An early chance to take control of our Champions League group
Considering the roundabout fashion in which we secured victory in our away match to Standard Liege, I’m not going make any unnecessary assumptions about tonight’s clash with Greek champions Olympiakos. However, a win tonight gives us an early advantage in the group. Considering that 10 points will almost certainly secure progression, six points from two games would put us in prime position.
There’s a lot of news floating around the club at the moment. The most important news concerns the record profits reported by Arsenal Holdings. Now I’m far from being an accountant, but it’s always hard to know how to interpret these announcements. We know that Arsenal have massive debt payments to make on the Emirates stadium and we know that the Highbury development has been a bit of an albatross. But it appears that neither liability has been an impediment to the clubs unprecedented success.
Arsene Wenger has rightfully taken his share of the credit for the club’s profit and made it clear that his stewardship extends to the clubs finances. It’s sensible given his business background. And considering the struggles facing many EPL teams at the moment, (Pompey were reported to be days away from possible administration), I think it’s a feather in Arsene’s cap that Arsenal has been so financially successful during his reign. But that’s where the controversy is bound to start.
Peter-Hill Wood was clear in his statement that success on the pitch is more important than success on the balance sheet. But that’s a really a disingenuous claim. Supporters are likely to receive news of Arsenal’s profits with strong ambivalence. On the one hand we all want the club to succeed and thrive so that the future is preserved. But we’re constantly reminded of our current trophy drought while simultaneously coping with the club’s parsimonious approach to the transfer market. I doubt that supporters will be happy to know that the club has been banking profits when there was a need for experienced players.
The lion share of the frustration is bound to be directed at Arsene Wenger. It’s silly to suggest that any of us really knows the entire financial story at Arsenal. But reporting record profits shortly after we’ve been lead to believe there was no money for transfers will be seen as a betrayal by some fans. We may be ready to contend for the trophies this season, but surely we would’ve been helped by adding depth and experience to the squad. If the money genuinely was available to go get reinforcements, then Arsene has heaped tremendous pressure on himself by sticking with the players he has. If our trophy challenges come up short this season, many will ask whether Wenger’s arrogance was the cause. Even those of us that are staunchly loyal to Arsene will have to accept that the question is a fair one.
In other, somewhat lighter news, Nicklas Bendtner seems as sloppy with his driving as he is with his finishing. I would never joke about an automobile accident but Nik appears to have come away from the accident with little more than some bumps, bruises, and anxiety. Wenger will hold him out of tonight’s match as a precaution but has already said that the big Dane will be ready for the weekend. In the movies, a car accident is the sort of trauma that causes the protagonist to re-think his life and improve himself. Maybe this will transform Nik into the 30 goal scorer that we all know he’s meant to be.
Robin Van Persie made the mistake of assuming that the media had some integrity. What a fool! He was candid enough to admit that he sometimes embellishes fouls to make it easier for the referee to see. I don’t think that’s shameful, I think it’s honest and sensible. If you are being fouled, and it’s impeding your ability to continue playing, why not make certain that the referee is aware of the foul? Why let a defender get away with a “clever” or “cheeky” foul. It’s foul play all the same. And a player who is being fouled has every right to get the call.
There was a perfect example of this at the weekend in Chelsea’s loss to Wigan. Hugo Rodallega was fouled by Petr Cech. It prevented a goal scoring opportunity and Cech was rightly dismissed. Having said that, there is no doubt whatsoever that Rodallega went down more theatrically than was necessary. Is that improper? No. Because Rodallega was most definitely fouled. If Rodallega had not gone down theatrically, and lost the goal scoring chance, there’s also a possiblity that the referee would not have awarded the penalty. Cech would have gotten away with foul play. But by embellishing his fall, Rodallege merely assisted the referee in seeing what was undeniably a foul. He was rightly awarded the penalty and Cech was rightly red carded. That’s what Van Persie was alluding to, and I don’t see the problem with it. If you’re fouled, you have the right to get the call. If embellishment ensures that you get the call, then that’s part of the game. Where it becomes cheating is when a player theatrically goes to ground without being fouled. That’s diving, and that’s improper. It might seem like a fine line, but it’s an important line and it’s another reason why UEFA’s ruling on Eduardo had to be overturned.
Theo Walcott and Manuel Almunia are locked in a competition to see who can be on the brink of returning from injury the longest. Almunia is somehow still out of action with a chest infection. Unless he contracted this infection while visiting the deepest parts of the Congo, it’s unfathomable to me what’s taking so long. Players have come back from swine flu and malaria faster than this. And I’m being serious about that!
As for young Theo, I’m beginning to wonder if he was just a mirage. Or maybe he was just an invention from the mind of the british media. I seem to remember this blazing fast english kid running around the pitch a few times last season, but now I think I might have been imagining it. All kidding aside, Walcott won’t feature for Arsenal’s first team tonight. However, Theo will be playing tonight. Wenger is determined to get him more match fitness and so Theo will play in a reserve match at London Colney against a team of Olympiakos youngsters. Check with the Young Guns blog for an update on Theo’s performance. And fingers crossed that Arsene was accurate with his projection that Theo will be available for Blackburn on Sunday.
The rest of the team news is mostly status quo. Eduardo returns to action tonight. There’s no indication that he was injured at the weekend so we can just assume that he was rested. I’ll be very interested to see if Carlos Vela is involved tonight. There are rumors out of the Spanish press that Vela will be moving to La Liga new boys Xerex. Some reports suggest that he will be loaned, others are impertinent enough to declare that he will be sold.
I find these rumors nearly impossible to believe. Vela is a massive talent and his form for Mexico this summer was electrifying. But he’s 20 years old and there’s no denying he’s in a precarious position on the depth chart at Arsenal. Let’s make an outrageous assumption for a minute and say that everyone at Arsenal is healthy. In that scenario, Vela is definitely behind RVP, Eduardo, Bendtner, Theo, Rosicky, and Arshavin. It’s possible that he’s even below Diaby and Eboue for a position on the wing. For a very talented young player with big aspirations, that’s a lot of players standing in his way. But he’s the kind of player that possesses such mouthwatering skills that you’d hate to see him leave. If he’s fit, which I assume he is, tonight could be a chance for him to show the manager that he should be bumped up the pecking order. I really hope we see him.
After the challenging game against Fulham, and with an international break just days away, Wenger will surely want to rest some players tonight. But considering our struggles against Liege, he certainly won’t be taking this game for granted. Van Persie is probably due for a rest and with Eduardo available, I’d expect him to lead the front line. It’d be exciting to see him paired with Arshavin and Vela, although Diaby and Eboue is equally likely.
In midfield there’s likely to be changes from the side that prevailed at Fulham. If Rosicky is feeling well enough, he could be in line for a starting spot. I don’t think it’s far fetched that either Cesc or Song could be rested which might mean a midfield role for Diaby or Eboue if they’re not utilised in attack. I must admit, since Wenger changed to the 4-3-3, and since we’ve had some players return from injury, it’s been more difficult to guess who will play. I think we have a pretty clear picture of his first choice XI, but on a night like tonight, any combination is possible.
Defense has been the one constant this season, but tonight is a chance for that to change. It really depends on whether Mannone’s impressive performance at the weekend gives Wenger the confidence to make changes in front of him. If Arsene feels that Mannone is up to the challenge, he could opt for Silvestre or Senderos in defense. And while I don’t want to sound like a broken record, Clichy must be on very thin ice. His starting spot must be in some jeopardy and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Traore or Gibbs tonight.
So allow me to clarify my assessment of tonight’s potential lineup: I have no idea. I generally feel like I have a good sense of who will start, but I admit that I’m at sea with this match. The real question is whether Arsene Wenger considers Olympiakos a threat. After the Liege game, he’d be foolish not to worry. But he’s got to rotate his players to some extent and we should have enough to overcome the Greeks at the Emirates without a few of our first choice players. In some ways it shows you have far we’ve come under Arsene Wenger that we can approach a Champions League fixture with the confidence to rest some of our first choice starters. We’ll see soon enough just how confident Wenger is feeling.
This hasn’t been much of a match preview, but there probably isn’t that much previewing to do. It’s a straighforward assignment. Play with focus and determination and we should have our second win in Europe. Olympiakos have been in good form in the Greek Super League. They have taken 13 points from a possible 15. They also won their first Champions League match 1-0 over AZ in Greece. However, that means that we will be alone at the top of our group with a win. Olympiakos have some talented players and they feature an 84 year-old keeper who was the hero during Greece’s improbable run to win the European Finals. We’ll also have the pleasure of facing Olof Melberg in defense but we’ll be denied the excitement of seeing Matt Derbyshire who will miss tonight’s match.
Defensively, they should really struggle against us. Considering that AZ possessed the ball for 58% of their match with Olympiakos, we should have the ball for well over 60% of this contest. And with that kind of possession, you can expect a tired greek side in the second half. If we’re not already on top, we should start seeing more goal-scoring chances as the match wears on. Hopefully the Emirates will have a decent atmosphere and the home crowd stays behind the team for the entire 90 minutes tonight.
And that’s really all there is to say. I’m really looking forward to this match because I think we could see an excellent performance from Arsenal. The team was really held in check against Fulham, and in some ways I think that was great preparation for this game. Olympiakos won’t be able to contain us the way Fulham did. Our players will feel like they have acres of space and time to operate tonight when compared with what they faced on Saturday. So assuming we don’t have that “just show up and win” attitude that we saw early in the Liege game, we should come through this with style. (Of course, that’s what I expected from the Liege game, but let’s leave the past in the past.) Regardless of how we play, three points are what’s required. But let’s go out on a limb and say 5-1 to the Arsenal. Always good to set your expectations higher. Nothing bad ever happens when you do that.
Enjoy the match wherever you may be watching.
Come on you Gunners!