Big game today boys and girls, big game indeed. Not least because a consecutive defeat in the Champions League will make qualification from the group stages look very precarious. It seems quite amazing that at Matchday 2 out of six in the competition we are already worrying about an early exit, but such is the importance of getting yourself up and running on Matchday 1, that it immediately puts pressure on you to win your next game.
Arsène knows this, saying as much when he spoke to the press yesterday about tonight’s game, in which he effectively set out his blueprint for advancement to the next stages: win all of your home games and pick up at least one point away from home. Ten points is usually enough to see sides navigate these early parts of the competition and his – and our – experience of managing, watching or playing in this competition tells us that he speaketh the truth.
But a defeat, or even draw tonight, means that you have to win one and draw one of your two remaining away games in this stage. It doesn’t really afford much margin for error. Which is why we’ve usually been alright and already won our first game of the group stages by now. It takes the pressure off. But no matter, we have the chance to get up and running against Galatasaray, plus we can all be under no illusions that on paper the hardest group game came first with the away trip to Dortmund.
In terms of team news it’s as expected really. No Arteta and Ramsey, but Wilshere makes the squad having trained yesterday. With Jack’s record and Arsène’s gambling ability akin to Paul Merson’s skills at the bookies, I’d be inclined to save Jack for the bench in today’s game. In Dortmund he picked up a knock to his ankle which he looked to have exacerbated in the NLD, but thankfully he seems to have recovered well enough, but I’d still be inclined not to risk him if a few more extra days training and rest will help.
Whether Arsène adopts the same mindset is anybody’s guess. If he doesn’t, I’d expect to either see Rosicky slot in to that box-to-box role instead of Jack/Rambo, or Santi come in to play wide left. That would move Mesut into the centre, Alexis on the right and The Ox in the middle of the park. I didn’t watch the game against Southampton last week, but by the sounds of it Tomas had an evening to forget, so on that basis I wonder if Arsène will look to see if The Ox can replicate his excellent performances of last season against Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich, in which he played in the centre of the park and was arguably the man-of-the-match in both.
At least Arsène has choices in the middle of the park that won’t have us cursing our injury record, because let’s face it, defensively we have enough to worry about. Rumours are rife that Koscienly is carrying a knock and has done for a few weeks, but Le Boss’ failings to strengthen are putting him under pressure to remain fit whilst both Debuchy and Monreal are sidelined. It also puts a lot of pressure on Chambers to be consistent at right back and, with still only a handful of first team appearances under his belt, it does seem quite unfair to place such a burden on a 19-year-old. But that is that path that we have chosen as a club and we have to hope that all remaining defenders can remain ready, willing and able to fight for the cause. Starting tonight.
The Galatasaray threat will invariably come from the trickery of Wesley Sneijder who, despite my own assumptions that he was clearly past it having toodled off to Turkey for an extended holiday for a few years, has shown for the Dutch national team that he still remains a very good player. I don’t know Galatasaray very well – well, apart from what Champions League games I’ve watched of them – but I do know that the old stereotype of Turkish teams not travelling too well is still in existence. Their vocal away support will be at it’s raucous best, but we have to quieten them down by asserting our dominance early. That means we have to start like we did against City and also the Spuds, albeit getting a better result, but we need to put them on the back foot early.
How do we do that? Hopefully by reverting to 2013/14 Arsenal and playing Mesut through the middle. He doesn’t have to stay there, but it gives him licence to roam as he sees fit and there’s something that feels a bit more balanced about having a player with a free role in the middle of the park. I’m no tactical expert, so can’t really tell you why (perhaps it just looks better and easier to explain when you look at a formation, a la Championship Manager), but it just feels like it makes sense to have Özil dictating play from behind Welbeck.
Who knows, maybe the forced change Arsène would have to make through injuries would be a blessing in disguise, with Wenger realising that last seasons Arsenal was a more successful blueprint for him to work from. But then again, we do all know he’s a stubborn old mule at the best of times, so let’s not hold our breath.
Having missed the Besiktas game, I’ll be at The Emirates tonight and it’ll be exciting to get our Champions League campaign underway in my eyes, so I hope the performance matches my hopes and expectations for the evenings frivolities.
Up The Arsenal.