In an ideal world, Arsène would be looking at tonight’s fixture, then his injury and finding a solution from the ‘B’ list of players. The XI would gambol onto the Emirates turf and try their best. The result wouldn’t matter, Arsenal would already be assured of qualification.
It isn’t an ideal world.
Arsène has seized the opportunity to deflect attention away from the opening game defeat in the group stage. It isn’t a story about poor team selection, treating the match as if it were little more than a League Cup tie. Failed drugs tests have deflected attention away and a moral crusade has begun.
I have no doubt that systematic doping of players happens at some clubs. When you see pharmacies which are better stocked than many hospitals, it’s inevitable that you come to the conclusion that somewhere it happens. It’s rife in other sports, so why should football be any different? We like to think it is, treasure a romantic notion of the Corinthian spirit being kept alive but corruption is already endemic; this is just another branch of the vine creeping through the game.
The squad are in this position because of poor performances against the teams they were supposed to swat away. Not quite with the rampant glee Bayern have displayed but certainly something resembling that. It hasn’t happened and in the midst of the usual autumnal injury crisis, Arsenal have to produce a winning performance.
Saturday’s injuries have put a different complexion on the evening. Francis Coquelin has been a lynch-pin of the side but is out until the new year. Wenger said yesterday that he will “do what’s needed in January even though in January it is not an ideal transfer market”
I won’t hold my breath on that one. It’s not just about the January window, the deal should be in place and ready to sign the second it opens. Damn you, ideal world.
In the meantime, tonight sees a straight choice between Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers to replace Coquelin. Much depends on the importance Arsène places on this and Saturday’s trip to Carrow Road. Can he afford to lose another defensive midfielder and be forced to use an inexperienced player in the Premier League? That will dictate whether Flamini plays or not and judging by the comments at his press conference yesterday, Chambers will most likely start.
It wasn’t entirely successful the last time he did so in that position but needs must. Talk of Ramsey playing tonight seems fanciful to me. He returned to full training yesterday and anything more than twenty minutes this evening seems foolhardy, almost inviting more problems with his unfortunate injury record.
Chambers has, according to his manager, been “educated as a central midfielder”. It’s a steep learning curve in the modern game and the youngster has seen his fair share of criticism over his short Arsenal career. There is less tolerance of mistakes, mainly as a result of the transfer fee paid for him. Spend that kind of money on a player and they are expected to be close to the real deal.
Unfortunately, homegrown rules mean that talented English youngsters bring inflated costs which bear little semblance to abilities. It’s safe to say, a few years ago he would probably have cost Arsenal half as much and the pressure would be a little less on him. Not by much but a little.
I suspect he will be included from the start to save Flamini for the weekend, which means the line-up would be:
Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal; Chambers, Cazorla; Campbell, Özil, Sanchez; Giroud
Debuchy and Gibbs could play, I suppose, but that would mean Koscielny starting unless Wenger intends to make three changes to the back four, which seems a lot for a match of this importance. There’s no onus on Dinamo to attack tonight, a point suits them as much as Olympiakos. A draw takes it down to the last game and the Croats will hope Arsenal’s abysmal record away to the Greeks continues.
Robert Pires believes that Arsenal play better in the big matches because they are afforded more space by their opposition. They have to beware of the counter-attack, of course, but the reality is that even with injuries, Wenger can still put out a strong XI. Were everyone fully fit, only Chambers and Campbell couldn’t put forward a decent case for inclusion in a starting line-up so there really is no excuse for not winning tonight.
But I thought the same against Olympiakos when they visited the Emirates and that didn’t turn out so well. You get the feeling that tonight will depend more on the players attitude than their ability. With one win in five, confidence isn’t going to be high and having seen the two goals conceded at The Hawthorns, neither is concentration.
In many ways though, this is the ideal game to regain confidence. An early goal would go a long way toward that but with it brings the danger of the complacency that Wenger believed contributed to Arsenal’s downfall at the weekend. Whilst it would be great to see them blitz Dinamo, getting three points is the most important aspect of the evening.
And gaining three points is something they are more than capable of doing.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.