Yesterday’s UEFA Europa League draw threw a spanner in the works for the game against Qarabag. The Azerbijian – Armenia state of war means Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t receive a visa. He did previously with Dortmund but didn’t travel on security grounds.
Baku is hosting the final as well, and you can bet he’s sure to get one if we get that far. Big if, as well.
Unai Emery hopes it doesn’t come to that, he wants Henners to be with team. Unai thinks everybody should be with the team. Which might well be the case for the Ukraine trip which is apparently close to being in the arse-end of nowhere.
UEFA could intervene and force Qarabag to play at a neutral venue but they studiously avoid these situations by rigging the draws so teams from warring nations never meet. Football authorities rigging a draw? Pffft…
Anyway, it’s a storm in a teacup to be honest. It’s a group we ought to win with all bar the final match followed by games in London. The fixture list doesn’t come much kinder than this.
Which is the same for the Premier League at the moment. We’re in the run of games we expect to take close to maximum points. Great expectations but not necessarily the reality. Cardiff grabbed their first goal of the season in midweek and still lost. We’ll offer them a chance or ten, we do to every other team.
The talking point is whether to let Aaron Ramsey practice his low-key celebrations or include Mesut Özil? I do think we’re in an either or situation. At some point, Lucas Torreira will come into the starting line-up at some point – probably tomorrow, to be honest – with Xhaka or Guendouzi partnering.
HEADING for the exit if I cock this up
Which seems to be two into one don’t fit. And they don’t; Ramsey or Özil, depending on the opposition. There’s some sense in not building a team around one player but with that policy comes questions over pay. It’s a lot of money for a squad player, in both instances.
Both can play deeper roles. With a defined defensive midfielder alongside him, maybe Ramsey’s contribution will return to the levels which raised expectations. Wales get the best out of him by playing a style which suit him. For Arsenal, he must adapt, as all players should.
And Emery expects players to adapt:
“I like the possibility to have the player play different positions on the pitch. It depends each match and is the same for other players too.
“For that, Mesut has played with me on the right wing and also as No 10 and we are going to continue to do that.”
Ramsey can do the same as well so Emery has options. It’s a different kind of ‘No. 10’ thinking, with the Welshman more a Platt/Robson style midfielder with late runs to the box.
It was part of a wider discussion on how the team is adapting to his philosophy. He seems happy enough.
“Our demands are very high, very great, but I want to ask every player every day to give us more.
“Not just Mesut, the team, the squad. We need to push, we need to have ambition, we need to have desire to improve every day. This is my message for the team, for the squad and for every player.”
Slowly is the word I’d use to describe the work. Facing City and Chelsea was good in the sense it gave Emery a benchmark; this is how low we were, look where we are now.
He needs the team to get back to being flat-track bullies. We used to be good at that park, as all the big clubs are; beating smaller teams home and away was par for the course. It went wrong occasionally, of course it did but more often than not, we got it right.
People moaned about not being able to beat the big teams. Quite right if you want to be title challengers, you’ve got to be good at those games as well. However, if you aren’t getting the basics right, then beating the big clubs is just a good confidence boost for the players and bragging for ourselves.
Back to basics, aside from being a fine Billy Bragg compilation, is what we need to do. This is the time to do it.