Will Injuries Bring Us Down? Prague Preview & Predicted Line-Up

Odegaard is a doubt for tonight

After last weekend’s capitulation to Liverpool, our Europa League quarter final (first leg) tonight has taken on even greater importance than it had previously.

We have long known that our Premier League campaign was headed nowhere and that the EL was our lifeline for success this season.

But the way we rolled over against ‘Pool without a semblance of fighting spirit or, apparently, any kind of plan, has raised questions (again) about the manager.

So Mikel Arteta needs a good performance tonight to help restore faith in his stewardship of our club as well as to maintain any interest in this season’s prizes. However, the age-old spectre of injury threatens to undermine his – and our – chances.

The draw was deemed to be kind to us, but Slavia Prague are not a pushover. They usually play a man-marking style and have pulled off good results against some big European teams in recent years (drawing with both Barcelona and Inter).

If we had a full squad I’d be feeling pretty confident but we may be missing at least three players who would be automatic starters: Luiz, Tierney and Odegaard. The first two are definitely out and Ode is doubtful because of an ankle injury.

According to the club’s casualty list Smith Rowe and Saka are both available but, given they are both coming back from injury, there must be a question mark over whether they will start. My preference would be to have them in the starting line-up and take them off early if we’re ahead.

Given our generally flaky nature these days (we can go from chumps to champs within the space of a single game) it is vital that we get a solid win tonight, ideally with a clean sheet. We don’t want to be away from home in the second leg without a decent buffer.

If Odegaard is out, the alternatives for the central attacking midfield position are Smith Rowe (my preference), Ceballos (please God no) and Willian (please, please God no). Lacazette could be considered for there (and might actually do quite well) but I don’t recall Arteta having used him that way previously.

I suppose a crazy-but-daring plan would be to pair Xhaka and Elneny at the base of midfield and put Partey in the CAM spot, but I can’t imagine Arteta being that radical.

Elsewhere we had an interesting discussion in yesterday’s post about the best CB pairing in the absence of Luiz, and there’s the conundrum of how we cover for Tierney’s absence: do we put the right-footed Cedric in there or play Saka in a role we know he has looked comfortable in before?

Up front I will be disappointed if Aubameyang and Lacazette are both selected. It should be one or the other down the middle.

Here’s my predicted line-up, working on the basis that Odegaard won’t start. If he is deemed fit enough then he goes straight in to the CAM role, Smith Rowe goes to the left and Willian to the bench.


Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Willian


And here’s the team I would send out if I were the boss:


Bellerin – Chambers – Mari – Cedric

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Martinelli




55 Responses to Will Injuries Bring Us Down? Prague Preview & Predicted Line-Up

  1. LBG says:

    I want you as our Manager!
    Although I want Holding in at CB, and Chambers in for X.
    Happy Thursday, I hope!

  2. RA says:

    Hmm, that was a very tense read, Rocky, and there is pressure on the roster because of injuries etc — but, as I said in my belated comment, no matter what team we select, if we continue to play that passing from the back tactic we will be toast anyway.

    If we screw up tonight, our season will be confirmed as a bit of a disaster. But where there is hope, there’s LBG’s favourite player to save us – none other than Granite. As if. 🙄

    C’est la vie.

  3. RA says:


    Je m’excuse de vous avoir confondu en tant que Belge.
    J’aime Français gens, mais je ne parle Français bien.

    I don’t speak English too well either. 🤪

  4. RA says:

    It’s always X X X with you, LBG, even tho I agree with you re Holding Chambers, but I would be happy if we were Holding Gabriel. 😛

  5. LBG says:

    Happy Birthday Mat Ryan. A great day to make your debut in Europe( I think!)

  6. LBG says:

    Dont know about “save us”, save me from the Swiss tortoise!

  7. RockyLives says:

    I’m feeling a little bit nervous about this one.

    Still spooked by the lack of commitment and intelligence shown against Liverpool, I suppose.

  8. Pete the Thirst says:

    Tierney is a big miss. Luiz? I’m not convinced.

    Watching the way Madrid targeted Liverpool inexperienced back line on Tuesday was a stark contrast to the ‘couldn’t give a sh!t’ attitude of PEA & Laca on Saturday.

    We’re desperate for Saka & ESR to play to show some desire.

    I think Saka is more useful on the right of attack. Playing him at left back reduces his effectiveness.

  9. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky, in answer to your question, all I can say is that if we have to lose players to injury I’d rather Luiz and Xhaka than ESR and Saka.

    Tierney is a big miss but he’s been slightly of the boil for the last two games so maybe this has been brewing.

    For me the midfield pairing is the most crucial factor … Partey and ? For tonight I really hope it’s Elneny. I know it won’t happen but I’d love to see Azeez given a go alongside Partey in the last few EPL games.

  10. Aaron says:

    Like I said, a tough nut to crack.

    AFC can’t afford the luxury of El Neny, Xhaka, Chambo, Mari, and Dani all in the lineup at the same time or even some combination of those players and Auba up top, if so, just call the game off. No pace, quickness in lateral movements with or without the ball. This type of lineup used to kill us when we tried to play some of those players with Mesut.

    Pete, I agree with you, Saka on the right, but only if you think Cedric can fill the whole on the left, and even then if Auba is left, and the opposition does not play a high line, forget that!

    This Club have got to get moving forward again or we will go back to sinking in quicksand never to be heard from again in a decade.

  11. LBG says:

    Azeez on the bench.

  12. LBG says:

    Makes you laugh, BOdegaard out so surely a chance for Smith-Rowe? Nope, Willian in No 10 position probably.
    So prove me wrong, and correct that “poor season” – your words.

  13. LB says:

    Ahhhhhhh now I get it, Willian has been saved for this special moment. It all makes sense now.

  14. Aaron says:

    Yes, LBG, good to see Azeez on the bench.
    Maybe he gets some minutes.

    For goodness sake, if Willian is our 10, then surely Mikel is sleep walking.

  15. Rasp says:

    I’m very encouraged to see Azeez on the bench. We will almost certainly lose Balogun, it would be good to keep Azeez, at least until we get to see how well he can perform in the first team.

  16. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky. No point commenting on the line up as we now know it. Looks decent enough but this is a game where Willian needs to show he has still got it at this level.

    Not been around much recently but looked back on many comments. I will buck the trend and state that I still feel we should persevere with playing it out from the back, although that could haunt me perhaps a bit later.

    Will explain my reasoning on this and why I think it is both important and also achievable without the calamities we’ve seen when I have a bit more time.

  17. LBG says:

    15 different goalscorers for the Arse in Europa League this season. TG, given centre forwards.

  18. RA says:

    Hi GB,

    I think Xhaka almost proved my opinion the first couple of minutes, passing back with a number of Slavia players in attendance — we were fortunate to get away with a goal kick.

    We’ll see more of that as Arteta does not seem to learn.

  19. RA says:

    If your vision of playing from the back does not ring da bell — that will be another pint you owe me.

  20. Gööner In Exile says:

    The only reason I can see for ESR out left and Willian in centre is that Arteta knows ESR has the legs to play that role out there, Willian not so much, may have been different if KT was available.

  21. Gööner In Exile says:

    Interesting watching the players who try to turn it round corer on first touch and those that end up going backwards, is manager giving different instructions?

  22. RA says:

    I wonder if Mikel will give Joel Lopez the 18 y.o. Left back at least a few minutes during this game.

    He is a natural LB, pinched from Barça, and given we are unlikely to see Tierney play again this season, it would at least give him a feel for the 1st team if anything happens to Cedric.

  23. LBG says:

    Saka makes such a difference,

  24. Aaron says:

    Our pressing up top looks good so far, and their keeper looks shaky.

    Bel actually made two throw in quickly and put our team under no pressure.
    Like that we hold the ball after a foul now too.

    We are playing it out the back, with only mild pressure.

    Gabriel needs to pass it quicker.

    Have had the better of possession.

    We finally get a good counter and Laca’s effort was horrible,

    And now Saka misses the target completely.

    In this game though, and look the better side so far.

  25. LBG says:

    So far, clear evidence why we must keep Balogun- a goal-scorer.

  26. Aaron says:

    Does any AFC player want to score?

    Lead boots on the runs toward goal on crosses.

    Keep it tight to halftime.

  27. LB says:

    The oppo are so poor, if this team cannot beat them they should take up knitting.

    Still don’t understand why Willian is out there rather than Martinelli

  28. LBG says:

    Belief is what is missing. Need someone to chance their arm and MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

  29. RockyLives says:

    Pretty poor half to be honest

  30. Rasp says:

    I’m still waiting for Partey to take a game by the scruff of the neck … I’m not saying he has been poor so far, but just that he hasn’t lived up to my expectation yet.

  31. Rasp says:

    Bloody Leno does it again …. will he never learn?

  32. Rasp says:

    Time for Martinelli now surely … Willian has run out of what little steam he had ….

  33. Aaron says:

    Really enjoy ESR’s 1st touch on the ball and speed of thought!

    And Leno made a great save as that was going in off the deflection for the 1000th time.

    Come on AFC.

  34. LB says:

    Well that just sums up the night

  35. LBG says:


  36. Aaron says:

    Think I need to channel Wrighty and Henry about now!

  37. RC78 says:

    This game needs Martinelli and Pepe for Willian and ESR.

  38. Aaron says:

    Sub on Martin, Eddie or Auba now!!

  39. Rasp says:

    I’m beginning to lose faith in Arteta now … both Willian and Laca are visibly running out of steam

  40. Aaron says:

    WTH do we have to do to score?

    Come on subs, dig deep, just poke one in!

  41. RC78 says:

    Pepe who? Pepe what? Pepe scores…Europa League, his hunting ground

  42. RC78 says:

    Now it s time for Martinelli to finish the game off

  43. Rasp says:

    Good to see Auba playing with such high intensity … he’s obviously trying to prove a point

  44. RC78 says:

    Why Ceballos?

  45. RC78 says:

    You just can’t trust this team

  46. Rasp says:

    I have to blame Cedric and Gabriel for that …. they failed to clear the ball up field and played each other into trouble to concede the corner

  47. Aaron says:

    DONE with this squad!

  48. RC78 says:

    Cedric too good

  49. Aaron says:

    Need to win 1-0 or 2-1, ain’t going to happen.

    See you next year, same bat time, same bat channel, everything the same from the $h*tTy ownership on down, f’n batty!

  50. LBG says:

    Keep the ball, dont worry about a second, talk to each other and keep calm.
    Most teams on the Marshes could do better.

  51. RC78 says:

    Leno – 6
    Bellerin – 5
    Holding – 6
    Gabriel – 6
    Cedric – 4
    Xhaka – 6
    Partey – 4
    Saka – 6
    ESR – 5
    Willian – 3
    Laca – 5

    Pepe – 6
    Auba – 6
    Martinelli – 5
    El Neny – 5

    Should have been a victory, ends in a draw…Lack of cutting edge up front and some nervy moments at the back especially with Cedric. Nothing won but nothing lost either. Disappointing. Slavia has not lost at home in a long long time.

  52. RC78 says:

    New post

  53. Gööner In Exile says:

    Have to agree with Rasp Cedric and Gabriel to blame there with the larger responsibility on Gabriel, you have to be aware of what foot people like to play with when passing in that situation, admittedly if we had a left footer at left back it was not a bad initial pass by Gab to Cedric, but he couldn’t swing a right leg to move it up field so took the right option to play it back. Why Gab took a touch only he will know, but it played them in. Tired legs make sloppy mistakes we used to do first touch drills at ends of heavy sessions for that reason alone.

    Think Leno should have done better with first effort, weak hands should never have hit post. Would still have been a corner, then on the goal he is just too low. He has become very athletic recently, think he should sit and watch David Seamsn videos and learn a bit about footwork, safe hands only had to dive for truly exceptional shots.

  54. GoonerB says:

    Well that was disappointing. I was actually happy with a 0-0 in the home leg. Its almost better than a 2-1 win with no away goals against you. A scoring draw at home is a dodgy result.

    Makes our task in the next leg clearer though. We have to go out and attack that game. No caginess or uncertainty as to how we approach that game which weirdly with us may do us a favour. We seem to be one of the worst when it comes to killing or trying to manage a game. Better just to let loose

  55. RA says:

    It was the effing phaffing around at the back that cost us in the 3rd minute of extra time of ….. 4 minutes.

    That was predictable and amazingly stupid.

    If Cedric had hoofed it up the other end instead of giving a rubbish pass to Gabriel — we would have won.

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