It’s Europa League action this evening as we take on Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt at the Emirates.
It’s conceivable that Mikel Arteta could rotate almost his entire starting XI this evening, with Liverpool on Sunday some would say that would even be preferable. A possible starting XI:
Turner, Cedric, Holding, Tomiyasu, Tierney, Sambi, ????, Vieira, Marquinhos, Nelson, Nketiah.
The ???? are there because we don’t have another obvious candidate for that midfield role. Granit Xhaka played against FC Zurich, he could do it again, but he’s become so important – not to mention the fact he played two games during the Interlull and at 30 we have to start thinking about how many minutes he plays.
It’s possible that we could turn to the Academy. FA Cup winner Matt Smith has close to 100 first team appearances garnered during his loan spells with Doncaster, Charlton and Swindon, but has yet to make his Arsenal debut. Beyond that, I don’t know. You could start Thomas Partey and give him an hour with Sambi in the ‘8’ role he played during the summer, but it feels like too big a risk given his fitness record and the fact Liverpool are up next.
I don’t think the manager will be taking the opposition lightly, so it’s possible we might even seen one or two more senior players in there tonight. They beat Roma 6-1 in the group stage last season – perhaps a bit of an aberration, but they beat Mourinho’s side in the quarter-finals too, winning the first game 2-1 but losing the tie on aggregate after a convincing Roma win in the second leg. Arteta says Martin Odegaard has given him the Norwegian view and said it will be ‘tough’, and he says himself:
There are a few really good players and it’s a really good coach as well, and they have a clear identity with how they play. You can see straight away what they are trying to do and again I’ve been impressed with them.
It’s also a challenge for the depth of this Arsenal squad, especially this month as we have a weekday/weekend schedule right the way through:
It’s a test for the squad in terms of the numbers and the quality that you have when you make changes and how much you notice that. At the same time, it’s about how you are able to consistently play at the highest level and demand that of yourself and be successful doing it.
A lot has gone into making the ‘first’ team as successful as it has been this season. Work on the training ground, tactical instruction, and all the rest – so it will be interesting to see how this group get on tonight. Each game is different and has its own context, but Arteta will be looking for them to implement those things too. How successfully they can do it remains to be seen, and for some it’s an opportunity.
Eddie Nketiah spoke about how it’s not ‘Eddie v Jesus’ (although I wouldn’t be surprised if that became latest from the Marvel Universe at some point), but the striker will be keen to make his mark having played second fiddle in the Premier League thus far. However, has a goal and an assist to his name in the Europa League, as does Marquinhos – and I’m very interested to see if he can do it again after an excellent display against FC Zurich.
The return of Reiss Nelson is also timely as it allows Gabriel Martinelli to rest. He’s still only 22, but there’s no question his career has stagnated in recent seasons due to injury and, perhaps, some poor decision making on his part. Arteta spoke about him pre-game and said:
“I think the potential is there, we always hang in there because we see something in Reiss that is special. He’s been part of our academy system and now he’s going to have an opportunity. He’s been out for almost three months with an injury, he’s back now, he’s fully fit and he’s ready to play. He just needs minutes now.
“That’s what he needs to do, he needs to show it on the pitch. His attitude, the way he’s matured and evolved in the last year or so has been really impressive, I think everyone [around the club] has been talking about it. Now he needs to do it on the pitch.”
It’s worth remembering that of that group that was breaking through, including Eddie, Joe Willock, and Emile Smith Rowe, he was as highly rated as any of them. A tricky winger always catches the eye, but for various reasons he hasn’t made the same progress. I’d still be surprised if he had any long-term future here, but you can never say never in football. Nketiah is a case in point: he was tipped to depart but he took his opportunity well last season and signed a new deal, so who knows? A solid display tonight would be good for him, but also for us as we contend with this October schedule.
So, lots of little sidebars of interest as we look for three points at home, and we get a chance to assess the full depth of the squad. As ever we’ll have live blog coverage for you, plus all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News, so join us later for that.
For now, have a good one.