It’s another Europa League game at the Emirates tonight and a chance to see if we can progress through the group stages and top the group with a win tonight against Sporting Lisbon.
It’s the part of the group that I’m sure many of us thought would be the biggest banana skin of them all because of the respective history of Sporting Lisbon. And perhaps given that we only managed a 1-0 victory in Lisbon (with the goal owning to a slip up from Coates to give Welbeck a free run at the ‘keeper) that is how it has panned out. But from what I saw a couple of week’s ago it isn’t the giants of European football that will be joining us inside The Emirates this evening.
Sporting looked like a team fearful of what Arsenal could do and certainly played within themselves, not venturing forward as much as I expected them to and certainly placing emphasis on shape and being difficult for us to break down. To an extent you could say it worked, but ultimately because we managed to get our noses in front, it puts us in a fantastic position to make the final two group games an effective dead rubber.
Which is why team selection this evening will be intriguing because Emery will still have an eye on the League game at the weekend against Wolves, whilst wanting to get the Europa sewn up quickly given the tough games we have coming up in the next month.
I spoke only yesterday about how he’s managing the balance between the squad and keeping everyone involved and feeling like they have a shot both at the weekend and during the week, so I suspect we’ll also see that tonight with a blending of the team that starts.
Cech should come back in goal with Lichtsteiner sure to play at right back. Ok the left it’s a tough one and given he hasn’t played many games then Kolasinac could start, although personally I wouldn’t rest him, instead I’d possibly think about using Maitland-Niles there. It’s not his natural position but needs must and he needs game time.
In the middle of defence we are also still light and whilst Pleguezuelo did well against Blackpool, the standard of opposition is higher and Emery will take their attacking threat seriously. So unless Sokratis really isn’t fit at all I wonder if Mustafi and Holding will Be asked to start again tonight as well as on Sunday.
That makes a pretty experienced back line and so Emery can afford to mix it up in front of him, but I doubt that means starts for Nketiah and Willock, instead we’ll see Guendouzi in the middle but with the injury to Elneny, there is a question of who can play with him.
I’d be tempted to start with Torreira and then play Ramsey in front of them. That gives energy, balance and distance in the middle of the park and allows Iwobi and Welbeck to provide direct running on the flanks, with Auba up top to see if he can continue his goal scoring form. He’s full of confidence at the moment and so putting him in the side up top from the start makes sense; at home he should fancy his chances against a Sporting Team who will sit off and look to be compact this evening.
Of course despite my predictions on who will start, what we do know about Emery is that his starting line up is almost impossible to pick, so for all we know there could also be starts for Jenkinson, Smith-Rowe, Nketiah, etc, although I suspect the former and the latter to be unlikely.
What we do need to see is an Arsenal team not content to take Sporting likely. I think the very fact that Emery has named stronger teams than expected in this competition shows that he certainly won’t be doing that, so we must make the assumption that the mindset will be similar from the players too.
If it is then you’d have to say we should fancy our chances of winning tonight. We’ve got a good team, undefeated in 13 including 11 wins, which means they will fancy their chances of making it 12 from 14. And that’s a good position for us going in to the game at the weekend. But we need the boys to do the business tonight to keep the momentum going.