Arsenal make the trip to Portugal tonight to play Braga in their fifth Champions League group game. Having won the first three games, they then lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in their last game. It means that Arsenal need a point tonight to ensure qualification for the knockout stages. However their opponents need a win, and that could set the game up very nicely for Arsenal.
The squad traveled yesterday without Gael Clichy, Andrey Arshavin and Robin Van Persire, but otherwise it's a very strong squad. Clichy has a slight back complaint again, and he is being rested. Arshavin has played too many games recently according to the boss, and he is getting some time to recuperate. RVP still hasn't started a game since he returned to the squad from injury, and the boss has decided that he would be better with three days training, rather than spending the time traveling to and from Portugal, and sitting on the bench for most of the game.
The team selection tonight will be very interesting, as the boss said the players were suffering from fatigue during the second half of Saturday's debacle. There are players returning from injury, which means Manuel Almunia, Abu Diaby, Thomas Vermaelen and Aaron Ramsey are still unavailable. However, there are still plenty of options for the boss to contemplate before he picks the team.
I am sure Lukasz Fabianski will remain in goals, but Saturday was the first time I saw him reverting to what I call Almunia tactics. Twice I noticed that the ball was played through by the opposition, and as they shepherded the ball towards him our defenders called him out to take possession, but Fabianski stayed on his line. It's not something that I like to see in a goalkeeper, and if it continues the defence will lose confidence in him.
With Clichy out I'm sure Kieran Gibbs will play t left back, and I hope he lasts more than just the one game before getting injured this time. It's hard to know whether Bakary Sagna or Emmanuel Eboue will play at right back, but personally I hope it's Sagna, as I don't think Eboue's defending abilities are good enough. The central defensive pairing should be interesting, but I wouldn't be surprised if the boss sticks with Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci. Neither of them can complain about fatigue, as they weren't playing for their countries last week. Personally I think Johan Djourou should play and deserves to play, but it would appear that he is our last choice in that position regardless of how he performs when he plays.
In midfield Cesc Fabregas is said to be carrying a knock which will probably mean that he sits this game out, although he might be on the bench in case he is needed. Alex Song is almost sure to start in the holding role in my opinion, as we simply don't have anyone else to play that role. Whether he actually plays as a holding player or not is anybody's guess though. I would be almost certain that Jack Wilshere will return to the team, as he will be seen as the creative force in the middle with Cesc missing, and he will also help with the defensive duties. The final midfield berth will probably go to Denilson, as he would be seen to be more defensive than Tomas Rosicky, who will probably play further forward.
In attack I would imagine that Nicklas Bendtner should lead the line, but after his recent comments he may not get the chance. That would leave Marouane Chamakh as the centre forward, but I hope Bendtner plays, as I think Chamakh needs a rest. On the right I would be shocked if Theo Walcott didn't play, as Braga need a win, and that should create space behind their defence for him to attack. In my opinion games like this are set up for him, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him score. That just leaves the wide left role, and I think Rosicky will play there, which would leave Samir Nasri on the bench. He's another player that was taken off early against The Spuds on Saturday, so I would imagine the rest will do him some good.
For me that team is more than capable of getting a win, and Arsenal only need a draw to qualify for the next phase. A win would be preferable of course, as it would leave Arsenal facing the last group game at home to Rartizan Belgrade needing a win to clinch the group, no matter what happens elsewhere. Partizan have lost all four of their games already, and Arsenal should be more than capable of doing that, even with a second string side. That Partizan game comes five days before Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford to play "Manure" in the league, and it would be nice to have no pressure on the team for it.
I hope and expect to see a reaction from the players tonight after the very disappointing result on Saturday. It's still hard to understand what went wrong as in my opinion Arsenal were not outplayed by The Spuds at any time in the game. Some individual errors were punished, and there was a lack of focus at times, but if Arsenal had taken the very good chances they had they would have scored five or six goals.
The boss spoke of the handball by Cesc for the penalty that brought The Spuds level, and he said that it was a reflex by Cesc, and it hopes he has learned from it. On closer examination of the incident on Sky last night, it actually looked like it wasn't Cesc that handled the ball. He linked arms with Chamakh in the wall, and Chamakh raised his arm as the free kick came in. It looked like he would put it in front of his face, which is perfectly legitimate to protect himself, but he then raised it above his head. As he raised his arm, he brought Cesc's arm with him, but I thought the ball clearly hit Chamakh, and Sky's "experts" seemed to agree. It doesn't really matter, as it was penalty, but it is interesting that the players haven't put the boss straight on it in my opinion.
I'm hoping for Braga to attack Arsenal tonight, as they need the win, and if they do I am confident that Arsenal will score goals. I'm not so confident of Arsenal keeping a clean sheet though, so I'm predicting a 3-1 win with Walcott and Bendtner scoring. I'm sure the traveling fans will be right behind the team, and I look forward to hearing them singing as I tune in on the TV. A few of the players out there tonight will be looking to show the boss what they can do, as they will feel they deserve a place in the team far more often, and I hope that will work to Arsenal's advantage.
In other news Aaron Ramsey made his comeback today, as he played the first 45 minutes of a reserve game against Wolves. Hopefully he will have no bad reaction, and he can slowly build up to returning to the first team squad. He's a player that looked to have a magnificent future in front of him before that horrific injury last season, and I hope he will go on to fulfill that potential.
Also in that game Manuel Almunia made his comeback from his elbow injury that he picked up in conceding penalty against West Brom two months ago. I broke my elbow once upon a time, and it was three months before I played football again, but I did have to have a few screws and pins removed first. His injury was nowhere near as bad as that, but two months still seemed like a long time for an elbow injury, considering that it wasn't broken. Like Ramsey he played only half of the game, but I'm sure he'll be back challenging for a first team place very soon.
That's it for today
See You Tomorrow.