The Uncomfortable Truth About David Luiz
I (like many other Arsenal fans, I'm sure) have tweet notifications on from David Ornstein, amongst others.
It gives me a sort of fun, lottery style game to play every morning. I awaken, eyes bleary, barely conscious, exiting a world of sweet bliss where I don't worry about things like Martinelli's exercise program, or how I spotted a picture of Matteo Guendouzi and Houssem Aouar together yesterday and it panicked me because I can't think of anyone worse to sell Arsenal to him. I reach for my phone. As my hands brush the screen, my first thought of the day descends as I spot the Twitter icon on my lock screen.
"How will Arsenal have disappointed me today?"
It's not always that way. Memories stir of waking up to the news about Nicolas Pepe last summer, or even running down the corridor at a theatre to share the Alexis news in 2014. But this morning, as water is wet, it was that way, and we had the news from Orny about David Luiz' neck injury ruling him out of full training sessions, consequently placing major doubts over his involvement this weekend at Fulham.
Rob Holding now looks to be remaining at the club and set to start on Saturday, instead of going to Newcastle on loan as previously reported by The Athletic. With Sokratis seemingly on his way to Napoli, Mustafi presumably not back to full fitness, and Mari and Chambers still in injury recovery, hilariously considering the 9 senior centre halves we have on the books (KM on loan), we look a bit light all of a sudden, especially if we want to play 3 as looks to be the case. Ornstein also revealed in his article it could be up to 6 weeks before Luiz is fully recovered.
I put my phone down. Slightly non-plussed. Then I realised... no I'm not.
Why does this worry me? Our mistake prone, 33 year old CB, a source of comedy for most of our rivals, a man so inconsistent he makes Emery's tactics look written in stone, is out for 6 weeks, and I'm worried. I had a shower. I thought. I kept thinking.
I think there is an uncomfortable truth about David Luiz: As much as don't like to admit it... we need him.
We all know his shortcomings. Sloppy under pressure when unfocused, gangly and caught on the back foot at times, he can be slow and frustrating. But there's a reason he's a Premier League and Champions' League winner with 50+ caps for Brazil.
Luiz is, actually, great for us in a back 3, the system we look like we'll stick with. He won the Premier League in the middle of a back 3 for Conte. Commanding and tall, much is made of his connection to younger players, something that might be a catalyst for him to stay focussed, starting with his countryman Gabriel to his left and Saliba to his right - he will have to stay alert and direct them. His ability to break lines and to start us off from a goal kick, transitioning us into our attacking phase is criminally underrated. He's also a presence in both boxes, and can nick a goal. Not sure on his free kicks, but he's certainly scored a few, and can score a penalty as we saw in the Community Shield.
Not only that, but he's a got a brilliant out ball. He had 161 accurate long balls in the league last season, and with our runners in behind in Pepe and Auba, as well as Tierney and AMN/Hector pushing up he's the perfect person, with time, to pick the right pass into the midfield, or try and play our forwards in, especially against a high press.
He's also a leader. Tierney said on a podcast recently:
“He’s a legend. The biggest legend ever. He’s so good with all the young boys. Everybody loves him. He’s a proper leader. If he’s not got the armband, he still leads."
He can use both feet, so he's confident with every passing channel. Last night in the England game, at half time, Jamie Carragher made a fantastic point surrounding playing Eric Dier, a right footer, in the LCB slot of Southgate's (dismal and slow) 3-4-3. It closes down passing channels, the player lacks the confidence to progress the ball and therefore... doesn't. Luiz has that. Watch this goal from the City game in the FA Cup - you see Luiz' ability, when concentrated, to progress the ball and think well under pressure. A right footer might make a different decision there.
There's a reason Luiz had 33 appearances in the Premier League last season, despite making many mistakes, often leading to penalties. We need him. He's not perfect. But under this system, with this manager and these players around him, the experienced Brazilian is a big blow to lose just as the next season gets underway. We can laugh it off, but I think deep down we know we're a worse team without him at times.
Luiz is 34 this season, and as for a succession plan - I don't think we really need one. He's only got a year to go on his deal, and I think that's right. I don't think we'll be playing this system for long. I'm not worried about the Fulham match. But against the big teams, in big games, he's still a big player, and we need him. Big time.
New podcast out tomorrow.