Happy Game Day Gooners, how goes it? For me, it’s a welcome day, possibly more so than some, because it’s been a fully 24 days since I last frequented The Emirates, what with the United away game, plus the Interlull, plus the fact I gave away my tickets for Saturday to secure the future of a young Gooner from being indoctrinated into the horrible world of being a Surrey Manc. I’m pleased to report that the operation was a complete success, the kid is now hooked – so says his Pa.
Liverpool was the last game I was at and I’ve been getting the shakes it’s been so long. It will be a welcome sight to see the stadium rise from among the concrete world of North London as the boys take to the field against a Marseille team that, although in theory they have nothing to play for, we all know they have something to play for: Pride.
Let’s not forget where too much pride gets you – a fall – so it’s important that we’re not too over-confident of victory tonight. The Germans we lined up against last season felt the game was done and dusted at our place at the beginning of this year and look where they ended up; running the ball into the corners playing for time against an Arsenal team that, unbeknownst to us on that evening, have been in the finest of forms since then. We’ve carried some amazing form from that day and it is performances like we have seen at the back-end of last season or the beginning of this season have put us in a fabulous position in both domestic and European competition. But that most tired of clichés – you don’t win anything in November – needs to be unfurled in big A3 sheets of paper in the dressing room before kick off tonight. And for good measure big Per should circle the permanent marker ink with fluorescent blue and yellow ink with arrows pointing at the words just to make sure.
It will be an interesting one to see what Arsene does tonight in terms of team selection. We’re getting into a heavy volume of games in the run up to the Christmas period so an element of rotation is inevitable. But when does he rotate and whom? Does Monreal get the nod tonight with Gibbs in mind for Cardiff away? Should Vermaelen be given a chance against what has statistically been proven to be the weakest team in the Champions League group stages? Is it time for Jack to rest so he is ready, willing and more importantly able to perform to his highest standards at a tricky away trip into Wales on Saturday? There are lots of questions to which I have no idea. And I’ve given up second-guessing Le Boss because I’m normally wrong. What we do know however, is that Marseille will not sit back and let us have the ball for the whole game. They still have players that can cause us damage and in Valbuena they have tricky little midget that dictates the play if he get’s enough time on the ball. Andre Ayew will not play due to injury, and the unfortunately named Rod Fanni will not be available too.
As for our lads, I suspect we might see one or two rotated from Saturday, but no more than that. Given Theo has been out for so long, I’m not sure that he’ll start, but I do think he will make an appearance and can certainly cause damage to Marseille. Champions League teams tend not to sit as deep as domestic teams, so they will I am sure provide plenty of green grass for Walcott to run into. In a way it’s a shame that this game and the game against Cardiff aren’t further spaced apart, because I’d earmark those two games for Walcott to start given the fact that both teams will probably be pressing more forward than Hull and Everton at The Emirates, but hey-ho. I think we’ll see Tomas Rosicky given the nod after a quiet game from Cazorla at the weekend and, despite the news that Arteta is fit and available, I wonder if Arsene will be tempted to do a bit of rotation between Flamini and Mikel. We’ve seen the ‘double pivot’ work against Napoli but it was reliant on an early goal to settle the nerves, yet at Manchester United I’m not sure it was deployed to the greatest effect. If you rest Arteta today it gives an opportunity for him to be ready against Cardiff, so that would be my preferred option.
The back four practically picks itself. We need to get the points on the board as quickly as possible and, if Napoli do us a favor tonight against Dortmund, providing we get the win at home then we will be through and it will give Le Boss the chance to rotate a little in the last game of the group stages. I also think that Arsene will be looking at the Hull game as an opportunity for rotation rather than this one, so I think the only major changes we’ll see are Rosicky for Cazorla and Flamini for Arteta.
Focus and concentration are the name of the game tonight. We need to be on it and make sure that we have the determination to get to that 12 point marker which, I’m still convinced should see us through into the next round. I’m taking The Management along tonight in the hope that her continual ability to watch games at the Emirates that usually finish with Arsenal winning by three goals becomes another reality. If we do win tonight by that margin, give her a shout out on Twitter with thanks – Nichola_Howard
That’s it from me tonight – Up the Arsenal!