As I wrote yesterday it’s time to make some progress in the Champions League, and tonight’s clash with Monaco is a chance to put ourselves in a good position ahead of the second-leg in a few weeks time.
The stuff about Arsene Wenger facing his old club is a nice little sideshow, but that’s all it is. Obviously the game will have some emotional significance for him, but it’s a matter of work for the rest. We have played them recently, but a 1-0 defeat in the Emirates Cup in August is more or less irrelevant as it was pre-season and their goalscorer that day, Falcao, is now the pride of Manchester on £350,000 a week.
In terms of our team tonight, the only bit of news from the weekend is that Jack Wilshere is unlikely to be part of the squad having been left out of training yesterday. Although the manager says he hasn’t had a setback and should be available for the weekend, you do have to worry just a little bit – especially as central midfield is an area we’re a little bit short at the moment. Perhaps he just felt a twinge of something and this rest is precautionary, fingers crossed.
It does seem as if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in full training and could be involved, but beyond that everyone we had in the squad at Palace is available. A number of young players, including Krystian Bielik, trained with the first team yesterday.
I do think there might be a change or two with Hector Bellerin returning at right back and I’ve just got a feeling that he might bring back Theo Walcott for this one. Personally, I’d be quite happy for Welbeck to start because when we’re playing a midfield as light on genuine central midfielders as ours is right now, he gives us a bit more balance, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Walcott get the nod ahead of him for this one as we’re at home.
We know he can get you goals, and the parts of his game that are lacking (e.g his defensive awareness) are offset by the fact we’re playing at home and against a team who look set to try and contain us rather than attack us. Monaco don’t score a lot of goals, but they don’t conceded very many either, and their coach set out their game-plan in his press conference yesterday, saying:
Our strategy is to be solid and not allow Arsenal’s key attacking players to unbalance us.
Sounds a bit like they’re going to sit deep and try to frustrate us that way, rather than take the more proactive approach teams like Sp*rs and Palace have in recent games – something we’ve found a lot more difficult to deal with. All the same, when you’re facing a side that has conceded just three goals in their last seventeen games, you know you’re going to have to work hard for your goals.
But that can’t come at the expense of defensive solidity, something the manager is preaching:
In the last four years we always came out frustrated because three times we conceded a goal at home in the first 30 minutes. That goal knocked us out. It was really tight. We have learnt from that and we can show that on Wednesday. Every single minute of these games will be absolutely massively important.
While it’s fair to say on those occasions we were playing better sides than Monaco, you all know how capable we are of conceding even when it looks like we’re going to see a game out (Palace at the weekend a case in point). But while we’re right to be relatively cautious, this is still a game that we should be winning, taking a good lead to the principality for the second-leg. Those away goals can complicate things a great deal.
Yet with an in-form Olivier Giroud flanked by the attacking talents of Alexis (who I fancy to get back on the scoresheet after 5 games without a goal), Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and whichever of Walcott or Welbeck is selected, we’ve definitely got plenty to worry the visitors tonight. I think because of the way they’re likely to set-up it’s a game that will suit our line-up, in much the same way as the Boro fixture did.
I’d take the same kind of performance tonight, although maybe being a bit more clinical might take the difficulty out of the second leg. Fingers crossed.
As for yesterday’s ‘revelation’ that the World Cup final in 2022 might take place on December 23rd, that’s hardly a surprise. Nobody can realistically argue against the fact that if you’re having a football tournament in the middle of the desert, summer is the worst time to do it.
The bigger question, of course, is why on earth – beyond reasons involving lots of people being made rich by obscenely rich people – you would have a football tournament there. And while the objections to the schedule of the tournament and the impact it might have on European football leagues in particular are obviously valid and very relevant to us, that shouldn’t be the principal reason to be concerned the farce that is Qatar 2022.
The country’s treatment of migrant workers (and some footballers let’s not forget), hundreds of whom have died already, is far more important than when some football games are going to be played. As is its stance on gay people. Not to mention if ever anything stank of corruption and dishonesty then this tournament has a stench way beyond the norm. That everybody knows this is one of the most fraudulent, venal absurdities football, or sport in general, has ever witnessed seems almost irrelevant. The show will go on.
The only effective way of countering it, and FIFA’s continued destruction of the game for commercial gain, is for national football associations to boycott the tournament completely, but the chances of that are slim because many the people who make those decisions are the ones who voted for Qatar in the first place.
If it wasn’t so appalling it would be a joke.
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