Early Portuguese kick-off for Arsenal although Xhaka remains the big story

Preview of this afternoon’s game v Vitoria

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The usual five talking points ahead today’s match away to Vitoria Guimaraes in the Europa League

No low-profile return for Granit Xhaka
It was thought that this game might be an opportunity for Grant Xhaka to return to first team duty, away from the spotlight of the Premier League and especially the Emirates. However, the belated decision to strip him of the captaincy has blown that out of the water. The question now becomes whether he can even play for the club any more. This could have been handled very differently, but ultimately, it was Xhaka’s own refusal to issue an immediate and heartfelt apology the day after the Palace game, followed by an announcement that he would step down from the captaincy, which has made things untenable. The half-hearted statement finally issued last Thursday hardly helped things. It might be easier if Xhaka’s leadership had led to more wins, especially in games that the best bookmakers uk had Arsenal as favourites to win, but this is a relationship that has broken, and I am struggling to see how it can be healed. If Xhaka ever plays for Arsenal again, you can’t see it being until after the international break.

Ozil not making the trip is a non-story
Four of the eleven players that started against Wolves have remained at home. Ozil, Aubameyang, David Luiz and Calum Chambers. Given that Ozil played last Wednesday at Liverpool, and started on Saturday, playing the full game, it’s no surprise he has not travelled. He has only just returned to playing matches after all. It’s highly likely that the six of the seven players that did start against Palace will be the ones on the bench this afternoon.

Starting eleven
It can’t be too different from Martinez – Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac – Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Willock - Pepe, Martinelli, Saka. Reiss Nelson returns from injury and unless Saka plays in an attacking midfield role (with Torreira on the bench), it's difficult to see him starting, although you would have to imagine Unai Emery will give him a run-out.

3.50pm kick off time? In Portugal too!
So because nearly Braga have a home Europa League match tomorrow evening, the local authorities have deigned that Arsenal’s game be played on a different day, and for some (presumably TV broadcast based) reason, Champions League matches can’t be held at the same time as a Europa League one. Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK, so let’s see if the locals take the afternoon off work for what is presumably quite a big game for them. As for the travelling Arsenal fans, you might think that there could be some late autumn sunshine on the Iberian peninsula for them. But Guimaraes is a looooooong way north of the Algarve people – where there will be some sunshine. But oooop north – 15 degress maximum and 90% chance of rain during the game. Now if Tenerife had qualified for this competition…

Good recent Portuguese memories for Unai
In October last year, Arsenal travelled to Sporting Lisbon for, in theory, their toughest match in last season’s Europa League group. They won 1-0, Danny Welbeck scoring in an unconventionally disciplined performance. In fairness, qualification from the group looks like a near certainty already, although another win today would go a long way to ensuring Arsenal finish in first place, giving them a theoretically easier tie in the round of 32 in February. It would also ease pressure very slightly on the head coach, who is finding wins hard to come by at the moment.

As ever with Arsenal, it’s impossible to predict what will happen. Vitoria will certainly feel confident they can win this match after being unlucky to lose 3-2 at the Emirates. But Unai Emery does seem to have the magic touch in this competition. Granted it abandoned him in the final last season, but for the most part, when playing continental opposition, he gets it right, with only isolated exceptions. The club need a boost before the difficult trip to Leicester on Saturday, and a win this afternoon would provide a lift after a very testing couple of weeks.


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  1. Don Howe

    Nov 21, 2019, 13:30 #115532

    What I can't work out is what has changed that makes us " not bothered" any more? Obviously Wenger is a big factor - his abandonment of any defensive nous until it became almost an article of faith for him. With that went many traditions of the club. Tony Adams talked the other day about the suitability of players in terms of character for the club. eg Guendouzi has the right stuff and attitude as did Fabregas and Flamini and Vieira whereas Ozil and Gallas should never have been allowed within a million miles of the club. I think a huge factor is the revulsion that all of us old geezers feel for the money at the top of the game while the lower leagues starve. Do I have any sympathy for players who draw £100,000 a week and who can't cross or tackle properly? Less than zero. I think overall that the game we fell in love with was inexpensive fun, and now somehow IT'S NEITHER. I lasted through Wengers last 10 years through sheer bloody mindedness, but the truth is that he ( and the TV money) has screwed it forever. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the money would be better spent elsewhere. I long for the imposition of a maximum wage. £100,000 per annum take home pay ( any more to be taxed at 101%)and the TV money evenly distributed between all 92 clubs. Exit foreign players, exit agents, exit soulless football. Win bonuses would matter and so would the FA Cup.

  2. TonyEvans

    Nov 7, 2019, 12:58 #115398

    If we had our time over again, Ron, I don't expect either of us would even be interested in football at all in its current guise. The home match day experience now is a poor relation to what it used to be I am sure, and I completely agree that the move away from Highbury will prove to be the worst decision the club has ever made.

  3. itsRonagain2

    Nov 7, 2019, 11:14 #115396

    Quite agree with you Tony. AFC are perhaps a slightly glossier, zoomed up South East version of what a club like Everton for eg usually are now and lets be honest, its been that way for several years. Kroenke is happy with what hes got and he wont be shifted. Its sad as you say though we ve gone into long years of slumber before as we both know. All of the clamour by our fans for some thing better than top 6 and seasonal EL mediocrity is really a cry in the dark under this owner. In many ways everything that can be sad has been said a million times over by the fans. Its really the fans that have to make the choice now a far as SK is concerned. Either, stay with the club and go to games and get behind the club in the best way possible or stop going. Its that simple. The expectation levels went though the roof after moving to the soul less bowl, thats the problem and the noises coming from the Board back then did that. Worst thing Arsenal ever did was to move there in my view. If i was a young kid again now and living in the SE, i doub that i would settle on the Arsenal as my team nor no other London club either, though if that was the case, we might be immune to the reality of all this i guess! Thats the saddest part for me. We ve lost our attraction. Im sure the youngsters in London today though dont look beyond whats on the surface. We had our Dads and Uncles etc etc to lead us towards the Gunners didnt we.

  4. TonyEvans

    Nov 7, 2019, 07:20 #115394

    Hi Ron - I hope you are right that Arsenal have virtually hit rock bottom because even though I can’t claim to be a proper supporter anymore I don’t like to see a club I worshiped for 50 odd years in the state we are in, and have been for such a long time. We need a ‘messiah’ moment, another George Graham to do a root and branch job on the club, but with the current ownership even that may not be enough.

  5. itsRonagain2

    Nov 6, 2019, 22:51 #115393

    Hi Marky. No, he’s not a top marque player at all. I m not saying all his limitations don’t exist. I think the word frightened in Watford context was a badly chosen work. He really meant wary or overly respecting I think. He pulled the shirt off. He didn’t throw it down. I ll defend any one person though against a bunch of blood baying c—ts who’ve never played the game and who none of which would have the balls to face him down 1 to 1. As far as his playing goes, I ll say for him that he s at least shown some bite and spite in games this last 18 months and not many of the lightweight back sliders have done that who he plays with. Anyway , all of this aside and I respect Tony’s take on it, all this GX and Emery stuff that we re seeing now is the crystallisation nigh on 15 years of rot setting in at Arsenal. The rot started in my view right back to game 50 and the great sulk that followed , lead by Wenger who allowed his team to sulk even more for 6 minths or more. He needed sacking for that and a good many of the sulking players needed getting shot of for their part too. It was always going to hit rock bottom. The only shock is that it took so long. There’s always positives that emerge from every negative in life. The positive for Arsenal is that at least they’re now close to the barrel bottom ( for a club of AFC s stature) so things tho looking bleak now can and will only get better. The main blockage though remains the club’s ownership. The fan campaign to rid the club of Wenger was in my view always misdirected. It shd have pointed the arrows at Kroenke and his crew.

  6. markymark

    Nov 6, 2019, 20:37 #115392

    Ron a few things regarding Xhaka 1. He’s irritated a lot of the base with his frightened of Watford 2: He appeared to blame the forwards after his numbskull penalty give away against the Spuds 3: He’s not s favourite after his previous numbskull penalty against Brighton and so effectively blowing top 4. 4: He was booed after doing a ridiculous slow walk off the pitch when we were trying to overturn yet another comeback against us. 5: not his fault but Arsenal then pulled the mental illness card. 6: Xhaka then tried to link booing at the stadium with trolls online ( an average troll is usually on the spectrum , aged between about 15-20 and live with their mums ) 7: Not that I really care but he’s also thrown Dick under a Bus after Dick basically said apologise and he chose not to. 8; The apology when it came was in German and followed after his removal of his Arsenal profile. One can only summisd he still wasn’t talking to anyone and Arsenal had to grab it and translate back to English. 9: He threw his shirt down on the floor ( This is an Arsenal Captain ) Overall he’s not up to EPL standard . A guy who would have been pretty good in 2008 but doesn’t fit present requirements. That’s not his fault. Neither is Emery being a complete Beta Male who can’t even make a decision on one Captain. His major failing is to shit all over Emery who’s made himself look a complete idiot by bigging him up in the first place. My Christmas will be a lot more special if it involves the departure of the Chuckle brothers Dick and Granit ( soft as butter )

  7. John F

    Nov 6, 2019, 19:36 #115391

    I had enjoyed watching the cup games this season as it made a refreshing change from the dire premiership games but the poor slow hesitant play has now seeped into the B side as well.My 11year old made me laugh by saying we still had time to lose when we were 1up on 90mins .He was nearly right.

  8. Pauljames

    Nov 6, 2019, 19:35 #115390

    I agree with Ron on Xhaka, blown out of all proportion and if he was any good he’d have been back in the team already.If you ask me Dick has used all this as a reason to drop him, he clearly didn’t have the guts to do it for more conventional reasons .As for tonight what is there to say? We all know we are going to fail to reach the top 4 and lose in the latter stages of the EL, so what happens between now and then is not very interesting .... even to life long Arsenal fans.


    Nov 6, 2019, 19:01 #115389

    Tomorrow's match report plus comments should be fun reading. A truly dire match of joyless footie with AFC largely second best to the equivalent of a Euro pub team. Brainless performance with the usual ingredients - lots of falling down, caught in possession & crap passing. The highlight for me was the total chaos of the stoppage in play for the overpaid AMN to have his gold jewellery removed. I regret to say I laughed when the inevitable late equaliser came. Bet Brenda is rubbing his hands with glee for saturday afternoon. Interlull P45 for Dick hopefully.

  10. TonyEvans

    Nov 6, 2019, 17:44 #115387

    For me the real villain in all the Xhaka furore is Emery himself for ducking the captaincy issue in the first place. What sort of manager lets his players decide! If only there were a few more (any?) genuine candidates for a decent captain anyway - the lack of is just another exmple of how far we have fallen over the last decade or so and Emery is certainly not the manager we need to put things right.

  11. itsRonagain2

    Nov 6, 2019, 11:01 #115386

    Why not just place Xhaka in the stocks for 3 days, or at least make him walk in a loin cloth around the bowl and be pelted with tomatoes? All the baying 'offended' and 'hurt' sheep then can turn up and fill their boots once more. Seriously, though he disrespected the post of Captain (for what thats worth these days) what has he done thats so bad? He had a go back, he cupped his ears and he allegedly used an expletive to express his view on being mass abused. Is it really a big deal? Once more its trial and execution by Sky and social media to sate the plastics so to give meaning to their fake sentiment of being 'offended' by him. The fools need reminding that they started all of it. The guy owed no apology and all of the talk of him never playing again is as barmy as it gets. A half decent, newly qualified employment lawyer would rip Arsenal a new hole if they forced him to leave or cancelled his contract over a bit of verbal argee bargee with a shed load of unidentifiable 'disgusted' sheep who like to turn on their own as a result of having no life of their own. Its all nuts.

  12. Colonel Blimp

    Nov 6, 2019, 10:53 #115385

    Tonight's kick off time brings back memories of the 70's and 80's with 2pm kick offs against opposition from behind the Iron Curtain. Nice touch of nostalgia that