The Carabao Cup final takes place tomorrow, of course, and we’ll have a full preview of the game for you then. This morning, just a quick look at the latest team news ahead of the game.
Mesut Ozil will be available, unless he suffers a relapse in terms of his illness, but I suspect the German will be fit and ready for action. There’s also good news about Aaron Ramsey who, after returning to full training yesterday, appears be on the right track with Arsene Wenger saying:
I have to make a decision on Aaron Ramsey, he looks to be available but he has another test today, so we’ll know more about it tomorrow.
I hope he makes it, and I hope he’s as close to 100% as possible. He’s obviously a player with a great record for us at Wembley in cup finals, but we also have to take into account how strong they are in midfield and if he’s not fully fit then it might be a risk playing him. I guess that’s what the test is about, so fingers crossed.
The other thing about tomorrow is back three versus back four. It seems that the manager is now very much moving back towards the latter, but we’ve had good results with the former. James and I chat about it in the Arsecast Extra this week, check it out here, and I’ll cover this in a bit more depth tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the draw for the Round of 16 in the Europa League was made yesterday, and we have avoided some of the more difficult teams, and certainly some of the more difficult trips, the Russian teams in particular are always really challenging away from home. Instead we’ve got AC Milan, and I have to say I really like it.
The Europa League this season has, with all due respect to the teams involved, been fairly dull. Bar the Cologne game at the Emirates and all the crowd related stuff that went on there, it’s been hard to get too excited about what we’ve seen, the football we’ve played and the teams we’ve selected.
The optimistic outlook for these games was that it would give fringe and youth players more playing time, and thus allow them to force their way into the ‘first team’ reckoning. One or two exceptions aside, it hasn’t really done that. It hasn’t fostered a competitive environment that would have been a real positive, and instead has pretty much divided the squad very clearly in two.
The thing about the rest of the campaign is that we can no longer treat it like the poor relation. Our position in the Premier League insists that we start to put more of our eggs in the Europa League basket, especially if Champions League qualification is seen as a priority for next season, and the quality of the opposition demands it too.
Even if this is not a Milan side anything like the ones we’ve seen in the past, we’ve also seen what the ceiling is for the second-string team we put out, and that’s an unconvincing qualification for the next round against Östersunds FK – which included a defeat at home. We have to start playing our best players in these games.
As for the tie itself, Arsenal v AC Milan is far more interesting (on paper anyway) than some of the games we’ve played in Europe this season, and you would expect that to be reflected in the attendance for the home game. We’re unlikely to see the same vast swathes of empty seats as we did last Thursday, assuming we don’t do in the first leg what we did in Milan last time we went there, and it feels like a proper European tie.
Not only that, the Italians have added a bit of spice to proceedings, stirring things up minutes after the draw was made. Their sporting director Massimiliano Mirabell came out to say he felt sorry for us:
I’m sorry for Arsenal, who I’m sure would have liked to have continued in Europe. It would have been a nice final, but I’m happy. It’s best to face a big club like Arsenal now. We needed opponents like these.
Perhaps it’s a bit tongue in cheek, perhaps it’s genuine arrogance (maybe he’s watched us play this season etc etc!), but whatever the reason for his comments, the players should be made aware of them. Earlier this month Sam Allardyce said Arsenal couldn’t defend and weren’t that good in attack and we beat Everton 5-1.
Whether his pre-game waffling provoked that kind of response from us is anyone’s guess really, but I’m all for it when a manager or a club start spouting off. It adds a little something extra to the game, and after what has been a relatively mundane European campaign so far, I’m looking forward to this one. Milan are currently managed by Gennaro Gattuso, a combative figure in his playing days, and still that kind of a character in management it appears, so this could be really fun.
Right, have yourselves a good Saturday, I’ll be back tomorrow to preview the Carabao Cup final and for today I’ll leave you with yesterday’s extra Arsecast Extra.