So our new Europa League adventure begins tonight. Many fans will look upon Europe’s secondary competition as beneath Arsenal but in all honesty it is exactly where we deserve to be and the level we are at as a club.
Over 38 games the Premier League, unlike perhaps Cup competitions, the table come May never lies. Arsenal were the 5th best team in 2016/17 and that merits us a place in the competition we never wanted to be in. Having said that, for my money, Arsenal Football Club should be out to win every competition they enter and I see the Europa as one we not only should try to win but can win.
As my colleague on GT, Dougie said only this morning this competition gives Arsenal the opportunity to blood new players and look at new tactics and on field combinations and this is exciting. I have in the past been highly critical of Wenger’s penchant for playing weaker teams in the competition ‘he’ deems less important but the Europa is slightly different. Because of the group nature in the initial stages, unlike with the League Cup, experimentation tonight with new partnerships and blooding youngsters does, should it backfire will not see our demise in the competition.
So what does all the above mean for Arsenal’s bow in the Europa this evening? It means, for this observer at least, that I hope to see a strong side that blends youngsters with experienced campaigners and 1st team squad regulars that perhaps need pitch minutes. I was asked to select a team the other day and I actually went for one that showed 10 changes for the one that started the victory over Bournemouth. That team included Calum Chambers in a back three with Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker, but sadly we now hear that Chambers is not quite ready to return. I do hope to see the two young England U21 team mates together in this group stage and beyond.
I am very hopeful that we will see Reiss Nelson at some point tonight and I would love it will be from the start. What I do not want to see is this exciting young attacking talent deployed at right wing-back. Nelson will be wasted in this role, in my view but I fear that is exactly where Wenger may play him. I would sooner see Nelson behind the striker on the right along with Iwobi on the left. This match and other give us an opportunity to see these tow youngsters in tandem and with Alexis and Ozil both departing at some point in the near future, why would we not want to see this?
My heart and head tell me that is logical. Wenger’s head will tell him that Theo Walcott needs game time and he will play on the right and Nelson if he starts will be at RWB. For me will teach us nothing other than Nelson will be weak defensively and Walcott will flatter to deceive and may punish a weaker defence. I would like to see Maitland-NIles at right wing back behind Nelson. AMN may be seen first and foremost as a defensive midfielder but the lad himself played primarily right midfield in his season at Ipswich and is on record himself as wanting to play in the right.
With Chambers ruled out I would leave leave Monreal at left centre back with alongside Club Skipper, Per and Rob Holding. I hope that Kolasinac is allowed to continue on the left and if so, he will have a field day tonight I am sure. I assume David Ospina will continue as a more than adequate Cup keeper. As already stated I would like to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the right. This back line has a good blend of youth an experience.
In midfield with the absence of Coquelin, I hope to see the first outing as a combination for Mo Elneny and Jack Wilshere. I am more than a little excited about seeing Jack back in the famous red and white and as I have written previously do not concur that he is finished at Arsenal or as a top flight midfielder. He has the opportunity with Coq and indeed Cazorla out to get game time and to prove the naysayers wrong and that starts potentially this evening. The hairs on the back of my neck will be up when I hear this later….
Up front I expect to see Olivier Giroud given a start and it is key for the popular Frenchman to show he can operate in the 3421 formation. If Nelson and Iwobi do start as the double 10’s they might surge to the line more often than Alexis and Ozil and this may suit the striker, both in the air and across the front post, his fortes.
So the above is my team, which excites me and would, is selected teach us much about the untested, under utilised and younger squad members but I feel Wenger may see it otherwise in several areas.