The visit of Ludogorets to the Emirates tonight (Wednesday) – and the return leg that follows in a few weeks – presents an excellent opportunity to get some points on the board.
In fact, getting the job done over the next fortnight will leave us on the cusp of qualification for the next round – if it isn’t already secured.
I’m a cautious fan by nature, never confident of the three points until the final whistle blows, but these really are two fixtures which we should be aiming to take maximum points from.
In their domestic league, the Bulgarian side are all-conquering – they haven’t failed to score at least three goals in a league fixture since early September. Their latest triumph was a 3-1 victory at Pirin last Saturday.
They have also proved well capable of scoring goals in the Champions League – a competition that is practically on another planet to the sort of opponents they face in their own league.
They forced a creditable draw against Swiss champions Basel and managed to get on the scoresheet against PSG, albeit in a comfortable 3-1 beating.
That said, this shouldn’t be a game that Arsenal make hard work of. The comfortable win over Basel should be the model for the Ludogorets game. Plenty of intensity and plenty of pace should equal plenty of goals.
The bad memories of last season’s Champions League fudge still linger on in the mind, despite a pretty decent start to this season, but I feel like we have finally learned a few lessons as a side.
Last season, we were out-fought and out-smarted by Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb in the group stages but I don’t believe we will see a repeat this time around.
I expect the Bulgarian champions will do their utmost to imitate the hard work and high press of the teams who have found success in London in recent times but, if we play as well as we have done in recent weeks, we should be more than capable of blowing them away. We have too much quality.
In terms of playing personnel, I am comfortable with a degree of squad rotation, so long as those who come into the side sing from the same song sheet as those who have dropped to the bench.
I think we can afford to rest the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for the evening, and bring Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and either Olivier Giroud or Lucas Perez into the side.
Everyone who isn’t featuring regularly in the starting XI should be hungry to do so and this is their opportunity to make a statement.
I expect David Ospina will continue between the sticks – bolstered by some excellent showings against PSG and Basel – and I also expect that Granit Xhaka will start at the centre of midfield.
With a lengthy ban coming up for his red card against Swansea, he will have plenty of time to rest and reflect in the weeks ahead. I think it would be wise to get some more minutes under his belt know, and allow Francis Coquelin’s knee the time it needs to be completely free of any lasting niggles he may have picked up against Chelsea.
All things considered, this shouldn’t – and that’s the key word – be a difficult few games for Arsenal. Obviously the away fixture will have the added spice of a fervent home crowd, but Barcelona they ain’t.
If we can nail three points tonight, and keep our momentum running, the confidence will continue to surge as we venture into a busy autumn schedule.