Arsenal Could Use Confidence Boosting Win in Belgium

Preview of the early evening kick off v Standard Liege

Arsenal Could Use Confidence Boosting Win in Belgium

Three of the scorers from a memorable night in Liege in 1993

The usual five talking points ahead tonight’s Europa League group game away in Liege.

Good Memories
Arsenal have played away to Standard Liege twice before. A 3-2 victory in the 2009-10 Champions League group stage saw the Gunners come back from two goals down with strikes from Bendtner, Vermaelen and Eduardo. However, more memorable was a 1993 second leg 7-0 thrashing in the run to winning the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup. Eddie McGoldrick was on the scoresheet alongside Alan Smith, Ian Selley, Tony Adams, Kevin Campbell (twice) and Paul Merson. Happy days. In five matches with the Belgian side, Arsenal have come out on top every time, most recently the 4-0 tonking at the Emirates earlier this season.

First, second or third in the group?
For Arsenal to fail to qualify for the round of 32, Eintracht Frankfurt will need to beat Vitoria at home (likely) and Standard will need to beat the Gunners by five clear goals (not so likely). Let’s assume that doesn't happen. But if Eintracht win, Arsenal will need to beat Liege to top the group. How does the seeding look if Freddie Ljungberg’s team do not succeed this evening? As it stands, based on the dropouts from the Champions League and the confirmed group winners, at present failure to win the group could mean a tie against one of the following… Ajax, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Inter, Salzburg and Sevilla. The other nine seeded teams will be determined by tonight’s games, but amongst others, Sporting Lisbon, Rangers, Porto, Wolfsberg, Borussia Moncheongladbach, Roma And Braga all have a chance. Whatever happens, there will be some good unseeded teams, so luck of the draw could be a factor come February when these ties come around.

Rotation time
Given the extreme unlikelihood of a heavy defeat, the interim head coach has to decide whether to encourage momentum by playing some of the players who featured in last Monday night’s win, or resting them ahead of Manchester City’s visit on Sunday. It’s likely to be a bit of a mix, and certainly in some positions, options are limited. So AMN and Kolasinac the likely full backs, although David Luiz and will probably get a run out in the centre of the defence, with one of Chambers or Sokratis. In front of them though, I heavily suspect that…

Freddie gives youth its head
It’s a perfect opportunity for Ljungberg to give some game time to the players he was working with at under 23 level last season, and indeed, Unai Emery has already done that in this competition, so it’s a no brainer. Expect to see the likes of Willock, Smith Rowe and Saka come in, alongside Reiss Nelson. I suspect Martinelli will be rested, with Alex Lacazette and Matteo Guendouzi making up the eleven. It would be nice to see Guendouzi and Willock take turns at going forward, just to get in the habit of one of them protecting the centre backs. Hopeully Freddie has been working on this in the training sessions. Because whoever plays on Sunday, someone is going to have to try and stop City having a clear run at the defence (although granted, if that’s Granit Xhaka, we might as well just give them the points).

Confidence, momentum
Granted, it’s a different competition, and will be a largely different starting eleven, but the feelgood mood after Monday’s much needed win was evident and if Arsenal are to turn their season around, the more of that they experience, the better. Winning (or at the minimum not losing) can become a habit with the right mindset, and it’s fair to say that confidence looked very shaky in the first hour at the London Stadium. Reminding themselves of what they are capable of going forward will hopefully see more aggressive, pacier performances in the games to come, without being reckless. A win tonight might not be critical in terms of the Europa League (although winning the group would be a handy), but for the mood in the camp ahead of some tough fixtures to come, it’s significant.

However bad Arsenal have been in recent weeks, Standard will not expect to beat them by five. Doubtless they will start by trying to get a lead and then see where it takes them, but a couple of away goals should kill the evening entirely for the hosts and if they can counter attack at speed, it should be perfectly possible. In a sense, tactically, this might be a blueprint for Sunday. Against City, Ljungberg will surely tell his players not to over-commit and hit them fast on the break. Let’s hope that, after a series of disappointing results, Arsenal can at least string two wins together. It should be possible, given a shadow team beat the Belgians 4-0 back in October. Remember also that this one is an early kick off – 5.55 in the UK.


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  1. markymark

    Dec 13, 2019, 06:44 #115806

    Poor old Momentum Man Brian Badarse will be feeling groggy and sick in the guts this morning with his Jeremy taking the equivalent of an 8-2 battering. Old Brian had campaigned successfully for the whole of his life , or so he told us! so there was no persuading him there was nothing wrong with a centralist.,Should have gone for Keir Starmer I reckon. Anyway away from politics What next for Arsenal? A supposedly Wenger style manager in Carlo who doesn’t push the boundaries in training and lets the players think for themselves or a highly regarded coach with zero management experience but who’s cutting edge (Arteta)? Interesting times to come

  2. itsRonagain2

    Dec 12, 2019, 23:37 #115805

    Red - yes mate, it’s farcical and has been for over 30 yrs. the fragmentation point you make is a great point. On my invitation concept thing, so as not to exclude many of those countries who ll never see anything but defeats, I ve long thought a type of World Cup A and WC B could occur. Give teams of low, lowest and of emerging calibre the real chance to win a pot. Ok, it’s an invitational thing but in my view more encouraging to their national domestic games than what happens now. These endless groups and interminable qualifying charades are nothing but a cure for insomnia.

  3. Reddragon

    Dec 12, 2019, 22:44 #115804

    I agree Ron that International football is a pain in the butt! Too many tin pot countries which expanded the fixtures and consequently interrupted the national leagues with all these breaks to fit in the matches. Russia/USSR has disintegrated into how many countries, Yugoslavia diluted into 6. Add on the SAN Marino’s and Andorra’s etc. it’s stupid. All fifa and uefa are interested in is money , no regard for players and especially supporters. Next years Euros being a case in point. Matches all over Europe. Bloody ridiculous!!

  4. itsRonagain2

    Dec 12, 2019, 18:59 #115803

    Good theories lads. I’ve long had the view that teams in Europe shd either be allowed to opt out of the Carabao Cup or at least have full authority to field fringe players in every game. Sort of using a B team type of thing. Coaches or players from main squads could still get games if felt needed as come backs from injuries etc. It I’ll risk losing sponsors I suppose and I accept that. Replays could be lost totally. I m never sure about these winter breaks. A great many players have 4 weeks off when the tedium of those ridiculous internationals come round every Autumn. I m an ever bigger fan of abolishing international football. It lost its mystique and mojo when football became internationalised in all countries and s great many players are not motivated by it whatever they say. Cd still have a WC every 4 years. Play it by invitation only. Knock a squad up 2 months before. Invite a coach or 2 to manage it each time and just have a fun festival instead of the usual sour faced serious crap. Think of the bonus too - not having to see or hear Gareth Southgate droning on with his pc banalities. Internats really have lost their meaning and purpose decades ago for me.

  5. ArsenalMagna

    Dec 12, 2019, 17:50 #115802

    @Mark - re: temperature/continental opposition I actually meant this specific squad probably prefer non-physical Euro opposition in nicer conditions. Rotation or not, the squad looked exhausted for all of the end of last season. That could be because Emery demanded they put in higher work rates and that this knackered them out (think stats early-mid season showed in terms of sprints/ground covered we were top of the league), he might have had a new fitness regime etc., but they did look shattered in that EL final especially, as well as vs Palace and Brighton. So did Chelsea to be fair, and Liverpool/Spuds for their CL final. The EPL is backward in that sense - it has no winter break, has FA Cup replays (even though this has been tweaked since last year) and a league cup. Stats show EPL players are far more likely to suffer injury/fitness problems than other leagues. Agree that Emery contributed to our defeats with poor tactics, however.

  6. markymark

    Dec 12, 2019, 17:21 #115801

    AM - in 80’I think Arsenal’s 14-15 man squad played 72 games and played poorly on a hot day in May losing to Westham then Valencia. In 2019 Arsenal had more rest than Chelsea had a reasonable run in and completely stuffed it. Unai, probably because of ego issues based around winning the Europa 4 times actually rested players in the league. This showed Unai still hadn’t got to grips with what a Brighton or Palace can do to you. I bet his thinking was it’d be like Real Betis going to Barcelona for their annual trouncing. Whether his mismanagement caused nervous exhaustion I’m not sure but sure general exhaustion can’t be used as an excuse. We needed I think 5 points from 4 games. Unai bolloxed it up. Hindsight would suggest a brutal post Europa final sacking would have actually been best but to have done this would have been entirely out of character for Arsenal admittedly

  7. ArsenalMagna

    Dec 12, 2019, 14:08 #115800

    Interesting thoughts, Ron. I was starting to think that we might actually get top 4, not because of our own greatness but the struggles of others. City really struggling without Laporte, Chelsea showing inconsistencies with so many young players, United and Spurs I think will start to wobble again soon, and I could see Leicester dropping down the table, good as they are now. That said, we played great vs Napoli and Valencia last season and only lost to Chelsea, in my view, because the players were exhausted. The EL is a comp that the players will consistently turn up for. There was a story last year that we would pay out £10m to the squad if we won it, and it's probably seen as a preferable, in a sense more comfortable, route for the players - continental finesse football matches in increasingly better weather rather than physical football in the EPL in the wind and rain.

  8. itsRonagain2

    Dec 12, 2019, 13:31 #115799

    AM - I would normally agree with you there but in context of this Season im not so sure. The PL Season is over for Arsenal as i view it. Theyre not going to reach the fabled top 4 so as long as they stay respectable, which can be done by getting enough decent results against teams below the top teams, they can do that. This then all then allows some real focus to be given to the EL. Daft as it seems that could possibly win that. The club needs a boost from some where and if they could win it, it ll give a new coach (who i dont think we ll see until the Summer - Arteta) to come in with things not looking quite so bleak.

  9. ArsenalMagna

    Dec 12, 2019, 10:09 #115798

    I just hope we rest as many players as possible. Finishing first or second in the group isn't that big a deal (tough teams in both sets of draws), and we have so many matches coming up that we need to win or draw in the EPL. City played a few of their first XI in mid-week, but if we play too many of ours it'll fatigue us for this crucial weekend match. Winning on Sunday more important for morale boosting than winning today.