Regardless of the disappointing (but ultimately successful) performance against Anderlecht a couple of weeks ago, tonight is a game that we should for all intents and purposes, be looking at building an assailable lead with a nice bumper goal margin against Anderlecht at home.
We may still be a little short defensively, but the Belgian champions showed that whilst their effort could be praised on home soil, their ability was limited. That our match came down to the dying seconds in Brussels was more down to our own performance than the performance of our hosts.
So tonight I am hoping that we see an Arsenal team well prepared, high on confidence, fluent going forward and no complacency defensively. We’ve got a good platform to build on. Back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League – albeit against poor opposition – will instil a belief into players like Nacho Monreal and with Per improving with each game too, one hopes that The Arsenal can get the job done with plenty of time to spare tonight.
If we can pick up three points, then a Dortmund victory over Galatasaray will effectively render the group sewn up for both the Germans and us. I suspect that Dortmund will beat the Turks this evening and also dispatch Anderlecht in the next game, so whilst I understand the pressing desire for us to win the group and not inevitably face Bayern Munich or Barcelona, I don’t think there’s much we can do about it. I’m a fan of getting the group qualification sorted and then focusing on league and domestic cup travails, so if we do progress this evening I hope Arsène rotates in the final two games.
Who knows? He may just rotate tonight with one eye on the visit to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday afternoon. I’d be surprised if he did, because we’ve already nearly had our noses bloodied by a team perceived to be Champions League minnows, so to see a Capital One Cup style side rock out at The Emirates this evening would be a big surprise.
So I suspect we’ll see very little rotation from Saturday’s win against Burnley. He may decide to give Ramsey an outing instead of the mediocre Flamini (said statement of ‘mediocrity’ based purely on his performance at the weekend, rather than his overall ability), but I still expect to see Arteta, Cazorla, Welbeck, The Ox and man of the moment Alexis. Cazorla didn’t have the greatest of games at the weekend and will need to find that form of his first season to regain a longer-term position in the team. With Rosicky and Podolski chomping at the bit to get game time, not to mention Joel Campbell’s impressive cameos to date, there are a variety of different positions that could be taken from Santi and other players used in. And with the season as long as it is, Arsène must surely be looking at the competition in his squad and wondering if there is a bit of merit in rotation for games like this.
Perhaps I am being a little too dismissive of Anderlecht though. Here I am talking about qualification, rotation of players with a view to the weekend, as well as patronising comments like ‘minnows’. That is probably the exact level of mental complacency that nearly cost us last time out in this competition and as I sat on my sofa cursing the lacklustre effort of the players that evening, I should perhaps take a leaf from my own book (or blog), and show a little more respect.
Tonight we need to be on our game from the off. A clean sheet, a few goals and qualification from the group by the time the News at Ten comes on will be a massive confidence boost for the team. It would mean four wins on the trot and only one goal conceded and with the chance to make it five before the international break, would feel like our season is finally not spluttering before the turn of the year.
Jack looks set to miss out, which is a shame, whilst Francis Coquelin looks to have had his marching orders with a one-month loan spell at Charlton confirmed by the club. It’s a strange one because I’ve always rated Le Coq, but clearly Arsène just doesn’t fancy him. I think that one day it might just come back to haunt him as I think the guy has a very good career ahead of him. But we’ll just have to wait and see.
Will Alexis once again prove to be our talisman? Weirdly, I hope not, because I want to see other players step up to the mark. As much as I’m getting to love Alexis more and more with each second he spends in an Arsenal shirt on the pitch, I do worry that there could be an unhealthy over-reliance on him, and we all know how worrying that is when you look at one guy to carry the hopes of the team and fans on his shoulders. It happened before with That Dutch Bloke and when all was not quite right at the club during that era, the players just looked to find him as often as possible. What we want is the same team ethic that was fostered in the Post-That Dutch Bloke era which, to be fair to the team, I think we have. We certainly have the players that are capable. Ramsey showed it last season, Walcott the season before, plus we have Welbeck, The Ox and let’s not forget our mercurial German, Mesut Özil.
I don’t think it will be easy tonight, but I do think we can make it look easy, especially if we score first and early.
Come on you Reds!