Arsenal are in Portugal, taking on Sporting
Lisbon CP in the first leg of our Europa League Round of 16 tie.
As is often the case, Mikel Arteta was giving little away in terms of team news, not least because there appears to be a bit of a bug in the camp. Kieran Tierney, who would surely have started this evening, went home from training yesterday because he was unwell, and it looks as if other players were affected too.
Fabio Vieira was apparently lined-up to do the player section of the press conference, but he had a sore throat and was replaced by Gabriel Martinelli. So, when asked for his latest team news update, the manager said:
News on the squad will be tomorrow. We have brought a few players and you will see tomorrow who is available.
The implications of illness might obviously be felt tonight, but also for Sunday’s clash with Fulham. It’s one game at a time though, and it also makes it hard to predict this evening’s line up. My gut feeling is that we might see quite a bit of rotation, but if we’re without some obvious replacements, then there’s little choice but to play a few who might have been given a rest.
My guess, as teased out on the preview podcast on Patreon is: Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Kiwior, Zinchenko, Jorginho, Xhaka, Vieira, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Saka.
There’s not a lot Arteta can do about that front three. There was no sign of Eddie Nketiah or Leandro Trossard in training, so we assume they’re absent. Gabriel Jesus was in the session, but I’ve read he didn’t make the trip because he was unwell also. We’ve managed his recovery and rehabilitation with patience up until now, and I don’t think they would take any risks and push him before he’s ready – but obviously the sooner he gets minutes the sooner he’s going to get fully ready for the title push. If he is missing through illness though, that’s redundant for today at least.
There may be things he can do. It’s possible the back four could include the likes of Ben White, using Tomiyasu at left-back to give Zinchenko a rest. Reiss Nelson’s moment in the sun on Saturday could earn him a start in the front three. If it does, I think I’d like to see him on the right, with Saka on the bench rather than ahead of Emile Smith Rowe on the left. We need to get ESR match fit and today’s game is a good way of doing that. There’s also Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard to consider, but beyond that I suspect that to fill the 12 subs, we might see a quite youthful bench later on.
The thing is, we saw that quite a lot towards the end of last season, and those kids were there to make up numbers. Is there anyone at youth level who Arteta will feel comfortable using if needed? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The other thing to say is that he might well decide his central defensive pairing needs one of the more established bodies, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw one of William Saliba or Gabriel.
As for his approach this evening, Arteta said:
Our priority is the two competitions. Obviously we have to earn the right to continue in this competition to get as far as we want, and tomorrow we’re going to face a really difficult opponent. The best way to prepare for any competition is to win the previous match and having the confidence and the proper emotion to approach the next game. Tomorrow if we play well and we are able to win the game, that will better prepare us for the next game.
Which is exactly what he should say, but I think we saw with the FA Cup team selection, he can be serious about a competition but also recognise there are levels of priority this season. As I said yesterday though, the Europa League can be useful, and hopefully the players who get a chance this evening can step up. They could be needed between now and the end of May.
As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game for you – and remember: it kicks off early – 17.45 UK time. The post-game stuff will be on Arseblog News, and we’ll have a post-game podcast available to everyone later tonight too.
Until then, stay warm!