This evening could very well see Arsenal secure top spot in the Europa League Group stages with a win or a draw against PSV in Eindhoven and with Arsenal looking a little leggy at the weekend as a result of the volume of games (in my opinion), the game must represent somewhat of a conundrum to Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff.
Does he go for a strong team, try to secure the win or draw, then he can sit back and play an entire reserve team in the final group game at home of FC Zurich? Or does he deliver a blended approach to the first XI to ensure that there are some that are fresh for the Sunday visit of Nottingham Forest to The Emirates? Or, does he swing completely the other way and field a load of squad players and kids tonight, giving rest to nearly all of those players who will probably start in the league at the weekend?
He says he doesn’t have that third option. He said in his presser yesterday that yes, there will be some kids going along, but that is simply because he doesn’t have the volume of players available to him to be able to play all the kids. Of course we know that isn’t quite true. You don’t need to name all the kids in your 25-man squad as they have ‘B-list’ players that can be called upon and Arsenal have of course named 25 players in our squad. As far as we know we are missing Smith Rowe, Zinchenko (which is starting to be a real worry now), Elneny and potentially Marquinhos, who apparently didn’t train yesterday. That’s four players and so Arteta can indeed field a squad of complete reservists. But I doubt he’ll do that today. If he fields the kids and we get battered, it could mean that we still need to win the game against Zurich in a weeks time, because a win for PSV this evening by more than one goal means they have a better head-to-head and travel to Bodo/Glimt knowing a win would have them finish on 13 points. We’re on 12 right now so a defeat tonight and draw on Thursday at home to Zurich means that we could get that tricky extra Europa League round next year, which brings in to play some heavy hitters from the Champions League and adds to an already crowded fixture list.
That’s why I think he’ll go with a blended approach tonight. If I was to hazard a guess I’d say a similar team to the one that battered PSV last week. So for me that would be Turner in goal, Tomiyasu right back, Saliba and Holding in at centre half, then I’d have Tierney, but only for the first 60 or so, because I’d want him in on Sunday. At the base of the team I’d play Sambi, because I think we need to manage Partey’s minutes more, then I’d be looking at Fabio Vieira and Granit Xhaka starting. Up top is where I’d take all of the rotation; Nelson and Nketiah are definites for me, but if Marquinhos really isn’t available, then it will have to be one of Martinelli, Saka and Gabriel Jesus. If I’m thinking about an order of preference based on who needs the rest the most, I’m going to opt for Gabby Jesus first, then Martinelli, then Saka as the last resort, because he has played so much football already and I think we should be managing his minutes more. But I have a feeling that no Marqunhos means Saka right wing and Nelson left wing, with Nketiah up top. Eddie wide left hasn’t worked and I hope Arteta realises that.
PSV offered nothing in the reverse fixture last week and they deserved to be a lot worse off than the 1-0 score line reflected. In fact, when you think about the fact that the final league positions go down to the head-to-head results, it shows that our profligacy in front of goal could still become an issue if we lose tonight. If we’d have beaten PSV by four or five goals last week, I doubt they would have repeated a feat and therefore even defeat today and a draw next week would have been enough. But the fact it was such a close margin means that perhaps Mikel doesn’t have that head-to-head in his back pocket and with their superior goal difference it could also mean we face the possibility of finishing second still. So perhaps it is better to do the business tonight. At the weekend we face Forest at home and whilst that will be a stern test with them having had a week off, at home and buoyed by our home support at the weekend, you’d hope that the leggy second halves that we’ve seen in the two Premier League games most recently, will not be as much of a factor. So what I suspect we’ll get is a strong-ish team tonight and a desire to get the job done.
PSV at home will be a different prospect. I suspect they will create a lot more chances and I suspect they will show a lot more creativity. They played for a draw in the game at the Emirates and got lucky to just come away with a narrow defeat, but the incentive for them is there for all to see tonight. If Bodo/Glimt beat Zurich then they are level on points with PSV for a win and the final game in Norway is the decider on who goes through if we beat PSV. So PSV are fighting for their lives in the competition, whereas we are already through. I have a sneaky suspicion that might edge it for them in terms of mindset. So for Arsenal it is about showing a professional face. How do you react to an opponent with everything on the line, when you don’t?
It is another great test for this young Arsenal team and it will be another different type of test from a mental perspective more than anything else. I’m really intrigued to see how we react to it.
I hope it is positive, because winning is habitual and we have been doing plenty of that this season. We don’t tend to draw many games under Arteta and it is always dangerous to try to play for a draw. But if we do end up getting it tonight then it’s job done in Europe and the focus can be on the Premier League from after today until the start of the World Cup. Hopefully that is enough of an incentive for these Arsenal players.
I’m off to San Francisco this afternoon, so will have to see if I can somehow get some kind of WIFI signal on the plane that enable me to watch the game. If not I’ll just have to find out when I touch down at around 1am tomorrow UK time.
Because of the time zone differences my usual ramblings will probably be a little sporadic in terms of when and how frequent I’m posting, but I’ll try to get some match review thoughts to you at some stage tomorrow.
Have a good one folks!