Bullishness from a football manager is the surest sign that the evening is about to hold horribly wrong. I was, very early on, tempted to switch channels and watch Dortmund v Legia and the purist in me thinks it was the better game to watch. But, oh god, Thursday Hotspur were so bad it was funny.
No Mauricio, you won’t win the Champions League but you’ve definitely got a Europa League squad.
That we couldn’t beat.
It was a point not lost on Arsène either. He pointed to the north London derby as the example of the team being “a bit stuttering”. It’s November, of course we are; we always do.
There is little shame or reason why the squad, no matter the season, habitually falters at this time of the year. Injuries could explain it or be a significant reason, especially in the past when the toll of the October and November international breaks is felt.
There’s a psychological element to it all as well. The players are obviously aware of what has gone before and on some level take that in, becoming inhibited.
If that cod psychology is true, then tonight is a huge test for the squad:
“We want to build that momentum up again. We need to show we can win against a big team, so it’s more important for us to do the job. It would send out a statement.”
True, to some extent but nobody will fear us until we win a knockout game against a big team. We’ve beaten Bayern and Barcelona at the Emirates, Milan as well but nobody thinks they will lose over two legs to us. That’s the hurdle we have to overcome.
And the British government is doing its part to help us. Serge Aurier was banned from entering the UK due to his conviction for elbowing a policeman earlier this year. PSG and UEFA were up in arms but can do nothing.
So where were the Home Office officials when Lionel Messi landed? “Tax evasion, sir? That’s no problem, we have quite a few of them in the Government. Don’t forget your attaché case full of used bank notes. Enjoy your visit.”
Aurier’s absence won’t harm Arsenal and years ago, it might have instilled a siege mentality but footballers are so cosseted that it doesn’t seem possible they are capable of that thinking, not at this level.
Tonight’s team will show a few changes to the supine XI which took the field at Old Trafford. Ospina will come in for Cech which is no surprise or reflection on the older goalkeeper; Arsène has his loyalty to his cup goalkeeper and won’t change unless the Colombian has a horror show.
The midfield is intriguing. Against the grain, I would go with Ramsey and Xhaka. Not many favour the Welshman but we need goalscoring support for the forwards this evening and he is the most capable of that from midfield. I suspect Arsène will go with Coquelin instead, scarred no doubt by the mauling we received for 75 minutes in Paris.
The lack of width on the left on Saturday concerned everyone and being a home game, I’d expect Alex Iwobi to return to the starting line-up with Theo Walcott on the right. It’s a tough call with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain providing a spark this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he started, I just don’t think he will.
That might change if Olivier Giroud plays. A man with a point to prove due to being dropped to the bench. A man in good goalscoring form. A man with a burning sense of injustice at being harshly sent off in Paris.
Which Olivier Giroud will turn up? The goal hungry striker or the petulant mess with a chip shop on both shoulders? The former is the one you need but the latter has a nasty habit of turning up when you don’t want him to.
But with Alexis still suffering from a hamstring injury, it seems inconceivable he will start. Arsène explained that the Chilean himself and medical staff passed him fit for Saturday but that he was still feeling some tightness hence the heavy strapping he wore. Surely that’s the warning sign he is in the ‘red zone’?
It is a case of whether you think the risk of him missing the next few weeks is a risk worth taking. It isn’t a tough group of games but those are the Ines you have to win if you want to challenge for the title and cups.
It leaves the line-up as:
Ospina; Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Montreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi; Giroud
Winning the group is important to the squad. In their minds it will be a big step forward not having achieved that ‘feat’ for five years. The way the other groups look like finishing, it will be a slightly better draw but there are still tough opponents likely to finish second including Atletico, Sevilla and Dortmund. Maybe Bayern instead of Atleti. No easy games unless it’s Besiktas…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.