My mantra since the World Cup has been “one game at a time”.
When your squad is not as big as Manchester City’s, you can cause yourself trouble if you begin resting and rotating players in the Premier League. I have lost count how often I have seen teams rest a player for the enxt game, only to lose the first game. And the second.
But the Europa League is a different kettle of fish, and with us 5 points clear of the top of the league, tonights team should be influenced by who will play Sunday away to Fulham.
The Fulham game is the most important match this week. But likewise, you want to retain momentum.
In January, we put out a weak team against Manchester City in the FA Cup and lost. We then gained just 1 point from our next 3 games.
It was frustrating to “throw” the FA Cup game against City, only to then lose against Everton.
So whilst I do expect a changed team tonight, I do not think Mikel Arteta will put out a full 2nd XI. He will still want to win the game.
Matt Turner will get a run out in goal. And I also expect Takehiro Tomiyasu and Rob Holding to come in at right back and central defence.
Originally, I had Kieran Tierney getting a chance at left back, but with his latest injury I think Arteta might play new boy Jakub Kiwior as the “inverted full back” in place of Oleksandr Zinchenko.
I watched a youth game a couple of weeks ago and Kiwior looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet, and is extremely mobile.
Whilst he might not have Zinchenko’s technique – but what defender does? – he could become an option at left back next season.
With his latest injury, the time has come to cash in on Tierney. Tomiyasu will be first choice cover at right and left back. That would leave us with just 3 full backs.
Further cover could then be provided by Kiwior, Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Lino Sousa.
What would mean we could raise £20-30million for Tierney, and not need to buy to replace. Tonight could be the chance to see if Kiwior can play in the inverted left back position.
If Kiwior does play left back, I would expect Gabriel to play inside of him. That would give the left hand side a solid feel.
Ahead of them, Thomas Partey will be protected, with Jorginho coming in.
I blogged when we signed Jorginho that he had a key role to play in Europe. I expect Partey to be kept fresh for every Premier League game, with the Italian coming in for him mid-week.
Following his goal on Saturday, Reiss Nelson surely gets a run out against Sporting.
We have discussed this week about Nelson’s future at the club. The only way he will earn a new contract is by playing well on the pitch. The Europa League could provide him with a final chance to show he has a future.
Fabio Vieira will also continue as a member of the Europa League team.
The Portuguese midfielder has been disappointing this year, but he also has not had much consistent playing time.
There is certainly a good technical player in there, but he needs to play more. But with Martin Odegaard and Grant Xhaka in such fine form, it is impossible to make a case for him to start a Premier League match. Europe will be his place.
With no Mo Elneny and with Albert Sambi Lokonga on loan, the options in the other 8 position are Granit Xhaka and Emile Smith Rowe.
I would love to see Smith Rowe play 8 as I do see him having a future playing more centrally. But with Leandro Trossard, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Jesus all out, he will likely be needed on the wing. So Xhaka will start and captain the side.
Smith Rowe will then play left wing.
Who plays upfront is interesting.
Jesus is just back into first team training. He might get minutes off the bench. Whilst Nketiah and Trossard both missed training. That just leaves Gabriel Martinelli.
The Brazilian has plenty of experience playing upfront in Europe for Arsenal, so should be a threat. He will maybe get an hour and then Jesus comes on for the last 30-35.
Predicted line up:
Tomiyasu Holding Gabriel Kiwior
Nelson Vieira Xhaka SmithRow
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