Norwich at home this evening provides yet another game with which Arsène can rotate his squad and I have to say, with no sense of irony or sarcasm, that I’m enjoying the level of rotation we’re seeing this season from Arsenal.
Perhaps it’s because I am a child of the Championship Manager and latterly Football Manager era that I like to rotate as much as possible. People talk about how the modern game is awash with stats but it’s that mid-90s era of football that first brought to us the concept of a player’s fitness being within a percentage range that has remained with me. So when I see wholesale changes in midweek so we can have a fully fit first XI for the following weekend I am a happy bunny indeed.
So it’ll be a completely new front three who will play this evening at home to Norwich and that was more or less confirmed by Arsène yesterday on the official site, when talking up the strength of our attacking options. He’s right though; when you think about how this competition was about youth six or seven years ago, it’s now about fitness for squad players and that is vital for this team. Vital because if one of the first team players picks up a knock, then having somebody who is at least match fit – if not technically better – will be important.
Ollie G – fresh from his Puskas award – will be buoyant and I suspect we’ll see Theo and Jack again. There may be a temptation to play Iwobi in the attacking three and drop Jack back in to a central role, but I think his rehab serves him better in a more advanced role, so I think that means he’ll get the nod and we’ll probably see Willock and one of Coquelin and Elneny partnering him. I think Arsène really wants to find as much game time for Willock, AMN and Nelson at the moment and so that’s what makes me think he’s starting tonight.
That would mean Nelson and Maitland-Niles as full backs with probably the same three as those that played against Red Star. Debuchy, Holding and then it wouldn’t surprise me if Elneny and Coquelin do get on the field together, but with the Egyptian at centre half. It’s not ideal but to be honest with you, with Chambers and Mustafi not fit, it doesn’t really leave us with many options. It’s a shame because I think Chambers getting as much game time as some of the other players have been getting would have been a good thing for him. But I guess that’s just the way the footballing cookie crumbles.
Norwich are in good form at the moment and they’ll be a tough opponent for some of these players to face because the Norwich players will have the wind in their sails. So I’m expecting them to be quite up for this game. However we do have the advantage of a lack of fatigue because Norwich played their first XI on Sunday and so the manager will have a decision to make on whether rotation is in order for the Canaries. If he does then the Arsenal players will also have the advantage of having played more regularly than the Norwich squad players.
So however we and they line up today, you’d hope we have enough to counter them, to ensure safe passage to the next round and another opportunity for these players to play.
Of course this is The Arsenal and if there’s a way to make life difficult then we could perfect it.
Catch you all tomorrow when hopefully we’re all talking about another Arsenal victory.