We play our final Champions League Group A game on Tuesday night when we take on Basel. Chris Harris previews the match in Switzerland.
"You never know what might be happening in Paris, but we just want to win." - Arsene Wenger
Before the permutations, an incontrovertible fact: we have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League for the 17th straight season.
That’s something to be proud of, although of course we want more.
Anyway, it’s worth remembering that, whatever happens in Paris and Basel on Tuesday night, we’re in the hat, or the velvet bag, or the glass bowl, or whatever else the 16 balls will be drawn from.
Whether we go through as group winners or runners-up remains to be seen.
Ahead of his 200th European game in charge, Arsene Wenger rates our chances of finishing second as “90 per cent”. That rings true when you consider we need to pick up more points in Switzerland than Paris Saint-Germain do at home to Ludogorets.
Those odds might have prompted the boss to leave Alexis and other big names at home, but he’s done nothing of the sort. And for good reason.
“I keep the group together, whether players and staff we have a squad that is united,” he explained. “Overall, the best way when a guy is having good success and confidence, it's more dangerous to stop him than keep him going.
|Arsenal: Debuchy (hamstring), Bellerin, Cazorla (both ankle), Akpom (back), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee), Sanogo (calf)
Basel: Sporar (adductor - doubt), Boetius (knee)
“What is physical and what is mental in that is always very difficult, and predicting who is tired and not is hard. We are not advanced enough in our science, I guess, to know that ahead, so I kept them all together.
“All the players at the top want to play, and are keen to play. Alexis a bit more extroverted in how he shows it, but you do not get to his level if you don't have a good passion to play at the game. He just shows it in a different way.
“I have to decide the final team selection on Tuesday, but I want to win the game and do our job, and continue to win the games we play. You never know what might be happening in Paris, but we just want to win… we're unbeaten [in the group] up to now, and we want to win the next game.”
You can finish first and get Bayern. You can finish second and get Napoli. Or Monaco (although that will cause some palpitations after our last encounter).
The point is, there’s not such a discernible disadvantage to missing out on top spot if PSG do what’s required at the Parc des Princes.
There are dangers everywhere you look but those currently top of their groups - Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Dortmund, Juventus - are not streets ahead of those currently in second - Sevilla, Porto, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Benfica.
“If you look at the teams, there isn’t really a difference,” said Wenger. “It looks quite even if you finish first or second. So we'll see what happens with the final results.
“The advantage of finishing first is you play the second leg at home, and possibly 30 minutes of extra-time at home. 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.”
While we’ve travelled in hope, Granit Xhaka has travelled home.
The Swiss midfielder started his career at Basel, rising through the ranks with his older brother Taulent to win two Swiss titles and a Swiss cup before leaving for the Bundesliga in 2012.
The Xhaka brothers will be reunited on the pitch on Tuesday and the younger of the siblings is making his presence felt more and more in our midfield.
“He is adjusting,” said Wenger. “Coming to a new club, where there is a big competition for places, he has kept his focus and has done his job well every day.
“I believe he has adjusted to the intensity of the game already and the duels in the middle of the park. He has the stature to deal with that.
“He can bring a good balance between offensive efficiency and defensively as well. He has improved already all-round.”
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