UEFA Champions League
So, here we are. The 16th straight season that "Champions League" and "Arsenal" have been mentioned in the same sentence. Every year lately, we've heard that Arsenal's CL status is in peril, and every year, Arsenal make the CL. This year's test, though, is a little sterner; I am absolutely not going to rehash how we got here for the 6,798th time, and I would hope we could all just assume we know what's been going on and not keep recycling the same discussions about it. Arsenal go to Turkey tomorrow with a lot more questions than answers, and a lot less margin for error than in previous years. There is, to be stark, a shit-ton on the line in this playoff.
You will hear a lot about the atmosphere in Turkey, and it's all correct - it's an absolute madhouse. But, don't forget, Arsenal have played in Turkey many times before; they know what they're getting in to down there, and they'll be ready and braced for the madhouse. I'm much more worried about whether they'll be ready from a playing perspective.
The big issue, of course, is if Arsenal will be able to field a team of 11 players. Which is a little hyperbolic, but after the MMA clinic that was Saturday's game, Arsenal's thin squad is stretched even thinner. Ox, of course, is out for an extended (or should that be...Oxtended? Hello? Is this thing on?) period of time, but according to Le Boss, Sagna, Gibbs, and Nacho are all available. Which is nice, because Arsenal's bench right now looks kinda like a bus stop at 3.45 in the morning - there are people on it, sure, but are those people that you want to count on to get a job done? They're all asleep, and some of them smell funny.
I kid, mostly - Arsenal's bench players are professional athletes, and are far better at their chosen profession on their worst day than I am at my absolute best. But still, Arsenal's depth issues are well-known, and if Arsenal play like they played for the last 80 minutes of Saturday's match, they'll need to stay a lot less knocked than they did Saturday, or they'll need all the depth help they can get.
I would hope that Arsenal come out angry, after Saturday - not just because of how shitty they played, but also to stick a finger in the eye of everyone who says YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Arsenal are better than they showed Saturday; they need reinforcements, sure, but Saturday was a good team playing pretty much at its worst. They didn't attack, they didn't close down, they didn't move the ball well, they did nothing right after the goal. Wednesday night, you gotta be better, Arsenal. It's important.
PREDICTED STARTING LINEUP: Szcz; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey; Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud.
SUBS: Fabianski, Podolski, Gnabry, Jenkinson, Sanogo, Zelalem, Frimpong
FEARLESS PREDICTION: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If things don't go well on Wednesday, TSF will turn into an Etsy site selling crocheted cat pillows, artisan socks, and hand-made shoelaces.