27 October 2022

PSV vs. Arsenal: Squeaky Bums and Fading Spirits...

So here we are. A draw or a win secures top spot in Group A. Even a loss, as long as we somehow manage to overcome winless FC Zürich when they come to visit next week, lets us take that precious top spot, thereby avoiding the likes of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, or Juventus. Barca are already in the Europa League, and Atleti and Juve still have fading hopes. Heck, even Tottenham could find their way back to their favorite tournament that they never win. Anything can happen. First, though, we have to sort out our own situation. I'll put it to you plainly: we should rotate heavily and let the chips fall where they may. Short version: our moderately strong side, including Saka and Jesus as starters, laboured its way to a 1-0 win at home. Going into Philips Stadion will likely present a stiffer challenge. I'm not usually one to throw in a towel, but we're running on fumes at the moment. 

Let's be honest with ourselves: we haven't looked all that convincing since defeating Liverpool. We've since played four matches against clearly inferior opponents, and have barely managed to eke out three wins and a draw while scoring four goals. Yes, we kept clean sheets, but that arguably reflects our opponents' lack of ambition and ability just as much if not more than it reflects on how stalwart we've been. With that as a backdrop, we could throw everything we have at PSV to get a result, thereby reducing our final group-stage match at home against Zürich to dead rubber—but there's no guarantee there. If we go full throttle and still lose, we've worn out players who are already looking jaded and leggy. While it may be tempting to rest key players against Zürich, I see a Solomonic compromise. We can afford to rest key players against both opponents and still top the group.

As for PSV, they're hard to predict. Will they come out aggressively seeking the win, or will they sit back like they did when they came to the Emirates? There are too many permutations of who wins and who draws and who faces who in the final match to get into. If we can rest key players like Saka, Jesus, and Ødegaard, we may still be able to find a draw, thereby winning the group before having to face Zürich, allowing us even further rotaton for that match. 

Look, I don't like such triage anymore than you do. I want us to win every match we play, but we have to be realistic. Injuries to Smith-Rowe, Zinchenko, and Elneny leave Arteta with fewer options than he'd probably like. Risking injury or even "mere" fatigue to other players would expose us to deeper problems down the road. 

The squad I've named should be good enough to hold down the fort while allowing the first team some rest. Heck, it may even be good enough to find a win. Wouldn't that be the bee's knees? After all, many of these players—Nketiah, Vieira, Lokonga, Marquinhos, Nelson—have something to prove. Supported from the back by more-experienced players like Xhaka, Holding, Cedric, Gabriel, and Tierney—might mean there's enough determination and grit to get us a point or more. 

What say you? Have I lost the plot, or am I cagey enough to know what I'm talking about? Have at it in the comments-section below...

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