Good day one and all.
Arsenal are back at the Emirates for their second Europa League group fixture; hosting Belgian side Standard Liège.
We kicked our campaign off with a win away in Germany a fortnight ago, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0. With Unai Emery methods currently taking tense and, well, fair criticism, the Gunners almost inconspicuously put together an unbeaten run of six-matches (all competitions), that includes three wins in our last four. With just one defeat in nine matches all season, you would be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
Now, I don’t know anything about our opponents, however, a quick trawl of their recent results infer they might not be pushovers. They sit one point behind Belgian First Division leaders Club Brugge, and come into this match on the back of three wins in their last four games (D1) – all competitions. A decent run that include 10 goals for and only two against. So could there be a suggestion they have a “press” Emery might think we need to negate? Yikes!
It’s a short turnaround following Monday night’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United, so we’ll likely see a Gunners side with quite a few changes. Making this another opportunity for the youngsters and fringe players to impress, after proper performances against Frankfurt (EL) and Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. 18 years-old Gabriel Martinelli did better than expected making his first Arsenal start vs Forest, scoring two goals, so one can imagine he must be excited at the possibility of getting his first European start. Hector Bellerín and Kieran Tierney must also be itching getting another run as they continue their rehabilitation from long-term injuries.
Whether Mesut Özil, who was “rested” against Frankfurt, get a start, is anybody’s guess at this point. Because just as it seems that him and Emery are getting past their domestic issues… it seems not.
One player that could certainly benefit having a crack at the visitors is our record signing Nicolas Pepe. He has struggled to find his feet so far in the league, so starting in a match away from the PGMOL game management variant shouldn’t be the worst idea.
Many argue that Arsenal doesn’t play like a side that has developed much from last season, but optimism levels are a little higher in the Cup competitions and playing in front of the Emirates faithful always gives the boys a bit extra. Standard have started their European run with a win, so while their priorities may be with their domestic league back in Belgium, a win tonight will leave them in a good position to advance to the knockout stages.
This is only the third meeting between these two sides, with the Gunners winning both the previous two back in 2009.
With group F top place up for grabs this got the makings of a spicy encounter. However, I’m predicting a cagey start to the match with the Emirates crowd cheering the homeboys over the line.