Matchday number three in the Europa League brings about it a team named after the stuff growing in Tottenham’s trophy cabinet. Yep, Molde are coming to town, which means we’ve got an opportunity to see how our team stacks up against the current reigning Norwegian Champions who currently sit second in the Eliteserien league. And once again I am not going to try to pull the wool over your eyes, noble reader, and suggest I know anything at all about the league or Molde as a club. I do know that actually I shall repeatedly be spelling their name wrong because you’re supposed to have a diagonal line running through the ‘O’ in ‘Molde’. For any Norwegians who might happen upon this blog, I apologise – my keyboard doesn’t allow very good access to that.
So what of tonight’s game then? What are we thinking? I’ll start with Molde because that will be a very short passage in today’s particular set of ramblings. I suggest they might attempt to once again hit us on the counter like many teams have done with a low block this season, letting us have the ball, then looking to make use of set pieces and also the wings. I’ve done a wee bit of reading on them ahead of tonight’s match and apparently they like to play with high tempo and take advantage of the flanks, although that is usually with underlapping wingers, rather than ‘chalk-on-the-boots’ wide forwards, so we might see that tonight with a slightly narrower approach to play from their forward line. They also like to play with a number 10 who has one of the pivotal roles, so we might see him as the keystone for which most of their attack play builds up. Apparently they do like a cross though and I suspect that most of their threat they might pose will be in trying to get into those positions either side of our penalty box and whipping balls in.
That means we’ll need some centre halves with decent aerial threat and with Holding, Mustafi and Luiz fit, I wonder if Arteta makes a decision on two out of those three tonight. I am of course projecting that I don’t think we’ll see a back three against Villa at the weekend, but if I am right, that means two positions get filled on Sunday and surely Gabriel occupies one of them, which means the other one going to one of the three I mention above.
Personally I’d leave Luiz for Sunday because he is a creative outlet as much as a defensive one and I think we’re going to need more of that against Villa. So My hope – although we can never be sure with Arteta and his selection decisions – is that it is Mustafi and Holding in the heart of our defence. Both are decent in the air and if Molde decide to go wide and get balls in, you’d hope they both have the ability to bat balls away with their respective barnets.
Out wide I’d go with Cedric and Kolasinac with the view that we’re going to have more of the ball and so they should be spending more of it in the opponents half. But also keeping in mind that a rested Tierney and Bellerin for the weekend’s Premier League game is a good thing.
Then in the middle of the park there is a decision to be made on who plays because I don’t think it is as simple as ‘Elneny and Partey for Villa’ and therefore Xhaka and Ceballos on tonight. For one thing Arteta might want to see Willock there, although I think he’ll be deployed further up the pitch. If he’s going with a three in midfield he could try Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock at the top of the triangle, influencing in the lines between Molde’s defence and attack and after Willock’s display against Dundalk he’ll be highly motivated to give us another positive showing. But personally I’d be thinking long and hard as to whether I use Elneny tonight and then somebody like a Ceballos at the weekend. United away and Villa are home are two very different fixtures and require very different skillsets in midfield so I think we’ll need players will a little more of an eye for a final third pass and whilst Elneny has done that at Old Trafford, it was from a slightly deeper position whereas Villa might sit deeper than us. Look at me, I’m going into the nuances of the weekend’s game and deviating away from the match tonight! But that’s only because if I was in his shoes I think the weekend’s game dictates who gets used tonight.
Whether that’s the same in the front three remains to be seen. I’ve already seen a lot of talk about how good Lacazette was against United; I didn’t see it at all and I thought both he and Willian were poor. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t play them tonight. I probably would because I’d want them to get a good game or two under their belts. That couldbe a game like tonight but I have a feeling it’ll be Eddie through the middle, Nelson wide left and Pepe on the right. I’d be ok with all of it except Pepe, who I’d want to see against Villa, so that wide right position could be filled by Willian in an attempt to give him some form back.
But as with all of these things we have no idea what Arteta is thinking and at this stage even trying to predict a starting XI seems redundant. I had a moan at last weekend’s first XI and look what they came away with? So I’m going to try to remain rather serene about whoever starts. As long as we get the win.
Catch you tomorrow for some match review thoughts.