Champions League Playoff, Second Leg Preview

The Bhoys are back in town

“Lose this one and we are zeroes. There is no way back.” That is how Arsene Wenger explained the importance of tonight’s knockout game against Celtic. We carry a two goal cushion heading into the contest, but will face the Hoops without our talisman and captain. Regardless, it’s a relatively straightforward task at hand. Celtic need two unanswered goals to send the tie into extra time and a third goal to win the tie outright. If we can prevent that from happening, then we’re through to the group stage.

With Cesc out of the lineup, it will be interesting to see who starts. Wenger revealed that he will be sticking with the 4-3-3 tonight despite the Spaniard’s absence. Considering the praise that Arsene heaped on Aaron Ramsey, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him deputise in Cesc’s central midfield role. But really, the options are wide open. Diaby could come into a midfield with Denilson and Song. Arshavin could drop back into the midfield with Eduardo, Van Persie and Bendtner playing across the top. Or the boss could decide on something completely different. Regardless, we can probably assume that it will be a return to the first choice defensive alignment of Clichy, Gallas, Vermaelen, and Sagna.

As for Celtic, Tony Mowbray has no choice but to send his team out in search of goals. For that reason, it’s likely that Fortune and MacDonald will both be included in the starting eleven. Otherwise it will be a similar side to the one that we faced at Parkhead with the exception of Landry N’Guemo who will miss the game through suspension. Mowbray has stressed the importance of scoring the first goal, and there’s no doubt that if Celtic are able to net first, it could make for a tense night at the Emirates. Conversely, an early Arsenal goal would kill any lingering suspense and you can bet that Arsene Wenger will be emphasising that point to his players. So while Celtic will be looking to get an early goal, we can probably expect more of the tough tactics that we saw in the first leg.

Ultimately, this is a case of staying focused and seeing the job to its conclusion. Celtic showed in the first leg that they are somewhat out of their depth against us and we should be able to comfortably book our place in the group stage tonight. However, there’s no reason to underestimate the threat. No matter how important the game at Old Trafford feels, it’s just another early season league fixture. Meanwhile, a slip-up against Celtic would be catastrophic. So there should be no temptation to rest any key players tonight. As Arsene said on Tuesday regarding the clash with Celtic, “it is a more important game than Old Trafford for this club by far.” Assuming that the players approach the game with a similar view, we should win this match comfortably against a team that, despite a recent win in Moscow, has a terrible away record in European competition.

There are some other minor tidbits of Arsenal related news floating around today. Theo Walcott continues to be unable to train and Arsene Wenger has made it clear that he will not be available for England’s match with Croatia next week. Walcott is starting to develop an unfortunate track record for long absences and he is a massive figure for Arsenal this season. He brings a threat to the right forward position that Bendtner doesn’t offer and he lends unparalleled pace to an Arsenal side that is oddly lacking in that department. Fingers crossed that he can get this back problem behind him (where a back should be located anyway) and return to first team action soon.

In better news, Tomas Rosicky is indeed back in training with the team. While Arsene will hold him out of tonight’s game, he could be involved at Old Trafford at the weekend. It’s still overly optimistic to expect anything from Rosicky this season, but all signs are positive at the moment and his return to the first team is closer now than at any point in the past 19 months. Once Nasri, Theo, and Vela are available, the team will feel much deeper. Our subs bench has looked more than a little light on talent in the early going this season. When the club faces a tough situation, it’s good to have some big names ready to come into the game. With all due respect to Ramsey, Merida, Eboue, and Wilshere, they don’t have the same potential to change a game that comes with Theo, Rosicky, Nasri, or Vela. Of course, an easy way to add depth to a squad is to sign new players, but let’s not get into that quagmire at the moment.

The only real transfer news continues to be no transfer news. On Tuesday, Arsene rejected the idea that Arsenal are chasing Blaise Matuidi. Another swing and miss for the media I suppose. Wenger added that he was not close to signing anyone at the moment. Let’s face it, if the boss is going to sign someone this summer, we’re not going to have any idea about it until he’s wearing an Arsenal shirt.

In ex-Arsenal news, Sol Campbell has signed…for league two Nott’s County. It’s an astounding move really and one that Arsene Wenger openly admitted was shocking to him. Campbell was a top defender for years and at 34 is probably well past his best, but I find it unbelievable that he should wind up in league two. Why can’t he just do what every talented player does once he’s past his prime and play in the MLS? I’m sure Freddy Ljundberg would give him a good recommendation in Seattle. Who knows, if Henry winds up there, we could be on our way to a new concept. You’ve heard of the Arsenal youth team. Now come to the United States and support the Arsenal “seniors.”

Not much else to report. Tonight’s game is the focus of attention now and any thoughts of Old Trafford must be put on the back burner for a few more hours. It’s hard to get excited for a game when victory and qualification appear to be a foregone conclusion. But hopefully the supporters at the Emirates will create some atmosphere to help the players stay motivated. It is an important European night at the Emirates after all. Hopefully the first of many this season.

Come On You Gunners!

About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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