There’s an important game of football tonight, if you hadn’t heard. And when the focus leaves Grimsby v Morcombe in the Johnstone’s Paint trophy we can probably cast an eye over the AC Milan game.
The squad was boosted by the return of Robin van Persie who won’t start the game but will give us a real option from the bench should it be required. With goals drying up elsewhere and legs beginning to get a bit heavy as the season goes on, having somebody who is relatively fresh and who can score goals could make a huge difference. We just have to hope that he can stay fit between now and May. It’s a long shot, I know, but we can still dream, can’t we?
Outlining the approach to the game the boss said:
We have to be tight defensively out there because they tore Man United apart in the first 20 minutes of the second leg at the San Siro last season. From the first game, we have the belief we can beat them because we dominated the game – that always has an impact on the second game. We will need patience against them in Milan but our pace can be a good asset as well.
We saw in the first leg that the longer the game went on the more we pressured them. Perhaps it was a case of young legs v old legs but the old legs also come with old heads full of experience. Milan’s record in the Champions League is fantastic, the team is full of players who have won it on a number of occasions, and we’ll have to concentrate for the whole game because if you give them a sniff of a chance they can hurt you. On the other hand though their league form at home has been really poor, I think it was after Christmas before they won a game at the San Siro and they’ve had seven 1-1 draws (home and away) this season. That scoreline would see us through, of course.
Despite their repuation and standing in this competition the Arsenal players aren’t scared. That’s according to Cesc anyway. He says:
We are young, but we are not scared of anything and we will play our game. You have always seen if we are winning or losing, we will never go to defend. We will always want to attack, because it is the way we like to play and enjoy playing.
Admirable sentiments indeed but you do wonder how gung-ho the approach would be if we got an early goal. While you wouldn’t deliberately sit back you’d have to think the focus would be on not conceding rather than going for more goals. It’s such a massive game that could have such a big effect on our season. I think it’s safe to assume confidence is a bit low at the moment, the team isn’t quite clicking and playing the kind of football that has taken us this far and I’d worry a little bit about how we’d react to a defeat.
On a personal level I could cope with that if I thought we’d regroup and battle for the league title but I wonder how much the players have invested in going far in Europe. From a position a couple of weeks ago when we were still in with a chance of three trophies we could just have the one to play for. And that brings some serious pressure with it. That said I think if we can match the performance of the first leg then there’s no reason why we can’t get the result we need tonight.
The manager is aware that this team needs silverware. Nobody will remember the fact a young team played lovely football but ultimately came up short. And I’m not saying that going empty-handed this time around be a disaster. Far from it. We’ve seen a big improvement in this side this season but you can’t underestimate how much, above and beyond a silver cup on a shelf, winning things benefits a team. The confidence, the belief, the experience, the ability to cope with pressure, all those things go a long way to make a team successful. The boss has shown his belief in the players, he’s now challenged them to repay that with trophies. Winning tonight may not lead to Champions League glory but it may well kick-start our lads and get them out of this very slight rut they’re in at the moment.
I think it’s going to be pretty cagey tonight. Milan know that a goal for us means they have to score two so I don’t think they’re going to come at us with all guns blazing. It looks like we’ll be slightly less attacking in terms of our line up. Reports this morning suggest that Eboue will replace Walcott, Diaby will continue on the left and it’ll be Alex Hleb playing just behind Adebayor up front. It’s a set-up that has served us well in Europe, fingers crossed it can do the same tonight.
Speaking of Theo Walcott his game has been critiqued by William Gallas. In an interview with GQ magazine he talks about Theo’s potential but says he needs to become less predictable and adapt his game. Depending on which paper you read this morning it’s either constructive criticism or ‘slamming’ a teammate. Personally I think what he’s saying is constructive. Theo has been frustrating because we see flashes of really good stuff by him but he’s never done it consistently enough. On the other hand he’s got 5 goals this season, more than Alex Hleb and provided a number of assists. The great mystery of Theo.
Nicklas Bendtner says he feels ‘bloody good’ at Arsenal and has denied there is any problem between him and Adebayor. Which is good, I suppose.
And that’s really about it. A sneaky 1-1 would do the job tonight but there are going to be some fingernails bitten and lucky socks worn, I reckon.
Update: Final thing – Arseblog won best Sports and Recreation blog in the Irish Blog Awards on Saturday. Thanks to boards.ie for the sponsorship of that particular award.