The reality of finishing below the Champions League for the first time in umpteen years is finally setting in as Arsenal host FC Cologne in the Europa League – Europe’s second tier competition. Many are obviously disappointed about the team appearing in this competition, especially how we have spent loads of seasons in the Champions League, but I look at it as a fresh opportunity for the boss to feature some players that wouldn’t be chanced to play regular Premier League football.
As expected, there were a host of players that have been rested for the spicy encounter against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and there would be lads with something to prove in the new campaign. David Ospina knows in his heart of hearts that he can never replace Petr Cech as the team’s custodian between the sticks bar some bizarre injury to the legendary Czech goalie but the departures of Wojciech Szczesny and Emiliano Martinez (on loan) was a clear indication to Ospina that his services are still required at the club. While Cech does the business in the Premier League, Ospina has to make do with the Cup competitions and just live with it.
In defense, I am hoping to see the likes of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers that have fallen out of favor with the manager. Despite a stellar breakthrough debut campaign last season, Holding has struggled badly in games against Leicester and Liverpool, with the manager openly saying that he has lost some confidence. The last time he mentioned such words about an Arsenal player following a bad performance, that was it with his Arsenal career, and he’s currently on a treatment table at Birmingham. I really don’t know what happened between Calum Chambers and the manager but I was actually hopeful he would build on his good campaign with Middlesbrough despite their relegation.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain out of the equation, the manager has to determine the right wing back that would play tonight, as Hector Bellerin deserves a breather. Reiss Nelson would have been a nice option, but I’d prefer him in a more advanced position, which could mean a player like Ainsley Maitland-Niles could get a run out there. On the left, Sead Kolasinac would want to get a run out against a Bundesliga side due to his close ties to German football.
I’d expect some changes in midfield as well with our first choice central midfield pairing, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, getting some deserved rest, as they would be required to work overtime against Chelsea’s industrious midfielders. This should give room for the likes of Mohamed Elneny and more interestingly, Jack Wilshere, to feature for the first team. Like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Wilshere is one of those players with months left in his contract, and this would be an interesting season for him.
Finally, we are bound to see Olivier Giroud spearhead the attack tonight. It was always going to be a struggle for the Frenchman following the arrival of his compatriot, Alexandre Lacazette, from Lyon. The newbie has been adapting to life in North London, and his two goals so far would keep the monkeys off his back, even though we expect more.
FC Cologne are struggling in the Bundesliga but Arsenal should not allow complacency creep into their game tonight. I’m also hoping the new lads featuring tonight will not have disjointed performances. It’s a new adventure in the Europa League and I hope the lads are up to it.
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