Champions League action tonight as we face Montpellier and with the right result(s) we could secure qualification for the knock-out stages.
If Arsenal win and Schalke win we go through, but in order to top the group we’d need a result in Greece against Olympiacos. If the Greeks get a result in Germany, of any kind, it’ll mean that even if we win tonight all three teams have a chance of qualifying from the group, so ideally we’ll be looking for a Schalke victory. It would be fair to say that Greece hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for us and it’d be a jittery night to say the least.
In terms of team news there’s bad news about Theo Walcott who has a shoulder problem while Andre Santos also misses out. There’s better news about Kieran Gibbs, who is back in contention, while Gervinho also returns to the squad. It’s difficult to know exactly how we’ll line up and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a couple of changes from the team that beat Sp*rs. Although obviously the priority is tonight’s game there’s a trip to Villa at the weekend to consider so we may see a bit of rotation because of that.
I’d have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right hand side in place of Walcrocked, there’s some suggestion Carl Jenkinson could come in at right back for Bacary Sagna, while if Gibbs, the natural left back, comes back into the team it means the manager has a decision to make about his central-defensive partnership. Per Mertesacker attended yesterday’s press conference with him and Wenger was full of praise for the German, so it looks like one of Koscielny or Vermaelen and given the fact the Belgian wears the armband I think he’ll get the nod.
Tonight’s opponents have no chance of making it through the group stages but Arsene Wenger played down any suggestion they’d just go through the motions tonight:
Not for a second would I think the team will be complacent tomorrow – they will be full of desire to do well and win the game, I am certain of that.
It is important on the back of the T*ttenham game we show another good performance and a resolute attitude, that is at stake for me tomorrow. After, if we produce the quality performance, we will win the game.
Indeed, there’s the danger that a team with nothing to lose might play with the kind of freedom that comes in such a situation, so we can take nothing for granted. Not that we really ought to anyway, especially, as the manager says, when we need to build on Saturday’s game against Sp*rs. Of course it doesn’t come close in terms of intensity but if anything the stakes are higher when it comes to progress in the relevant competition.
A win tonight is crucial, just 1 point from 6 against Schalke has made the group a lot tighter than we would like, so we need to put ourselves in a good position for our final game. If it’s something we don’t have to get something from, all the better, but if we win and Schalke win it’ll take nothing less than three points in Greece to top the group.
In other news, the main story dominating the headlines this morning is the potential return of Thierry Henry in the January window. It’s obvious Arsene is considering it, as he’s been talking up the qualities of the former captain:
Will I sign him again in January? I don’t know. I don’t rule it out. He is sharp. Last year I did it because we lost Gervinho. It was a good connection. This year we lose Gervinho again as they are playing in the Africa Cup of Nations two years in a row.
So we will be confronted with a shortage. Particularly if Chamakh should go. I cannot stand in his way. Then we will be short. He is a communicator. An extrovert. Very intelligent. He can only give good advice to players because he was in their position when he arrived here.
I have to say I’m uneasy about this, to be honest. I think we’re short in the striking department and I get we need cover for the African departures (both Ivory Coast and Morocco take part), but regardless of their international commitments we’re light. Chamakh doesn’t even make the bench for most games, we went into the North London derby without a striker on the bench, and while you can’t argue against the logic that he’s better than what we have and certainly better than nothing, is that where we should be setting the bar?
If we were flat broke and had to make do with former players coming back to do us a favour and tide us over, then fine. But we’re not, and Arsenal’s need for more firepower is an issue for me. At the moment it’s not hugely pressing, the players we have are performing and it’s impossible not to look at Olivier Giroud and be encouraged by his performances. But all it takes is one tweaked ligament, an ankle sprain, a loss of form and/or confidence and all of a sudden we’re struggling.
I also get the the idea that Thierry can impart wisdom and knowledge to the players at the club presently, but then give him a coaching role or something. Which all sounds like I have something against Henry but I don’t, not at all. However, we have to look at the reality of the situation, he’s 35 years old, the game in England is more physical, more intense and quicker than ever. And like it or not his legs aren’t.
By all means bring him in, reap the benefits of his experience and how he might influence younger players, but not alone. It’s a marvellous, emotional thing, and very difficult for fans to complain about because of Henry’s stature and status at the club. Rightly he’s a legend for the goals he scored and the enjoyable cameo last season, but let’s not kid ourselves that was a period in which everything was sunshine and lollipops because of Thierry. Results were mixed, to say the least.
If we need a striker, and we do, let’s go get a striker. Somebody who can contribute to the team and the squad for the long-term, not just a couple of months at most. If we have someone like Thierry Henry to add further depth to the squad then all well and good, but to some extent it feels like this would be a bit too convenient and rather fudging the issues we have with our squad.
If you can’t see the game later, stuck in work or whatever, there’ll be full live blog coverage, starting around 7pm. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back shortly for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.
We’ll also be sending important updates, goals, red cards, half-time etc, directly to Twitter from inside the live blog.
And remember, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.
Finally for today, the winner of the signed Robert Pires DVD is Thomas Lemoine, well done to you, I’ll be in touch to get your details.