Hello fellow Gooners!
I’m replacing Alex – supposedly busy , I believe he’s still recovering from the amazing 3-0 win in his first-ever match at the Emirates Stadium – to preview for you the Champions League game against Swiss champions FC Basel.
I’ve been living in Switzerland for almost nine years now and I’m slowly getting used to one of the weirdest football leagues in Europe, where ten teams manage to play 36 rounds of football throughout the year and can randomly finish second or last.
Not first, though, because it’s always FC Basel that wins the league, eventually.
They won 10 of the last 13 editions of the Swiss Super League and they’re currently marching on an EIGHTH consecutive title with 9 wins in as many games; only FC Zürich managed to stop this outrageous domination three times but are currently lying in the second division – in case you need any proof or the Swiss extravaganza.
Anyway, our opponents are a well-drilled, well-organized and surprise-springing package we should not be scared of but definitely respect; not underestimate our rivals will be the first – and perhaps most important – step to our victory.
Olivier Giroud is both injured and suspended, which makes me think that he might not lead the line against FC Basel. Francis Coquelin is also out with a knee injury but the latest news say it’s less serious than first thought and the anchorman could be back in as little as three weeks, compared to beginning of 2017, as initially suggested. Aaron Ramsey hasn’t recovered yet nor have Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Carl Jenkinson, who has just resumed normal training with the team.
Everyone else is available and fit, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit should Arsène Wenger rotate massively for our second European game of the season – mainly in midfield and attack: David Ospina could be the only change in a back-line that is getting stronger and stronger, with Kieran Gibbs the only other player seriously pushing for a starting place, while in midfield Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny will battle to take the shirt vacated by Francis Coquelin; both former FC Basel players, they could even feature together in case the manager decides in favor of some rest for either Santi Cazorla or Mesut Özil.
Same for the attacking line, where Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott could make way for Lucas Pérez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both waiting for some additional minutes after the impressive display against Nottingham Forrest in the league cup; I don’t see Alexis Sánchez getting anywhere near the bench now that he’s finally showing those encouraging performances as centre-forward we were all waiting for; knowing how important the “momentum” is to Arsène Wenger, I doubt he would break the Chilean groove at this stage.
Predicted line-up: Ospina, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Elneny, Xhaka, Özil, Chamberlain, Lucas, Alexis
FC Basel are currently leading the Swiss Super League (SURPRISE!) by 13 points after nine rounds and harbor a spectacular record of nine consecutive wins, with 29 goals scored and 7 conceded; despite losing their star-man Bree Emboli to Schake 04, the team led by Urns Fischer has found in Ivory Coast striker Seydoux Doumbia – formerly at Young Boys Bern, CSKA Moscow and AS Roma – a goal-scoring machine to extend their domination over domestic rivals.
Often playing a fluid 4-2-3-1, FC Basel relies on Matias Delgado to bring unpredictability to a game plan otherwise a bit static and flat; the Argentina-born Italian playmaker is a set-piece specialist and has an excellent vision but – at years of age – isn’t the most mobile among the Swiss troops; now past his peak, he was rumored to be on the radar of several top Clubs including FC Barcelona but the truth is that the former Beskids man could have had a better career, had he worked a bit more on his athletics.
FC Basel will surely try to regroup and offer runs for his gifted playmaker, especially on the right-hand flank, where full-back Michael Lang will push restless, while in midfield Granit’s brother Talent Chaka will add steel and experience.
As said, Seydoux Doumbia is a reliable, experienced striker with great strength and a powerful shot, Mustafi and Koscielny will need to cut any supply short or he might do some damages upfront.
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We should be beating FC Basel at home, no doubt.
The Swiss might have struggled to win a point against Ludogorets but seem to find extra energy, focus and quality when facing bigger teams – yet they struggled to get a point against the Bulgarians at home, hardly the most dangerous of all opponents.
It will be vital to be careful and “up for it” to avoid any bad surprise to make the draw in Paris a good result; if we get the three points against the Swiss champions, we will have a real chance to qualify and top the group, otherwise the repeat of last year’s group stage could be at sight.
Regardless of who Arsène Wenger will rest against FC Basel, we should be entitled a good night at the Emirates Stadium and possibly some more fun, together with some vital three points.