After last Wednesday's comprehensive 3-0 win at Fenerbahce, Arsenal are virtually through to the Champions League group stages. The second leg on Tuesday should be a formality if Arsenal play with the same levels of concentration they showed in Turkey and at Fulham on Saturday.
Having almost toppled AC Milan and Bayern Munich after being written off following the first leg in recent seasons, Arsenal will be all too aware of the need to kill the tie off early. Having worked so hard last season to finish fourth, and after playing well in Turkey, throwing away a place in Europe now would be beyond careless. After the ship has been steadied in the past week, such a collapse would guarantee the Arsenal boat would be in the roughest waters in many a year.
Despite the need for Arsenal to take the second leg seriously, a lead with three away goals means there should be some scope for rotating the squad. After an end-to-end match with Fulham and with the North London derby against Spurs looming Saturday at the Emirates, giving some key players a midweek rest would be ideal.
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However, as is well-known by now due to the lack of new signings, the Arsenal squad isn't big enough to rotate.
Ahead of the second leg, Arsene Wenger said “There will be stability in the team -- 95 percent of the team that played at Fulham will play.” As much as this is the Arsenal manager looking to make a statement about taking the game seriously, it should also be viewed as an admission the squad isn’t big enough to make changes that won't derail the team.
The only players who didn't start at Fulham who could come into the side without severely weakening it are Laurent Koscielny, Jack Wilshere and Nacho Monreal. They do give Wenger some options as to who to rest, as any one of the back four could be replaced with Koscielny or Monreal.
Given the choice, I think Bacary Sagna should be given a break before returning to right back for the derby. Considering Kieran Gibbs’ injury record, as well, bringing in Monreal could be beneficial ahead of the weekend.
In midfield, Wenger has already said Wilshere will play. The versatility of Arsenal’s midfielders and forwards mean that any of the front six could potentially be left out for Wilshere to start. Of them, Aaron Ramsey has put in some of the hardest yards at the start of the season, but I think Santi Cazorla should be the one to be left on the bench on Tuesday. He’s effectively just finishing preseason after the Confederations Cup, and will be vital for the North London derby.
The hope will be Arsenal get a couple of goals in the first half so Wenger can bring younger players to further rest the more experienced squad players. The likes of Yaya Sanogo, Serge Gnabry or even Gedion Zelalem could then get some experience of the Champions League with qualification secured.
The match should be the starting point for what fans are hoping will be an exciting week. Wenger, while still being typically defensive and hidden on his transfer dealings, has said the squad isn’t big enough and that he is looking to sign players. In this long summer with no big arrivals, the hope that has kept some fans going is that they will arrive in a glut should the Gunners make the group stages. Arsenal should make that defining step on Tuesday night.
Despite being in control of the tie, the likely lack of changes to the team to face Fenerbahce only further highlights the need for reinforcements. Get the job done against the Turkish side and everything should be set for them to arrive.