Okay, so winning would quite guarantee us a chance at advancing from the group stage, but it would go a long way towards that goal. We currently sit top of Group B on six points with RC Lens on five and Sevilla on just two. Get ready for some advanced maths. Should we defeat Sevilla, we climb to nine points and leave Sevilla capable of only reaching eight points. If RC Lens can defeat PSV Eindhoven, the Dutch side face that same fate—and we advance. The only remaining question would concern whether we can win the group. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, though. First, Sevilla.
Having won the first “leg” in Spain 1-2 has to boost our confidence; what’s more, Sevilla’s season is off to a start that could best be described as,well…tepid. They sit 11th in La Liga with just two wins in eleven outings (one of those at home to cellar-dwellars Almeria. A quick scan of their roster boasts an impressive number of also-rans, has-beens, and vaguely familiars: Ivan Rakitic, Jesus Navas, Suso, Erik Lamela, Fernando, and Sergio Ramos, to name a few. While there’s a fair amoung of grizzled savvy and experience in there, there’s also a lot of miles on those odometers, and the tyres (if not the pates) are balding.
Nonetheless, we’l have look sharper than we’ve looked over the last few outings. Say what you will about Newcastle’s goal; we didn’t create enough chances to equalise much less win. Against West Ham, we were even more toothless (toothless-er?), failing to score until Ødegaard found the back of the net late on. It appears that our eruption against Sheffield United flattered to deceive. Perhaps we should have saved a few of those goals for fixtures that followed.
Sevilla are a tough side to break down, having conceded just 16 goals in 11 La Liga matches, and they’ve conceded just just four in the group-stage matches. With the goals hard to come by already, we’ll miss Ødegaard and Jesus all the more. At a risk of beating a horse that is looking less and less lively by the week, it would be just grand if Kai Havertz could step into the void left by one or the other. While he’s chipped in just the one goal and assist, even his harshest critics would have to admit that he’s finding other, less-noticeable but still-significant ways to contribute. He is in many ways a less-attractive and less-productive Giroud. He’s winning aerial duels, offering strong link-up play, and finding space between the lines. If he could just find the back of the net…
Someone will have to, clearly. Given Sevilla’s stubbornness, this may feel like facing the likes of Crystal Palace or Everton, with our visitors battening down the hatches and hoping for a point if not a smash-and-grab with a set-piece goal scored against the run of play. While they did keep 57% possession against us, it might be useful to consider their 1-0 loss away to Barcelona as a useful proxy for how they play as the visiting side. The Catalans kept 59% possession but allowed Sevilla to squeeze off 12 shots, and the only goal came in the 75th minute—an own-goal from Sergio Ramos.
Sevilla are clearly a tougher nut to crack than their position in either table suggests. While a win would go a long way towards securing us a spot in the knockout round, we may find ourselves toiling to grind out a result rather than coasting comfortably to one. Let’s hope that Nketiah, who will almost certainly start through the middle, can find the form he showed against Sheffield United—but that will depend on more than him. He’ll have to get something resembling service from Havertz, from Vieira, from Rice…Martinelli and Saka are far-more capable of creating chances of their own, but we’ll need more than moments of individual brilliance today.
Scoreline prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Sevilla. Share your predictions in the comments-section below!