Morning all. It’s another matchday and, I have to tell you I never thought i’d say this, but the Europa League represents some welcome respite from what has become the monotony of our domestic campaign. We are away to Molde in the group stages and tonight’s game this evening represents an opportunity to try to forget about the fact we are utterly abject in the league and hopefully see some goals against the Norwegians.
I think there might even be some fans in the stadium tonight, which will be novel, to say the least.
It is also an opportunity for us to see some different Arsenal players on show and with a few injuries from last weekend, as well as a Pepe suspension, there will certainly be some rotation in positions tonight I suspect.
But there will also need to be some consideration for Sunday’s game against Wolves because whilst I suspect Arteta would have played a bit of a stronger team this evening if he’d have had the choice, to secure the win and see us in to the next round with two games to spare, the fact he’s missing quite a few players might make him think twice about risking more. One of the players we won’t see is Bukayo Saka, who limped off on Sunday, but thankfully it was just a dead leg and the club confirmed yesterday that he will be fit for Sunday. That’s the same for Willian, although I’d say his potential absence would be less of a blow than Saka’s. But the worrying thing for me is that Partey is just listed as ‘progressing his rehabilitation’. That suggests to me he might not be ready for Sunday and he certainly isn’t in the squad tonight. Isn’t it just the most Arsenal thing ever that a guy who basically never got injured at Atletico has been injured within the first two months of joining us. Pfffh!
Anyway, back to tonight, which will be an interesting team selection given the number of young players who have travelled. I’m expecting Arteta to put a few of the regulars in there to keep a modicum of continuity, but by and large I think there will be plenty of rotation. Although not in goal. Runnarsson will most likely not start until the next game I don’t reckon and Leno will probably start. Then we’ve got decisions to make in defence. I suspect Arteta will opt for a back four again – just a feeling I’ve got despite us being away – and to me that means Cedric on the right, possibly Ainsley on the left, then Arteta needs to decide who his defensive duo are. Personally I’d go with Mustafi and Holding and save Luiz for Sunday night, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Arteta will give Luiz a run out tonight and then Holding at the weekend. I can’t see Tierney or Bellerin used from the start this evening although if the game looks a little ropey we could see our leading assist maker Bellerin get some game time.
Midfield will be an interesting one. If we knew Partey was fit for the weekend I’d be tempted to go Ceballos and Willock sitting a little deeper, with Smith-Rowe in front of them as the creative outlet, but I think Arteta will go with experience and play both Ceballos and Xhaka this evening. Of course he could really mix it up and give Azeez a go in midfield alongside one of Xhaka and Ceballos and given that there are question marks over who is available for the weekend (I’m also not clear on when Elneny’s isolation finishes) I suspect that there might be a lot of temptation to do it.
I still think Willock would get the nod ahead though, especially if Arteta wants to see what Smith-Rowe can do. Emile has played wide right and through the middle and it’s that middle role in between the lines of midfield and attack that I’d like to see him play in. Let’s see if we’ve got a guy who can pop up in those spaces and deliver the goods. It is where we’ve been crying out for creativity so if he can start and have a good game I think it would all make us feel a little better.
The wide positions will be covered by Pepe on the right, I would have thought, given what Arteta said about him yesterday in his press conference. He made it clear that tonight is a perfect opportunity to show his response and so I feel like Arteta will give him that from the off. I’m also praying that the fact he can’t play in the league might give him more focus this evening and I hope he adopts a ‘f*ck it’ mentality in terms of seeing if he can beat a man, demanding the ball, delivering more output in the final third. That’s what I’m hoping for.
The other questions are around the wide left and forward positions. I think a lot depends on whether Eddie starts tonight. If he starts through the middle I wonder if Arteta will go for Lacazette at the weekend and that will mean Auba on the left against Wolves. If he starts Lacazette then I wonder if he’ll go Eddie wide left to give him game time. It didn’t work against Rapid Vienna but Arteta might just be thinking of filling the remaining blanks on the team sheet. Reiss Nelson is an option and that is one that I wonder if we’ll see. Nelson left, Pepe right and Eddie through the middle feels like it adds the most balance, but it will mean question marks over who is available on Sunday and who should start.
Regardless of who plays though, we need to see a little more intensity from our players. After the sending off on Sunday we adopted the low block, difficult to break down, approach. But Before that we were so laboured against an energetic Leeds side. We need to see more from Arteta’s charges tonight and there needs to be some players making a case for inclusion in the Premier League. I hope we see some performances and a win tonight.
Catch y’all tomorrow with some post-match thoughts.
A quick ‘P.s.’ for Diego Maradona, a superbly gifted footballer who had his demons, but played the game the right way. Lauded by some as the greatest ever, it was Maradona who I remember my Grandad telling me stories about when I was a little kid in 88, not massively in to watching football at the time, but being told of an amazingly gifted footballer who cheated England out of the World Cup. My Grandad was talking with his rose-tinted specs on of course, because Maradona also scored an utter peach of a goal in that game, but his quality will live on and another iconic footballer passes from our sight. RIP.