International breaks this season have been extremely beneficial to Mikel Arteta. So much so that his checklist for the March window is relatively small and quite straightforward as he bids to lead Arsenal back into the Champions League.
During the September break, which the Spaniard described as his ‘best 10-15 days in football’, he was able to implement a brand new spine in his Gunners’ side as work on the training pitch allowed Aaron Ramsdale, Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhaes to forge an understanding that had led to 13 clean sheets across all competitions. Further international breaks in October, November and January (where only Gabriel departed) allowed Arteta to welcome Granit Xhaka back from injury, make decisions on players’ futures ahead of the winter transfer window as well as finally getting Arsenal to line-up in his dream 4-3-3 formation.
So what is left for the Gunners manager to be working on over the next week or so? Well, football.london has taken a look at what could be on his to-do list during the international break and ahead of the big Premier League game away at Crystal Palace.
Aside from Takehiro Tomiyasu and Aaron Ramsdale, every Arsenal first-team player not called up for international duty is fit and available for selection. So that makes the first item on Arteta’s checklist an easy one; ensure the aforementioned duo return to full fitness before the Palace game.
Of the pair, Tomiyasu appears closest to a return after taking part in training sessions ahead of games against Liverpool and Aston Villa, but ultimately not risked in order to avoid another setback. “Tomi is the only one that’s still there in contention [to miss the game],” Arteta told reporters ahead of the Liverpool loss. “We have been trying to push him, but with the handbrake a little bit because we need to be careful as we don’t want to get another injury with him. We don’t know [if tomorrow is too soon]. Let’s see how he trains today.”
Meanwhile, Ramsdale missed the 1-0 win over Aston Villa due to an oblique muscle injury, causing him to withdraw from Gareth Southgate’s England squad and it has been confirmed he will be out for a number of weeks. The good news is that Premier Injuries think a potential return date for the goalkeeper is April 4 – which is when the Gunners make the short trip to Selhurst Park – so Arteta could be in line to check ‘double fitness boost’ off his to-do list by the time his first-team squad are brought back together.
Arsenal are in control of their own destiny with regards to the top-four race. Match the results of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their final 10 games of the season and they will be back at European football’s top table for the first time since the 2016/2017 campaign.
Although, just four points separate the Gunners in fourth to United in sixth. Furthermore, neither West Ham United and Wolves can be ruled out of contention at this stage despite being six and eight points off the pace respectively and having played at two games more. With plenty more twists and turns expected, the top-four race could be settled by the finest of margins and goal difference might just be the deciding factor. This is where Spurs have improved as comprehensive wins over Leeds United and Everton, as well as victories by a two-goal margin over the past week, has seen their goal difference jump from -1 to +11 in just under a month.
In the same period, the Gunners’ goal difference has improved by three (from +10 to +13) as three of their four wins have been by just a single goal meaning the challenge for Arteta is to find a formula that gets his strikers Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah chipping in so that Arsenal’s goal difference gets a positive boost. Otherwise, any potential three-goal swing in Spurs’ favour would see them win the top-four race if both teams finish the season level on points.
Joao Felix scouting mission
The summer transfer window promises to be a busy one for Arsenal. The three areas Arteta and technical director Edu are looking to strengthen in are right back, central midfield and in attack. Despite not being able to make any signings for another three months, the rumour mill is already in overdrive.
From Tyler Adams, Youri Tielemans and Fabian Ruiz to Joao Felix and Jonathan David, a host of names have been linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium. Luckily for Arteta most reported targets will be in action for their respective national teams thus providing a chance for some extra scouting. With the striker situation the most pressing ahead of next season, taking a closer look at Joao Felix might be high on Arteta’s to-do list as the Atletico Madrid wonderkid will be in a big pressure situation when Portugal face Turkey in a World Cup qualification semi-final on Thursday.