At last – a big European night at the Arsenal Stadium

At last – a big European night at the Arsenal Stadium

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Morning all.

There’s an exciting night ahead as we face Bayern Munich in the first leg of our Champions League quarter-final. It’s been a long time since we reached this stage of the competition, and it promises to be a challenging evening against opposition who have caused us plenty of problems and pain in the past.

Mikel Arteta wasn’t giving much away in terms of team news, but having played Brighton on Saturday evening, the turnaround time is fairly short. This is exactly the kind of scenario I’m sure he was thinking about when he spoke about top players having to play every three days.

I don’t envisage too much in the way of rotation, and if I had to guess, tonight’s line-up could be something like: Raya, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu, Jorginho, Rice, Odegaard, Martinelli, Saka, Havertz.

The changes come on the left-hand side where you could make the case this is more of a Tomiyasu game than a Zinchenko game, but I wouldn’t be that surprised to see him stick with the former Man City man either. As for Martinelli, they gave him a few minutes against Man City, some minutes against Luton, and a good half an hour against Brighton. I could be wrong, but it feels as if they were getting him ready for this one having suffered that injury and been sidelined for a few weeks. Those minutes were to get him back in, and hopefully find a bit of rhythm, because his explosiveness could be really useful in a game like this.

Gabriel Jesus’ record in Europe this season does make me wonder if he might give the manager some pause for thought, but the form of Kai Havertz means he’d have to play wide, and if Arteta can pick Saka and Martinelli together for the first time our 6-0 win over Sheffield United on March 4th I think he will.

As for tonight’s opposition, a lot has been made of their ‘difficult’ season. They’re not going to win the Bundesliga for the first time since 2012, but that’s as much do with the extraordinary season Bayer Leverkusen are having as anything else. Still, things aren’t great behind the scenes. There are issues with manager Thomas Tuchel who is leaving in the summer, a classic dead man walking, and there are certainly some problems between him and some of the players (Lewis explains a lot more in our Patreon preview podcast).

Hopefully that uncertainty will manifest itself in their performance this evening, but you only need look at the squad to understand it is still packed with quality players. The Champions League is all that’s left for Bayern this season, so that might well provide extra motivation. Asked if he thought their recent form was relevant to tonight’s game, Arteta replied:

From my side no. As well it’s something that we have no say or control over and we just expect all the time the best from our opponent, against Bayern, Brighton or Aston Villa. Regardless of where they are you always have to expect that they play in their best possible way and be prepared to outperform them.

Nevertheless, there’s no question this isn’t the same kind of Bayern team who ran riot over us in the past. They’re not in their best moment, we’re enjoying a superb run of form during which the strengths of this team are on display week in, week out, and if we can play to our potential and not get caught up in the occasion, we’re certainly capable of winning this home leg in front of 60,000 Arsenal fans. Remember, there are no away fans allowed for this one, which could be seen as a slight advantage for us, and when asked why he was so keen to get the crowd going for games like this, Arteta said:

I see the energy changing the players. Their belief, their body language, actually how much they are looking forward to field, how protected they feel. It’s like a cushion there to tell them, and the wind blowing in their back saying, go for it, we are right behind you. And you can sense it when we are able to do that at home. It’s extraordinary, it changes, you feel things in your body and tomorrow we have to feel the last go on and we have to be ready for every ball.

So let’s hope it all comes together on the night. The fans, the atmosphere, the performance, the result. I don’t think you can take anything for granted at this stage of the Champions League, against a team featuring many of the players who won this cup just a few seasons ago, but I do think we can feel confident that this is an Arsenal team who can acquit themselves well at this level. It’s a big European night, the kind we’ve been craving for so long, so let’s hope we do ourselves justice.

Right, let’s leave it there. I’m heading over for this one, looking forward to seeing how this one plays out, and to catching up with some of you lot. See you in the usual places, or just around.

For now, I’ll leave you with our preview podcast on Patreon, and we’ll still have all the usual live blog coverage, and post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

Come on you reds!

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