Sporting Clube de Portugal pitch up at the Emirates tonight in what is a potentially decisive fixture. If Arsenal win, the Round of Sixteen beckons because the two teams who can catch us face each other on 13th December. Win and Vorskla lose, and we confirm first place thanks to the head-to-head results between ourselves and Sporting. Quite a bit riding on this one then.
Unai spoke to the media yesterday and divination by press conference puts Shkodran Mustafi in the starting line-up. Not Nacho though; Emery told the assembled hacks that while Monreal “is starting to train”, he is “not with us…and for tomorrow he isn’t in the group.” Sead Kolasinac it is. Two down, nine to go.
The objective is to win, with Unai pointing out that “It’s one way [to win] a title and get into the Champions League next year”. It’s almost become the club hymn to the point where you expect “Good Old Arsenal” to be binned and replaced by the Dynamic Duo rapping “We Must Get to The Champions League Next Year”.
Who the Dynamic Duo at the heart of the defence is interesting. Shkodran Mustafi hinted that Rob Holding is likely to start. Then again, nobody asked a question about any other central defenders but that’s because the mic was ripped from their hands before they could push the point. It isn’t just political journalists who are pushy, eh?
I’ll take a punt here; Holding won’t be included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. Which he should be, of course, based on current form. Harry Maguire is out and I’d strongly argue that Holding is a lot better than Lewis Dunk of Brighton. His one failing is that he isn’t a meathead like Maguire which was Southgate’s preferred style in the summer.
Mustafi claimed: “It’s always important when you play in central defence that you know what your partner next to you know is doing.” A candid interview with his defensive partners at the club would probably reveal they don’t have a scooby what the German is up to half the time.
Holding’s development this season, in a team unlearning bad habits at the same time it is learning new (hopefully good) ones is impressive and merits recognition at a higher level. It feels like it may be some way off as he contends as much with Arsenal’s flagging reputation as the perception of his own inexperience.
Ahead of the back four, the question for Emery is whether to rest Granit Xhaka? He did in the first two group games but brought him in for the first leg. Mateo Guendouzi has enjoyed a rest since being dismissed against Blackpool so is likely to replace one of the Torreira/Xhaka axis. Ainsley Maitland-Niles surely gets his chance as well, giving us a very young defensive pairing. Capable but young.
Emil Smith Rowe didn’t travel to Forest Green last night – well done on reaching the last 32 of that tournament – and it would be good to see him get a full ninety minutes. However, Unai Emery showed for the match in Lisbon that he is not taking Sporting lightly and not too many youngsters will get a chance from kick-off.
I’d expect the line-up to be something like:
Cech; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles; Ramsey, Smith Rowe, Iwobi; Welbeck
“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football “
Albert Camus’ quote took on new meaning last night. After the stories in Der Speigel, it had to be Manchester City who found themselves mired in controversy. Raheem Sterling kicked the ground, hit the deck and found he’d been awarded a penalty. In fairness to him, had he been booked for diving, his sense of injustice would burn as deeply as Shakhtar’s.
Football’s Corinthian spirit surfaced with questions asked of Sterling. Why not ask the referee to change his mind? There was a brief mention of Robbie Fowler’s ‘honesty’ at Highbury back in the day. No mention that Fowler cheated to win the spot kick in the first place. Sterling didn’t; he just fell over. Comically so.
The England man didn’t, presumably for fear of a rollicking from Pep. I don’t know how I would feel if an Arsenal player ‘fessed up. I think I’d admire the honesty, particularly in the cut-throat world of professional football. However, in my flexible morality the circumstances would dictate reactions.
Vaguely related to Sterling, the media claim Rooney isn’t wearing the #10 shirt because Raheem’s feelings might be hurt. The farce took an awkward turn when it emerged that this isn’t the FA’s idea but a brainwave from his agent.
We know something is rotten at the heart of football but an agent persuading a national association to ‘honour’ a player? Come on; he didn’t cover himself in glory at any international tournament and never won a trophy with his country. Do me a favour.
His charity isn’t getting a share of the gate receipts but they will be shaking buckets in the faces of fans who’ve been ripped off over tickets, programmes and just about everything else.
It’s The New Thing
While I’m still on my high horse, the lunacy of football hipsters scaled new heights. It’s been irritating to hear Профессиональный футбольный клуб ЦСКА Москва referred to as “Seska”. ‘CSKA’ is an acronym of “Central
Anyway, last night we had “Ike” Athens losing in Munich. Which was news to AEK Athens who were supposed to be playing there. Goodness knows where they ended up. This has to stop now. It’s not hip, it’s not clever and it is bloody irritating.
Thank god no-one is telling me we’re playing Sporting Lisbon.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.