Has Wenger been testing out a Xhaka/Ramsey Pivot for tonight’s decider v PSG?

 

Howdy.

We take on PSG today in what will be a battle for the top spot in Group A. The winner gets Bayern/Atletico in the last 16 … Kidding, kidding. It’s actually Borussia/Real.

However, on the off chance we get lucky + there’s no tampering with the draw this season, it is worth beating Emery’s side at the Emirates. Arsene feels the same way:

“We want to finish first because we want to win the game. I think more than speculating, it’s more important for us to do the job. When you play at home against a big team, you want to win. When I tell you that we have been a bit stuttering recently, we played Tottenham, were 1-0 up and didn’t win the game, so we need to show that we can do that.”

We have done ourselves no favours in seasons past by constantly finishing second. The last time we didn’t was in 2011 and we landed ourselves a full-strength Milan side. Despite room for it all going terribly in the draw wrong even provided we finish top, the alternative is still much more ungainly.

We don’t want to get Barca again, do we?

Team news update

“Basically everybody is recovered from Saturday. We left Walcott and Ramsey on recovery but they should be alright for tomorrow.”

Nothing surprising here. I was harbouring a hope Debuchy might be available for selection, but it appears he won’t be:

“He is close now. He played only 70 minutes in the under-23s, I was hesitating to include him tomorrow. But for me, still, it is not enough competition to say I can throw him in in a Champions League game with the intensity of one of those games, and that he will be comfortable. I think he still needs one or two weeks. If he gets through this week well, I think he will come back into the group.”

Per and Welbeck aren’t being mentioned for now, the freshly-extended Hector is less than a week into his four-week absence, while Cazorla now has a rather scary timeline:

“At the moment I’ve given a little bit up on that, I don’t know how far he is. It looks to me that he’s making progress but as long as a player is not in full-time training with the squad, it’s very difficult to set targets. It’s not a big injury that will harm his future but it’s an inflammation at the back of his Achilles and it’s always very difficult on inflammations to give a set time.”

Santi still on the sidelines

Arsene then mentioned a two-week period in which Cazorla *can* come back, and then he’ll need a further fortnight to whip back into shape, but it all looks as clear as mud, so I don’t want to build up your, and my own, hopes.

Finally, there has been positive news on Lucas Perez:

“He’s back in training already, but not with the squad. He’s ahead of schedule, yes.”

The original assessment was 6-8 weeks, it’s been 4 weeks, so quite what “ahead of schedule” means here I cannot say. Will he be ready for Bournemouth? For Southampton in the EFL Cup? West Ham on December 3rd? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Squad

Ospina will come in to deputise for Cech once again, no doubt here. It’s the least his performances in the Champions League merit and, if you can recall, the Colombian was particularly exceptional during the draw at Parc De Princes.

I imagine the back four will also stay the same, unless Wenger decides to play Gibbs, bearing in mind Monreal’s horrendous performance in Paris. Though Aurier was refused a visa to enter the UK, I imagine Iwobi might come in again on the left wing, so Gibbs to shield him makes sense on a certain level.

Ramsey to be moved back to central midfield?

The midfield represents a particularly interesting conundrum. Ozil will play, of course, but who will be at the base? My personal preference is a Coquelin – Xhaka axis, as in one destroyer – one passer, but I sense Ramsey just might be introduced into the equation. Him and Xhaka were trialled by Wenger twice already, at the tail end of Spurs and United games respectively, so it does make me wonder whether this is a pairing Arsene is willing to try out. But I’m pretty sure we won’t see a Coquelin – Elneny axis today. While Elneny – Ramsey is both lightweight and too defensively suspect for my liking. Coquelin with Ramsey didn’t work last season, and I don’t see why it will suddenly work now. Xhaka – Elneny anyone?

Finally, the front three. As I’ve said after the game vs United, Giroud has made a pretty strong case he should start. Furthermore, that draw in Paris springs to mind again. We were pretty useless with Alexis up top, but then Giroud came on and caused all sorts of problems to PSG’s defense. Yes, he was also sent off in this game (in what was a diabolical decision by the ref), but he certainly made an impact.

On the wings I expect to see Walcott and one of Alexis or Iwobi, depending on whether Giroud starts up front. Walcott has generally been very good this season, to bench him after just one under-par showing (also, not like he was the only one under-performing), would be highly unfair. Meanwhile, Ramsey on the left just highlighted the importance of Iwobi.

Merits to start after saving the Gunners on Saturday?

Predicted line-up: Ospina – Jenkinson – Mustafi – Koscielny – Gibbs – Xhaka – Ramsey – Walcott – Ozil – Sanchez – Giroud

The verdict

The first game vs PSG in September still sends chills down my spine. We were at full strength, but produced an absolutely insipid display and didn’t lose only thanks to the heroics of a certain Colombian between the sticks.

Though PSG come into the game with an array of injury concerns (no Aurier, Pastore, Kurzawa, Rabiot and probably Di Maria), I am still highly uneasy, not the least because we have problems of our own.

I sincerely hope we come up with a response to our last two games. It’s about time really. A win will do us a world of good, including the opportunity to rest key players in the last game, safe in the knowledge we have qualified top of the mill. But it will be devilishly hard to get a win.

Time to find the spark. Come on you Gunners. Kick-start the season.

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