Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Europa League still the poor relation, but Emery’s rotation provides real interest

There’s nothing quite like the glamour of European football. And Arsenal v FC Vorskla is, genuinely, nothing like the glamour of European football. It’s a fixture which – with all due respect to our Ukrainian opponents – really hammers home the difference between the Champions League and the Europa League, and a second season in this competition is really difficult to get enthused about, particularly at the group stages.

Nevertheless, there’s still something to get into because it’ll be the first time we see Unai Emery rotate his squad, and some of the players who have been warming the bench until now will get some playing time. Not least goalkeeper Bernd Leno who, having arrived from Bayer Leverkusen for a fairly whopping £22.5m (well it was until Chelsea and Liverpool splashed even whoppier cash), has been sitting there watching on from the sidelines.

Arsenal are not the kind of club to spend that much money on a back-up player, so I figured he’d start the season, but the new boss prefers Petr Cech despite the more senior man’s occasional issues with the ball at his feet. As James pointed out on the Arsecast Extra this week, the 35 year has barely put a hand wrong this season, but he has had the odd blooper as we try and put into practice Emery’s possession based style and play it out from the back.

However, the Spaniard confirmed that German will make his debut tonight:

Bernd Leno is going to play tomorrow. In our planning with our goalkeeper we have spoken with Javi Garcia, the goalkeeping coach. We need with Leno to give him a chance and the minutes of the game.

It doesn’t appear to be a case that there’s an obvious demarcation between keepers as there has been in recent years under Wenger ie. Cech for the Premier League, Ospina for the cup competitions, and to my mind that’s a good thing. But in his first weeks at the club the new boss has plumped for the man with greater experience in spite of the fact Leno seems to better suit his style. To me that suggests that the 26 year old has got some convincing to do, and while training is all well and good, it’s how he performs on the pitch that will be most important. It makes tonight an important night for him, regardless of the calibre of the opposition.

Stephan Lichtsteiner is set for his first start too, the veteran defender told the press he’s all about the work, work, work, work, work, and while Emery said he’d pick ‘the best team’ for tonight, he surely doesn’t actually mean his best team. He acknowledges the fact he has to get others involved:

Tomorrow we are going to change things to give players the opportunity to find minutes, to find confidence on the pitch and then maybe tomorrow’s players can play on Sunday too.

He’s certainly leaving a door open at least for those who make a mark in the Europa League to stake a claim for higher profile games, so hopefully that will be good for competition within the squad. As for the team tonight, I can only guess, but with Konstantinos Mavropanos apparently sidelined with a minor injury and only one senior left-back, I guess we’ll have some seniority in defence.

Perhaps we’ll see something like: Leno, Lichtsteiner (c), Mustafi, Holding, Monreal, Elneny, Torreira, Smith-Rowe, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck.

The whispers are that the biggest signing of the summer, Torreira, will get his first start tonight too. I do wonder if fitness/conditioning issues have been a part of why he’s been held back – and there’s no other way to put that when you look at his performances when he’s come on. He’s definitely added something to the team, and while I’ll be glad to see him tonight, I wonder if starting this game might preclude him from doing the same against Everton on Sunday. One game at a time though, I suppose, and if Emery is true to his word then tonight might be a small stepping stone to him lining up from the off in the Premier League.

As for tonight’s opposition, I really have no idea what we’re going to face, but apparently they finished third last season – their highest finish since 1997 – so you’d hope that whatever kind of team we put out we’re capable of doing the job. Oh, and hopefully keeping a first clean sheet of the season, that’d be nice.

As ever we’ll have a live blog for you, check back here for the details, or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically staring with team news about an hour before the game. All the post-match reports, stats, player ratings and the rest will be found over on Arseblog News.

Finally for today, this week’s writing and podcasting made me think about how much has changed since Ivan Gazidis uttered his famous ‘catalyst for change’ soundbite back in April 2017. I went through every news article I could find to put together a timeline of the significant changes on and off the pitch, and you can view that right here.

When you look at it in chronological order like that, it’s an extraordinary amount for one club to go through in a little over 12 months. This is a very different Arsenal from the one we were. You suspect there might still be a bit more to come, but it does illustrate what’s happened and why it might yet take a little while for things to stabilise properly and get back on track.

Right, catch you later for the game, have a good one in the meantime.

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