I’m not the usual match previewer here on Gunners Town – but I thought I’d give it a bash. How hard can it be?
First, a little background on tonight’s opponents…
“Östersund” means ‘wheelbarrow’ in Swedish, and it’s quite appropriate, since the entire population could fit in a wheelbarrow. A very big wheelbarrow. Not as big as the Emirates. Not as small as the Albert Hall. (Little known fact: the vikings invented the wheelbarrow to help carry the treasure that they pillaged on their European conquests in the late 20th century.)
Formed in 1996, Östersunds FC (or Östersunds FK, as they say in Swedish – just to be difficult) is one of the oldest football clubs in Scandinavia. Since their pitch was covered in snow for most of the year, the players originally had to play wearing “snow-shoes” (tennis rackets duct-taped beneath their boots) – a difficult skill to master, and which made their games excruciating to watch. Global warming, however, meant that the gulf stream broke its banks in the early 2000’s and ran directly through the town, causing much warmer winters and cooler summers. So – despite being a short road-trip from the North Pole – it has become a fairly hospitable place to pursue football.
No longer impeded by ungainly footwear, Östersund went from strength to strength, moving up from Sweden’s 15th Division to the top division – Allsvenskan – in a matter of years. With a population of less than 50 thousand people – where do they get their players from? – I hear you ask…
Well – Wales and Libya, mostly. Swansea and Libya, actually – to be more specific. They have a deal with the Welsh club which sees them being loaned up-and-coming young swans. And then – in a stroke of genius – in 2014 ÖFC/K signed a half-billion kronor deal with the Libyan government to develop Libyan football players.
All Libyan football players are sent to Östersund for a year, where they are taught to drink brännvin (burn-wine), make jam (jämkraft) and craft furniture out of Norwegian Wood. (The most famous Libyan graduate from this Östersund Academy is probably one Mohammed Salah – currently plying his trade for a lesser-known Manchester club called Liverpool.)
Anyway – enough of all that.
All you need to know is that Östersunds FC/K are what is known in football as a bananskal (“banana peel”) – something for the bigger clubs to be very careful when stepping on.
Unbeaten in the qualifying stages of this season’s Europa League – except for their loss to Greek side PAOK (pronounced PAOK) – Östersunds claimed some fairly big scalps when qualifying as top of the bottom 3 in Group J. Their home record is particularly impressive – winning 5 and drawing 1 in their last 3 European games. How they will do in the knockout stages is anyone’s guess – although the expert tipsters from Betenemy provide relevant playing tips for the 2018 matches.
Renowned around Europe, their home ground – the Jåmkraft Arena, otherwise known as the “Mycket Varm Kruka” (Very Hot Pot), houses just under six thousand rabid ÖFK fans (Fcöfkies). This will be no walkover for an Arsenal team devastated by injuries to Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey, Lacazette, Cech, and Koscielny.
Since Aubameyang is cup-tied (who knew?), Alexis has moved to Piano FC (decent riddance), Feo‘s gone to Everton (ah, well) and Giroud has joined the Chavs (sad face), this is Danny Welbeck’s chance to shin on the left wing – because it is finally time to stop pretending that Nacho Monreal is a left back. Let’s just be honest: Nacho’s the most clinical finisher Arsenal have had since Marouane Chamakh – and he deserves to finally be promoted to striker.
If anyone can put a couple past Östersunds’ 6’10” goalkeeping giant Aly Keita, Nacho can too.
Behind Monreal, I’d play Özil (centre) between Mkhitaryan (on the right) and Welbeck (not on the right).
Having torn up the Emirates in the Everton drubbing, and then totally sucked at Wembley against the Spurs – I’m hoping that Mesut and Henrikh are due decent performances. Welbz is a bit like the Norse God, Loki – who sometimes appears as a salmon, a mare, a fly, or an elderly woman named Þökk (which means “thanks”). Quite appropriate, then that he should be given a chance to shin on the left.
Behind them, I’d play Maitland-Niles, ElNeny and Xhaka – with ElNeny dropping randomly in and out of the back 4 just to make it look like tactic stuff. (I would have played Coquelin there, but I forgot we sold him to one of the clubs in Spain that isn’t Madrid or Barca.)
Behind them, I’d play Kolasinac, Holding, Mustafi and Bellerin. Mertesacker is too tall to fit in the change-room, and also low gulf stream, (as I mentioned earlier).
I wouldn’t play a goalkeeper. Games like these there often isn’t much to do – and I think we’d be better off loading the mid-field. Also, we need as much help as we can get scoring goals, and I don’t think Ospina has ever scored. I’d have him on the bench, just in case we go a goal down – and also I love the Osssssssss-PINA! every time he kicks the ball. It hardly ever gets old.
On the bench I’d have Nketiah (Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!), Chambers, Nelson, Mertesacker, Ospina and Iwobi – although I would probably tell Iwobi not to bother bringing boots because… – well, I’m the manager and I don’t have to have a reason.
Opposition lineup and tactics.
I expect Östersunds to play 11 of their strongest players – some of the players may have Muslim-sounding names, and others could be called Jones and Evans – but in the main I expect a lot of names with dôts and åccénts above the vöwels, and maybe the occasional ø with a line through it. Expect OFC/K to make full use of the snow… they may even wear all-white, just to trigger NLD flashbacks. (And also: camouflage.)
They may make use of the gulf stream and play long balls – or even try and score from goal kicks – especially once they see we don’t have a goalkeeper, but hey: if you’re going to be revolutionary then you have to take the good with the bad.
Man Of The Match
Surprisingly, Ospina scored a hat-trick, coming off the bench. So, well done to the predictably unpredictable Colombian.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game.
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.