During his longest drought, he went nearly two months without a goal, the longest dry spell in his professional career.
Laca has long benefitted from Auba’s willingness to play in a wide position to accommodate his BFF. Outside of his Auba, Laca has had no other meaningful competition for the striker slot. That was until Eddie Nketiah made an early return from his loan spell at Leeds United in January. Nketiah is young and hungry and showed great promise in his limited appearances for Leeds on his loan. Now he is back and ready to fight for minutes, and Arteta has already shown that he is not afraid to bench Laca for the Hale End product, as evidenced by Eddie starting over Laca in the last three PL matches before the hiatus.
Arsenal are in a very steep fight for a Champions League slot, a fight where the club cannot afford to see a player at a position as vital as striker suffer a crisis of confidence. While he has netted in his last two appearances in the PL for the Gunners, Laca surely can’t help but feel Eddie breathing down his neck as the season is set to restart.
Not-So-Fun Fact time: Rob Holding has played a grand total of 86 minutes in the Premier League this season, the least amount of minutes played by a first team player that has made an appearance for Arsenal. Players who have played more minutes than Holding include loanee Pablo Mari (90) and loaned out players Henrihk Mkhitaryan (111) and Emile Smith Rowe (97).
This statistic isn’t a slight on Holding by any measure. After suffering a mid-season ACL tear last season, it was no secret that his recovery would mean a slow reintroduction into the side with very moderated minutes. It wasn’t until late September that he made a match debut, playing a full 90 and scoring in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forrest in the EFL Cup. And while he managed a full 90, his only other full-match appearances have all come in Cup competitions. Despite showing that he can put in full shifts, he has yet to get a full match in the Premier League.
Holding has always been viewed as an up-and-comer since joining Arsenal from Bolton in 2016. Four years on, he has had some truly impressive moments - we all remember the masterclass against Chelsea in the FA Cup final - but injuries have compounded to keep him from solidifying a starting role. The ACL tear could not have come at a worse time, as Holding was putting together a great season and making a strong case for more playing time. Now he has had to start from scratch, much to his detriment. And with new defender William Saliba joining the ranks, Holding’s battle for a starting spot might become that much more difficult.
So what say you? Anyone else you think is teetering on the edge following the break? As always, we love to hear what you have to say in the comments.