With top spot qualification all but sealed, Arsenal can start thinking about the next stage of the tournament.
As for the Belarusian outfit, they’ve still got something to play for as they sit bottom with five points to their name. In order to qualify for the next stage, they must beat the home side and hope the tie involving Red Star Belgrade and FC Cologne ends in a draw.
You could forgive Arsene Wenger should he opt to play third-string side, but I’d rather see a mix of young talent and regular starters to staple our claim on our unfancied Europa League journey.
I hope a fairly strong side is fielded as I don’t want Arsenal doing Borisov any favours. I want to see Arsenal show no mercy in this fixture.
Thoughts ahead of the game
To show why we’re “in it to win it” and not to just take part, this game must be taken with all seriousness even though its a “dead rubber” (for Arsenal). I imagine this game will be fairly difficult given that BATE Borisov still have something to play for. It’ll be interesting to see which sort of lineup will be put out.
Both Arsene Wenger, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles spoke to the media. Here’s what was said:
On Shkodran Mustafi:
“It is a possibility [he could be available for Southampton] if not, it will be West Ham”.
Well, that’s not too bad then.
He was asked about being favourites:
“I don’t worry about that. We have a chance to win so let’s give it a go. We go direct to the knockout stage now. It’s important we give everything to win it. That’s why its important in these rounds that we give some young players experience.
Nice to know that Arsene Wenger isn’t fazed by being “favourites”. I like that Arsenal are being seen as “favourites”, but I couldn’t care less about the tag.
On playing young players:
“They have been outstanding. One of the positives of this season is the behaviour of the squad has been remarkable. We have a quality squad on even ground”. That’s why its no coincidence we qualify”.
The balance within the squad has helped thus far as it means that regular starters won’t be tired heading into weekend matches.
Maitland-Niles was asked about playing in the Europa League:
“I think I’ve gained vital experience playing these sort of competitions, with top players, playing against some difficult opposition so I’ve just got the boss to thank for that”.
He also said that he’s happy to play wherever the manager put him.
Players such as him need this experience in order to build themselves up as professionals.
Away from squad issues, Wenger says he doesn’t really like the fact that teams finishing third in their Champions League groups drop into the Europa League.
“I was always against it. But we voted many times in Geneva for that and you have to respect it. It’s what you call democracy. The majority voted for Champions League teams to go into the Europa League. And for many years, they won it”.
I’m not a huge fan of that either, but where else are the remaining eight sides supposed to come from? The best eight third-placed sides in the secondary tournament? (I wouldn’t be a fan of that either).
Wenger also mentioned that rotation has benefitted as players wouldn’t get injured as often. I really do think being in the Europa League has been a blessing in disguise.
With Arsenal being favourites to win this match, I hope we don’t see them “laying low” for BATE Borisov. I want to see a “show no mercy” attitude as I mentioned earlier.
Which way do you see the match going? Do you think the Belarusian outfit can still qualify? Having qualified with two games to spare, I’d still like to see “tournament mode” rather than “friendly mode”. Let us know @OfficialTFF.