02 November 2022

FC Zürich Preview—Time to win this group already.

Our visitors have proven to be a tough nut to crack for everyone except PSV, who battered them by a combined scoreline of 10-1. Saka, Zinchenko, and Elneny back in training. Their other three results have all been tough 2-1 scorelines—two losses and then a well-earned 2-1 win over Bodø/Glimt that ended the Norwegian club's chance at advancing past the group stage. Can they put a dent in our campaign to win the group? We'll need a win because a draw would allow PSV, who hold the tie-break over us, to win the group. I previously suggested we rotate for this one but now wonder if we should go with a stronger lineup to ensure we avoid Barca or Juve (should the Italians manage to finish third).

On paper, we should be able to waltz past a side that has scored just five goals while conceding 15 on their way to one win and four losses. However, despite their showing against PSV, they've got some steel to them. That said, Arteta sent out a heavily rotated side for the first leg (so to speak), with Nketiah, Marquinhos, Vieira, Lokonga, Holding, and Tierney starting ahead of Turner, with only Martinelli, Xhaka, Big Gabi, and Tomiyasu as regulars to knit it all together. Of course, in addition to a drop in skill or quality, such lineups are bound to lack the fluidity of our usual XI, who spend much more time playing with each other by definition. 

With our goal of winning the group, and with Zürich having little to play for other than pride or a chance to drop to the Europa Conference League (probably something they'd prefer to avoid, considering that they're bottom of the Swiss Super League), I suspect Arteta will name a somewhat stronger squad than that first match. The returns to training of Elneny, Zinchenko, and Saka, it's possible we could see some minutes for Elneny or Zinchenko to either help them build match fitness or to rest others. I'd prefer Saka be rested so as to protect that ankle. Zürich's players may have less motivation to scythe him down, but there's no sense rushing him back when it would make more sense to rest him ahead of Sunday's trip to Stamford Bridge.

Although this lineup may look like it will struggle, we could name to the bench players like Saka, Zinchenko, and Jesus whom we could throw on at the hour if we're still looking for a goal. Alternately, we could keep an eye on what's going on between Bodø/Glimt and PSV. Should the Norwegians take a lead, well, we keep them on the top shelf a little longer. In any case, we really shouldn't have too of a problem here. Our performance against Forest (albeit with a squad full of regulars) should restore some confidence and swagger to the entire squad.

Final prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Zürich, goals from Nketiah, Nelson, and Vieira.

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