Thursday, 2 November 2017

Arsenal v Red Star Belgrade Preview

Arsenal's busy schedule continues tonight when they play at home to Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League. It's a competition that has gone quite well for Arsenal so far with three wins from three games and qualification for the knockout stages looking fairly certain at we stand. As I've said before it's a competition we can win and we should be looking to do just that with a Champions League place for the winner besides the nice shiny trophy.

Of course as important as this competition might become as the season progresses it's nowhere near the top of our list of priorities at the moment. That means we're going to see a mixture of fringe players and youngsters tonight and they have done very well so far. Besides the three Europa League wins they have also progressed to the last eight of Carabao Cup where they will meet West Ham a week before Christmas.

To be honest the team is being thrown together by Arsene Wenger with players having to fit into positions they're not accustomed to most of the time. That's most obvious in the defence where the only recognised defender playing in position has been Rob Holding in the centre of the back three. He has had Matthieu Debuchey and Mohamed Elneny in the center of that defence with him and that's something neither of them are used to and it shows at times. They have done well all things considered though, but we are vulnerable to a quick break right through the middle of our defence. 

You have to feel for the two players at wing back too because both Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles must be delighted to get so much time in the first team, but it has to be tempered by where they are being asked to play. Nelson looks like he might really make an impression in an attacking role while Maitland-Niles would love the chance to display his wares in the centre of midfield. They are being asked to play out of position because of our lack of options in the wing back roles and it's difficult to understand why we didn't bring in cover in those positions if we were going to continue with five at the back this season.

We will of course get another chance to see Jack Wilshere ply his trade as he continues to try to regain a place in the first team. It's a little odd to hear the manager suggest he should be on the radar for the England team when he can't get a genuine look in at Arsenal. I still think he has a long way to go to fulfill his potential, but it's not easy to shine in a team without the club's real stars. I would like to see how Wilshere performs in a team with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and others rather than the makeshift one he's currently having to perform in.

These games are an opportunity for players to let the manager know they still exist or even to try to make an impression. As I said it's not always easy, but Eddie Nketiah showed in the Carabao Cup against Norwich that it's most certainly possible. His two goals from the bench to turn the game back in our favour made a name for him instantly and he'll be dying to get another chance as soon as possible.

A win tonight would put us through to the knockout stages and we're one of the favourites to win the trophy at the moment. That should leave us in a situation where we can rest a few players if needs be, but we're already resting the first choice players anyway. It's a good situation to be in and long may it continue.

If we do progress to the last 32 I would imagine the manager will gradually reintroduce the first choice players as the opposition improve. I suppose it could depend on what the league table looks like at that stage and whether we're still challenging for a top four spot. If we are the team could be stretched with the FA Cup to contend with too and given the choice I think the rewards of the Europa League outweigh those of the FA Cup.

Red Star were unbeaten before we beat them 1-0 a couple of weeks ago and they will still be hoping they can progress to the knockout stages. They made plenty of good chances against us at their ground and they will be looking to exploit our jumbled team tonight again. It's something that's quite possible given the team we will have out, but they have come through every challenge so far. I'd love to see Wilshere or Alex Iwobi grab the game by the scruff of the neck tonight and maybe Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott could show us why they think they should be in the first team. 

As usual it's going to be difficult to get to see the game in my part of the world. BT Sport will be showing it live on one of their channels I suppose, but it's not a package I subscribe to. Hopefully I will get to see it, but it's not the end of the world if I don't which is probably an indication of how the group stages of the Europa League are judged. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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