Sporting Preview: Better Late Than Never

A preview which is so late it almost qualifies as a review, especially being the early kick-off. Sporting Clube de Portugal, a reminder of European glory for the older generation, at the Estádio José Alvalade, represents the toughest offering of this group stage and tougher when you travel with no left-backs.

Divination by press conference tells us Granit Xhaka starts, but surely in the middle – probably with Guendouzi – with Lichtsteiner at left-back and Carl Jenkinson on the right.

That’s not a youth player, by the way, it’s the right-back whose departure from the club is repeatedly foiled by injury. Cruel jibes about ability foiling his first-team ambitions are best left to others. Just think though, when the grandchildren are bouncing on his knee, he’ll tell them he was an Arsenal player with their exclamations of “Cor, blimey, grandpa! The same Arsenal what’s won the title 20 years running?!”

That’s before everyone climbs a chimney and dances on the roof. In this version, Mary Poppins isn’t a nanny and flying off on an umbrella is one helluva trip, man. Probably a good time to get back on track.

Anyway, Monreal and Kolasinac are suffering hamstring-twang but Petr Cech is back in training. So too Sokratis who may feature tonight in a back-three although Unai Emery seemed to ‘pooh-pooh’ the idea. He told his pre-match presser that it “is not the best for us because our composition with the players tomorrow”.

So there you have it; Mustafi and Holding or Sokratis and Holding. I’d probably feel more confident in the latter pairing with Mustafi pulling shapes in the dressing room.

Personal preference, etc.

Personal Preference

Emery remains calm. “I think we are going to continue tactically how usually we are doing,” he said before offering a hint that he isn’t one-dimensional and beholden to one tactical scheme. “But for the next matches, it could be a possibility to [play three at the back].”

The key is finishing top of the group and at least a point here goes a long way to ensuring that happens. Unai holds an affinity for the competition, knowing the rewards it can bring.

I think this competition for every team is very important because first it is a title to play for and for other teams when you win this competition you go to the Champions League.

Unai Emery on the Europa League

In short, you’ve got to be in it, to win it. And at the end of the rainbow sits the pot of gold the money men adore, the Champions League. It’s so much of a cash cow that FIFA tried to hijack it and call it the Club World Cup (Redux).

No wonder that UEFA are fighting the idea. The fastest way to get a breakaway European Super League run by the clubs is to get FIFA involved. ‘Honest’ Gianni Infantino wouldn’t be upset by that; his power-grab renders all confederations impotent. At which point, he’ll find a padawan to continue FIFA’s reign of footballing terror.

Anyway, that’s a longer game than tonight’s 90 minutes for which I’d expect the 90 minutes to be something like:

Leno; Jenkinson, Holding, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner; Xhaka, Guendouzi; Ramsey, Smith Rowe, Welbeck; Aubameyang

Whatever the XI is, we’re good enough to win or not to lose, at the very least. I fancy our chances of three points which will more or less seal our passage to the knockout phase.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

47 thoughts on “Sporting Preview: Better Late Than Never

  1. Mornin/afternoon all – thanks for the post YW. Planning on ditching work early today to hopefully grab a cold one and watch some of the match ‘en vivo’. Lets get at em, aint going to be a walk in the park that’s for sure.

  2. Yogi, to be fair to both sides of the Jenks thing….he did tell Palace to do one becausr he they thought Schlupp should be on a bit higher wages.

  3. Ok, i’ll go ahead and start today’s chatter on Ozil, wengerball, defense and the sorts. Ozil was definitely a maestro and i think he carried us to a (relatively) comfortable W. I need to see those dominating team performances (and individual performances) against the top sides before i’m ready to commit us to making the top 4.

    Unai is making some impact though and i think we can all agree we see _something_ different in our play. The passing and possession is very familiar but we are seeing goals come out of it. Playing out from the back is a double edged sword but we have seen it work a handful of times already this season. Teams get sucked out and (rightfully so) smell blood, committing them even more. When we get it right we fire a couple quick passes around the back 4 and BOOM once you make that first vertical pass, you are only facing a 5/6/7 defenders as opposed to the two deep banks of four.

  4. Again, your being harsh on Mustafi who has done quite well and looks a much better defender than last season already. Okay, sure he has a mistake but so do does Sokaritis and not for nothing but our best defensive displays this season have actually come with Mustafi and Holding.

    Other than that, am I being to harsh to prefer Maitland-Niles at LB, Lichtsteiner at RB and Jenks on the bench? Nope don’t think I am!

  5. I’m glad for Jenks

    A number of first team players have come on leaps and bounds under Emery. What’s to say that Carl hasn’t? He deserves his shot as much as anyone else.

    Le Coq was in a similar position under Wenger and came back to make a good impact in the first team. Not saying it will, but no reason to think it can’t

  6. C – might be selective memory issue for myself but I can recall a number of Mustafi Chuckle Brother plays from recent history, heck even the last month. He fell down completely while backpedaling a few games back and pretty sure led to a score. Lost composure at the edge of our box, got fancy and ended up getting Sokratis injured. Hasnt he fallen down on a few other occasions as well?

    There isnt a single moment from this season i can recall were Sokratis looked like he was in a panic. In fact my most prevalent memory of Sokratis so far is seeing him realize how many times a game he needs to sprint across half the pitch in order to cover for Mustafi as he hits the deck once again.

    Happy to be proved wrong but cant be arsed to go digging for legit proof on Sokratis. Semi related but is it asking too much to get a Chuckle Bros re-union at some point once Kozzer is back!?

  7. Damon,

    Fair enough but I think they are different situations. With LeCoq, we had loads of injuries in midfield and he was brought back into the team because of that and found his role and did so. For Jenks, I think Bellerin is simply a better player and bettet fit and on top of that, Lichtsteiner provides that RB2 option that we need.

    Of course it would be good for Jenks to stay fit and find a club, but I tend to think that Jenks’ time is up at Arsenal.

  8. Thrillbo,

    To be completely fair, Mustafi was actually covering for Sokaritis and recovered the ball and it was a poor 3rd touch(his 3rd touch was a pass that on another day continues our counter) that led. I think, so much of the Mustafi thing is because people want to focus solely on his 1 error as opposed to the match as a whole.

    For instance, against Chelsea, Sokaritis failed to track Pedro for the first goal and was beaten by Morata for the 2nd. Mustafi has actually covered for both he and Holding on a number of occasions but people ignore that.

    Think about this, in the last 5 of the 6 matches, Mustafi and Holding were the CB pairing and in those matches they have given up 3 goals with 2 clean sheets(Everton adlnd Watford) which is our best run of the season. Not saying Mustafi is some World Class CB but I think people need to stop listening to the media and just watch the matches.

  9. WTF…..well in to October and we’re 4th in the League and undefeated in the Champions’ League. I know I am not dreaming but they did recently just make marijuana legal here in Canada. Even a creaking back line has been looking great lately. Thank you Mr. Trudeau for helping me get my Arsenal back.

  10. Team news is in:


    Subs: Martine, Jenks, Mustafi, Torreira, Iwobi, Ozil, Lacazette

  11. C – i cant argue against that and agree results recently have been good. You are right that in the past few matches it is not really the CBs I am worried about. It’s more so our wide players committing stupidly forward and leaving us horribly exposed on the counter. Lets hope we can keep playing solid D and hopefully get some clean sheets in the future.

    My main point with our CBs is that i’m not sold on mustafi being THE guy back there. You want a CB who you can simply forget about and not pay attention to because you know what they bring and can rely on them playing solid every game. We all want him to push on and make the next step in his career. Turn into a german rock back there along with your philospher buddy to the left.

  12. C,

    I know I’m gonna get slated …again.
    But Xhaka at LB?
    Ooooh he is awful, but I ferkin like him!
    Mandy is on the selection committee

  13. Thrillbo,

    I think the defense is still working itself out and I actually think with Leno and Torreira, they will help quite a bit. The real shame is that, IMHO we haven’t seen our best together yet in Emery’s system. I do think that with Leno/Bellerin/Mustafi/Sokaritis/Nacho/Torreira, good things can and will happen causing us to be more solid but we haven’t and results have been better, much better.

    Trust, I hear what you are saying about Mustafi and being THE GUY but you do see the progress so I wonder if, like a couple others, he will look a different and better player at the end of the season with proper defensive tactics, coaching and structure next to our Sokaritis.

  14. Not sure AMN was even on tour C. Otherwise surely he’d be on the bench as lb cover at least.
    I can see big mo doing a shift there though, rather than Granit man

  15. Interesting that Elneny and Guendouzi are dictating but Ramsey is trying to drop deep and not play behind the striker.

  16. Ramsey is dropping too deep and when Guendouzi and Elneny get the ball, they have nobody in the ‘hole’ to play it too.

  17. Need more from the likes if Ramsey and Mhkitaryan to dictate play and tempo in the attacking third when we are in possession.

  18. Well that was another poor 1st half, I never thought I’d ever say we missed Bellerin, but I have to admit it. I hope we perform better in the 2nd half.

  19. I missed the 1st half, but not much apparently….Great win, the 1st team since Barcelona apparently to win there…..Wonder if Arsene watched it, yes 11 on the trot.

  20. Away win against the biggest competition in the group to move into top spot. No need to bring on Ozil, Laca, Iwobi, with just a few minutes. Torreira changed the game on 60’. DW header wrongly ruled out and justice with his getting the goal/winner. Professional. Well done, 11 wins on the trot. Keep it rolling, AFC!

  21. C,

    Agree—not a technically gifted side and we lacked the speed of passing and movement you get from the more adept and technical players. Plus Xhaka at LB made that whole side a bit stodgy necessarily.

  22. Summed up a lot for me… was a professional performance, control the game as much as possible without exerting too much energy. Burst of life to kill the game off and then control it again. And it worked, but showed me a lot of things.

    El Neny has no place in this team at any time. Flat footed, slow, ball stuck between his feet all the time, kills any pace we have by passing it backwards. Just such an unEmery style of player. When Ainsley Maitland-Niles is fully fit, i expect him to be partnering Guendouzi in these games.

    I really don’t know what to do about Mkhy, he hasn’t played well for a long time, i mean a real Ozil style take game by the balls type performance. I don’t know if it’s the players who are starting around him, or being shifted out wide…but he’s not justifying the wage for me.

    Kolo seems to be picking up injuries right left and centre, i’m wondering if it will result in Emery bringing in a more athletic, mobile, quick LB and Nacho reverts to the second choice.

    For anyone who thinks Ramsey is worth 200k a week new contract, i’d show them this game. For every game he’s good, there’s 2/3 of these games. Slow to pass, over hitting shots, over hitting passes, holding the ball up too much and eventually passing it backwards. It’s so frustrating when you know he’s capable.

    Big ups to Danny Welbeck, every opportunity he’s been given, he’s produced. Great performance tonight and should have had two goals, didn’t see any pushes for that header. Also Guendouzi, 19 and i thought he was the most mature midfielder tonight. Thought Holding was solid, Sok was kind of invisible but didn’t really have a lot to do. Lich was ok, not great but it highlights Bellerins importance.

    Onto the next game, CP away won’t be easy by any measure. Then Blackpool at home, i’d like to think we’d break our 12 game winning record, but i think CP will frustrate us.

    But again, professional performance. Well done lads.

  23. Boring boring Arsenal.
    I do miss watching and waiting for the football suicide of recent history. All this controlled possession stuff a 19 yr old dictating the pace . Utter nonsense. Tory boy was utterly superb.
    Welberz. No more off the arse jokes for him. ReFound his touch. Wellchuffed

  24. lari03,

    Yup, and sometimes you need to win these sorts of matches but given the quality we had in the side and Sporting’s openiness, you just thought some in the front 4 would do better.

    I know this maybe unpopular but, that goal aside, I can’t really blame Arsenal for pulling the contract.

  25. Oh, and I gotta redress my half time analysis. The Leech. He is such a good touch tight defender. Once he’s locked em in, they don’t get a decent cross/ shot away, great second half in both directions. Hope he teaches Bellers. He’ll be World Class if he adds that.

  26. LSG,

    It did, but I think we lacked that ability to play that ball. Full credit to Aubameyamg and Welbeck for being willing runners and pressing high. I know some will blame Elneny but he is in the team to recover and recycle so he did his part, Guendouzi seemed to be pushing and trying but we just lacked that something in the final third.

    I was REALLY impressed with Leno, he was beyond quick in that Sweeper Keeper role and commanded his box well. IMHO, he needs to be our #1 and Cech #2 for the present and future.

  27. C,

    Leno did a great job. Really growing into the role and showing more dominance in his area as well as technical assurance on the ball, distributing.

  28. Arsenal’s first ever sway win in Portugal.
    Leno, Guendouzi and Torreira looking good.
    We allowed Sporting no shots on target so no surprise we got the clean sheet.

  29. LSG,

    Yup and its why I think going back to Cech would be a mistake. There is a reason why in Germany he was/is highly rated and most thought, that like ter Stegen, he needed a move away from Germany and in particular the club were he had so much success. The best thing about all of this is that he is just now reaching the beginning of his prime and will only get better.

  30. Thank goodness the ref or rhe 4th official didn’t see Sokaritis pull Montero down because that would have possibly been a straight red and this match could have been massively different.

  31. C,

    Thought the ‘interpretation ‘ was spot on . Could have , and in the Prem probably would have, gone against us. Little tug on the shirt yes, sack of shit going down, and most importantly Leno was all over the situation, so neither outfield player were in the play. A coming together no more.
    Thank again to Leno for his dominance of the Sweeper zone. Long may he reign.

  32. The Papa/ Holding combo?
    Tough night for them I thought.
    Werent able to outmanoeuvre the invited press very well or often, and so forced into undefendable corners, in rugby parlance. The new midfield faces didn’t help. Big Mo refuses to look forward even when facing that way. Rambo coming deep and not giving him a release forward didn’t help.
    But , their duels out of possession were good. Besides the (non) incident in last posts. Lots of tricksters waiting to go to ground, and they stood firm and blocked brilliantly I thought. Granit wasn’t left too exposed either, which is testament to all three.

  33. ferkov,

    Agree 100% about Leno, he is quality and he played in Germany and is currently playing that sweeper keeper role as good as any Germany GK including ter Stegen and Neuer.

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