Unai’s press conference yesterday saw him come out swinging with regards to criticism of him, his tactics and his team selection on Monday night. The good news for him is that there’s a game this evening which gives him the opportunity to at least a little bit put the Sheffield United debacle behind his team by beating Vitoria Setabul on our own turf.
As he rightly pointed out at home the record isn’t so bad and it’s true, whilst performances have hardly been sparkling, he has managed to grind out wins at home this season. But the fan base is starting to get irked by his decision making and you could tell he knew that when answering questions about his methods by talking about how far the team has come since he took over.
Personally it doesn’t really look like a lot has changed from the rudderless and boring at times Arsène Wenger side of the latter part of his final season in charge. But hey, this is all subjective stuff, so I won’t contest it too much. Not when there’s a game tonight to distract us anyway.
And I’ll confess to you now that I know nothing about Vitoria. They’ve already lost to Frankfurt and Standard Liege in this competition and sit bottom of the group and having looked at a few stats websites, it looks like they’re a team who like to play with their ball in their own half a lot (sounds familiar), like to get the ball out wide and get balls into the box (sounds familiar), although I’m not sure with how much success (sounds VERY familiar!). I can’t really tell you much about their players and so at this point any kind of opponent analysis becomes a little redundant.
But given the respective pedigree of both teams you’d expect it shouldn’t be. Unai Emery is supposedly a man who studies opponents fastidiously but my hope is that he’s had a day off and has decided to focus how to get the best out of his own team, because that’s what we need, and we need it sooner rather than later, because we have been poor going forward for most of this season.
So what I think we can all agree that we want for tonight is more of what we got at home to Standard Liege who took a pasting from an Arsenal team that was, dare I say it, rather fun to watch. We weren’t ponderous in possession, we utilised space well, we moved Standard Liege around and we got our rewards with plenty of goals. That’s what I’m hoping for from tonight and I suspect that’s what many of the fans that are going to the game are also hoping for.
Whether that involves a complete shuffle of his playing pack I don’t know. I kind of hope so though. What I’d like to see for a starting XI is:
- Smith-Rowe (wide right)
The reason I’ve gone for Pepe in the side is because I think that he needs a goal and after a good performance on Monday I think he needs to build his momentum. Of course I’d be equally happy to see Saka and Smith-Rowe on the flanks and we give Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang the starting roles for Sunday. That threesome hardly got going before Lacazette’s injury so it would be good to see it reunited sooner rather than later.
Of course what I think we might see is Lacazette from the start – as Emery brings him in to improve fitness – with Smith-Rowe and Martinelli out wide. I’d rather we saved some players for the weekend and that includes Bellerin and Tierney but I suspect Emery is being cautious with them and so I think that’s why we’ll see both of those full backs tonight.
Of course the other big question will surround Özil. If he doesn’t play in a game tonight you do wonder if Emery will ever play him. I suspect he might start tonight but the footage that emerged yesterday of those two having a bit of a disagreement on the training pitch probably won’t have helped and if we see him missing from the start in place of somebody like Ceballos, I don’t think many of us will be surprised.
But I hope he starts. And I hope he plays well. Because if he’s giving Unai Emery a headache and if other players are doing the same then it means we’re playing well and players are in form. We can’t shift Özil, he wants to stay put, we might as well use his skill set and lord knows, it’s not as if we’ve been ripping up trees creatively going forward is it?
This is the first of three home games in 10 days and whilst most of us have written off Liverpool in the League Cup in under a week’s time, Vitoria, Palace and Wolves represents an opportunity for Unai to make things right and sort out his weird team selections. I don’t think we’ll be able to get much from tonight, but Sunday will tell us a lot about where he’s at, and I hope it isn’t where we’ve been all season.
Catch you all tomorrow.