The most important game in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career? Given the current situation surrounding the club, it might well be. Arsenal play Udinese tonight with a place in the Champions League group stage at stake. Wenger has a proud record of being involved in every season of the premier European competition with Arsenal and that record is being threatened to be broken but the implications is so much more than that.
The knock-on effect of the qualification could be huge for Arsenal. Transfer dealings could be made substantially easier, especially with targets that only wants to move with guarantee of Champions League football. There’s no point having the money to spent but the quality of players that we want do not want to make the move just because we’re playing in Europa League.
There’s also no denying the financial aspect of it. Being the this competition for the last 14 seasons has provided us with a healthy return that has enabled us to sustain the move to a new stadium without having to sell everybody at one go. It also impacts the kind of sponsorships deals that we can make. Every company that pumps in their money into a football club would rather their logo/image be paraded around a Champions League match than a Europa League match.
That said, the most aspect of tonight’s game would be the impact on the existing squad. The players has seen some of their compatriots moved away from the club in this transfer window. Qualification tonight would give them the assurance that we are still one of the big clubs in European football. Qualification tonight would renewed that little bit of faith in this football club. After what has happened with the result last weekend and the transfers, we all need a little of that.
We take a slender 1-0 lead into this second leg. The clean sheet at home could ultimately prove vital to the final outcome. A draw would would ensure that one of the balls in Friday’s draw for the group stage will have Arsenal’s name in it. Even in defeat, we would still make it through, as long as the result is anything but a 1-0 defeat or a losing margin more than a goal.
The bigger question would be whether Arsene Wenger would set his team out to defend that lead and try to sneak a goal during counter attacks. Or would he set his team up as per the usual game tactic, to have control of the game and attack. In some ways, the option may not be in his hands.
As we’ve seen with our recent matches, we lacked that little bit of spark and creativity in the final third of the pitch. Defending might be the way to go tonight. It’s not something that is alien to him. The tactic has been seen before. The FA Cup final (our last trophy) and Barcelona away last season are just some example that Wenger could change his tactics.
Here’s my choice for the line-up tonight;
The 2 defensive midfielders will give us the cover we need. It was not lost on me that midfield is one of Udinese’s strong points. I wouldn’t say they dominated us in that area in the first leg, but there were periods where our midfield could not cope with theirs. Alex Song fought a lonely battle at the Grove and he could use some help from Emmanuel Frimpong. Having seen what Antonio Di Natale could do with freekicks, we would have to be wary not to concede in dangerous areas.
The formation does make us slightly light up front. A lot of the responsibility to find that away goal that could crucially win the tie for us, will fall on the shoulders of captain, Robin Van Persie. He has drawn blanks in the 2 Premier League games and will be desperate to break the duck early in the season.
He has been played largely without much support in those 2 games and hopefully this time, Gervinho and Theo Walcott will be able to rectify that part of the game. Both players will have to get closer to RvP to support the play. The game will be tight tonight and could come to depend on one or two counter attacks which would depend on the speed of those wide players.
The players themselves should know how crucial this game is to their season. To suffer the setback of missing out on the biggest competition in Europe this early and they might face an uphill task for the rest of the season. Time for the players to show what they are capable of and raise their game. Time to show especially to those who left the club, that we are still one of the top sides in Europe.
Come on Arsenal!!!!