There is much speculation about team selection for tonight’s match. Who is in goal? – Cech or Ospina or even our third string Emiliano Martinez and if there is a guessing game about the goalkeeper slot then double/treble it for the 10 other positions.
The reason for the uncertainty is summarised in Wenger’s words “PSG are favourites to beat Ludogorets at home and win the group but we can assess that score line at half-time and see where we go”. He has it right. The outcome is out of our hands. It is for PSG to falter. We can win and win well but unless PSG drop points – and in our heart of hearts none of us think they will do anything but win convincingly – then it is second place for us and we take our chances in the last 16 draw and hope for a bit of luck.
So a win for us gets us second place unless PSG drop points. Wenger will review the situation at half time. Perhaps time now to recall George’s pre-match talk to the players at Anfield in 1989. He told his players to get to half time without conceding a goal. The pressure, rightly, would be on Liverpool. It was for them to lose and they did not know whether to attack and go one up or to defend and prevent us from scoring. Tactics aside Liverpool were tense and nervous. They made many individual errors. Smudger scored and the pressure grew on the home team and then Mickey’s goal.
Whilst there are echoes of Anfield ’89 PSG should feel more confident. They are at home and Ludogorets have just two points. So it is out of our hands. So maybe a team for two halves will be selected? Ozil and Sanchez have travelled and will likely be on the bench. Why risk them when we have Stoke on Saturday. Hold them back for the second half in case things go wrong but if PSG motor ahead then keep them on the bench. Keep them hungry – keep them away from the action. Keep them fresh for Saturday because we need to maintain the momentum, keep accumulating points, extend the unbeaten run and go for the Title. The weekend is a huge match and there is still time to get Arsenal FC tickets.
Sanchez is in top form. It does not mean he converts every chance. He can still stumble, misplace a pass or over hit a through ball but he is such a stimulus, such a spark. He excites the players around him, raises the work rate and keeps the motivation at a high level. However we also need him to be hungry – very hungry so keep him away from the action. Unless.
If PSG are not motoring – if they have a hiccup – if they go down to 10 men and a penalty down then Wenger may take a chance. He may change the players around and bring on Ozil and Sanchez. The message will get through to Paris – the tension may be upped.
But it is all unlikely. I believe that Wenger said after the PSG 2-2 draw at the Emirates there was a 10% chance that we could reach top spot. So let’s not raise our hopes too much. In football there is always a chance – the unexpected can happen and we have to have hope but the chances are small.
So we may see some changes in the team. Perhaps Holding and Gibbs in the back four though with Bellerin absent Wenger may not be keen to make too many changes. He does want to win the game because it creates momentum and self-belief but he also needs to give players a rest and give match experience to the squad players.
Jenkinson may feature because the game is away and not at home or he might give Gabriel more pitch time which he needs. It looks like Jenks will move on. The crowd can make players – they can also destroy players and in this column I have mentioned Jon Sammels who was hounded out of Arsenal Football Club by the boo boys. I recall an away match at Sunderland a few years back. It was 0-0 with minutes to go, a cross from the left – Arshavin I think – and Henry got on the end of it and won us the three points. I watched the match at the Emirates and Jenkinson was the match summariser. He was so in love with AFC. He spoke with real passion and affection for the Club so it is such a shame that someone with such strong feelings for the Club should struggle on the pitch and become the focal point of the moaners. Jenks deserves better.
We all want to see more of Holding. The reports and the viewings have been encouraging. He seems to have talent and level-headedness – a good learner and a likely long term fixture at Arsenal. He needs match time and next season with an improved Chambers back from Boro we might see Holding out on loan. We have had a lack of success at centre-back over the years – Cygan, Stepanovs and Senderos are examples. Coaches never know how players will develop. There was a time when Norveidt was the big hope. But I do feel that in Holding we seem to have real promise.
Perez needs match time as well. With Welbeck likely available for selection in the New Year we want to see more of Perez so that Wenger has options up front. We have to anticipate injuries especially for Sanchez. He cannot be replaced. He is exceptional but with Giroud, Perez and Welbeck back in harness we may be able to maintain a title challenge in January and February
Wenger tends not to buy in the winter transfer window for good reason. Marsh in 1973 for City and Asprilla for Newcastle left both clubs unsuccessful in the title run-in. And in any event do we need Draxler? Don’t we have enough mid-field options unless Jack decides next season to move on to a Club where he is guaranteed selection week in/week out?
OK – enough speculation. Let’s wait to see what the boss does and let’s hope for an upset in Paris. Their President has just announced he will not run in next year’s Election. Perhaps PSG will fall from grace. Pigs do sometimes fly
Graham tweets daily @arsenalcircular