Wednesday, 28.09.2016, 20-45 CET, Group stage (Group A)
Venue: Emirates Stadium (60 432 capacity)
Weather: Clear 17 degrees (by AccuWeather)
Two 1-1 draws in the first round of matches means group A is perfectly set as we approach gameweek 2, with all 4 teams sharing a point apiece.
After staging late comebacks in their respective games, Arsenal and FC Basel will now meet at the Emirates, in a game that could go a long way to eventually deciding second and third place in the group, with PSG tipped to finish top.
Arsenal have had a decent start to their domestic season, and currently sit 4th after a series of mixed results. While their performances against some of the premier league’s weaker sides are never in question, it’s Arsene Wenger’s record against teams challenging for a potential top 4 spot that brings him the most criticism, and rightly so.
Since the ‘invincibles’ dismantled, there has been a clear lack of winning mentality in the sides Arsene Wenger has built, something that has been pointed out as the reason behind their yearly capitulation in February, when they crash out of the Champions League, and a potential title challenge turns into a battle to keep a top 4 spot.
That being said, the Arsenal manager has recruited shrewdly this summer, strengthening the spine of his team with a World Cup winning centre back, an all action midfielder, and the admittedly risky buy of Lucas Perez, who is a pacier alternative to Giroud.
Arsenal will be without the injured quintet of Per Mertesacker, Gabriel Paulista, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, and Danny Welbeck, none of whom is expected back before the end of September, at least. Olivier Giroud is also unavailable due to suspension, after picking up two yellow cards following an altercation with Marco Verratti, in the game against PSG.
Granit Xhaka is expected to get his first start in the Champions League against FC Basel, and Arsenal’s new man will be relishing the opportunity to play against the side he started his career with. The Swiss midfielder came on and impressed against PSG, and then later in the premier league game against Hull, where he scored an exceptional 30 yard scorcher.
Arsene Wenger’s surprise decision to start David Ospina was one of the many talking points of the game in Paris, and was heavily criticized prior to kickoff, with fans and pundits alike questioning why Petr Cech was dropped. Many were expecting yet another dubbing at the hands of a European giant, and the stage seemed set for Edinson Cavani to finally make this team his own, after so many seasons under the shadow of the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
David Ospina, however, had different ideas. The Colombian was at his acrobatic best, pulling off world class save after another, keeping his team in the game, and effectively ensuring his own starting spot for the game in London, something the manager himself later confirmed.
Here’s how Arsenal are expected to lineup:
FC Basel have had a sensational start in the Swiss Super League, having already gone an incredible 9 points clear(!) of their nearest rivals, Young Boys, with 7 wins out of 7. Seydou Doumbia, on loan from CSKA Moscow, has been the driving force behind FC Basel’s excellent run of results, scoring 5 goals in 6 league games, and the forward will be looking to torment Arsenal’s backline with another imposing display.
As in the EUROs earlier in the summer, when Taulant’s Albania faced Granit’s Switzerland, the Xhaka brothers will come face to face once more, and it’ll be interesting to see how the former performs when faced with an Arsenal midfield that loves to move the ball around crisply and at pace. He’ll also have the unfortunate role of having to deny Mesut Ozil the space to create, by no means an easy task.
After failing to qualify for the group stage of the competition last season (they eventually went on to the last 16 of the Europa League, before getting knocked out by eventual champions Sevilla), the Swiss outfit will be looking to make more of a mark this time around, hoping to cause a few upsets, starting with an Arsenal side that has looked shaky in defence and will most probably be without a recognized striker.
With no injuries to worry about, here’s how FC Basel are expected to line up:
*Team news as at time of writing.
Tactical Battle In Midfield:
The aforementioned battle of the Xhaka brothers is just one part of what is going to be a hugely interesting tactical affair in midfield. Both teams prefer the 4-2-3-1 formation, meaning the two men behind the respective strikers, Ozil and Delgado, will have to work extra hard to find the space to create. In a situation where the a 4-2-3-1 comes up against a 4-3-3, each man in midfield has one in his zone, for both teams. Once both teams shift to a two man defensive midfield, the no. 10 has to work the channels, and get extra support from his striker to make sure there’s always space when he receives the ball in advanced positions.
Arsenal’s Threat Down The Wing:
This is where Arsenal’s wingers, and their fullbacks primarily, come into play. Given how the team from London like to dominate possession, FC Basel will most likely have to be content with sitting back for the majority of the game, closing the gaps in midfield just outside the box, where someone like Ozil would be most effective.
This, however, forces the 5 men in front of the box to play in a narrow space, which then allows the opposition fullbacks, Bellerin and Monreal in this case, space down the wings. Of course, the threat down the wings will be reduced due to Giroud’s absence, someone who would have benefitted from regular crosses into the box, but the attacking nature of Arsenal’s Spanish fullbacks means their wingers can regularly create 2v1 situations down the flanks, and use the extra man advantage to cut in and find space to shoot, or the lay the ball onto someone in a better position. Expect Alexis Sanchez to play a starring role in Arsenal’s attacking play.
Doumbia Critical On The Counter
When FC Basel do get the ball, they’ll be looking to break quickly through the pace of Seydou Doumbia. As mentioned earlier, the Ivorian has been in sensational form so far for the Swedish side, and he’ll be hoping he can make more of a mark in England in this game than he managed in his short-lived, 3 game career at Newcastle last season (on loan from CSKA Moscow for the second half of the season).
Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 0 FC Basel
Arsenal will miss Giroud’s height and presence in the box, but should have enough in their tank to comfortably see past the Swiss Champions.