It’s almost like Roy Walker gave the press conference yesterday. “Say what you see,” and Arsène got it right first time with his answer of “an experienced team”.
Of course, we fielded “an experienced team” at Anfield but that didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as the “experienced team” which slam-dunked Tottenham last weekend.
This is the Europa League and tonight’s experienced team is charged with one task: securing top place in the group. A point is good enough to do that in Cologne with the hosts locked in rotten form. Rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga, their only win in this season’s Europa League came against BATE in the last match.
Finishing first gives us favoured seeded status although currently, the four teams we could face from the Champions League groups are Atletico Madrid, Celtic, Dortmund, or, Napoli. I’m just putting that out there because you know we’re going to win the Europa League the hard way.
So to the Arsenal side this evening. Most of the walking wounded are now just walking; David Ospina and Calum Chambers returned to training in good time for the match, Danny Welbeck’s there as well. Not Theo though; his mum wrote a note and he’s not well enough to play.
It leaves the starting XI as:
Ospina; Chambers, Mertesacker, Holding; Debuchy, Coquelin, Elneny, Maitland-Niles; Wilshere, Giroud, Welbeck
Not much room at the inn for the likes of Nelson and Nketiah, both of whom I’d expect to see in the latter stages of tonight’s game if we’ve built up a comfortable lead.
Some might say that this is the perfect opportunity for them to gain experience. It’s a fair point but there’s a job to be done tonight; achieve that aim and the kids can play against BATE at the Emirates.
Which is nice; all of it. The win over Tottenham boosted the mood around the club with the hope that it carries over to this evening.
Co-mingling the cup and league XI’s helps to build that bond because if we draw either of the four teams I mentioned above, you can guarantee that most of the cup team will fall by the wayside for those two legs. Which is where the manager’s quandary that we talked about yesterday falls in; he can’t put eggs in one basket by throwing the other basket away.
As nice as the FA Cup wins have been – and they have been a bright ray of sunshine in otherwise stormy weather – it is very much third priority behind finishing in the top four and winning the Europa League; both of them are joint first with neither more important than the other in the club’s desire to return to the Champions League.
Anyway, that’s all up in the ether; tonight is about ninety minutes on the pitch. You’d be hard-pressed to think of a duller ninety minutes than those served up against Red Star in the last match. Tonight will hopefully be better than that. The first meeting between the two sides was entertaining enough, even if Comedy Dave’s initial contribution was something we need to ‘forget’.
September seems a long time ago; the Arsenal rollercoaster trundled up and down the tracks of the season since then. One man hopping on again is Danny Welbeck.
Arsène’s convinced ‘dat man’ is heading to Russia next summer with England; I doubt Welbz is looking beyond the end of next week as far as his footballing career is concerned. The disruption caused by a litany of injuries must bring a certain short-termism to the fore of the mind.
Everyone’s a Smart Arse.
Wenger compared him to Emmanuel Petit but there is a genuine sense that Welbeck is more Walcott. Theo is toast as far as England are concerned; he’s got to leave Arsenal to resume his place in the England team. Welbeck is, on paper at least, the main beneficiary of Alexis leaving. It’s why the stories in the gossip columns focus more on Goretzka or Lemar being a ‘Özil replacement’ than anything else.
The question is whether Danny’s Dancing Feet can produce the form in front of goal. Three goals in six games puts him on course to not just beat his best season for the club but to take his record into the alley and give it a good kicking. It doesn’t fill me with a great hope that he is the answer to the Alexis problem.
That said, his contribution with Lacazette in the middle will be interesting, if the pair ever play together. The French international opens more space up for players, dragging his defenders around the last third. Maybe Welbz can benefit from that. He certainly needs to get more confidence in front of goal and the Europa League provides that opportunity. A hatful tonight, a sense of making up for lost time; positives and inspiring for the player.
This evening is the match where I think he will make the difference for Arsenal. Attention focuses on Olivier Giroud finishing but Welbeck is the one who needs to step out of the shadows.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.