Some reasons to be optimistic for Wednesday
Wednesday’s match promises to be a challenge for this Arsenal team unlike any they have ever faced. Most of them have little or no experience at this stage in the Champions League and the effort that United will put forth promises to be Herculean. But we can go to Old Trafford and win the match. We can do things that will trouble the Red Devils and potentially leave Manchester with a victory in the away leg. It’s a lot to ask, but here are my thoughts on what Arsenal would have to do to make it happen.
- Shoot a lot. Edwin Van Der Sar is a reliable ‘keeper but he does make mistakes. Against Sp*rs on Saturday he didn’t look entirely solid. We play some very elaborate football that results in some attractive goals, but often we forget that you have to buy a ticket to win the lottery. Against Liverpool in midweek we scored four goals from four shots on target. That won’t be enough against United. We need to get shots on goal and put Van Der Sar under pressure. Sometimes the most tense matches are won and lost on big mistakes.
- Deliver good crosses into the box. Crosses caused havoc for United at the weekend. With Theo’s pace on the wing, he gets into good crossing positions numerous times throughout the match. Sagna and Gibbs also get into good crossing positions. The problem is that we don’t provide the quality cross often enough. With Theo’s devastating pace he can’t be stopped from finding space on the wing, but he needs to learn to deliver the ball into the box more accurately. Adebayor is fantastic in the air and with all the opportunities we should have to deliver the ball to him in the box, the crosses need to be better than they have been recently.
- Try the Liverpool approach. United were undone against Liverpool by the simple ball over the top. Vidic just couldn’t handle Torres. Adebayor has all the pace and power to create the same problems and Cesc can deliver that ball to him perfectly. If take a few shots at getting the ball to Adebayor over the top, it could reap rewards. Note: Adebayor will be offside for most of these efforts. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
- Don’t play to keep a clean sheet. We can’t be afraid of giving up a goal or two. The odds that we’re going to keep a clean sheet against United are slim. They may be slimmer than that. But we can score with anyone if we play on the front foot. If we start the game with the idea that we’re going to be parsimonious, and we ship an early goal, the game could unravel. The players must take the attitude that our primary ambition is to grab a couple of goals for ourselves and let the chips fall where they may.
- Take advantage of Patrice Evra. Evra’s recent form has been poor by is standards. Aaron Lennon gave him a torrid time on Saturday and Theo is a bigger threat than Lennon. If Theo can take advantage of Evra’s poor form and get behind the France left-back, then there will be goal scoring opportunities aplenty.
- Don’t play Denilson. This isn’t a personal attack on a bright young player. It’s just a fact that he’s not playing well enough to start this match. His propensity to give the ball away in midfield would kill us in the match and giving away free kicks in dangerous areas would be equally devastating. He might have a very bright future at Arsenal, but Denilson’s future shouldn’t start on Wednesday.
- Clear the ball decisively. We have a tendency to elaborately play the ball out of trouble. United are loaded with aggressive goal poachers who thrive on that sort of play. Berbatov has been terrible lately, but he is always ready to pounce on a rebound or loose ball and poke it into the net. When the ball is in a dangerous area, our defenders and holding midfielders just need to put their foot through it decisively. If you look at the Liverpool match last week, we lost two goals because of poor clearances. Against the top teams, you can’t give them second and third chances. Almunia must avoid giving up easy rebounds and the defenders must make convincing clearances. We don’t need to help United score.
- Focus. There is one area of this match where Arsenal will be dominated by United: experience. They have it and we don’t. Experienced players know that it takes 90 minutes of unwavering focus to win the big games. Our downfall this season has been our focus. Players like Song and Diaby and Adebayor will have to be completely committed for every minute on Wednesday. Against an experienced team like United, one lapse in concentration can be fatal.
- Win the battle of the supporting players. I think this is really where the game will be won and lost. Rooney and Ronaldo are superstars. We know what to expect from them. Likewise, Cesc and Theo and Adebayor will be closely watched. But it’s the battle of the less celebrated players that might decide the game. What will we get from Song and Diaby and Nasri? Can they match Scholes and Carrick and Anderson? Earlier in the season, it was Nasri that delivered us the victory over United. On that day, there were good chances on both sides, but Samir’s contribution carried the day. If we can get a brilliant performance from Nasri or Song or Diaby, it could be the determining factor. It’s equally important that we neutralize United’s supporting cast.
- Enjoy the occasion. The biggest advantage to having less experience, is not understanding how much is at stake. This Arsenal team appears to enjoy the challenge of playing the best teams. We have already beaten Roma and Villareal, as well as United and Chelsea in the league. Sometimes big occasions lead to tense performances. Our young players should take the boss’ advice and just play with joy. Go out and enjoy the big stage. We have the talent to win the match as long as we play our style and our game.
These thoughts are incomplete and far from overly technical. But we can win the match and I thought it was worth thinking about what would need to happen for us to get the result.
Tomorrow I should have a better preview of the big game ready to go. Enjoy the appetizer of Chelsea and Barcelona.