It’s our first European game of the season, as we take on FC Zurich late this afternoon.
Mikel Arteta reportedly took a strong squad to Switzerland, but that’s not unexpected. It’s not as if we have a massive squad or a large collection of up and coming young players to stake their claim at this point, and I feel like the manager is going to take the group stage more seriously than some people might like. Arteta says:
We don’t have that many players available, unfortunately, with injuries we’ve picked up in the last two weeks. This is a competition that we want to take very seriously, against an opponent that is going to make life difficult for us. We want to start the competition the right way and maintain our momentum.
Nevertheless, I expect some changes tonight, as we use this game to get minutes into some players who haven’t played much this season, and take the burden off some who have played a lot so far and need to be as fresh as possible for Everton on Sunday. Some of the possible changes are obvious, the likes of Matt Turner, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Fabio Vieira and Eddie Nketiah will be itching to get a start.
It’s quite how we set up across the starting XI that remains to be seen. We’re without Emile Smith Rowe and Cedric (who both would have started otherwise), and Thomas Partey. So, trying to guess the team is a bit difficult. With Cedric fit to start at right back, you could have played Rob Holding and Takehiro Tomiyasu at centre-half (Tomi plays left centre-half for Japan), so your back four is sorted. Does he play Tomiyasu at right back now and keep one of William Saliba and Gabriel in?
Similarly, midfield needs someone. If Albert Sambi Lokonga starts, and Fabio Vieira replaces Martin Odegaard (which seems sensible given the knock he’s been carrying since the Villa game), who is the third man? It can only be Granit Xhaka, I guess, and the manager will bank on his experience in that position. I know Oleksandr Zinchenko is an option but like the captain he’s got some injury worries and you don’t want to lose an important player in a Europa League group stage game.
If we assume Eddie Nketiah will replace Gabriel Jesus, and Marquinhos comes into the team for his debut to give Bukayo Saka a rest, what then of the left hand side? Gabriel Martinelli has played almost every minute of every game so far, and ideally you’d want to give him a rest. I don’t know if there’s a youngster ready to come in, so do you play Martinelli for an hour then bring on Jesus or Saka? It’s easy to see why Arteta wanted another winger before the end of the window, and despite my dubiousness about his decision to stay and fight for a place, there might well be some minutes for Reiss Nelson as and when he gets himself fit – simply because we lack the necessary depth.
For tonight though, I’m most interested to see Vieira who had a lively few minutes at Old Trafford, and I think he’s gone a little bit under the radar because he spent pre-season in the treatment room rather than on the pitch. The manager sounds positive about him too, saying:
We were looking for players that could play in three positions in the frontline and in the attacking midfielder positions. We were looking for very specific qualities in the market and when I saw him, I really liked what I saw. Straight away, I was convinced that he was a player who can help us go to the next level and that he had the right personality and character to play for our club.
Hopefully you’re going to see a lot more of him in the next few weeks, and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it.
As I write, I suppose there’s another permutation where Vieira could start on the right and Marquinhos on the left, but I’m not sure we’ll see that. Anyway, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the former Porto man later on, and fingers crossed we can get our European campaign off to a good start.
I’m gonna leave it there for now. We do have a preview podcast over on Patreon, but there’s also chat about the Thomas Tuchel signing and Bernd Leno’s curious comments in there too. Listen here.
Catch you later for the game.