Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Match Preview, Arsenal v Basel: Roll On

When Arsenal host FC Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday, the Gunners can establish a strong position in their Champions League group and continue their good form.

The Match Day One draw in Paris, on paper the most difficult of Arsenal’s group stage matches, gives the team a slight advantage in its qualifying campaign. Three home wins all but guarantee progress to the knockout phase.

A positive result would also extend the promising trend the Gunners have set since their opening-day league loss to Liverpool. They’re on a seven-match unbeaten run with a relatively attractive schedule until early November.

Basel will not be an easy target—the Swiss side has slain English giants in the past. They have also dominated the Swiss Super League, having won nine of nine matches while conceding just seven goals.

With respect, that competition will have not had the quality of Arsenal.

That’s the case even though we can expect manager Arsène Wenger to adjust his starting XI. Midfielder Francis Coquelin will miss out, having re-injured his right knee on Saturday. That means a start for Granit Xhaka against his former club.

Although Wenger did not rotate his side against Paris-Saint Germain, this looks like an opportunity to deploy some members of his strong squad. Based on their performances against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny, and Lucas Perez merit consideration.

Will Wenger go for this scale of change in a Champions League match? It would break from his usual practice, but four goals by the second string at Nottingham Forest point to a wealth of worthy attacking options.

The incoming quartet would bring a slightly different style of play from that of the vanquishers of Chelsea. A little less aggression and a little more flow in midfield, primarily. Lucas and Alexis Sanchez interchanging in attack could also cause problems for a Basel defense unaccustomed to their levels of speed and tenacity.

Of course, the XI Wenger sent out against Chelsea, with just Xhaka in for Coquelin, would be just as daunting a proposition for the visitors.

Key Matchup

Mesut Özil against Taulant Xhaka. Arsenal’s playmaker ran the show against Chelsea. His skills and smarts pose a constant menace to opposition defenders. Xhaka, facing his brother’s new team, will have to marshal his midfield teammates to minimize the space Özil can exploit.

Where to Worry

Arsenal’s biggest concern should be overconfidence. The Gunners look convincing but can’t take any match for granted. They’ll need to bring comparable intensity and swiftness of thought to this encounter, even if on paper the opposition is weaker. Because we’ve seen the consequences of not doing that in the past.

Match Verdict

I’m not entirely convinced by the momentum factor in football; I’ve never seen statistics to support the narrative of a team on a roll. So in this case, the focus, form, and quality Arsenal can showcase in 18 players will most likely be too much for Basel.

Players to Watch

Arsenal. Granit Xhaka. Arsenal’s Swiss acquisition will have a chance to run this match from deep in the midfield. He launches attacks in a different way than Coquelin does—incisive passing vs. aggressive interception—and it will be interesting to watch Arsenal’s attack flow with Xhaka in charge.

Basel. Seydou Doumbia. Basel’s Ivorian striker, who has been rotated like Swiss clockwork with target man Marc Janko, will likely get the call with his teammate injured. Doumbia has six league goals in eight league appearances.

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