It’s not quite Wednesday night football but it will have to do; 3.50pm on Wednesday is one of the more quixotic kick-off times football contrived in its’ subservience to television.
Vitoria proved troublesome at the Emirates a fortnight ago and the travelling squad reflects that. Aubameyang, Luiz and surprisingly for an away game south of Watford, Mesut Ozil, didn’t make the trip to Portugal but everyone else did.
And that is everyone. For the first time in many moons, we have a fully fit squad. The same useless coach but a fully fit squad for him to confuse.
Granit Xhaka didn’t travel and it looks like it may be some time before we see him again. After eight days of procrastination which reflects badly on all involved, the Swiss is no longer one of the captains. The curse of the Arsenal armband strikes again.
It’s time to move on from it. Honestly, the farcical handling of the affair raised questions over the club’s senior management. Hot on claims they still believe Emery can turn things around, it doesn’t bode well for the future.
The Evening Standard claimed the club don’t want to follow Manchester United’s lead in the post-Ferguson era. Arsenal aren’t going to be a ‘hire and fire’ club. Which is fine and good. Indeed, there is a certain admirable quality in that.
However, it also masks indecision; an unwillingness to change something which is so obviously broken. Like United, we’ve got our initial choice wrong. There’s no shame in that but have the courage to admit it, to keep the season alive.
Lose on Saturday and we potentially finish the weekend nine points adrift of the top four. Emery isn’t going to close that gap.
Qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League is secured if both ourselves and Eintracht win. To get that out of the way would be a positive, at least.
It will also be something of a miracle. We have yet to win in Portugal, I believe and lost the last three. That bodes well because we’re a team which makes firsts. Like scoring five at Anfield and not winning.
The comfort from that performance is that we know there is goals in the squad. Unfortunately, there’s very little defence. I mean, we put players in the positions but don’t really have a plan what they should do when opponents have the ball.
There’s a temptation to save players, to wrap cotton wool around as many of the first XI as possible. Emery won’t do that, however; Xhaka’s absence forces his hand in defensive midfield so Torreira plays and probably Guendouzi alongside him.
Putting Ceballos in a trio is too lightweight, lacking bite. He could bring AMN into a 4-4-2 of some sort with Saka at #10. It’s the sort of flakey thing Emery would do and it might work. Probably not.
It means the line-up would probably be:
Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Torreira, Guendouzi, Willock; Maitland-Niles, Martinelli, Saka
We still have two opportunities after this to get the necessary three points to qualify. Eintracht visit the Emirates. That’s the same Eintracht who beat Bayern 5 – 1 at the weekend. We then travel to Liege for what will hopefully be a dead rubber.
Whatever the case, we can make the matter irrelevant by winning tonight.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.