The Interlull is over …

Right, so that’s it, internationals are done until the summer, and now it’s all steam ahead for the Premier League and Champions League.

A big thanks this morning to Gareth Southgate who played Declan Rice for 90 minutes in two games that don’t matter, much appreciated. I will say I think Rice is a player who probably relishes the involvement, and maybe he’s a rhythm player who thrives when he plays consistently, but it’s still quite annoying. Especially when Man City players pretend to be injured after a few minutes. I fully expect both John Stones and Kyle Walker to line-up for them on Sunday despite the fact they had to leave the pitch early on in the fixtures they were involved in.

Elsewhere, Jakub Kiwior played the full 120 minutes as Poland qualified for the Euros at the expense of Wales, via a penalty shoot-out. It’s not ideal ahead of Sunday, but then he’s not someone who has played a huge amount of minutes so it’s more about recovery than his tank running empty after a long, gruelling season. The fact that Oleksandr Zinchenko was on the bench for Ukraine last night was probably instructive about his fitness levels ahead of this weekend.

He was called into action in the 64th minute with his side 1-0 down to 1-1 with Iceland, and helped them turn it around to win 2-1 in the end. But if a player of his quality and experience isn’t deemed fit enough to start a game of this importance for his country, I very much doubt he’s fit enough to play against his old club on Sunday. Not that I would be inclined to start him anyway, but let’s see how Kiwior is when he gets back from his travels (the game last night was in Wales, so he doesn’t have far to go). There is also Takehiro Tomiyasu to consider, but would Man City away as a first start in over three months be a bit too risky?

Kai Havertz played 73 minutes as Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1; Martin Odegaard played 78 minutes of Norway’s 1-1 draw with Slovakia (Haaland played just over an hour); while William Saliba played 90 minutes as France beat Chile 3-2. He also produced this outstanding tackle right at the death to preserve the one goal lead. All managers have their favourites, look at Southgate with Pickford, Maguire and Henderson for example, but Deschamps not leaning into the quality of Saliba feels very strange to me. Perhaps that will change.

So, for Mikel Arteta, it’s about getting everyone back at London Colney, seeing if there are any issues with fitness and injury, and getting the preparation for Sunday started. There are issues with players who didn’t go away during this Interlull. The three Brazilian Gabis, of course, and the fact Bukayo Saka returned from England duty makes me a bit nervous. He is someone who almost always plays, and someone who is almost always played, so even if the official word is that it was precautionary, I’m on tenterhooks with him a bit. And I guess we will be right up until the team news drops on Sunday, because there’s about zero point zero zero zero minus zero zero negative infinity chance Arteta gives away anything at all about his team before this game.

Anyway, let’s see what emerges during the week, beyond all that, there’s not much going on this morning. If you fancy something a bit different to listen to, check out a new Arsecast with Arsenal fan Alfie Steiner who started posting recipes on Instagram, and now has almost 4m followers on that platform alone. If you like food and football, you’ll like this.

A little later, we’ll have an episode of Waffle over on Patreon – the podcast in which me and James take questions and suggestions about anything and everything expect football. And I’ll leave you today with another superbly poorly drawn animation of an Arsecast Extra bit from Monday’s show.

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