The headline writers are desperate for a resounding win. How many puns on “Eau dear Cologne” will there be after tonight’s UEFA Cup football Emirates debut this evening with the visit of 1FC Köln. If Joachim Löw were their head coach, would it be “Odour Cologne”?
Arsène is set to ring the changes with seven changes to the matchday squad. Players who featured twice for their countries during the international break are rested while David Ospina returns between the sticks. With that volume of squad rotation, it’s little surprise he’s going to field an experience backline. Holding, Mertesacker and Mustafi will form the central trio, ably supported on the flanks by Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac.
From the midfield onwards, it’s going to be a fresh new look. Or a tired hotch-potch of changes resulted in a weakened side, depending on your viewpoint or the result. One familiar face will be Alexis Sanchez and a cry of “Shenanigans!” erupted with the prospect of the Chilean’s inclusion tonight.
It could simply be that Wenger wants him sharp and ready on Sunday where the Frenchman can cry havoc and unleash the dogs of Alexis. But it wouldn’t be Arsenal if there weren’t some conspiracy theory flying around. With Danny Welbeck rested, Sanchez is being punished for not signing a new deal; we face Chelsea without him. That’s the theory and I’m not arguing with it right now but I don’t think that’s the case.
The remainder of the side is where Wenger’s biggest choices come. Olivier Giroud will lead the attack but the question is whether Theo Walcott or Alex Iwobi will start. I say that’s the question because I’m assuming Jack Wilshere will partner Elneny in the centre of midfield. To assume will make an ass out of u and me; Iwobi it is at kick-off which creates problems in its’ own right.
Dem Bones, Dem Bones…
We’re down to the bare bones of experienced players so it won’t be a surprise if Elneny’s partner is the position where youth comes into the equation. Ashley Maitland-Niles seems the likeliest to start in these circumstances. It’s surely too much of a risk for Arsène to include Wilshere from the outset? He hasn’t started a game since April and under normal circumstances would expect a substitute appearance or two before making the first XI.
Wilshere’s fitness and future formed a central theme in yesterday’s press conference. Some might argue for Alex Iwobi’s inclusion but Maitland-Niles – or maybe Jeff – strike me as more likely starters / replacements. Wenger told the press that he and Jack regularly talk about his evolution. So far, Arsène has explained how we move from single cell organism to land-mammal. Wilshere is really struggling with the notion that the nearest living descendant of T-Rex is not Rolan Bolan but the humble chicken.
While Wenger’s faith in the midfielder seems to be resurrecting itself, Roy Hodgson’s appointment gave birth to the ‘Jack to the Palace’ rumours. It’s a testing time for the manager with the reality of three creative players leaving next summer. It will certainly test the ‘transfer warchest’, stretching it to its’ limits.
He hasn’t given up hope of retaining Mesut Özil. Talks, he declared, had “slowed down” since the end of last month but certainly hadn’t broken down. Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto…has anyone called the whole thing off? The vultures are circling with Mourinho said to be willing to offer the German a deal next summer. That’s if Bayern haven’t got there before him.
Dem Dry Bones
Which leaves the starting line-up as:
Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Mustafi; Bellerin, Elneny, Maitland-Niles/Wilshere, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Alexis; Giroud
The observant will note that there’s no room for Theo and I think this is going to be a recurring theme for Walcott. Injuries, so often cast as the devils in his career, may turn out to be his angels. Normally, I’d expect him to start with Alexis or Welbeck on the bench in the cup games but with Alexis needing match sharpness, tonight the former England man misses out. Which isn’t what Walcott wants to hear. Or read.
However, I’d expect his introduction on or around 65 minutes when Wenger decides Alexis has done enough. That’s if he’s planning on starting him on Sunday. If Sanchez stays on the pitch longer tonight, Welbeck will be in the XI on Sunday, which will please him. And Chelsea.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t win comfortably tonight; we’re the thoroughbred while the Germans are the nag who are a rank outsider in the Geelong Cup Betting.
Köln are bottom of the Bundesliga with three defeats in their opening three games. Even with the number of changes to the XI, we’re looking at a set of internationals which ought to be able to see off this challenge. There’s the supporters over-confidence for you.
That’s it for today. While you wait for kick-off, pop over to Dad’s Jukebox where 2006 and a lament for Top of the Pops awaits for your audial pleasure.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.