Guten morgen folks and welcome to Europa League matchday. Right, plenty to be talking about, so let’s get straight to it, starting briefly with
Mesut Ozil and his statement
I’m starting with this because if I’m honest it has been done to death and I don’t really want to dwell too much on it. He released a statement saying he is upset not to be included in the squad, how he loves London and he loves The Arsenal and he’ll keep fighting until the end of his contract. This contract was supposed to secure a generational talent to Arsenal for his best years but instead has been a millstone around everyone’s neck for the best part of two years. It will still rumble on but yesterday Arteta played a very straight bat and said – rightly – how he’d been up front with the player from day one and that this is not for non-footballing reasons that he doesn’t play. I’m not 100% convinced on that but what I will say is that regardless of how true it is, I back Arteta over everyone else and if he doesn’t want Mesut in the team and wants us to build a squad that grows beyond this season, then I’m behind him. That’s about all that needs saying.
We have the return of Shkodran Mustafi to the squad and that is very timely with Holding out for three weeks. It means Arteta has some options and I wonder whether tonight will be too soon for the German in terms of starting, but perhaps he’ll be given some minutes at some stage. It is just as well because the other options we have available are also likely to play on Sunday so if we can give him 20 – 30 minutes coming on for Luiz tonight to keep his older legs rested, then I’m all for that.
As for the rest of the team, I suspect it will be Leno in goal, with a back four of Cedric, Luiz, Gabriel and probably Maitland-Niles on the left. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway because it means sufficient rotation and we then have the option of getting some minutes to the likes of Ainsley who has performed well in the last few months. Being a child of the Championship Manager generation I’d also give Runarsson a start in goal but I think Arteta will blend this side with a little more experience and I think in goal we’ll see that for now. He may come in for other games later in the competition, but much like Unai Emery used to do I suspect that Arteta will try to pick a strong team to get maxmimum points and the group stages secured first, before rotating heavily when qualification is secure.
That doesn’t mean we won’t see some of the younger players, I’m just not sure that they’ll start. If Arteta does go with a back four I think we’ll get a base of Elneny and also Partey, who the manager said is now ready to play. A run out for an hour before saving him for Sunday makes sense to me.
In front of them I think we’ll see a little bit of rotation but I wonder if he gives Saka a start on the left of a three, then Nelson on the right with Willock in the centre behind Nketiah. That would represent a youthful front line all from Hale End and perhaps that is a gamble too far, but I think Arteta saves Aubameyang for the bench and will play Lacazette at the weekend so I think giving Eddie and Reiss some minutes makes sense to me. Saka is of the age where his legs can play every day and whilst Arsenal will of course be mindful of not running a young player into the ground (nobody wants to see another Wilshere situation), the odd match like tonight and then on Sunday doesn’t hurt.
Of course Arteta could go with a back three, playing both Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac, with the Bosnian tucking into central defence, but it hasn’t really worked so far and so my hope would be it wouldn’t be worth a gamble tonight.
That’s what has to be key tonight. Being compact and cautious against Man City away is one thing, but Rapid Vienna – with all due respect to them – don’t have the firepower of City and this is a game in which we should be looking to dominate. Having done some very ‘back of a fag packet’ analysis on Rapid Vienna, I know that they have played 3-4-3 this season and look to avoid committing too many men forward. They’ve also deployed some longer balls in a recent game against LASK who at six foot four looks to be a bit of a unit and will no doubt look to cause us some aerial problems. So I wonder if we’ll see Gabriel’s first proper aerial duel this season? He’s been winning his duels so far but we haven’t really come up against anyone who has that really dominant centre forward. It looks like Rapid have that in their guy Kara who will no doubt start tonight. I think they also favour the left hand side though, so it may be that our right hand side is where they concentrate their attacks. If that’s the case then something has to give. Does Arteta switch Gabriel to play on that more unnatural right hand side of our defence though?
Ultimately, given the respective quality of the two sides though, I would be disappointed if we weren’t dominant force this evening and if that is the case then we need to be creating more chances than we have been. That’s what I’m hoping tonight and that’s also why I am hoping for a back four because it gives us the options of more bodies further up the pitch.
It’s an earlier kick off today which means I have a decision to make on whether I should be drinking beer from about 5.15pm or not. As for Arteta, he just has to worry about how we pick up three points to get the bad taste of that City defeat out of our mouths.
Catch you all tomorrow when we’ll know by then.