After the heroics in Prague we entertain Fulham at the Emirates today in an early kick-off and we’re likely to see some squad rotation.
The calendar is kind to us in the immediate future (we don’t play again until Everton’s visit on Friday evening, then have six days before the first leg of the Europa League semi final in Spain). Even so, there must be some tired legs from last Thursday and Mikel Arteta will want to protect his star assets.
The real need for rotation will come after the first game against Villareal, when we have only 43 hours before we take the field at Newcastle unless the fixture gets moved.
Team news is that Tierney will be out for some time (I don’t think we’ll see him again this season); Luiz is still a few weeks away following ‘a small procedure’ on his knee; Aubameyang remains unavailable because of malaria and Odegaard’s ankle problem keeps him out, although he may be ready for the first Villareal game.
It will be interesting to see if El Patron persists with Xhaka at left back and Chambers at right. I suspect Xhaka will play but this may be a fixture where Arteta lets Bellerin have a rare run out.
Ceballos’s last two outings have been a refreshing change from his poor form prior to that and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and Partey get another run out in midfield.
I would be tempted to rest Smith Rowe, but with Odegaard out we are short of options in the central attacking midfield role so the Croydon De Bruyne may get another start.
It seems like a game where Martinelli could (and should) get a run out from the first whistle, but knowing Arteta I expect to see the older, more frustrating Brazilian get the nod.
Our opponents have had a disappointing season. We hammered them in the first game of the season – a game which, with hindsight, was remarkable for the fact that Willian looked like a great player and had three assist. Little did we know then that that was the last we would see of ‘good’ Willian.
The Cottagers started the season with four straight defeats then managed to steady the ship a little with a run of draws intermingled with defeats and the occasional win, but just lately their form has plummeted again. They have lost their last four games – all against teams in the top half of the table – scoring two and conceding nine.
On paper you would expect us to win this one and close the gap on the N17 degenerates to just two points. Europa League glory is obviously the big target left for us in this campaign, but finishing above the noisy neighbours would be amusing given how generally poor our season has been.
Here’s my guess at the starting team:
Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Xhaka
Partey – Ceballos
Willian – Smith Rowe – Pepe
Let’s hope there’s no post-Europa hangover and we pick up where we left off against Prague and Sheffield United.
Come On You Gunners.