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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Another European tour begins

2016 Champions League Final is at San Siro, Milan
I'm not going to bother writing in depth about Jack Wilshere's latest setback. We all knew it was coming - it always does. The fact is that, yet again, weeks after the injury has been diagnosed the Arsenal medical people have decided it needs to be operated on. You couldn't make it up really. For years now they have been incompetent and it doesn't look like a change will be occurring any time soon. Jack is now heading in to Diaby territory.
Arsenal's European adventure for this season begins tonight in Croatia. Although I'm more than happy that we're involved in the top competition for European clubs I'm lacking in excitement about the prospect of playing. Years ago there was something really special about any European tie. Every match provided the prospect of some kind of exotic spectacle simply because you didn't really know the opposition. When we first qualified for this new version of the European Cup in 1998 it was genuinely exciting to travel to Lens for our first game. Familiarity, however, breeds contempt and I'm sure I wasn't alone in being totally underwhelmed at being drawn against Bayern Munich and Olympiacos yet again this season. Sadly the competition lends itself to such repetition due to the largely closed shop nature of the participants, and the heavily "fixed" draw that cuts down the options of who you can play for a number of reasons. To be honest, the most intriguing fixtures of this Arsenal group are the ones against Zagreb simply because they're more of an unknown to us (or to me, at least).
Arsenal have travelled to Zagreb with an interesting squad in that Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin have not gone out there. I'm not surprised there will be a bit of "rotation" of certain players as we get in to the busy period of games (and one or two could do with actually playing some football ahead of the League Cup tie at Spurs next week) but I am surprised they're not there to be on the bench. Chambers and Flamini have replaced the pair from the 18 that was present on Saturday with Per Mertesacker still not ready to be involved - the BFG must have been really poorly these past few weeks, and he may find it difficult to get back in the side if Gabriel and Koscielny can play well together again this evening.
It remains to be seen whether there will be more changes to the starting line-up. I would expect Oxlade-Chamberlain to replace Ramsey with Debuchy obviously coming in for Bellerin. The other possible changes may be in goal (which would be foolish for me), Kieran Gibbs might play at left-back, but the rest of the side might well be the same (will Giroud get the nod for a tight away game in Europe, ahead of Theo Walcott?) As much as there is a need to keep players a little fresh, there is also the need to not change too many players in one go. In an ideal scenario we'd be able to rest Alexis Sanchez but that really is unlikely to happen until the Spurs game.
Despite the notable away wins in recent years in Munich, Dortmund and Monaco our away performances in Europe are notoriously poor. I fully expect an intimidating atmosphere in Zagreb but the players must remain unfazed and play their football. Last time we played over there Cesc Fabregas orchestrated a fine result in the qualifying round so let's hope Santi can pull the strings in midfield this evening. As it stands I would be reasonably pleased with a draw tonight - Zagreb are on a 41 match unbeaten run domestically - and another draw on Saturday at Chelsea. It is vital that neither game is lost. What we don't want is to be playing catch-up after one game. I'll write a review tomorrow - the road to Milan starts here!

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