Football to the top of the agenda tonight with Red Star pitching up at the Emirates in the Europa League. A re-run of the match in Belgrade? I’m expecting a tight affair with not much adventure from the visitors. Their big match is in Barysaw later this month when they probably need to win to qualify.
Arsenal on the other hand win the group with victory tonight and BATE not winning in Cologne. Too good for the Europa League or a rethink about when the ‘big clubs’ enter the competition? I wonder if rejigging the format so Arsenal and their ilk come in at the Round of 32 might be better for the prestige.
Then again, it is a remarkably Arsenal view of the competition to sneer at winning it. The brainwashing is complete when I read that people view qualifying for a competition better than lifting a trophy in another. Which is peculiar when you think about it, particularly when the outcome is the same: a place in the Champions League.
Arsène’s policy of fielding a much-changed line-up received support from his opposite number. Vladan Milojevic envies Wenger’s choices and is in some sense, probably grateful it isn’t the first XI he’s facing. The changing face of the world and football means his club is a shadow of its’ former self.
He welcomed the chance of this game – “my players need these kind of matches” – for his squad’s learning curve. The same is true of Arsenal’s youngsters, he said, which is true, but for the experienced players – Giroud and Walcott are the prime examples – it isn’t necessarily the best option.
Knowing you are part of the ‘B’ squad with their international ambitions, can be damaging. Would Giroud sign for Everton knowing how this season would pan out in London?
United We Stand
Jack Wilshere is the man who has benefited the most, it seems. Arsène says no decision will be taken on renewing his contract until next month, which is a brave choice. Or foolhardy; another talented midfielder able to walk away on a free transfer next year? One is an accident, two is careless, three is an absolute disgrace.
The nightmare scenario for Wenger is that Jack says “Thanks, but no thanks”, followed by Ramsey refusing to sign a new deal. Replacing that pair with Özil and Sanchez? Arsenal don’t have the cash to replace that quartet, so they keep telling us. It genuinely doesn’t bear thinking about with the other issues in the squad.
Fortunately we don’t have to. The match is a very welcome distraction which may be the wrong way round at looking at things. Arsène’s press conference turned out to be a halloween hangover with the threat that David Ospina would be fit for Sunday. A ghoulish thought if ever there was one. That said after last weekend…
We’re looking at a makeshift back three – Elneny, Holding and Debuchy – with young wing-backs – Nelson and Maitland-Niles – forming a shaky defence. So, Rob, how does it feel to be the lynchpin? Elneny at the back tonight doesn’t fill me with the same dread it would in a Premier League match. I don’t expect Red Star to attack as wantonly as we see each week.
Maybe they will but doing so leaves them prey to the counter-attack. Walcott, Wilshere, and Giroud – with Willock in support – are capable of exploiting that. Tonight will be a good learning curve for the youngsters with much patience needed against an obdurate defence. And to see if the lessons of Köln have been learned. Eddie from the bench again? You wouldn’t rule it out.
Divided We’re Lumbered
Aware perhaps of the gathering storm of fatalism over the trip to City this weekend, Arsène sought to accentuate the positive. This is the most united, focused squad he’s ever known. I’m pretty sure he said that a couple of years back when it looked like not even the superhuman powers of Mathieu Flamini could get us into the Champions League.
I don’t know, maybe he genuinely feels that this is a remarkable group of players but it’s hard to believe they are as zeroed in on the task ahead as say, the Invincibles were. Maybe he’s trying to convince himself that the risk of rotating the side on what seems like a weekly basis, isn’t high.
“I am really honest when I say that. You cannot say that any player, in any competition, has gone a little bit easy. the focus of the team has always been exceptional.
“The key to that is the fact that there is a good understanding in the squad.
“They all know each other well and play together for quite a while. They have had positive and negative experiences and they always responded well and I think there is respect within the squad that is an important ingredient.”
There have certainly been a few negatives this season. As the tournament progresses, changes must be made depending on the opposition. Some youngsters will retain their place in the knockout phase, but you’re eight games from a realistic chance of winning the trophy. Do you stick or twist a few more experienced heads into the XI?
Tonight is all about creating that problem for the manager. The line-up for kick-off:
Cech; Debuchy, Elneny, Holding; Nelson, Coquelin, Willock, Maitland-Niles; Walcott, Giroud, Wilshere
Good enough to win? It did in Belgrade, thanks to Giroud’s exquisite finish. Not a great goalscorer but a scorer of great goals, I believe the saying goes.
Finally Dad’s Jukebox returns later today with another Jukebox Classic, which is some kinda wonderful, I have to admit.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.