This is my match day day that is sandwiched in between two match day days that I cannot take part. The first was Swansea at the weekend, the second is Middlesbrough on Saturday, so I feel like I’m appreciating going to tonight’s game even more than I usually do.
It’s Ludogorets in the Champions League and as is my prerogative given that this here is my domain (both literally and in the figurative sense), I’m not going to try to convince you that I know a lot about our Bulgarian opponents tonight. Heck, I didn’t even know they were from Bulgaria until yesterday when I saw an article about them, because I’ve been calling them Hungarian all week.
Still, that won’t bother them, as their manager has already alluded to. I say fair play to the fella. There’s nothing more vomit-inducing than seeing a sycophantic love-in between an opposing manager and the team they’re about to face. Just think about how Jose always took time to talk up United, clearly because he fancied the job in the future, and it’s pretty toady. I don’t want to hear that from an opposing manager. I want an excuse to get one over on him and his team because his captain says they’ve found our weakness (I would link to the article but it’s a Daily Fail one, so I’ll not give them the satisfaction of a click). So hearing comments like that are great because it allows us to roll around in a bit of pre-game narrative and spice.
So in terms of sussing out their team, I’m afraid I can’t help you, because I have no idea who Svetoslav Dyakov is. But I could have a decent stab at what Arsenal team might make the first XI tonight. Arsène gave us an update in the shape of his press conference yesterday, but apart from the fact that he said everyone was available who was available on Saturday and Giroud/Ramsey have returned to training, there wasn’t much given away from Le Boss.
He was asked about who would play and whether there would be any rotation, but his response was expectantly vague, saying he hasn’t properly thought about it and he’s just focused on looking at how the players recover. Will he rotate though tonight? I’m not sure. I base his feeling on the fact that when I usually think he’ll rest certain players, he never normally does, so given that it seems so obvious that rotation should be a consideration, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he just keeps the same side from Saturday.
Personally, as I alluded to yesterday, I would rotate a few players. Not many mind, but I think we can afford to give some players some action, but only because of their quality and ability to slot in to the team. Not because of any kind of favouritism of desire to see players on the fringes play. The kind of players I’m thinking about coming in would be Gibbs, Elneny and potentially Lucas Perez.
I spoke about Gibbs in yesterday’s blog and I think he can consider himself somewhat unlucky not to have got more game time. Every time he’s played he’s been good and if he gets the nod tonight I don’t think we’d see a great amount of drop in quality from Monreal. Elneny too has been good every time he’s had an opportunity and his metronomic style and ability to do the simple things well would be welcome tonight. I expect us to have plenty of possession and a player like Elneny is good for retaining the ball and keeping things ticking over. Given Xhaka is suspended at the weekend I’d be tempted to have a Xhaka/Elneny partnership with the view that Cazorla/Coquelin will be the chosen pairing against Boro. But we all know that Arsène loves a bit of Santi, so if anything I’d expect him to play, possibly ahead of one of the other midfielders.
Up top I’d have Alexis on the bench tonight. He doesn’t show the same levels of fatigue as other players, but you know when he is tired because a few more passes go astray and he just lacks a little something extra when we get in to the second half of a game. He hates being rested but if I was Arsène, I’d force through that change, because we didn’t pay £17million for a Spanish Park Chu-Young. So I’d start with the Spaniard, see what he can do, then if Alexis is needed in the second half then so be it. Our seasons past have been littered with injuries because players like Alexis played just that one or two games too many in a row, so I would like to think that Arsène has that in his mind when he picks his team for tonight.
That’s probably all the rotation I’d do. Obviously Ospina will come in and hopefully he’ll have little to do but watch, but no doubt he’ll be called upon at some stage, because that’s just what Arsenal do. But as for Özil, Walcott, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi and possibly Iwobi, you’d expect them to all be involved from the off.
It’s a game in which we could do with an early goal, because if we get one of those you’d hope we can go on to get a few more, but I’m expecting a resolute defensive display from the Bulgarian champions tonight. I think they’ll look to be compact and probably try to target our defensive left hand side on the counter. That’s what I’d do and I’d always have a man available for the wide right counter to test either Monreal or Gibbs. We have to be ready for that.
A win tonight puts us on seven points and if we go to Bulgaria with that in our pockets you’d fancy our chances of qualifying from the group. But there’s a bit of work left to do this evening before we can count those particular chickens.
Catch you tomorrow with a match review of the evenings events.