We’ve waited for this match day for a long time, haven’t we, eh?
Arsenal back in the Champions League. It’s a place that for so many years we took for granted and I seem to recall all those years ago (probably around this time seven years ago) thinking (and maybe writing but I can’t be arsed to go over my archives and find out):
“We’ll at least get top four. It’s what we do”
That thinking was the season that we finished out on top four and for the first time Arsene’s ability to get us over that line every season had come to an end. And the decline in the team continued and although we have won a couple of FA Cups during that time as well, so it hasn’t exactly been all doom and gloom, the period of my life in which I too for granted the Champions League as a competition we had a divine right to be in, is well and truly over.
Tonight I am heading up to The Emirates and The Management is joining me as well. The fact that she’s game for a midweek match – not usually her jam – shows that clearly there’s plenty of anticipation for tonight’s match up against PSV Eindhoven. It doesn’t even matter that last season this was a Europa League game, when that music hits and the light show starts, it will all feel very different for sure.
Whether the team line up is significantly different remains to be seen. I do think Arteta will rotate some, but not all, of the team today. I am expecting to see Saka and Trossard start and I’m sure Gabriel, Saliba and White will all be given the nod. The absence of Partey surely means that Rice gets his first taste of Champions League football and you’d think our captain Odegaard will get a shout, but other than that, I don’t really know what to tell you.
Ramsdale could come in for Raya. Tomiyasu could start ahead of Zinchenko. We could and probably will give Trossard the nod on the left in the absence of Martinelli, but whose to say that Arteta won’t opt for the more explosive pace of Nelson instead? You can’t rule it out. I am convince there will be some rotation though; Arteta spoke at the weekend about keeping everyone involved and engaged with the team and you can’t do that if you just pick the same XI each week. So with that in mind my gut feel is:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tomiyasu
Odegaard – Havertz
Saka – Jesus – Trossard
He could of course go for Tomiyasu on the right in a more natural position, then have Zinchenko on the left, but given he’s been managing Zinny’s minutes so far this season having come back from injury, I just have a feeling that he’d rather give Tomiyasu the left back role than do the full 90 for Zinchenko then have him ready for the North London Derby on Sunday. I also think Havertz will come in because I don’t think Arteta will be looking at not giving his new signing a chance to kick off his Arsenal career properly in a midweek game. New competition, under the lights, perhaps it’s an opportunity for Havertz to feel differently and impact the game differently than he has.
And I’m totally ok with that. He’s ours now, he’s one of us, he needs our support and I hope if he starts tonight then we see the best bits of Havertz, not the bits that have caused a few questions amongst the fanbase. Come on Kai, now is your time to shine.
I mentioned that I think it will be Trossard, which is because of his goal at the weekend more than anything else. He’s tended to be that first attacking sub that Arteta has used and I think this affords the manager the opportunity to say to the player “this is why we signed you, this is why you wanted to come, so y9ou can play in the Champions league. So here you go” and I think that’s fair enough. I didn’t think he was that great against Everton at the weekend other than a superbly taken goal, but we’ve seen from the back end of last season that he’s a guy who can make a tangible impact on our team so I’m hoping he can show that tonight.
The other big question is in attack. Eddie started against Everton but barely got a sniff in that game. If he starts tonight I think it will be with a view of starting Gabriel Jesus on Sunday, because I feel like we need the Brazilian fully fit and perhaps he’s only got 60 to 70 minutes in his tank. But he could just as easily start Gabriel Jesus and then bring him off in the second half if he needs to save the legs in his minutes for the weekend, so either way I think we’re good. That’s because Eddie should get more opportunities against PSV than he did against Everton. PSV won’t – I don’t think – come to our gaff and drop a stinky low block negative football; they’ll want to play a possession-based game and a quick check on WhoScored tells me that they play ball-dominant football, they want to engage in short passing and often they are depending their time in the opponents half. You’d expect that given the league they are in and how they are one of the bigger clubs in that league and will have more of the ball, but sometimes styles of play can change in games, although I don’t think they will low block us tonight. If you aren’t set up in your style to play like that, it is a little more difficult to execute properly; you just don’t have the experience of it and we are the same. We couldn’t just turn on a low block style of play and have it work like some kind of tactical master stroke, I don’t think, so hopefully PSV are the same tonight.
Their threat will come in Luuk de Jong but at 33 you wouldn’t expect him to be a strong runner in behind. I think that Noa Lang is a tricky player and he’s got three goals this season from the wide positions, so whoever is detailed to deal with him will have to be on their toes as he’s a tricky wide forward who likes a dribble. Winning those one-on-one duels might be key.
But for us it is about how we can impose our style and approach on the game. We need to continue to dominate the ball as we have done all season and we need to keep on controlling the ball. That kind of approach in which we’ve been dominant all season has led to some frustration against low block teams, but I can’t see that happening tonight and so my hope is that we see a more free-flowing Arsenal tonight.
Right, I’ve prattled on long enough. I’ll leave you to have a good day and hopefully we’re talking about our first three points in the Champions league tomorrow morning.
Have a good one and I’ll catch you tomorrow.