Happy match day one and all. I hope you are all feeling fabulous and crossing your fingers in the hope that Arsenal secure safe passage to the next round of the Champions League through three points and results going out way?
Yep, if PSG win tonight against Basel, as well as an Arsenal victory against Ludogorets, then it’ll be all sewn up with two games to spare, knowing that we’re fighting for top spot against PSG. Heck, a draw would be even better between the two other teams, as it would leave Arsenal with a brilliant opportunity to actually top the group for a nice change.
Yesterday’s press conference took place in Bulgaria and it was Big Ollie and the boss who faced the assembled media, as well as some random dude who sat next to Arsène, asking him the most Garth Crooks-esque questions you’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure there was a “how good would finishing top of the group be?” in there somewhere. Jeez.
But, to his credit and respect for other people – Jose, might want to take a leaf fella – he answered each question. But the all-important one yesterday evening was that of the team news.
Now, I don’t know whether to be happy that it looks like Arsène is doing some rotation under the pretext of ‘little knocks’, or be genuinely concerned about our collective of knocks. If the manager is rotating his full backs, given Theo enough time to recove, etc, then fine. If these ‘injuries’ are exactly that i.e. put your hands beside your head to make quote marks with your fingers as you say the words “injuries”, then I’m fine with that. I don’t think UEFA punish teams for fielding squad players, based on history of the competition I’ve seen, so Arsène could be honest and say he’s rotating. Unless of course he doesn’t want to give the Ludogorets players any fuel for their fire of playing us. Perhaps this is the best way of rotating and keeping everyone happy.
But if those players all do indeed have knocks, then that has to get us all a little concerned for Sunday. They might all be back, but if they aren’t fully fit when we play them, then we probably should be a wee bit worried.
But that’s something we can deal with after tonight, because tonight we have a different competition to focus on and it’s one in which we want to see Arsenal not make life difficult for ourselves tonight. That means we need to start well, hope that Ludogorets come to play football, then hope we can pick them off with our quality of a front three. I suspect Arsène will name the same attacking players as Saturday, but personally I’d be tempted to see Giroud from the start. He will be full of confidence after his two goals, and with Iwobi blowing a bit cold against the Mackems, a game like tonight would be perfect for him to sit out. If it puts fire in his belly for the weekend, then all the better, so I’d be interested to see if a front three of the Ox, Giroud and Alexis can work. There’s been plenty of talk last season about how Alexis and Giroud aren’t the best pairing together, but both have a lot of confidence right now and if they can play together when they’re both happy and scoring goals, perhaps there is the possibility that both can play together more regularly.
Özil will pull the strings behind them, whilst I’d expect to see a base of Elneny and Coquelin start the game. Xhaka is available and so is an option, but I wonder if he’ll be left for the game at the weekend. I hope so, anyway, because I’d love to see him line up against them Spuddies.
Behind that is where we’ll see some more rotation, which will definitely involve the full backs and I wonder if Jenkinson will see a game like this as another opportunity to push Hector for a starting place. Gibbs must surely be on the verge of wrestling his place back from Monreal and if he does so, then it will certainly give Jenko the belief that he stands a chance.
Ospina will also come in, but because of him and the full backs being rotated, I don’t expect us to see any of our centre halves given a rest/opportunity to start. Rotation en-masse often leads to disasterous consequences, so I think Arsène will be mindful of that and I think his press conference has already given us an indication of where he’ll change it up.
As for Ludogorets, well, it’s difficult to make any real assessments after the last game. In the first half they gave us a couple of headaches, but we still got the goals to give us a 2-0 lead and so my expectations are that whilst it will be a closer encounter tonight, we should have enough to secure three points. I doubt it will be as much of a goal fest, but we should still be able to bag a couple I would hope.
Let’s just see if we can pick up the points tonight.
Come on you gunners!