1978 is a pretty long time. That was the year Arsenal last came from behind to defeat an European opponent. Last season, we were down to United by a single goal after the first leg but never recovered in the second. 3 seasons ago, we came back from PSV Eindhoven also a goal down and duly crashed out of the competition. Will Arsenal break their long-standing sequence? They will have to, even without the services of Cesc Fabregas.
Much have been said that about the absence of our captain. That Arsenal are a different side without him, a weaker side. In many sense that is true. Fabregas is a one of a kind world class player, any side that have him will definitely miss him. It is never easy trying to replace a creative midfield lynchpin that has already contributed 17 goals and numerous other assists to match. The follow-up question would be, who is the one to take up the mantle of creativity for Arsenal tonight.
Like I said yesterday, that duty does not fall only to a single person. While Nasri, Diaby or even Arshavin are possible answers to that question, the responsibility falls on the entire team. To win tonight, we need play as a team. We need the whole squad of players to rise to the occasion. We need characters in the side to pull the other younger players through. In short, we need leaders. Thankfully, Sol Campbell will return to the line-up tonight. Leading and guiding the younger lights will be his main duty tonight, well, aside from keeping Porto at bay anyways. There should not be any real surprise in the line-up tonight and this is my prediction;
Campbell will have to use all of his experience and nous and act as one of the leaders of the team, even though he will not wear the captain’s armband tonight. The armband goes to Almunia, which is a strange choice for me but that is a debate for another day. All we need is a 1-0 victory to qualify. The away goal will prove crucial one way or the other. Therefore there is no need for us to rush the game tonight. Of course, if Arsenal were to fly out off the blocks and immediately score a goal or two that would be best. However, my wishes generally never ever comes true. It is imperative that the players keep their head on the pitch. Figuratively speaking of course. The back four and also the midfield protectors will need to keep their discipline and not just go joining in the attack in search of the elusive goal. First and foremost, we need to shut Porto out. From the first leg, we know that Porto’s counter attack could be deadly and Arsenal need to be aware of that.
Walcott may have done very well at the weekend but I see Arshavin starting ahead of him tonight. The Englishman’s pace might be better served in the latter part of the game. Arshavin has not had the most consistent of seasons (although we only had half a season to judge from) but his experience is another one that we need tonight. Of those that will start tonight, none baulks less at chance of shooting than the Russian. It does not always work but if we don’t try, we will never know. Give him a chance and he will take it on without a doubt. I do think that Porto’s keeper is a liability and we need to rattle him early on. Spraying his goal with shots from all over is a good start.
Without sounding too cocky, I do think that Arsenal are a much better side than Porto. It’s not that they are not a good side but judging from the game 3 weeks ago, there is no reason why we can’t prevail tonight. 8 points behind in the Portuguese League, Porto would want to go as far as they can in the competition as they look more and and more likely to feature in the Europa League next season. If that is at the expense of Arsenal, then I will be very very disappointed. We are better and we need to show that tonight. Come on boys!!!
Enjoy it wherever you’re watching. Till tomorrow.