Last time out against Fulham, the pre-match stats tilted much against the Cottagers just as that building in Piza and against Manchester City tonight, same can be said. Most glaring of all being that we have never lost a home tie at the Emirates in domestic Cup competitions.
I’d rather not dwell on such stats, or on what could have been against Fulham, and focus on the match itself. Had the date read August 29, the above record would stand little chance of being after 90 minutes against such formidable opposition. Now however, certain factors have evened the balance and given Arsenal a realistic chance of making the League Cup semi finals… yet again.
Starting with the visitors. Having played virtually or all of the encounter on Sunday at Liverpool, we’re likely to not see ex-Gunner Gäel Clichy, James Milner and Yaya Toure feature after the trim saw out that pulsating match while David Silva (substituted at 90) and Sergio Aguero (at 82) will likely be rested.
Gareth Barry is out suspended along with the bi-polar Mario Balotteli while any one of Vincent Kompany or Joleon Lescott may be rested for Kolo Toure as both played all 90 minutes as well. All that said, this is City we’re talking about…
Edin Dzeko will definitely start and I reckon Pablo Zabaleta, Andy Johnson, Nigel de Jong and fan favourite $amir Nasri will start as well, which makes for a strong opposition against us tonight; not to mention a most capable Joe Hart in goal for them.
Hence, having brushed aside any notion of facing a weak (by fitness or quality) opposition, onto Arsène Wenger’s headache of what team to select appropriate enough to face City tonight and keep to his League Cup tradition.
Oxlade Chamberlain & Park Chu Yung are going to start the game, so too Emmanuel Frimpong, but le Professeur says 90% of the squad he knows already and the remaining 10% yet to be sorted. Arshavin after talking about him not playing enough games as his ‘abilities’ deserve before the Fulham draw, he’s done same for Yossi Benayoun ahead of tonight game so I believe the Israeli captain will start.
Possible line-up: Fabianski-Yenaris-Koscielny-Vermaelen-Santos-Frimpong-AOC, Benayoun-Coquelin-Gervinho-Park
In the end, I expect City to play defensive as it’s the approach manager Roberto Mancini has come to the Emirates with the past two seasons. Hopefully, the lads will come good tonight in the quest for a place in the last four. See you at the end of the game. COYG!!!!!
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Arsenal’s 2011/12 European sojourn begins tonight, albeit a bit earlier than we Gooners would have wanted, when Italian side Udinese visit the Emirates for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League final qualifying round match with a place in the lucrative group stages at stake.
Both sides will have several key players missing through injury, suspension and Barcelona with Arsenal set to be without Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri through suspension. Jack Wilshere remains a doubt after sitting out Saturday’s fiery goalless draw at Newcastle United and Cesc Fàbregas has finally completed his protracted move to Barcelona just as Gaël Clichy has moved on to Manchester City.
Ivorian forward Gervinho looks set to get his European debut following a rough welcome to Premier League football at St. James’ Park while Theo Walcott’s bubbly substitute appearance there puts him in good contention for a starting shirt tonight coupled with van Persie being suspended and Marouane Chamakh in poor form.
Udinese on their part have lost Chilean playmaker Alexis Sanchez to the Catalan giants as well while their Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler has swapped their black-white stripes for the navy blue strip of Napoli. Imposing Colombian defender Cristian Zapata has joined Spanish outfit Villarreal and the transfer of Denis away from the club is just about completed.
Still available for the Italians in their quest for the group stage though are Maurisio Isla, assured goalkeeper Samir Hamdanovic and forward Antonio di Natale who has finished top of the goalscoring chart for the last two seasons along with Antonio Floro Flores who joins from Genoa where he netted ten times in eighteen games last season.
Despite the absence of van Persie and Nasri, the Gunners go into the encounter slight favourites based primarily on the healthy record against Italian opposition with both Milan clubs and AS Roma the most notable Italian sides overcome by the Gunners in recent years.
Arsenal also hold the slight advantage of match fitness on the back of pre-season matches and one league game while the Serie A; in the event players threat to strike falls through, will only kick-off at the end of August. There also is the record of Arsenal reaching the Champions League group phase for the 14th consecutive season that Udinese have up against them.
Hopefully, Saturday’s lethargic performance will have the lads see the need to raise their game a few notches ahead of the 19:45 kick-off.
It has been quite a summer for Arsenal with the Gunners without doubt being the champions of transfer speculations all through. Can Arsène Wenger and his charges end a run of seasons without a competitive trophy at the seventh attempt?
An answer to that largely depends on the club’s mental approach going into matches and this is in two aspects. Firstly, we must kill games when leading and in the inability to do so, be able to hold onto such advantage till after the final whistle as evident from both legs of last season’s north London derby and home matches against Liverpool, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and West Bromwich-Albion as well as the infamous implosion at Newcastle where we ironically open this season’s campaign.
The other aspect of our mental approach to games is how we fare in the months of February and March, months that have proved the Achilles Heel in the leap towards a trophy in the last four seasons.
Last season’s episode proved the most painful, we suffered defeat to Birmingham City (now of the Championship) in the League Cup final on the last day of February, before enduring a mediocre run of form in March that pretty much ended all other title ambitions on other fronts.
And there’s the additional mental jabs dealt the team now no thanks to speculations surrounding the future of Samir Nasri & Fabregas who has reportedly agreed to a deal to return to his boyhood club. Which means a new era is about to start, one without the club’s best player. But no one man or player is greater than the club.
Meanwhile the latter is once more reportedly close to completing a £22m move to oil rich Manchester City, some reports even suggesting he may do so before the protracted tug for Fàbregas finally ends.
Arsenal’s hopes of ending the trophy drought will now rest on 20 year old Jack Wilshere(albeit not solely) as it was the English international who flourished – when Fàbregas was mostly half fit or out injured last season – with consistent and assured performances. While possessing admirable mental and physical strength, the rest of the team will determine just how much impact Wilshere will have this season.
With Laurent Koscielny apparently being the notable addition to the team last season, the Gunners actually did well until those dreaded months. This term, Ivorian forward Gervinho has joined and impressed so far with his quick feet and good composure.
Other than him, Wenger has (annoyingly) kept to his policy with a roll call of highly rated youngsters such as Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Ryo Miyaichi. The transfer window however is still over a fortnight from closing so some much needed experienced players may yet arrive at the Emirates.
While awaiting those, Gooners will be banking on Robin van Persie to pick up from the fiery form of the second half of last season that saw the Dutchman finally show us his potential with a high return on goals per game. Having him fit for a whole season on such form leaves the heights attainable by the team optimistically imagined.
In the event of him being out injured as he is sadly prone to, Theo Walcott gets my nod to spearhead the front ahead of the overly disappointing Marouane Chamakh and the England international has publicly stated his desire to play upfront rather than on the wings.
Last season, he posed a real threat to defences with his raw speed that was, unlike previous seasons, complemented with much technique. This sort of form gives promise of this season being perhaps a breakthrough season for the 21 year old.
Those other than the above players that could contribute to a successful league campaign, and perhaps success in any of the other competitions, are Thomas Vermaelen, Andrei Arshavin, Koscielny and goalkeepers Lukasz Fabianski and Woijcech Sczeszny just as I’m personally looking forward to how Aaron Ramsey fares with Abou Diaby’s injury presenting the Welsh midfielder a chance to impress.
Vermaelen on his part was out virtually all of last season injured and Squillaci failed woefully as partner to Koscielny. Consequently, the efficiency of our physios this season actually comes in just behind the team’s mental maturity as deciding factors on how this season will pan out.
Arsenal’s campaign begins at St. James’ Park in Saturday’s evening kick-off having survived getting postponed due to the violent scenes that besieged streets in London and Birmingham.
That match is then followed in quick sequence by games against title rivals Liverpool and Manchester United, with the Champions League qualifier against Italian side Udinese buttered between those red encounters.
In all honesty, Arsenal are strong contenders for the title and hopefully we avoid burning out at those times aforementioned!
That said, enjoy the season ahead, it’s great to finally be getting underway!
C’mon You Smokin’ Gunners!!!