So it’s the first game of our Champions League campaign for this season and I have to say, it feels nice not having to say that in August, knowing that we are going through a two legged affair just to progress to the group stages proper. But before I go on about The Arsenal, I think everybody today has some sympathy for Luke Shaw, who suffered a double bone leg break in his Champions League game against PSV last night, effectively ending his season. Probably parts of next season will be missed too and, given how long it took Eduardo and Ramsey to get fully fit (only one of which recaptured pre-injury form), it’s a long road ahead. Perhaps the idiotic United fans hashtagging ‘McNaired’ when Wilshere was injured will think twice before revelling in the pain of others. Hope Shaw gets back and fit as soon as is possible.
Anyway, back to all things Arsenal, in which the aspirations for this season are always – as Arsène would say – to go as far as we can in this competition. However for too long it has represented a very early and rather unsatisfactory exit. Just for kicks, I’d like us to go and win it this season, that’d raise a few eyebrows that’s for sure.
Dynamo Zagreb away kicks us off and much like the excitement before the Premier League season, I feel a degree of excitement for this year’s competition, because I have to be. It’s my prerogative as an Arsenal fan and as such I’m hoping for at least a repeat of 2006.
What do I know about Zagreb? Well they play in Croatia, for starters and they also used to have a guy called Eduardo, who we ended up snapping up. But short of that I’m running a little empty on info. I could google a bit about the players and style of play, but so can you and I’m not going insult your intelligence by spoon feeding you info.
All you really want to know is: “how well are we going to play and are we going to win?”. Sorry, I’m not much help this morning, because I can’t answer either of those questions neither, I’m afraid. But what I can do is tell you my gut feel, which is that I think we should have enough. Zagreb are on A good run of form domestically, but technically Arsenal are a better side and should have the requisite class to collect three points this evening.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen, but we have to be expecting to start this run of away games with a win. The international break aside, we’ve had a decent run of wins and have steadied ourselves after a pretty woeful start to the season. Saturday’s win at Stoke was convincing and i’d expect the players to play with a little more confidence as a result.
Team-wise, aside from the absences of Ramsey and Bellerin, it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the same XI that started against Stoke play against Zagreb, but this season more than ever we’re seeing Arsène adapt his selection based on the opposition. Perhaps his hand has been forced in to a bit of rotation with the absences, so I’d imagine we won’t see to many changes. Debuchy will come in for Bellerin, but aside from that I’d expect the same back five will start and most likely Coquelin and Cazorla with Özil roaming. Alexis will be on the left but, as we seem to have for most of the season so far, the real question will come at right wing and up top.
In the Champions League you tend to get more time and space than the Premier League, but you also need to be prepared to use width well and get in behind full backs, because most Champions League teams I have watched like to push full backs on as auxiliary wingers. In the same way we do, to be fair. So what do we need? Width. Lots of it. That’s why I wonder if we’ll see The Ox get the nod and Giroud up top to feed in to balls from the byline. Walcott is somebody that likes a high line and I’m not sure Zagreb will do that, so with someone like Giroud to feed balls out wide and get in to the box, I think it it could work.
The other option could be to play Theo out wide right, but I wonder if his time spent through the middle has given him a desire to do it more often? Probably a spurious comment I know, because he’s a professional footballer and should be able to adapt his game accordingly, but I still think The Ox would offer us more natural width than Theo. Arsène also seems to have gone off the idea of playing Theo out wide so I think this opens up the door for Alex to start.
I’ll park my theories of Arsène’s ‘injuries’ to Bellerin/Ramsey being a cover to give Debuchy/The Ox a run out together, but it does strike me as odd that people are noticing the natural width Bellerin gives us when Ramsey plays out wide, yet now we find they’re both ‘injured’. Whatever man, in a way I’m pleased the Ox and Debuchy will get game time, because rotation is the key to fighting on multiple fronts and keeping players ‘match fit’ is essential.
We’re at the beginning of an away slog over the coming weeks and could really do without our form evaporating before we even rock up at Stamford Bridge. That’s why it’s important to a) not underestimate Zagreb, and b) make sure we don’t spend too much time looking at the weekend’s fixture.
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