There are only three days and two training sessions between Arsenal and their best shot at a trophy in this, so far, season of gross under achievement. This being the case it is hard to imagine that any player with a realistic chance of starting at Wembley will start this evening in the Europa League. Our opponents tonight are a few steps up from the Dog and Duck, with a few lively ringers and on Sunday we face one of the finest and most expensively assembled teams in Europe. Man City may be wounded after a surprise bloody nose, given them by Wigan on Monday but we all know that their FA Cup exit makes Pep’s team more focused than ever.
Our current manager has told us three players that will start this evening against Osterhunds FK and in reality, with the player sold or on loan, filling in the gaps should be quite easy. Logically with no right back cover for Mr Tapegate you would suspect that Wenger should play the back he played earlier in the tournament and utilise Nelson at right wing-back. However, with so many attacking players used in the Europa departing in January I suspect he will need the young talent further up the pitch tonight. Sadly, for Calum Chambers therefore I imagine he will be asked to filling on the right of a back four alongside Per, Rob Holding and Kolasinac. I have no wish to see CC there but he is easily good enough in the role to play there against this level of opponent and I actually expect him to foray forward well and support the attack.
In our conventional 4231 it will offer Maitland-Niles another opportunity to shine in the role we all want to see him play more. Tonight that should be just behind a pivot partner of Willock. The latter has excelled in this competition at times and I am looking forward to seeing the two youngsters working together and controlling the game from midfield.
Wenger has told us that Welbeck will play and that he is regaining his match sharpness, which was not on show in the away leg. Danny is not thriving centrally at present and I assume tonight he will be asked to play nominally on the left of the three. His engine will allow him to support Kolasinac on the rare occasion it is required and then push up closer to the main striker as often as possible. With Welbeck deployed on the left it should give Eddie Nketiah his first start for Arsenal. Without the injured Lacazette, the Cup-tied Aubameyang, or the departed Giroud and Walcott, the young centre forward – so prolific in the U23s – has the chance to show us all what he can do from the off. Can young Hot-rod (you need to be a certain age!!) Eddie be the first home-grown striker to step up since Super Kev?
Completing the trio in attack will be Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Reiss Nelson. I assume the Armenian, who of course scored in the final last year, before stepping up to Arsenal, will take the Ozil central berth and be asked to use his experience and guile to run the attack. I hope he takes Nelson under his wing this evening and feeds him the ball well and often and I am sure he will.
Mkhi can help Nelson shine
It goes without saying that this eleven will have more than enough to beat the Otter Hounds, (who have no bark or bite), but there is more than a place in the last 16 of the Europa League at stake. Several of the players on show tonight are also playing for a place in the squad and on the bench for this Sunday at Wembley. I feel a tad sorry for Chambers if I am correct and he plays right back tonight as I would think him and Holding are in direct competition for the reserve centre back berth on Sunday, with both now ahead of Mertesacker. On recent selection it would seem Chambers is ahead of Holding, at least in Wenger’s eyes. AMN too will be hoping for a strong display in the centre, with Kolasinac the more likely reserve to Monreal, now we have reverted to a back four. His place on the bench is probably assured but it may depend on Ramsey’s readiness.
Tonight is a distraction but there is a job to be done to get the club in to the latter stages and this eleven will do so with ease.