Tomorrow we resume our Champions League campaign. Ordinarily I would find myself filled with anxiety about the match. Instead, I’m welcoming the competition as a much needed break from the nil-nil league fixtures we’ve suffered through this month.
Listening to the commentators and pundits, you would think that no one has watched an Arsenal match since last year. I keep hearing that Arsenal are a dark horse for the Champions League and that the English sides are all favored to advance. Naturally, this is utter nonsense. Eduardo’s return match aside, we have been exceedingly mediocre for the better part of the season. First we couldn’t defend, now, of all things, we can’t score. It’s a bizarre season all right. Even worse, Roma’s form has been much better recently. Early in the season they were dreadful, but they seem to have turned it around and get Totti back at just the wrong time for us.
But here’s why we will struggle against Roma:
Almunia, Gibbs, Gallas, Toure, Sagna, Eboue, Song, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Van Persie.
Are you quaking yet? Unfortunately, that’s the most likely lineup tomorrow, unless AW decides to go 4-4-2 and then you bring in Bendtner for Diaby or Song. Still not lighting the world on fire. There’s no denying that we won’t scare anyone with our current midfield options and when you play Roma, that’s the area of the pitch you have to dominate. (No, I didn’t come up with that on my own, I plagiarized it from Wenger himself). Obviously we’re a different proposition with Walcott, Arshavin, Fabregas, or Rosicky in midfield, but only Walcott stands a chance to be involved in this round. Van Persie is always a threat to grab a goal, but we may not see a lot of possession tomorrow.
There can be absolutely no debate about our lack of class right now. Eboue, Denilson, Song, Bendtner, and Diaby are not Champions League calibre. If we cut any of them from the squad tomorrow, I don’t believe there is a Champions League side left in the competition that would pick them up for free. That’s not to say that Denilson or Diaby might not develop into a real talent, but they’re certainly not there today. With these guys in the engine room, the train is more likely to derail than pick up steam.
Now before anyone goes off the deep end, understand that I will be crossing every finger and toe in my house that Arsenal come up with a blistering performance and we finish with the same 7-0 scoreline that Man Utd pasted on Roma. I’m just hedging my bets is all.
Denilson will have to look for more forward passes rather than his usual brand of lateral distribution. Song must keep close to Totti without going walk about which has been his recent modus opporendi. Nasri could be a sneaky pick to find a goal but he has to get forward and stay involved throughout the match. He is clearly our most dangerous weapon in midfield right now. If he falls out of the match for long stretches then we are unlikely to have much joy attacking. I would love to see Vela on the left and Nasri right, but I just don’t think Wenger will trust Vela to start in this important a match. Ironically, that means that he does trust Eboue which is pure insanity. But if Eboue is starting, he will need to get stuck in. His diving and crying must stop. Too often he is lying on the pitch when the oppsing side are attacking. And if Wenger does play his favored 4-5-1, then Diaby has to get into an advanced role where he has shown he can be dangerous. Maybe most importantly, the supporters at the Emirates MUST get behind the team early and energetically and stay there.
I keep hearing that nil-nil is a good result for Arsenal. I couldn’t disagree more. We need a lead going to Rome. We also probably need to prevent an all-important away goal, but now I’m just stating the obvious. Beating Roma will give us confidence that we are still a top side. It will carry us into our league fixtures and we can build on that as we get more players back. Right now I get the sense that the team just lacks a little bit of confidence and that can be fatal. There is no question that sports are almost always heavily impacted by momentum. Just look at the NFL playoffs this season. Would you have put any money on Arizona to be a factor? Probably not, but they found momentum at the right time. Same with the NY Giants the season before. So if Arsenal can get a win in a big match against quality competition it can only help us is the weeks to come.
And here’s the one thing that should really help us tomorrow; Roma play in Serie A. Having watched the Serie A a lot this season, I generally believe that it is not a strong league. Inter Milan have one of the world’s best players in Ibrahimovic, but other than that, it’s pretty pedestrian. They play a slower, less physical game that does not prepare them for English competition. Roma were drubbed 4-0 by Inter and 2-0 by Juventus, the two class teams of Serie A. Furthermore, they have a match at the San Siro against Inter on the weekend, so they might have one eye on that match. If Arsenal can play at pace and show some urgency in attack, we may catch them unprepared early in the match. We can also hope that Totti isn’t ready to hit the high notes since returning from injury. He played 82 unconvincing minutes on Saturday.
So amid all my doom and gloom, I have to admit, I think we’ll win. People are predicting a boring match, but I think it could be the tie of the week with Arsenal coming out on top 3-1. For some reason, I really like Nasri to score tomorrow. (Pretty scientific analysis there). Either way, this could be the last Champions League match we see at the Emirates for 18 months. The players with know that and, hopefully, will be chomping at the bit to show they belong. I’ll be rooting them on all the way.
Enjoy all the action tomorrow, in what should prove to be a fascinating day of European football.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!