Having only managed a 1-1 draw last time out against Benfica, Arsenal face themselves with a huge test on Thursday night. Considering Arsenal find themselves less and less likely of achieving Champions League football through league position, this might just be our most important game of the season so far. Defeat in this one gives us very little to play for in the remainder of the season. Winning the Europa League and getting Champions League football for next season has to be the focus.
Fortunately, as things stand Arsenal will be going through. Our away goal against Benfica means that if the game stays 0-0, we will progress to the next round. The tie is still very much ours to lose. However, it is quite frustrating that this tie is not already dead in the water. We went full strength last week and couldn’t manage more than a draw, whereas we saw our rivals Spurs and United put out a weakened side and have the tie put to bed in the first leg. Here is how I think we should line up in order to keep our season alive…
LENO: No real questions here. Ryan will get some more chances throughout the remainder of the season, but we have to go with our strongest keeper in this one
CEDRIC: I am probably expecting to see Bellerin start, but I would probably play Cedric. I think he deserves a chance at right back considering how solid he has been on the left. I think he is just slightly more positive going forward than Bellerin and has a better delivery when he gets into those dangerous areas
LUIZ: Rumour has it Holding could miss this one as a result of a concussion sustained against City. It’s tempting to play Gabriel and Mari, but in the interest of having a right footer at centre back I’ll go with Luiz
GABRIEL: Benfica are a bit more conservative than a lot of European teams we play. As such, they will sit off and we will need centre backs who are happy to carry the ball into the midfield which I think Gabriel does better than Mari
TIERNEY: He was back against City and HAS to play in this one too. Boy, how we’ve missed him.
CEBALLOS: I thought he played well last week. I have been impressed since he returned to the side and think he could be key to unlocking a tough Benfica defence
XHAKA: If Partey is deemed fit I would probably play him; there is no sense in resting him if this is our most important game of the season and he is fit. Though, I’m predicting that he isn’t fit and Xhaka will have to fill in for him
SAKA: The best player at the club right now. I’m certain that he will start and he definitely needs to
ODEGAARD: I thought he was decent last week against Benfica and has shown glimpses of quality, so I’d let him keep his place
SMITH ROWE: Odegaard would not be included at the expense of Smith Rowe in my eyes. Smith Rowe was tried out on the left last week, but it didn’t really work because he had Cedric behind him. We had no width and no pace down our left side. With Tierney back, I think he and Smith Rowe will link up brilliantly down the left. The width that Tierney will provide will allow Smith Rowe to operate more freely in the channel
LACAZETTE: I’m still not sure why Lacazette was so suddenly sent back to the bench. He has been on great goalscoring football. The thing with Lacazette is that even if he isn’t scoring, he is bringing something to the side with his link up play and ability to drop into midfield. The same cannot really be said about Aubameyang
So that’s my selection, but what do you think Gunners. Who should start in this massive game?
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