I think tonight might be a little trickier than some people might think. Going away to Sevilla and getting the result was good, but for some it might add a false sense of security on the outcome of tonight’s match, particularly given our injury problems as it stands.
No Timber, no Partey, no Smith Rowe, no Odegaard, no Gabriel Jesus and by the sounds of it no Eddie Nketiah after there were noises emerging that he’d missed training and will face a late fitness test. That’s six first team players who probably would have all had some part to play in the games at the moment, all missing and all causing Mikel Arteta a bit of a headache. And it also raises some questions as to how best to set up tonight against a wily ol’ operator in the shape of Sevilla.
But I don’t think Mikel will want to make too many changes from the weekend, if I’m honest with you, because I think he’ll be looking at the way the team set up defensively and thinking that it is a good blueprint to adopt in a game against what I think might be another physical opponent in Sevilla. That’s why I’d keep Tomiyasu in at left back tonight and go with the same back five that started at St James’ Park. Sevilla are good in the air from set pieces (they scored against us with one in the last match) and that is an avenue they will probably want to exploit again tonight. But if you stick Tomi in at left back – a dual merchant – then you have four centre backs who should all be able to deal with the physical presence of Sevilla and also be able to handle the set pieces they throw at us. And yes, I realise that back line still conceded in Seville to a set piece, but I just think Tomiyasu would be a better option given the opponent tonight in comparison to Zinchenko. Perhaps you can argue that we want more technical security on the ball and that Zinchenko offers that, but if I’m splitting the minutes between the two players in the next two matches, it feels to me as though Burnley at home will be one I want to see Zinchenko in, ahead of Sevilla at home tonight. If we need it in the second half then by all means bring on the Ukrainian, but to kick off this match I’d have the Japanese international.
I’d also love to see Ramsdale come back in for Raya, but there’s no point discussing that in any detail because we all know it won’t happen.
In midfield it becomes a little more difficult to work out what to do. Rice is an obvious choice, but with Odegaard out, does Arteta go with Jorginho at the base and Vieira right eight? Or does he give that opportunity to Havertz, with the view that Trossard can play up top if Eddie isn’t fit? I too am stumped as to what to do here; Havertz was better at Newcastle as a right eight than he has been for most of the season, but when he has come on as a centre forward he has also looked better at times. Conversely, Trossard through the middle this season doesn’t feel like it’s worked as much as last season, when he came in at January and replaced Eddie centrally after his drop of form around February time. In addition, I’m not sure if Trossard and Martinelli combining has worked as much as we’d like it to, although we haven’t seen loads of Havertz and Martinelli either.
So you can see the conundrum that we’re face with here; we have a few options but none of them feel like they are going to set the world alight.
What we do all want to see, however, is both Saka and Martinelli getting back to their best and returning to the form of last season. Both were pretty quiet on Saturday at St James’ Park and both probably need a big game to step up in, so getting on the scoresheet or delivering end product of any kind tonight would be mighty useful.
As for Sevilla, they too have a few problems, with Sergio Ramos out injured, as well as their ‘keeper Nyland, which means they’ll be playing Dmitrovic in between the sticks. They drew at the weekend with a 4-3-3 formation away to Celta Vigo and had to rely on a late goal from En-Nesyri to rescue them from their fifth defeat in the Spanish League this season. They’ve also drawn their last three games in La Liga and that included a disappointing 2-2 draw away to Cadiz the weekend after we played them, so they won’t be coming in to this game full of confidence. But the Champions League could offer them some respite from their poor domestic form and so whilst we should still remain favourites given we’re at home and our form is better (Newcastle and West Ham aside), the fact we’re not at full strength is enough to have this Gooner slightly concerned as to how we are going to line up. This won’t be the same line up that disappointed at the London Stadium, but that midfield does have me a tiny bit concerned. The fact Rice will play is a big plus and in this type of game you’d hope Jorginho can get on the ball and control the tempo, but Rakitic is similar to Jorginho in that they want the game to flow through him and he’ll be their most progressive passer, so I wonder if the form of those two players could determine how the midfield battle is won. Having Rice in there certainly makes me feel a little more comfortable.
Sevilla will try to use the wings to get past us, which is why I’d want White and Tomiyasu in the team, but we have to make sure that we are getting at the likes of Jesus Navas on the right. Martinelli will have the legs on him so what I want to see is him being a willing runner at the Spanish right back. If we can get in behind him and Pedrosa (via Saka on our right), then we might get some joy.
Fingers crossed we can get the win tonight because if we do it places one foot in the next round (or potentially even qualified depending on the Lens-PSV game) and that will be handy in a few weeks time as Arteta tries to juggle an ailing squad right now.
Catch you all tomorrow for a debrief.