It’s matchday two of our Europa League group stage, and it’s our first home game, as Standard Liege travel to The Emirates.
The Belgian side are currently sitting in second place in Belgium’s top league and are in decent form in the runup to this game, but Unai Emery will want to not only win the game to put us in a strong position in the group – but also use our squad effectively by swapping out a few.
That could be done by playing those who are in need of minutes, like a few of our youngsters – or selecting those who require some form.
Step forward Nicolas Pepe and Mesut Ozil.
Both are not exactly at their best and a match against a team we are expected to win against could be the perfect tonic to their form malaise.
Alternatively, both could be benched, with players like Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe in the starting lineup.
Whatever happens, this match, if won, could mean our men putting their feet up in the last couple of games. We would have maximum points with our rivals a good distance behind us after just two games. With the toughest game of the group already behind us – our away trip to Frankfurt which we have already bagged maximum points for – it means a much easier run in.
Our next match on Sunday versus Bournemouth will be a tougher test and with plenty of teams surrounding us in the table, Emery will no doubt rotate – but who will he pick?
Emi Martinez will get his start as he did against Frankfurt and performed admirably, so the Argentinean stopper will get the gloves again.
In defence, we could get the return of Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding as this is expected to be a little less strenuous than a PL game, so is seen as the perfect stepup in their scaling up to match sharpness.
Midfield wise, we can expect to see Matteo Guendouzi rested as he has been our main man in the last few weeks. Players like Jo Willock, James Olayinka and Robbie Burton could get a shout, but Granit Xhaka could be the best partner for Willock, given his lack of experience.
In attack, another to be rested will be hotshot Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon man has been our standout performer so far, so keeping him in prime condition is imperative. That means another start for Gabriel Martinelli.
Who will start just behind him though? Reiss Nelson is a good shout, but I expect to see both Pepe and Ozil to start – and they could both do with getting on the scoresheet or providing an assist, given their form recently – or lack of.
Player to Watch
The midfielder is quite highly rated and at just 23, has already played in Italy with Chievo. His fitness is a strong attribute for him, allowing him darting runs forward, but also to cover runs at the back. He will be making his presence at both ends of the pitch, but Bastien will be putting out fires if he is allowed to, and will then transition the ball. Industrious and a great tackler, Bastien can prove to be the difference for his side.
How This Could Go
Standard Liege will have a fair amount of fans turn up at The Emirates, their support is pretty strong. That will buoy them, but they will come to our ground with ambitions of victory, with coach Preud’Homme no doubt having briefed his men that we are somewhat, brittle, at the back.
That does depend on the return of Bellerin, Tierney and Holding. Should they slot in, then the Belgians will find it a good deal tougher.
Even if they don’t though, our firepower should be enough to see us over the line. Liege have a decent side and are looking stronger than they did last season, when they finished 3rd in the Jupiler League.
Take them for granted and we will be punished. Our youngsters should be feeling like they have a point to prove, so effort won’t be in short supply.
This game could be a good omen. Who did we beat on our way to winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1994?
Predicted Lineup – Martinez, Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Tierney, Willock, Xhaka, Pepe, Ozil, Nelson, Martinelli
Predicted Scoreline – 3-0 to The Arsenal