You know when the headline reads “Who’s not travelled for our game against Qarabag?” that we’re taking a strong squad. And the headline writer hadn’t yet drunk enough coffee. Unai Emery left Aubameyang (sick), Mkhitaryan (averse to being shot), and Aaron Ramsey (sick and tired of speculation).
The Carrier Bag FK coach, the wonderfully named Gurban Gurbanov – and that is the only wonderful thing about him – claimed Mkhitaryan was a coward because Armenian athletes compete in Azerbaijan all the time. He was, the coach reckoned, scared, claiming the Arsenal midfielder would find it a suffocating experience with the Carrier Bag crowd.
Presumably, the suffix ‘
The difference between Arsene and Unai Emery became clear when the Spaniard deflected questions about the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He went full-on Aretha, talking about respect – just a little bit, uh huh – R-E-S-P-E-C-T; for me, for you, for everybody.
Arsene, on the other hand, would produce a dissection of the problem with an analysis of
Emery promised not to take Carrier Bag lightly:
It’s very important for us in this competition. We are giving each competition our best preparation, our best performanceUnai Emery on the novel idea of preparing properly for a match.
The road is long, he observed, with many a winding turn making travel tough.
One Team Under A Groove
But the players are used to it:
We are one team with every player with this experience and also with the habit to play, to recover for another match and continue playing.Unai is the latest foreign coach to be less than chuffed with the English football calendar
English resolve and stiff upper lips will see us through, don’t you know old chap. Spirit of the Blitz, old bean. Yes, you’re right; it’s mental that we’re playing Sunday lunchtime instead of Monday night but they have to fit a meaningless international break into proceedings. Got to fleece the fans for another pound or thirty.
Despite a strong squad travelling, I doubt it will be the strongest line-up. Leno or Martinez? I’ll be surprised if the German doesn’t start. He needs to build understandings with the defence and another 90 minutes here will help that along nicely.
I understand the element of caution in the coach’s thinking. However, there’s a danger of over-thinking the situation, leading to paralysis in decision-making. ‘What if’ thoughts are the worst to cross a coach’s mind when it comes to team selection.
And a player’s as well. One wracked with indecision was Alex Iwobi but not any more. We know he’s in the starting XI tonight thanks to UEFA’s press conference rules. His answers while trying to say nothing were illuminating.
There was a definite feeling of rebirth, renewal or resurrection. Choose whichever one you like and Iwobi definitely feels it. The frighteningly obvious beginning of his main point begs questions about where he was ‘at’ mentally before:
This season I’ve been working a lot more on trying to improve my finishing and also assisting my team-mates which is what I believe someone in my position should do to get to the next level.Alex Iwobi on the new him
No Pressure Or Weight On My Shoulders
The question is what he was thinking before? I wonder if it’s an example of the failings of a laissez-faire style of coaching? Was he directionless last season? It might explain the plateau he reached, or be a significant factor?
You won’t find the truth, not even if the fabled book is written. Iwobi’s next answer was the most illuminating:
I’ve been focusing on that and also in training I feel like my team-mates have been giving me the freedom to express myself, as well as the new boss. There’s no pressure or weight on my shoulders. I’m just enjoying my football. The team is enjoying the new style and the new things we’ve brought into training so it’s not just me that’s enjoying playing with freedom, I’d like to say it’s not just me playing with freedom, it’s my team-mates as well.Iwobi feels good like you knew that he would
It’s positive all-round and suggests Emery has restored some feelgood factor. There was a definite sense that things were stale under Wenger but the enthusiasm of Iwobi’s answers suggest all the players are benefiting to some degree from a new coach.
We’ll see if tonight is any different from the hundreds of other similar ties when we were less than convincing.
I’d expect the line-up to be:
Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Smith-Rowe, Xhaka; Welbeck, Lacazette, Ozil
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.