In football, every coach wants to instil and encourage a winning mentality from their players. It does have a strong psychological impact on how the players’ mental state are, going into any match. It helps erase the doubts that sometimes exists in the mind of the players when they come up against stronger oppositions, or when they do not feel like they are at their 100% physical best. I’m sure Arsene Wenger would like his troops to go into tonight’s game with the same mentality, no point treating one match as an outlier. Yet, with the team that he brought to Greece, this match is just a mere formality, in completing the group phase schedule of the Champions League.
And I fully understand what’s behind the decision taking a mixed team to the match against Olympiacos. Whatever becomes of this match will have no bearing over which team will qualify for the next stage of the competition, nor the team that will participate in the Europa League. That much is settled. The only permutations that are unknown is which team out of us and Shalke that will get the top spot. These days, I’m not quite sure if the top spot is any better than the second spot.
Having the second leg at home is actually a bigger pressure match than the other way around, what with the away goals rule. As it stands, we could get Malaga or Porto if we finished second. If the results favour us tonight and we do finish first, we could get Real Madrid or Juventus. It might not necessarily turn out that way as there as other teams in the competition, only serve to show that group position doesn’t guarantee weaker teams.
After the lethargic performance against Swansea and the upcoming weekend game against WBA, I don’t blame Wenger for keeping most of his first teamers at home. Only Thomas Vermaelen, Wojciech Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson are those who have played numerous first team games for us this season, that have travelled with the team. That said, there’s also plenty of players who aren’t getting their chances with the first team yet but can be deemed to have sufficient experience to handle what will supposedly be a very hot atmosphere awaiting them at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
If that’s the line-up, Marouane Chamakh will be joined by a host of reserves and youth players on the Arsenal bench. A bench that include the likes of Chuba Akpom, Zak Ansah, Martin Angha and Elton Monteiro, just to name a few. Personally, I am excited to see Akpom in action and I do hope he gets a run out. Of course, I am also intrigued to see how the other youngsters cope, if they get a chance. Will they soak in the atmosphere and progress or will they sink like that last batch of youngsters that we played in this stadium in the 2009/10 season. Kyle Bartley, Fran Merida, Thomas Cruise, Kerrea Gilbert, Gilles Sunu and Carlos Vela all played in that game and have left the club. There’s two more on the bench that night that have also left, Luke Ayling and Mark Randall.
Just like any other game, I want to see Arsenal win and if that happens tonight, then I will be very happy. However, if the opposite turns out, I’m not going to be too disheartened. I don’t think that any winning momentum generated here will have any impact on the weekend’s game, considering half the players who will play tonight might not even be on the field come Saturday. What is important from tonight (for me at least) is 2 things.
One, we must absolutely pray and ensure that we do not take unnecessary risk with Vermaelen than we need to. With Laurent Koscielny out injured and Johan Djourou also suffering an injury of his own, we are one more injury away from having to start Sebastien Squillaci in the centre of defence. I’m sure the Frenchman is a good man but there’s no place for sentiment in today’s football. Squillaci has quietly gone on to sit in the shadows but you have to question his willingness to sacrifice playing time over money, by not pushing for a move.
The other things is to see Tomas Rosicky get a good run out. Be it for 60 minutes or the entire 90 minutes, it would be to see his return. Hopefully this time, it marks the end of his injury problems. Not to say he would be invincible from now on but at least no more long term injuries. Players sometimes do suffer the occasional 1 to 2 weeks absence due to knocks. We need the Czech back to his best so that we can at least try to give Santi Cazorla some time off between every other game or even within the game itself. The Spaniard has played the full 90 minutes in almost all of the games that he has started, even when he doesn’t he still lasted around 80 minutes. Having Rosicky fit and ready would not only ensure we can plan to keep Cazorla fresh, but also to have another creative option from the bench.
Win or lose, I still want to see the players put in an effort tonight. The pressure’s off this time, hopefully that comes with a better performance.
Up The Arsenal.