Writing a preview for what should have been a fabulous occasion for Arsenal football club is not a pleasant task. At 0-0 will 20 minutes to go at the Emirates in the first leg against Barcelona Arsenal had matched Europe’s finest and could even have been ahead. To leave the Home leg goalless and to have prevented the dreaded away goal would have been a positive outcome.
Of course Arsenal’s inexplicable naivety struck again as it has so often in the Champions League, pushing forward unnecessarily to try and win the game and leaving themselves horribly open to the sucker punch, which duly arrived. The season turned that week with the disaster at Old Trafford a matter of days earlier and in truth it is not looking like it will recover.
With the Premier League being the only possible shot at silverware, however unlikely, there has been some debate as to whether the under fire Wenger would opt to play a full strength side, or a strong one in The Camp Nou or go with an FA Cup style 11. That debate appears to be over with Arsenal’s ‘current’ manager suggesting he will play his finest and attempt the improbable.
In writing a preview armed with these facts, whether I agree with them or not still begs the question – Does Wenger or do we know his strongest fit 11?
What we do know is that the 11 he can field now are not all in fine form and if others were fit he might be able to rest these individuals. However we are where we are and we are unlikely to have fresh blood for Everton at the weekend which most of us would consider a more vital match. We should have one of Cazorla or Wilshere in contention after the international break and both will be welcomed by fans and manager will open arms.
I wrote a piece before the NLD which hinted at a new formation utilising Coquelin and Elneny with Ramsey ostensibly wide right but able to tuck in and make a three when we lost possession. This is pretty much what occurred and I feel it was the system best embraced for an out of form group of players to grind out results and regain confidence. The loss of Ramsey sadly leaves Wenger unable to operate exactly in this fashion with all the centre mids who can play the wider role unavailable to him.
This being the case he will have to revert to his tried, tested and failing 4231 with Elneny and Coquelin paired and opt for the hardest working of his wide men. Barcelona will seek to press high and dominate as we all know so only choices are Alexis and Campbell. Theo Walcott has become a luxury player when in form so when out of form he should not be considered and I will be stunned if he is started. He simply will not work for his team and until he begins to do so again he may well be limited to short cameos. When the likes of Jack and Santi return even his off the bench forays may be limited.
Not only does Joel Campbell offer work rate and the ability to support Bellerin, who will surely return at right back, on the rare occasion we may on the front foot he also offers creativity. The Costa Rican’s return to the side and to form is one of the few things left to smile about for Gunners and he fully deserves to play tomorrow evening. Quite obviously no one will offer us any hope of overturning the deficit and all betting news at BetHut seems to support this opinion but what is essential is that we take the few chances that do come our way.
That leads us to the question of who gets the decision to play up front and charged with the responsibility of pouncing on the rare openings created by Sanchez, Campbell and of course Ozil. Despite Giroud’s brace in the Hull Cup replay it seems that the Frenchman who started again at the weekend against Watford has been relegated to the Cup team. Danny Welbeck who despite the glaring miss in the closing minutes in that game is looking altogether sharper and just offers more of an outlet with his strength and crucially his pace. If Barcelona do have a weakness at all it is that they push up as a team, including the centre backs. Consequently Welbeck’s pace and tireless running is a no brainer.
What is not so obvious is who will play centrally for Arsenal in defence. One assumes Bellerin as suggested and Monreal will play and that a fit again Koscielny will too. This leaves one decision and quite frankly I have no idea which of Mertesacker or Gabriel will partner him. Both have made awful errors and judgement calls in recent weeks and neither inspires confidence. In all honesty I would not be unhappy for Chambers to play but that won’t happen. Toss of a coin but if forced to call it I think Per will edge it.
Tonight is all about a performance that gives the coaching team and the players some positives to take to Goodison at the weekend. Lose further confidence and beating Everton becomes a mountain in the mind. We ned to see partnerships reaffirmed or growing under duress – Elneny and Coquelin, Campbell and Bellerin, Alexis and Welbeck will be the pairings I will be watching.
Team – Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin. Elneny, Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck
Please restore some pride