Usually, matchday lifts the gloom but this one has the potential to darken it. The toughest group match in the Europa League comes hot on the heels of a diabolical away performance.
Yes, I’m looking forward to this evening.
Unai named his squad. Sickly ickle Mesut is rested after playing the sum total of 71 minutes so far this season. Sokratis is also axed for the same reason but having played a few games more.
The defence was so bad on Sunday that Emery thinks Shkodran Mustafi will improve it. I’ll let that sink in for a few moments before continuing.
Unai quickly stamped on the ‘Ozil’s scared to play in Germany’ angle after racism he suffered forced his retirement from international football. The Spaniard claimed he is using the full extent of his squad because of the number of matches we’re playing:
We are playing now a lot of matches and I want to use different players and also have some rotation in the first 11 and in the 19 players in the squad for Thursday and Sokratis and Mesut they rest this match.71 minutes and Ozil’s knackered
This is an ‘Emery baffles me’ moments. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is considered expendable, included in the squad despite knowing we’re completely stuffed if he picks up an injury. Mesut Ozil, who genuinely is expendable because we have replacements, will watch the game on the telly.
Maybe Aubameyang travelled wrapped in cotton wool, encased in a glass box with the message “Only for use in emergencies?”
I’m surprised Bellerin and Tierney aren’t included in the squad, just for an added dash of panic.
Mind you, there will be enough panic at the back with every goal kick so maybe that’s enough for one game.
Can I Be Frank?
There are some interesting choices for Emery to make. Rob Holding surely starts but alongside whom? David Luiz because that is a potential first-team pairing? Or Calum Chambers because this is the sensible choice for the first team given how badly Luiz and Sokratis are playing?
The same question can be asked of Maitland-Niles, who I think gets it in the neck unfairly quite a lot of the time. He’s no right-back, the mantra goes. Well, no sh*t Sherlock; he’s a defensive midfielder whom Arsene thought could cover at full-back and Unai needed him because we had no-one else. Few players convert from central midfield roles to full-back successfully; usually, it’s the other way around.
Still, Mustafi played at right-back for some part of his career and I’d honestly be tempted to take AMN out of the firing line tonight. Let the people see how bad it really might have been…
Looking at the squad, it’s not hard to see that being the limit of the changes Emery makes from the weekend. Personally, I’d lump Xhaka in tonight to get him used to midweek football so he captains the cup sides, Torreira then gets the run in the Premier League as he is our best defensive midfielder.
Emery won’t take that step; he isn’t ‘brave’ enough to take the decision. It isn’t fear which holds him back but a natural conservatism and, I think, short-termism. The latter is the natural habitat of the football manager and by no means unique to Unai.
The question is whether he decides to go out in a blaze of glory, with all gun(ners) firing or ploughs ahead, sticking to his belief. Is he one of the Magnificent Seven or a peasant farmer waiting to be rescued?
Taking It Down A Notch
Now is the time for him to be bold. The old ways aren’t working; the players are confused. Embrace the new, Unai; embrace the new.
Which makes this seem a ‘do or die’ match. It isn’t. The reality is that we can lose this game and still win the group. We could lose twice to Eintracht and will still walk into the knockout phase. All European competitions are designed for that to happen; big clubs never exit in the group stage. Sponsors just won’t allow it.
This is a game for experimentation. Catch out the opposition by trying something different from goal kicks. Mix it up. Play short and then chip over the top. Play long and leave them bewildered as your players swarm around to claim the ‘second ball’.
I wonder if any football coach thinks in that simplistic way, not just Unai?
My line-up for tonight would be:
Leno; Mustafi, Chambers, Holding, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Guendouzi; Nelson, Pepe, Martinelli
God knows who Unai will choose. We shall find out 75 minutes before kick-off.
Enjoy the match wherever you’re watching it.