Tonight is an annoyingly tricky game. Like a fly that will not go through the open window and continues to buzz around at 2am in the morning.
It all could have been put to bed last week, but Arsenal’s defeat to PSV in Eindhoven means we go into game week 6 of the Europa League needin a win to top the table.
For those who have been living under a rock for the last month or so, the Europa League schedule has changed making it more important than ever to finish top.
Those that win their group go stragith into the last 16, and can ignore European football until March.
Finish 2nd and you go into a play-off against a Champions League 3rd place team. Those games take place in February.
With the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Sevilla, Ajax, Leverkusen and Sporting Lisbon, it is a tough double header we could do without.
The game against Zurich is even more annoying following their result last week.
They came from behind to beat Bodo/Glimt 2-1 in the 94th minute. The result means they no longer have nil poi and could finish 3rd in the group – and “win” a place in the Conference league.
So instead of us facing a bunch of limp fish with nothing to play for, we will be up against a highly motivated group of Swissmen looking to continue their European adventure.
Throughout the campaign, Mikel Arteta has played a 50/50 team – half first team and half second. The hope was by playing a stronger than normal side, we would have top spot secured ahead of the big game against Chelsea.
The goal was always to be able to rest as many players as possibile ahead of this Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge. But the defeat to PSV (and Zurich’s win) means that Arteta will have to play a stronger team than he wanted.
Will he role the dice, stick to his original plan, and play a full reserve side? Resting everyone for Chelsea and risking finishing 2nd? Or will he follow what he has done in the previous 5 games and play a 50/50?
My bet is the latter. He will play half first team, half second string, and hope to be in a position to take most of that first string off before 60 minutes.
Matt Turner missed then PSV game due to a groin injury. He was also not on the bench Sunday against Nottingham Forest.
I would expect Aaron Ramsdale to cintinue in goal – with the World Cup on the horizon, Arsenal will not want to aggrevate Turner’s injury if not 100% heeled.
Cedric Soares will be in line to start his first game of the season – the Portuguese full back came on for Takehiro Tomiyasu against Nottingham Forest.
In defence, Rob Holding will continue as an ever present. He will be partnered by William Saliba.
So far Saliba has started 2 Europa League games, Gabriel 3. Does not take a genius to work out it is Saliba’s turn.
At left back it will be Kieran Tierney.
Two more ever presents will start in midfield – Albert Sambi Lokonga and Fabio Vieira. The final midfield place is not as clear.
Granit Xhaka is suspended and Thomas Partey has yet to start a Europa League game. Mohamed Elneny is close to returning from injury, and Arsenal might use the game as a “friendly” for him as he continues his recovery.
I can definitely the Egyptian getting 45 minutes tonight’s, and then maybe 60 against Brighton in the League Cup next week.
Alex Zinchenko is also returning from injury.
Zinchenko was not fit to be on the bench against Forest, so I would be surprised if he is straight into the starting XI tonight. Expect a 20 minute cameo off the bench for the Ukranian.
Will Arteta go for Partey? Or will he start Martin Odegaard, leaving Lokonga deeper?
Alternatively he could look to the academy – both Bradley Ibrahim and Cătălin Cîrjan were on the bench against PSV.
I think he will opt to go with Odegaard, hope the game is dead and burried after an hour and then bring him off.
Up top, Arteta will not want to risk Gabriel Martinelli or Jesus, especially following Bukayo Saka’s knock.
Reiss Nelson will start following his brace against Forest, with Marquinhos on the other side. Eddie Nketiah down the middle.
If the game is tied up quickly, expect the likes of Tierney, Odegaard and Saliba to be substituted. Whoever also goes off between Vieira, Nelson and Marquinhos will also be a sign of who is in line to play ahead of Saka.
Cedric Saliba Holding Tierney
Marquinhos Nketiah Nelson