Will Arsene Wenger rests his stars as he did last midweek vs Southampton in the EFL Cup or will he put out a reasonably strong team even as he knows that our only hope for topping our group will be a slip up from Paris St. Germain at Ludogorets?
I think it will have to be the latter. Trying to win the final match seems important to maintain momentum in both our domestic efforts and ahead of the Champions League draw even if the knock-out stages are months away. A few changes, perhaps, but I doubt many of our key players will miss the trip to Switzerland.
On the other hand, rotating in the EFL Cup seems to have proven a good decision followed as it was with a 5-1 drubbing of West Ham United, and, with tough games at home vs Stoke City and then away to Everton and Manchester City, keeping a star player or two in reserve might be a way of meeting in the middle. I’d stump for the world class combination of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez suiting up but sitting on the bench while continuing with guys like Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud seem the obvious replacements for Ozil and Alexis. Francis Coquelin, suspended for this one, will also have to be replaced.
Le Coq’s suspension means our central midfield combination will have to be reshuffled? My hunch is that Mohamed Elneny will line up alongside Granit Xhaka. That would present another opportunity for Wenger to explore his options in this critical part of the pitch.
With the news that Santi Cazorla will have exploratory surgery on his injured ankle, Wenger, I think, might be searching for not only a replacement but also a new way to play in the center of the pitch. We’ve been discussing it a lot in the comments recently but who can replicate what little Santi brings? Maybe it’s not so much about replacing the man as it is about finding a new set of tactics that brings out the strengths of the players we’ve got.
Judging from the West Ham game where Arsenal looked always dangerous even if they ceded plenty of possession, I see a change in the offing. West Ham–missing some key players of their own–probably weren’t strong enough to make it apparent, but, to me at least, I thought we looked content to play on the counterattack or at least try to play much more directly when in possession. Santi’s absence, I think, takes away from our one-touch possession game. Mohamed Elneny, again, just in my opinion, is the player who comes closest to keeping us “ticking over” in Santi style, but he was left out. If he plays at Basel I wonder if our possession stat will be significantly stronger.
Maybe it was all just a bit more ad-hoc vs the Hammers and a one-off. Early on they lost a center back to injury and maybe guys like the Ox (with his runs) and Xhaka (with his passes) just sensed weakness in a bus which was never able to truly park itself. Eventually we scored on a Coquelin interception which fell nicely to Alexis who danced into the box before squaring for a simple Ozil tap-in. After that, I thought, we played even more on the break, content to invite West Ham into our territory feeling as if we could spring forward if they lost possession. At one-nil, even if they rarely threatened us at the back, it all felt fairly well poised and I worried that a moment of brilliance from the likes of Dimitri Payet or the introduction of Andy Carroll could make it even more so. When Carroll finally entered the game those two were able to combine to spoil our clean sheet but two additional goals from Alexis had already put the match beyond reach.
Were we really playing on the counter and was this a model for future play? With more and more English teams playing with three (or is it five) at the back it seems easier than ever to try and lure teams forward. With Coquelin out for the Basel match we cannot set out in an exactly similar fashion, but will we try and let them (as the home team) have a bit of a go at us? Inevitably we will face more organized teams than West Ham (Stoke City this coming Saturday, most likely). Is rotation at the rear of midfield even more necessary if we know teams are likely to try and play for a nil-nil? Wenger mentioned that we are more patient in away matches. Should we actually have different playing personnel at the defensive mid pivot (Ramsey, Elneny or even, as discussed in the comments, the Ox) for different opponents and different situations? Please discuss.
But they can only be played one at a time, and, for Basel, your guess is as good as mine. Who would you like to see vs Basel and then in the upcoming league matches? That’s for those who want rotation and maybe there are some that believe in playing our best 11 on all occasions. It feels a bit like throwing darts but here’s my best guess for the Basel match.
Subs: Cech, Gabriel, Gibbs, Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis, Perez
So, I think a strong team but with some reserved on the bench in case we need goals. What do you think?
Have it at please…