Morning. How are you? I hope you and yours are all well.

We have a big game tomorrow and it’s been surprisingly quiet and low key in the build-up. Mikel Arteta meets the press this morning, and hopefully we’ll have some team news updates regarding key players who will make a big difference to things if they’re available, and if they are.

Questions for the manager.

How is Saka’s leg?

If it is just a dead leg, how dead is it? Can we revive it? Will it be a good leg, or a Walking Dead leg where its functional but not exactly in tip top shape and some lad in a Cowboy hat will try and beat it with a baseball bat?

Can Emile Smith Go?

Ankles. Nature’s bockety chair wheel from a flat-pack furniture set. What they give you in mobility, they take away in terms of stability. The young man turned his during the game against Slavia last week, and missed the win over Sheffield United. Fingers crossed he’s ok.

Martin Odegaaaargggh?

He did what Smith Rowe did, but a bit worse, when on international duty for Norway. He then played two more games for his country, one for us, and then his ankle decided that was enough. It’s almost as if he was played when he shouldn’t have been, by club and country.

His absence would be a big blow in particular. Let’s hope they’ve had the unicorn placenta out all week and have been liberally smothering that joint with it.

Pierre-Emersick Aubameyang

I know many saw ‘flu’ and raised eyebrows, but I do think he was ill. Granit Xhaka missed the Liverpool game with illness and nobody batted an eyelid. I guess he wasn’t coming into that with the same kind of baggage as the captain, whose reputation was dented by that North London derby incident.

If he was too sick to play against Sheffield United, it does raise the question as to whether he’ll be recovered sufficiently to start in Prague. Even a 24/48 hour bug can you leave you physically debilitated, so I’m curious to see what kind of an update we get about him today.

As the man who carried us through a very tough semi-final and then final in the FA Cup last year, I’d feel a lot more confident about our Europa League chances if he could rediscover some form between now and the end of the season. I think the manager and the club have shown him exactly the kind of consideration they should when he needed time off, and while it’s not a give and take transaction, it would be nice if he repaid some of that in the next few weeks.

Here’s a question I’d love to ask Mikel Arteta about young players and the way he is cautious with them. On paper, I think we can all understand why, to an extent. There’s the example of Phil Foden at Man City who was eased in much more slowly than their fans would have liked. There was a clamour for him to play and to start. Pep resisted, and now he’s thriving.

Which isn’t to say that’s the blueprint for all young players, but I do wonder if it’s something Arteta has taken something from when it comes to Gabriel Martinelli. Anyway, my question for the manager would be this: As a player who was on the fringes at Barcelona and played for their B team, how would he have taken the manager/head coach’s determination that he wasn’t ready for first team football (and I’m not saying he was worthy of a place in a team which had Xavi coming through, and the likes of Luis Enrique, Thiago Motta, Ivan de la Pena and Philip Cocu to choose from)?

He left Barcelona to join PSG on loan in December 2000, he was 18 years of age. I assume he left because he wanted to play first team football, and more than likely knew fine well it wasn’t going to happen at Barcelona – probably after a conversation with staff there. From there he went to Rangers, then Everton where he fully established himself in the Premier League, and then to Arsenal. Each move, with all due respect to those clubs, was a step upwards (even if that playing field has leveled out in recent years). It takes a lot of determination/self-belief to go from San Sebastian to Barcelona; from there to PSG (not the iteration we currently know) and then to Scotland; toughen up there and go to England.

Now, there’s obviously a difference between being a player who is considered not quite at the level for a particular club, and not quite ready to play game after game, week after week for that club. But Arteta’s reaction to being sidelined or put in that bracket was to go and play somewhere else, and he did that successfully. Is that something he takes into consideration when he has conversations with the young players he has available to him at Arsenal? Are the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock his equivalents, in that they’ve gone on loan to play more often.

I guess that’d be a whole conversation, rather than a quickie at a pre-Europa League press conference, but as someone who understands very well the dynamics of trying to make it at a big club, I’d be fascinated to hear what he had to say about it.

Anyway, maybe that’s just me. We’ll have all the fitness stories and more on Arseblog News, and we’ll have a preview podcast on Patreon later on this afternoon.

Until then, take it easy.

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