Attention turns to Paris and our quest to finish runners-up in the Champions League group stage. Coming top is so over-rated; who ever did well in this competition by winning their group. Mind you, if Arsène can find a place in the starting line-up for the new player, Luck, anything is possible.
Except winning the group. It’s been a long time since we enjoyed a trip to Paris. 2006; 1995; best to forget them, I find. Interestingly, both were losing European finals which hailed the end of an era of success. Bear with me whilst I root around in the cupboard to find my tin foil hat.
1994. What can you say about it? The beginning of David Ginola’s lifelong hatred of Arsenal. All the talk beforehand of what he was going to do to Lee Dixon and the Arsenal defence which largely failed to materialise. Even his goal was an ‘Arsenal’ goal; a near post header from a corner.
The major concern for tomorrow is Laurent Koscielny’s fitness. When Arsène holds his press conference later today, more will be known. We’ll just have to hope that holding raw steak to his eye – or a packet of frozen petit pois – has reduced the swelling. Don’t worry about how many fingers are being held up; if he can make out there’s a hand in front of him, that’s fit enough to start.
PSG are in the middle of a crisis. That’s their definition of it anyway, losing at Monaco, drawing at home to St Etienne; this from a club which has spent its way to dominating French football. You can’t help but wonder if Unai Emery was brought in with different priorities this season. Certainly, his track record in winning the Europa League with Sevilla suggests that the Qatari owners looked at that rather than the Andalusians La Liga record when appointing him.
Would that we were in good enough form to be confident of winning or at least not losing.
Koscielny has provided a steadying influence since his return from summer exertions. Rob Holding was more settled alongside him which was only to be expected. Mustafi could do worse than heed the lessons of ‘LoLo’s’ own move to the Emirates. For a couple of seasons we were waiting on the inevitable red card or own goal – sometimes both – to mar the early games before he settled into form.
To his credit, he has turned that around and become a pivotal member of the side. If Mustafi matches that, there’s a long Arsenal career ahead of him, particularly with age on his side.
Wenger was effusive in his praise for his compatriot:
“He has committed to the club for a long contract and he has always improved every year. Today he is an outstanding centre back.
“He is one of the most experienced players we have now. He is one of the longest serving defenders and I think he is one of our best players.
“When I think about the squad, when you choose a captain as well, you think one with a good chance to play in every single game and that’s not easy nowadays. It’s a bit easier for a defender than for a striker or a midfielder.
“He gave himself a great present, but as well he doesn’t score that when it is four-nil for you, he scores at one-nil down and that’s always a special quality.”
We can’t be too far away from hearing the line, “I didn’t buy Higuain because we have Koscielny who is capable of playing centre forward and I didn’t want to kill his career”…
There’s no doubt Saturday’s line-up cast more than half an eye on tomorrow night’s game. It’s the only rationale for Giroud and Alexis being substitutes on Saturday, Xhaka as well. Had it been the trip to Nottingham next rather than the French capital, there’s no doubt they would have all played against Southampton.
We’ve poured over the performance from the weekend and whilst the determination to seek a winner is welcome, we know that a more cohesive and incisive attacking dynamic is needed to take anything from tomorrow’s game. That’s not a criticism of any individual, simply an indication that we missed the passing range of Granit Xhaka, whose ability to mix things up with short and long balls negates the predictability of pass, pass, pass, with no end result.
The first midweek trip of the season is a sign football really is back. Can’t wait.