Arsenal play Udinese tonight in the second leg of the final Champions League qualifying round. The prize for the winners is a place in the group stages of this season's Champions League, and a minimum payout of roughly €30 million. Arsenal won the first leg 1-0 at home last week, but since then they have had problems with injuries and they have lost Samir Nasri to Manchester City.
It was hardly a surprise that Nasri left, as he had refused to sign a contract since last summer. However, added to the departure of Cesc Fabregas last week his sale has left Arsenal fans feeling their team is short of top class players. There are only seven days left in the transfer window for Arsene Wenger to secure some much needed additions for his squad.
That squad also has problems with suspensions for their domestic games, but thank fully Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong are all available tonight. I would imagine that all three of them have to start, as none of them can play against Manchester United on Sunday. Arsenal will be without Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere and possibly Johan Djourou, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci and Tomas Rosicky too.
I'm hoping that Djourou will be fit, as he can slot in beside Thomas Vermaelen at the centre of the Arsenal defence with the same two full backs that played against Liverpool. It's a big ask of Carl Jenkinson again, but I think he has a better chance of coping on the right at least. I would prefer not to see Song in the defence, as I would like to see him form a defensive midfield barrier with Emmanuel Frimpong.
If Rosicky is fit I think he should play in front of those two, as the creative midfield player. I thought Aaron Ramsey looked very tired in the last two games and he still has a long way to go to reach the level he was at before his leg break. Rosicky doesn't have the pace to last 90 minutes any more in my opinion, so I think Ramsey should replace him with 30 minutes left if needed.
I don't think Arsenal can afford to play both Rosicky and Ramsey together, as I can't see either of them lasting the entire 90 minutes at full pace. If Song and Frimpong both play it will leave Frimpong free to venture forward occasionally from his holding role. He showed on Saturday that he has the power, pace and ability to do so, and with Wilshere missing he could be very important in my opinion.
He is only 19 years old and he missed all of last season through injury, but he showed that he is a real star of the future against Liverpool. Other players fail to impress when they get their big chance, but Frimpong was not afraid to play football and put himself about too. Unfortunately his desire to impress ended up with him getting a red card, but he will soon learn to control that.
Robin Van Persie will play the central strikers role and I'm sure Gervinho will play on one of the flanks. The big question is who will accompany him in the other wide role, as both Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin were very poor against Liverpool on Saturday. I have a feeling Arshavin might get the nod with Walcott introduced as an impact substitute at some stage.
Udinese showed how good they can be in the first game at the Emirates, and Arsenal were lucky to come out of it with a clean sheet. If Arsenal can play a little deeper tonight and attempt to hit Udinese on the break I think it could be of more benefit to them than playing their usual game. Arsenal do not need to over commit players when they are attacking, and they cannot afford to be hit on the break.
I think the inclusion of both Song and Frimpong would help Arsenal to play a deeper game, but it is a game which is a little alien to them. The most important thing for Arsenal tonight is the result, and they have to do anything it takes to achieve that result. The monetary rewards and prestige of Champions League group qualification are something Arsenal have never missed out on under Arsene Wenger, and it would be a huge blow for the club if it happened now.
Not only would an exit see Arsenal miss out on the Champions League group stages, but it would also mean they had to play on Thursday nights in the Europa League. That's not an attractive prospect in my opinion, as they would find themselves playing so many Premier League games on Sundays instead of Saturdays. It's a competition they would be well able to win, but it's not one I would like to see them compete in.
I think Arsenal might just about have enough to get the result they need tonight despite the injured players and those who have left too. I think RVP is due a goal and I hope he can be the man to inspire those around him. He's the new captain since Cesc Fabregas left, andhe needs to play a captain's role tonight. Personally I would have preferred to have seen the captaincy go to Vermaelen, but I do not doubt RVP's desire or love for the club for a moment.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal, but even if that scoreline is reversed Arsenal will go through on away goals. I think Arsenal have to score tonight, or they will be in for a very tough time defensively knowing one goal will even the tie up. I'm confident that this Arsenal team has goals in it, and tonight is the night for them to show it.
Wenger will be on the touchline tonight despite his impending two game ban, as Arsenal have lodged an appeal with UEFA. I think his presence on the line could be very important for the players, and hopefully he can help them to achieve the right result. The ban from UEFA was an absolute joke, but I expect no more than incompetence at best from them.
I'm hoping to see each and every Arsenal player fight for each other and the team too tonight, and show the fans how much it means to them to play for Arsenal. Some very good players may have left the club, but others will take their place, and Arsenal will continue to play some of the best football of any team in the world. Hopefully the new additions to the squad will be the impetus the players need to challenge at the very top in all competitions yet again this season.
For those Arsenal fans lucky enough to be at the game tonight I hope they see another memorable night in Italy. Arsenal have had great victories in Italy in past against Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan, and hopefully Udinese will become another victim of theirs tonight. Despite any reservations I have about how the transfer window has been handled I will always support Arsenal no matter what.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of Arsenal's last win in Italy against AC Milan.
See You Tomorrow.