Upon first inspection, this game could be viewed as something of a dead rubber.
Arsenal travel to Switzerland safe in the knowledge that they have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Basel entertain the Gunners having notched only two points from the group. Not only that, but even if Arsene Wenger’s side leave St Jakob Park with all three points it will matter little if PSG match their result against Ludogorets.
There is still a small chance that the Gunners could finish top of their group though, and while that remains, Wenger could field what will be a very strong side.
Common sense should dictate otherwise, especially as on Saturday we take on a resurgent Stoke side – and three days later we travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. With these matches posing far more of a threat to our hopes of success, the squad will come into play fully over the next week.
This fixture flurry would have been a larger cause for concern in years gone by, but the pool of players we can choose from is stronger than before and this will be reflected in the teamsheets for the aforementioned games.
Coming fresh from the 5-1 thumping of West Ham should fill the team full of confidence, and compensate for the disruption that is inevitably caused by rotating the playing staff.
Hat-trick hero Alexis Sanchez could well be rested for this game, and this could give a great opportunity to Lucas Perez who has recently returned from injury. The other choice would be the fit-again Olivier Giroud who has ample experience in the competition.
What is perhaps most telling is Arsene Wenger’s own comments from the pre-match press conference. He spoke of his sides preperation and about finishing second or first in the group. He said ” We’ll see. PSG are favourites to beat Ludogorets at home and win the group, but we can assess that scoreline at half-time and see where we go.”
The part regarding assessing the scoreline at half-time could be construed that he plans to name his strongest players for the game, and if PSG have wrapped up their game then he will make the necessary changes. Or maybe he is holding his cards close to his chest?
Regardless, players such as Mohamed Elneny, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi can expect some form of involvement, such is the wealth of talent we possess within our ranks. Elneny and Granit Xhaka in particular will be hoping to make the team to face off against their former club. Xhaka faced off against his former teammates and his brother Taulant in the corresponding fixture which the Gunners won 2-0 at The Emirates and he will surely be hoping for a repeat result. Theo Walcott scored a first half brace to win that game, but will he be rested with the Stoke game in the corner of Arsene’s eye? Can we afford to bench too many of our established stars?
Basel will be a real test though. They have won their last three home games against English sides, and the Gunners have not finished a group campaign unbeaten since 2005/06. Objectively though, Arsenal have never finished on the losing side against Swiss opposition. One of these records have to budge – especially when you consider that the Gunners have not had a 0-0 draw in the Champions League groups since 2007.
So Arsene has a dilemma, but one that should be easy enough to solve. The squad strength should allow him to hedge his bets even a little for this game, while simultaneously being able to preserve his side for the game against the Potters in the weekend.
A loss will be harmful, but an injury to key personnel would be potentially fatal to our hopes of any silverware. Sensible rotation is key.
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs, Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Iwobi, Giroud.
Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 Arsenal