By Graham McNorthbank
Arsenal take on Udinese in the first leg of our Champions League play off tonight with the knowledge that we are going to have to look elsewhere for the creativity that we've previously relied on to break down defences.
Cesc Fabregas, as we all know, left the club yesterday and with the transfer of Samir Nasri to Man Citeh seemingly (and hopefully) imminent, Arsene Wenger will be relying on someone else in the squad to take on the playmaker role. Besides, Samir is suspended from the first leg, so that's thankfully a selection decision that the manager hasn't had to make.
So with Nasri omitted from the squad, just who should Wenger pick to help secure the win that we so vitally need before we travel to Italy next week?
Unfortunately, many people's heir apparent to Fabregas, Jack Wilshere, is recovering from an ankle injury and no date for his return has been mentioned by the manager, which is a tad ominous.
Quite frankly, that only leaves us with Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky who are capable of playing in what was the Fabregas role, which is a bit of a joke for a club the size of Arsenal. Of that duo, I'd prefer the young Welshman, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Wenger will hand the responsibility to the former Czech captain, who can hopefully continue his return to form with a good performance tonight.
Another option - and one I would favour - would be to try Andrey Arshavin as our playmaker. On Saturday the little Russian gave a glimpse of what he is capable of when he played an exquisite lobbed pass over the top of the Newcastle defence to Robin van Persie, but the Dutchman was unable to bring the ball under control and the opportunity fizzled out. Still, considering playing Arshavin in his preferred central position could prove to be a winner.
Elsewhere, despite Le Gaffer claiming we have a very big squad, the team virtually picks itself. Szczesny will be in goal behind a defence of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs.
The midfield is likely to consist of Song, Ramsey and Rosicky, while some of the fringe players may well get a look in from the bench, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain perhaps getting an earlier appearance in the first team than he imagined.
Up front, we will be without the services of RvP, who will be suspended. New boy Gervinho will be determined to make his mark, given that he's about to serve a three-match suspension in the league and I reckon he'll be partnered by Arshavin and Theo Walcott, with the option of bringing on Marouane Chamakh later on for a bit on an aerial threat.
Mind you, if Wenger does opt for Arshavin in midfield, alongside Ramsey and Song, that could give us a more potent attack involving Chamakh, Walcott and Gervinho.
One other suspension, which is far from ideal tonight, is that of Arsene Wenger, who will be banned from the bench. Thankfully, modern technology shouldn't make that too much of an issue, but in a game that the Gunners have to win, it's just another issue to contend with, among a whole host of others that mean we're not exactly ideally set up for European combat.
Got your own thoughts on who should play this evening? Then be sure to use our comments section to share your selection choices. In the meantime, here's mine:
Sagna Vermaelen Koscielny Gibbs
Ramsey Song Rosicky
Gervinho Walcott Arshavin