Evening all. Who stayed up to watch the blood supermoon last night / early this morning? No? Me neither. But any talk of lunar events like today’s never fails to make me crave Jaffa Cakes. Timeless advertising from McVities right there.
As an aside, something else I think transcends the fourth dimension, is the irrefutable class of Arsenal football club. Watching Arsene Wenger and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain speak at their press conference earlier today, ahead of our Champions League game against Olympiakos tomorrow night, it was a pleasure to listen to them both speak so honestly and eloquently as representatives of the club, especially when you hear the vulgar, venomous drivel others in the game (naming no names but I’m talking about Jose Mourinho) spew on a weekly basis.
Anyway, the game tomorrow has become a must win if we want to avoid a group stage exit after losing at Dinamo Zagreb. When you consider we still have to play Bayern Munich and Robert ‘five goals in nine minutes’ Lewandowski twice, then taking maximum points against the other teams seems our easiest route to the knock-out stage. Arsene said as much today, agreeing that winning the game was vital, whilst refuting the claim that our loss in Croatia on matchday one was because he made too many changes to his first-choice line-up:
You have to win your home games if you want to qualify from the group stage, it is simple as that. We cannot afford to drop points now against anyone at home. I don’t believe it (defeat in Zagreb) is down to selection at all, I believe that the 20 players I have available can play in every single game. I close my eyes, just take a position and I am confident we have a very strong team. On the day [at Zagreb], basically the same team played at Tottenham and won in the League Cup in a game that was much more physical, so I believe it was just on the night that we didn’t play well.
The latest team news revealed Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are both out of contention with ‘slight muscular problems’ but should only be unavailable for a matter of days. So it’s just as well then that Francis Coquelin was pictured training today, albeit with his knee strapped, and the boss says he’ll see how the Frenchman responds to two days worth of training but expects him to be ‘alright’ for tomorrow.
In defence, Gabriel is available again after serving a one-game domestic suspension and perhaps the Brazilian will be brought straight back in to give either Per or Laurent a rest before we host Man United on Sunday. That said, Arsene says the game at the weekend will have no bearing on his selection. Instead he’ll look at players who’ve played three times in the last ten days or so as possible reasons to rotate:
The game will not interfere with that at all. It is more the games we played before that could have an influence. Some players had two tough games at Tottenham and at Leicester, where they were a high level physically. I will have to analyse that today and make my decisions.
Arsene also said he hadn’t decided who he’d pick in goal for the game tomorrow but I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t Petr Cech to be honest. With five days between the games, we have plenty of time to recover before we host United, so there’s no need whatsoever not to go full strength against the Greeks.
He was also asked if the increasingly competitive Premier League was having a detrimental effect of English clubs’ performance in Europe and said he thought it was too early to tell:
I believe that the Premier League is very, very tough. Is that an influence or not? I don’t know but it’s a bit early to come to any conclusions. We have to wait a little bit longer. A second year without [English clubs] being successful and you could come to a conclusion of, ‘Yes, there’s something we have to analyse deeply’, but I don’t believe so at the moment. You cannot say [English clubs] are at that level [of the past] now because in the last two years Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the Champions League. We have to say they were the better teams. Are we far away? I don’t think so but we have to show that with our performance.
My own take on the subject is that I think people sometimes overplay the strength of our league. Yes it seems to be producing more favourable results against the bigger sides than previously but to suggest other leagues aren’t as strong is wide of the mark I think. Barcelona were battered by Celta Vigo just last weekend and Sevilla’s success in the Europa League in recent seasons are just two small examples of why other leagues aren’t as weak as we often make out they are.