Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Arsenal's Champions League Game With Udinese Previewed And Cesc Finally Leaves.

Arsenal are straight back into action tonight only three days after their opening day 0-0 draw in the Premier League away to Newcastle United. They have a vitally important Champions League qualifying game at home to Udinese, and the outcome could go a long way towards determining how their season works out. The second leg comes in eight days time, and Arsenal simply have to qualify for the Champions League group stages.

It certainly won't be an easy task against a Udinese side which play an attractive brand of football, as well as being able to defend well too. They did sell two of their best players this summer, and I'm sure they will miss both Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler. However, they have last season's top scorer in Serie A in their team, and Arsenal will have to keep a close eye on Antonio Di Natale.

Arsenal will be without quite a few players as well, and they have also sold their star player this summer. Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona yesterday, and quite how Arsenal will replace him I'm just not sure. With only two weeks to go to the end of the transfer window Arsene Wenger has a huge job on his hands to replace Cesc.

Besides Cesc being sold Arsenal will also be missing the suspended Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri. RVP is by far Arsenal's best striker, and the prospect of Marouane Chamakh replacing him is not one that fills me with confidence. With Arsenal's striking options limited Wenger yesterday said that there's a possibility Nicklas Bendtner could be involved tonight despite his desire to leave the club.

I don't know if Nasri would have been involved, but he was unable to play at the weekend despite playing for France three days beforehand. He also trained with the Arsenal team yesterday, but his future is far from certain with Manchester City looking to buy him. I think Arsenal have to sell him, as they cannot afford to let him go for free next summer but Wenger does not want to lose him so soon after Cesc.

He tweeted yesterday that he was not happy with a song the Arsenal fans sang about him at the Newcastle match on Saturday. He said he is still an Arsenal player and they disrespected him as such, but from the fans point of view he has disrespected them all summer long. His apparent desire to move to Manchester City for a much larger wage is a direct contradiction of his statements about them and players who wish to join them only a year ago.
Jack Wilshere is still injured too and of course Abu Diaby won't be back until next month at the soonest. It leaves Arsenal's midfield options very limited and the news that Tomas Rosicky will have a fitness test ahead of the game is hardly encouraging. I can only hope that Rosicky comes through that test and takes his place in the team, or Arsenal could be in for a very tough night.

All of that injury news means Arsenal will have a very similar team to the one that started on Saturday with the obvious exception of the suspended RVP. I think Andrey Arshavin will keep his place ahead of Theo Walcott, as Walcott looked far from fully fit when he came on against Newcastle. It's not often Walcott is beaten in a sprint, but he was clearly struggling for pace on a few occasions.

The attacking performance on Saturday was far from convincing, but at least Arsenal looked very solid defensively. If they can keep things just as tight at the back they can take their time, and hopefully wear Udinese down. Hopefully the final ball will be a lot better tonight, and the players will take opportunities to shoot when they arrive rather than passing.

If Chamakh is to play I hope he keeps his position in the opposing penalty area and doesn't drop off to join in the build up play. He is very good in the air and Arsenal need to take advantage of his aerial ability. If they can get the wide players to the end line and get some crosses in they could get some joy from Chamakh.

He's had a poor run of form since the turn of the year, but he has a chance to show there is still a future for him at Arsenal tonight. If he's not performing well I would be surprised to see Bendtner come on, but he has a habit of scoring important goals for Arsenal at times. The other central option for Arsenal tonight is Walcott, but I would be very surprised if he is given the chance he wants in that position.

As always I'm predicting an Arsenal victory, but I think it will be a very tight affair. I'm hoping Gervinho can make up for his red card on Saturday by getting his name on the score sheet. He looked very good in preseason, but he was hesitant in possession on Saturday and his final ball was very poor.

Both Gervinho and Alex Song will be missing Arsenal's next three domestic games as a result of Saturday's game. Gervinho's red card might be appealed by Arsenal on the grounds that the referee didn't see what he did, but he deserved a red card for slapping Joey Barton by the rules of the game. Song is also up on a FA charge after the referee didn't see him stamp on Barton, and he is certain to get a three game ban in my opinion.

Both clubs will also face charges of failing to control their players after the fracas in the second half following Barton's claims of a dive by Gervinho. Replays have showed it was not a dive, but Gervinho did make the most of the situation. The problem was caused by Barton's reaction but because he was booked by the referee no further action can be taken against him.

The rules about what retrospective action can be taken are a joke, and they have been shown to be so on many occasions. It appears that a player has to almost kill an opponent before the FA will actually decide the issuing of a yellow card can be changed to red or further action taken. Ben Thatcher did his best to end the life of Pedro Mendes in August 2006 and it appears that is the benchmark for overruling a referee.

There's not an awful lot left to be said about the transfer of Cesc to Barcelona at this stage, as it has been covered ad nauseum. He was desperate to rejoin his hometown club and Arsenal could no longer convince him to stay with them. I still think he was promised last summer that he would be allowed to leave this summer.

The biggest disappointment besides losing one of the best players in the world was obviously the fee Barcelona paid. It will eventually rise to €40 million within a few years, but he is worth an awful lot more than that in an open market. Unfortunately it wasn't an open market, as Cesc was only interested in joining Barcelona.

Their real valuation can be seen by the buyout clause of €200 million in his contract, and it crazy to think Chelsea bid as much for Luka Modric as Barcelona paid for Cesc. There are reports of Arsenal getting first option on Cesc if things don't work out at Barcelona or having a 50% stake in any future transfer fee. Both of those things are highly unlikely unless things go incredibly wrong for him at Barcelona.

Cesc was a brilliant servant to Arsenal for the last eight years, and he never gave less than 100% when he played. He played over 300 games for the club in that time, and he scored over 50 goals too. He is the best player in his position in the world in my opinion, and he cannot be directly replaced by a player of equal quality.

Arsenal need to move fast to strengthen the first team before the transfer window closes, or it will be a very tough season for them. If they have to pay slightly over the odds for a player that will make a difference I think it's a risk that has to be taken. Their lack of creativity was all too evident on Saturday, and it has to be addressed in the transfer market immediately.

I don't wish Cesc any ill will at all, but at the same time I simply cannot wish him good luck or plenty of trophies at Barcelona. I think Arsenal made a mistake if they agreed to sell him by not telling him he could only go at the market value or not at all. If Cesc was willing to join any other team I have no doubt that Arsenal could nearly have doubled the price they got.

I will thank him for eight great years where he played some brilliant football at times, and almost led Arsenal to the trophies he so much wanted to win with them. I will always have some great memories of him scoring against AC Milan, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and many others during his time in an Arsenal shirt. Those memories are somewhat spoiled by seeing him leave before he reached the peak of his career, and I will always wonder exactly how good he could have been at Arsenal.

That's it for today.

Here's a very good Cesc video but unfortunately it does include some badge kissing.

See You Tomorrow.

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