The usual five talking points ahead of today’s game away to Eintracht Frankfurt
Time for the Head Coach to earn his corn
Wherever you place the blame for the capitulation at Watford, it’s Unai Emery’s job to address the issues that led to the opposition enjoying 31 attempts on Arsenal’s goal. In terms of the Europa League group matches, it’s the law of Murphy that straight after the horrors witnessed at Vicarage Road, what is surely the toughest fixture of the six the Gunners will play before Christmas in this competition is next on the programme. So what can we expect? Five at the back? A more disciplined midfield? Being a little less predictable from goal kicks? And of course, we have to factor in a concept that has become part and parcel of the modern game…
Rotation, rotation, rotation
Arsenal play three matches over the course of six days, and it’s fair to say that Forest next Tuesday in the League Cup (or whatever it’s called these days) will be lowest on the priorities, and we can expect to see a mix of youth and second stringers fielded for that. Looking at the travelling party, one imagines we will see a relatively strong selection in Germany. Mesut Ozil has not travelled, and given he is hardly flavour of the month in his homeland, that’s no great surprise. Interestingly, Sokratis has also not made the trip, presumably dropped for presenting Watford with their first goal on Sunday (or ‘rested’ if you prefer Emery’s explanation). So one of Rob Holding, Calum Chambers or Shkodran Mustafi will be the potential central defensive partner for David Luiz, unless Emery plays two of them in a three, which is certainly possible.
What is to be done about that midfield?
My prediction is a 4-3-1-2 formation that will play most of the game on the counter attack. Ceballos behind Aubameyang and Pepe, with a line of Xhaka, Torreira and Guendouzi protecting the back four. But let’s just throw a curved ball in here for consideration. Calum Chambers had a decent season playing as a holding midfielder on loan at Fulham last season. I don’t see Emery dropping Xhaka, so what about bringing in Chambers for Guendouzi? That could in theory add to the ‘solidity’ and discipline of the midfield. Emery won’t do it, but might consider it against Forest. It has to be worth a look, at least.
One thing that is pretty much guaranteed is a raucous home crowd which should make for a cracking atmosphere this evening. Who says no-one cares about the Europa League? Sure, when Arsenal entertain teams in the group stage, half the crowd stay home, but I expect to see a healthy attendance at the Commerzbank Arena (or the Waldstadion as UEFA will have it – can’t have advertising of any sort unless UEFA are coining it of course). One thing for those that are attending – you’ve got to love those giant pillars either side of the ground – they look like something out of Fascist architecture, although I believe they’ve only been in place since an upgrade in 2005.
Eintracht and the Europa League
But for losing a penalty shoot-out to Chelsea in last season’s semi-finals, Eintracht would have faced Arsenal in Baku, so they can’t be taken lightly. Granted, they have lost two players that netted 47 goals between them last season – Luka Jovic has joined Real Madrid and Sebastian Haller moved to West Ham. However, the club have spent £91m on ten players to compensate and are very much in the European groove, having played six matches in the qualifying stages of the Europa League already to reach the group stage. So no-one is expecting a pushover.
Even ignoring Arsenal’s current fragility, this is a tough enough fixture, and no-one should be expecting miracles. What we need to see are signs of improvement. That something has been done to address what went wrong last Sunday. If Unai Emery can get out of Germany with a draw, that would certainly satisfy most people. A bad defeat will only see the calls for the head coach to get the boot get louder, but in reality the real test for Emery will be on Sunday. Lose at home to Villa and I really think he could be toast. What this evening can do is set his team up for this weekend’s match with a sense of greater confidence, and the thought that Watford was simply a disastrous day at the office. Football’s strange though. I recall Arsenal having a horrendous spell in Arsene Wenger’s last season and then going to Milan and beating them 2-0. A result and a performance that came from absolutely nowhere. But if I had to put my money on it, I’m seeing an Eintracht win. 2-1 the scoreline.
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