Today sees us take on Barcelona at the Emirates in the first leg of our Champions League last 16 tie. If nothing else it should at least be a great game of football played by two teams whose greatest strength lies in attack. There won’t be any clean sheets in either leg, I,don’t think, especially not in the homes of Arsenal fans.
It would seem that Nasri will at least be named on the bench and possibly even in the starting line-up. I think that it is more important that we have Nasri fully fit for the away leg and it wouldn’t be a good idea to risk his fitness this Wednesday, though we may see him come on in the 67th or 68th minute in order to ease him back into things after his injury. One worrying thing the boss said in yesterday’s press conference was that the ‘would take no risk’ with Nasri but then corrected himself to saying that he would take ‘no medical risk.’ I have a feeling I have heard him saying this before (with Cesc before Braga?) only for it to backfire. But, I hope that he will err on the side of caution with Nasri tonight.
I think that the team that starts this game will be similar to the one that started against Wolves on Saturday, with the exception of the suspended Sagna. So we should line up as:
Eboue Koscielny Djourou Clichy
Cesc Song Wilshere
That’s a pretty strong starting eleven and the match day squad will only get stronger when the likes of Diaby, Fabianski and Vermaelen return from injury and Sagna from suspension. Diaby just seems to be eternally injured. Frustrating. If it frustrates us fans, God only knows what it must do to the player himself. It must torment him.
Start crossing all appendages that we won’t see Squillaci making even a cameo appearance in defence, or the increasingly ineffective Rosicky in midfield. We need players that can make a positive contribution to the game out on the field tonight.
It was in the game at the Emirates against Barcelona last year that Walcott caused them all sorts of problems when he came on as a substitute and having him on from the start will definitely give Barcelona something to think about. His pace on the wing has the potential to cause them real problems, if we can exploit it to full effect. I have a feeling that the much maligned Arshavin will also play a big role over the two legs and if he can click with RvP and Cesc in these two games we will cause Barcelona a lot of problems. If our two wide players are on top of their game tonight, it should limit the ability of Barcelona’s full-backs to get forward.
I think that Wilshere’s deeper role that he played for England will also help us out too as we will need Song, primarily, and Wilshere to offer our defence a bit of protection. We especially don’t want Song to go marauding forward trying to create or score. He must show discipline over the two legs. Protect the defence.
The biggest thing that must be improved upon from the games against Barcelona last year is how we press Barcelona as a team. We need to press them as vigorously as they pressed us last year. We need to ‘get in their faces’ Arsenal style, by pressing them when they are in possession, much like we did against Chelsea earlier in the season. Every single player will need to give their very best in each leg if we are to progress. (I wrote that paragraph on Monday, then the John Cross stuff appeared with the Wilshere quotes and I deeply regretted not posting this preview a few days ago! You snooze, you lose. That said, it didn’t take a tactical mastermind to figure out that we need to up our game in terms of work rate and pressing.)
Despite the absence of Vermaelen, I feel that having Szczesny in goal actually makes us a bit more solid at the back compared to our games against Barcelona last season. Though it is sure to be a big test for Koscielny and it will be very interesting to see how he has progressed this season since his step up from the French league to playing Barcelona in the Champions League. Hopefully he will rise to the challenge and occasion. Key to that will be having Djourou playing alongside him as he has definitely looked much more assured when playing alongside our Swiss centre-half rather than alongside the terror inducing Squillaci. Also, we will have a fully fit Cesc, Arshavin and RvP for this game, too. I don’t think that we can get as unlucky with injuries against Barcelona as we did last year, so we have a real chance.
Barcelona are rumoured to just be missing Puyol and Jeffren (via @gunnerblog and @arseblog)
The game will be a 04:45 kick-off here in Japan and that means that Thursday at work will be about as much fun as sitting on a chair of razorblades while watching Justin Bieber’s new movie. Coverage in SD will begin at 04:30 on Sky Perfect ch180 and in HD on ch190 from the same time.
One final thing, if you are going to the game there are plans afoot (started by Le Grove) to make a special change to the words of the ‘We’ve got Cesc Fabgreas’ song for the two Barcelona games. The wording for the song will change to ‘Hands off Cesc Fabregas’ and it would be great if you could sing this revised version if you go to the game.
I’m toying around with the idea of changing my Twitter ID to something more blog specific, but as of now I am still using my personal account: @colm_smyth
Right that’ll have to do for today. Enjoy the game and hopefully we come out the other side with a decent result! Jaysus, I can’t bloody wait for this game! The bad thing about living in Japan is that I must try to get a decent night’s sleep before kick-off and that won’t be easy!
Come on you Reds! Take it easy.