Arsenal play again tonight, signs that football is well and truly back. While we are only really at the beginning of the season, games are coming thick and fast. Champions League is on the menu for tonight albeit the play-off for the group stage proper. Of course, we could’ve avoided this fixture had we not stumbled towards the tail end of last season.
No point crying over spilt milk now. There’s 180 minutes to achieve another season of Champions League football and that is what we must do. 180 minutes of determining whether we would be getting another big cheque from UEFA and their sponsors. Some might say, 180 minutes to determine whether we hold on to a certain Samir Nasri. Incidentally, the price tag for him mirrors what we could possibly earn from this competition if we compete without winning it.
The luck of the draw dictates that Udinese would be the opponent tonight. It could’ve been easier had we drawn the likes of FC Zurich or Twente but then again, we never seem to get much luck in these draws anyways (point easily proven by our match-ups against Barcelona in two consecutive seasons).
Udinese finished fourth in Serie A last season and Francesco Guidolin has got them playing the most entertaining football in the whole of Italy. Whether that will change in this game remains to be seen. What is for sure is that they will be slightly weaken by the departure of Cristian Zapata (centre back), Gokhan Inler (midfield) and Alexis Sanchez (forward). I’m no expert of Serie A or Udinese for that matter, perhaps this article would tell you more of them.
If they do play with the 4-1-4-1 formation, the likes of Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey would have to be more diligent during defending to ensure that our defence gets enough support. If they employ the 3-5-1-1, then we must utilize the extra space in their defence and this is where one of Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky (if fit) can thrive and get in the space vacated by Udinese when their centre backs are dragged wide. While they’ve lost some very capable players, Guidolin can still depend on a few more others. Antonio Di Natale, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla are just a few names that immediately comes to mind.
Whatever the case, our chances would not be improved by the fact that Robin Van Persie will not be available tonight. You might still remember that he’s suspended because of that ridiculous red card he got at Nou Camp. Nasri is suspended as well but it’s worth noting that he might not play due to the impending transfer out of Arsenal. But they are not the only ones missing as the manager himself is also on a touchline ban. My best guess is that Arsenal were unable to find a laundry basket big enough to sneak him into the dressing room. Pat Rice might even use this chance to shout about at half time should we find ourselves performing below par in the first half.
My best guess at the starting line-up would be Marouane Chamakh will come in for RvP. The situation forced Wenger’s hands a little. There’s a big chance that Nicklas Bendtner would be involve, either from the start or from the bench, seeing as we are left without any recognized strikers if we needed options from the bench. That would be quite a turnaround for the want-away Danish international.
This may be a generalisation of the situation surrounding Italian teams but they are not particularly comfortable when facing teams that attacks via the flanks. With Chamakh in the middle, there’s an aerial threat that we can use. Theo Walcott and Gervinho will have to make full use of this, get at their markers and deliver good crosses.
Without doubt, even at this early stage, this could well be a season defining match-up for us. Losing out on Champions League football will mean that potential transfer targets might be less attracted to join us. Even worse, the psychological impact will also have a bearing for the season. After the yesterday’s departure, the team needs a lift. A win tonight will do just that.
Come on Arsenal!!!!