An early chance to erase the memories of Saturday arrives as Champions League football returns to The Emirates. A win tonight would go a long way to bring some semblance of realism back to the world of Arsenal as we vacillate between despair and desire, both overwhelming and extreme reactions. Arsène has demanded a strong reaction to the desperate performance at Carrow Road, with strong opposition that is all the more important. Whilst Schalke have not set the group alight in this competition, domestically their form has been good with a solitary defeat at home to Bayern Munich the only real setback although an opening day draw with Hannover wasn’t the best result. They will be in good heart given their five game unbeaten run including Saturday’s derby win at Dortmund. Puncturing that run is the outcome Arsenal need.
With only Koscielny returning from injury, the personnel from Saturday will be largely unchanged. Jack Wilshere’s ninety minutes in the Under-21s match at Everton preclude his inclusion tonight and to be honest, I doubt it was ever the manager’s intention to include him. It seems Jack really was just along for the 14 minute plane ride at the weekend; who knows perhaps the pilot let him into the cockpit as a special treat.
The injury situation at Arsenal is quite astonishing, even by our high standards. Seven of the sixteen listed midfielders for the Champions League are unavailable for selection. Of the nine remaining, there is a huge gap in the experience levels once you get beyond the starting trio this evening, to the extent that if Arteta or Ramsey are forced to leave the field, the likelihood is that either Djourou or Vermaelen will fill their role. It puts some perspective on the pressures of the squad system and where we are right now.
Arsène serves the final match of his suspension and a win will prevent another one starting immediately afterwards. I understand that Wenger gets frustrated but having been in his job for sixteen years and witnessed how prissy Uefa officials have become, it is surprising that he is still caught out. The new direct attitude on display this season does not bode well. Such chagrin is shared by supporters, something which is not lost on the manager,
I understand every frustration. I share that concern. I would love everybody to be happy, but overall the club is in a strong position. The fans have a good team, they have fantastic players and they have a strong financial situation. People feel as well that the players have a good attitude. It’s down to us now to make the maximum of this during the season, but there is no reason really to be doom and gloom. We have a good team and a strong financial situation. Combining both is not easy.
It might not be but given the respective salaries earned by players and manager, it is not unreasonable for us to expect maximum effort to be put in during every 90 minutes of a season, irrespective of the competition. This is about personal and professional pride, both of which have surely been stung as the harsh realities of a ten point gap to the top of the Premier League sets in. Winning is a good habit to have, no matter what the competition, they all count.
For this evening, reprieves all round I think will be the order of the day. Injuries have saved some from the axe and I can only see one, maybe two changes being made. For this match, I expect Gervinho to be the forward to make way. The Ivorian has been erratic in recent matches and had Walcott been fit – even Oxlade-Chamberlain – he would probably be on the bench. In his place, I would move Cazorla to the right and bring Arshavin into the creative role. It is a total shake-up and offers the Russian his preferred role. In midfield, Coquelin for Ramsey would be the change to offer a bit more defensive nature to the triumverate, allowing the two creatives to move forward with no inhibitions.
The line-up would be:
Mannone; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Coquelin, Arshavin, Arteta; Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski
The only saving grace for Gervinho might be the knock Podolski was carrying. If that is not healed, Arshavin to the left, Cazorla in his favoured role and Gervinho on the right. It was a stagnant attack on Saturday but there is more life than displayed in the mustard seeds.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.