Morning all, matchday arrives and by my reckoning, the third test of Arsenal’s season. Arguably the only match that wasn’t came against Crystal Palace although I am sure that given last season’s opener against Villa, it probably was. I should imagine I even referred to it as such. Tonight is different, there is much more than the order of the fixture list at stake.
I am sure that Arsène genuinely puts the sporting reasons he spoke of yesterday, first. Despite the claims to the contrary, he is a football manager first and not an economist. That doesn’t mean he is unaware of the financial implications, something he acknowledged yesterday.
Even so, the Champions League trough has become so deep that the financial implications for any club not eating with Europe’s élite are grave, no matter how deep pockets are. The cushion of landing in the Europa League barely softens the blow. And we won’t even contemplate Thursday Night Football even if an abridged version of it brought about one of Arsène’s two relatively successful European campaigns during his reign at the club.
Perhaps it is the case that his attention is drawn to the second pot of the Champions League; the Europa League equivalent is somewhat less enticing with no disrespect intended to Wolfsburg, Fiorentina and Lille. It may have been a while since we crossed swords with the latter duo but at the moment, Dortmund, Juventus, PSG whet the appetites more. Is it scant consolation that if it goes wrong tonight, Arsenal will be the highest seeded team in the Europa League and favourites to win it? Is it any consolation.
It is strange that such thoughts come to the fore, particularly in game I expect Arsenal to win relatively comfortably. Not necessarily in the scoreline, just overall. Besiktas arrive at The Emirates knowing that a scoring draw of any sort is enough for them to progress. Such a requirement means that Slaven Bilic’s men can be set to defend deeply to frustrate Arsenal. In itself that brings problems if they concede the first goal with spaces left for the forwards and midfield to exploit with quick passing and pace.
Of course, it presumes there are goals to be had. Olivier Giroud’s injury offers the uncomfortable likelihood that none of Arsenal’s goalscorers this season will be on the pitch at kick-off, with only Santi Cazorla on the bench. It means others have to step up to the plate, something which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted yesterday.
Looking at Arsenal’s goal tally last season, 99 across all competitions is not a bad return but only three players, including Giroud, reached double figures. Perhaps a more prolific striker in those circumstances is better suited to Arsenal’s style that one whose game is more rounded? Actually, I prefer a mix of the two; Oxlade-Chamberlain’s admission that more goals are needed from the team with the organic improvement expected of Giroud or now, his enforced cover.
The widely held presumption is that Giroud’s absence will mean a resumption of Alexis Sanchez in the central striker role. Criticised for the first half failure but that should have been cumulative and not falling just on his shoulders. Others failed to occupy space left by his runs and offer full support; he needed to be more penetrative which suggests it is a longer-term project than Arsène believes. I don’t think there will be a repeat of that experiment tonight, especially with Yaya Sanogo lolloping along in training yesterday and the almost daily reiteration of how important he is as a player.
Even Oxlade-Chamberlain got in on the act,
I think Yaya is a very good player. He’s a young lad like myself and he’s got [progression to make] like I do.
He went on to lavish more praise and encouragement on Sanogo, which leads me even more to believe the French youngster is going to start, as will young Alex. Divination by press conference seems more accurate than using the colour of training bibs.
Arsenal need to invest in a striker in Giroud’s absence, a spell on the sidelines that has suffered hyper-inflation from the initial prognosis of a few weeks, settling at five months last night; today’s announcement will indicate the manager’s needs. For some time there have been calls for another striker to offer competition for Giroud, as well as cover. Continually that argument was twisted toward a failure of belief in Giroud and subsequent chastisement; the folly of that is now exposed.
For tonight, we are left with a young player learning his trade not having scored in fifteen games, one ‘bedding into’ the English game and one Wenger doesn’t trust. Theo Walcott returns next month but that’s three weeks away and despite that, it isn’t encouraging for the long-term. Arsène was quick to use the phrase “panic buy” but the class of player Arsenal ought to be looking at renders those words meaningless.
But there is enough firepower to win tonight, even if that is complicated by Aaron Ramsey’s enforced absence.
Lukas Podolski seems the most likely alternative to Sanogo to start tonight and in light of Giroud’s problems, his future was firmly pushed to the background, initially by his agent and then Wenger. Arsène pointed out that the German would remain with Arsenal this summer but as was pointed out yesterday, autumn begins on Monday. Ah, how easily the nuances and subtleties of Arsène’s words lend themselves to such levity
Iit means that whilst Arsène’s valuation of players carries considerable weight, the club will probably have to exceed them to give him the best options available. Reports this morning centre suggest Loic Remy, whose contract reportedly carries an £8.5m release clause. Or is that a clause which allows QPR to inflate the fee, assuming that the striker passes this medical. I guess Rangers will be hoping the bid comes in at 10.30pm on Monday night by which time it is too late for one to take place.
In all of this, Joel Campbell is flying under the radar and I do expect him to play a part this evening from the bench, to give an injection of pace to the attack later in the game. Likewise Podolski and given his goalscoring return there is a case for him starting with Sanchez on the right. I would not though, preferring to allow Sanchez to interchange with Özil on left / centre whilst retaining Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s directness on the right. The problem is that all of these options leave Nacho Monreal exposed at full back with none of those likely to start particularly strong at defensive cover. It is something Arsenal will have to be wary of and heed the warnings Everton delivered.
My starting line-up would be:
It’s good enough to win tonight on paper at least but the match is to be played on the green carpet of The Emirates. Even on that, I expect Arsenal to be too good.
And talking of paper,
From The Vaults
Arsenal have never previously entertained Besiktas in a home match so here’s a report of the 1979 clash against Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce en route to the Cup Winners Cup final of 1980. A similar level of patience may be required tonight.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.