For as much as I hate to be a Debbie Downer so soon after we’ve battered Chelsea, I have to ask MIkel why he didn’t sub off Gabriel Magalhães when the Brazilian first showed signs of discomfort. MIdway through the second half, Gabi seemed to pick up a knock right around when Chelsea’s Madueke scored a consolation goal in the 65th minute. It’s difficult to know precisely which knock or niggle really got to him, but Arteta waited until the 85th minute to replace him with Holding.
Has Arteta failed to manage his substitutions? After seeing Saliba suffer an injury against Sporting that seems to have ruled him out for the season—a setback serious enough to see us drop points in four of the seven matches Saliba’s missed—it seems worth asking. On one hand, Gabi seemed to suffer his injury at a moment when Chelsea seemed to come to life, what with Madueke scoring (not long after Chelsea fluffed their lines on a previous attack). On the other hand, Arteta had to be looking ahead to Sunday’s trip to face Newcastle. It’s a reflection of the thinness of the squad but also of Arteta’s management that we may have to go into St. James’ with Holding and Kiwior as our CBs.
After the match, Arteta said that Gabi “wasn’t comfortable, he tried for 15 minutes but he couldn’t carry on which was a concern.” If Chelsea had posed more of a threat, sticking with Gabi might have made more sense. The Pensioners were, however, true to their name. They were toothless, tedious, and tired. Once Arteta saw that Gabi was struggling, he really could have sent Holding on sooner. There was also the possibility of sending Tierney in; he eventually replaced Zinchenko, who had switched off on Madueke’s goal.
Perhaps sensing that he had gotten his subs wrong, Arteta threw Partey on just a minute after taking Gabi off. That was his fifth sub after replacing Trossard with Martinelli, Zinchenko with Tierney, and Saka with Nelson. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Arteta seems to have shunned the lessons of last season, not to mention the last few weeks. It was right around this time a year ago that injuries sabotaged our attempt at securing a Champions League spot. With injuries to Saliba and Tomiyasu already entered into the ledger, it does start to feel if only in retrospect that Arteta should have been more proactive in his substitutions.
Suppose that Gabi came off closer to the 70th minute, five minutes after picking up his first knock. On one hand, we might have conceded a second goal. On the other, that might have been a worthwhile tradeoff for protecting Gabi so that he could play on Sunday against St. James’. As it currently stands, however, Arteta may have little choice. He may have to give Kiwior the start alongside Holding.
There are short-term questions and there are long-term questions. We can’t address the long-term questions until the transfer-window opens. It might be too late to address the short-term questions. For example, should Tierney see some time at CB? He plays there for Scotland. It might have been valuable for him to get a chance in the same role as a starter against West Ham or Southampton or as a sub against Chelsea.
Newcastle have scored 13 goals in their last three outings. It hardly feels like the time to be tinkering with our defense, but Gabi’s status may force us to exactly that. I still firmly trust the process but am starting to worry about the finer points. If you can offer any reassurances, I would very much appreciate it…