Another day closer to the biggest game of Arsenal’s European life. The premier club competition in world football and we’re going to be there. I am getting more than a bit excited now. Today I’ll do my packing for my long, long train journey.
iPod – check. Book – check. Sleeping tablet – check. Hip flask of Jamesons – check. No doubt the train will be full of Barcelona fans too. Oh well, these are the crosses we have to bear.
Right, onwards to the team and while most of it is fairly obvious the manager has one or two decisions to make. I think we’d all agree we’re going to play the 4-5-1 formation. The midfield picks itself. Hleb and Reyes right and left with Cesc, Gilberto and Ljungberg in the middle. Henry will play up front and Lehmann, Eboue and Toure are 100% starters. Where Arsene will be thinking is who will partner Toure at centre-half and who will play left back.
We’ll start there and I think Ashley Cole will start. It might be a bit harsh on Mathieu Flamini who has done so well in the previous rounds but I’m not sure if he’s totally fit and I think part of our gameplan will be to attack Barcelona’s full backs. Mathieu has been really solid defensively and he does get up and down to contribute offensively but I think Cole offers a little bit more both in terms of what he can bring to the attack and in experience. I know the manager was very impressed with Gael Clichy’s performance away at Villarreal but I think he’ll go with Cole.
At centre-half it’s either Sol Campbell or Philippe Senderos. If Senderos is fit, and I’m told that he is, then there’s only one choice for me. The partnership he forged with Kolo was instrumental in getting us to Paris and provided such a solid base for the team to play football. With him in the team we defend better. He organises better than Campbell, he wins more ball in the air and we defend higher up the pitch.
Since Campbell’s return we have looked much less assured at the back and more worryingly his own form has been pretty poor. He was given the run-around by Kevin Kyle at Sunderland, Darius Vassell was beating him to headers at Man City and Jason Roberts took him to pieces in the final game at Wigan in which he was very lucky to get away with the kind of foul in the area that we won’t get away with in Europe. To me he still looks overweight and unfocussed and I think we’d be doing ourselves a huge disservice by playing him unless Senderos isn’t fit enough.
I think an important part of why a team plays well is because the players feel that they are part of a team. Senderos, Eboue and the rest have lived this European campaign. They are the ones who played the games to get us to the final. They aren’t the one who walked out on his team during an important game. For the sake of the team it’s vital that Senderos plays when fit. You might think I’m harping on about Campbell again but it’s important. Not all footballers are stupid and they know how much effort it’s taken and which team-mates have put their bodies in the way of shots, who have run themselves into the ground to get a result away in Turin and who was at the Bafta awards when they were preparing to play Real Madrid.
It might sound harsh but it’s true. The team would be better with Senderos in it. Of course if the manager decides to pick Campbell he’ll have our full support for the 90 minutes (or the 120 minutes, but I hope we wrap it up before then!). What may be a factor for Arsene Wenger is the fact that he chose Senderos over Campbell for the FA Cup final last season and his choice was justified. He might also remember Campbell throwing a massive strop about it. Whatever decision he makes I’m sure it will be the one he feels best for the team but, as others have pointed out, if Campbell is getting pulled hither and thither by Roberts, Kyle and Vassell it doesn’t bode well for when he has to face Eto’o and Ronaldinho.
So for me the starting XI should be: Lehmann – Eboue – Toure – Senderos – Cole – Hleb – Cesc – Gilberto – Ljungberg – Reyes – Henry.
There’s plenty on the bench if we need to change around and even with that team we can switch to 4-4-2 with Reyes up front and push Hleb and JosÃ© forward to make a 4-3-3 if we want. Those two in particular are going to have an important job along with our two fullbacks. I think we have to really have a go at van Bronckhorst and Olegeur as that’s where Barcelona are weak in particular. Eboue and Cole overlapping Hleb and Reyes needs to be a feature of our game as much as solid defending and a strong central midfield.
There’s no much point in me saying we need to make sure Ronaldinho gets as little of the ball as possible and when he does get it we cannot allow him any time at all because he’s just so dangerous. I can’t see Barcelona pushing too far up the pitch as the pace of Henry will scare them so it’s going to get a bit congested in the middle. This is why Helb and Eboue, Reyes and Cole need to work openings down the flanks and when they do we can’t be too afraid to commit people forward into the box.
Other than that what we need from everyone is 100% commitment to the team. Every tackle has to be strong. Every header has to be contested. We just need to perform like we’ve performed against Madrid, against Juventus, against Villarreal at home and believe that we can win it. Yes, Barcelona are a strong team but we have players who can do things as well. Let’s also not forget that this is an Arsenal team with a great record in cup finals in the last few years. 3 FA Cups in the last four seasons is testament to that and while you can’t compare the two competitions the knowledge that we can get a result on the big day is good to have. On the other hand Barcelona haven’t really contested a proper cup final for a long time. They won the Copa de Catalunya last year but that’s a pre-season warm up piece of crap for the reserves and means even less than the Super Cup they won against Real Betis which was two-legged affair anyway.
Maybe it doesn’t mean anything but having a good record in cup finals and knowing you can win them surely doesn’t hurt. Should we be afraid of Barcelona? No way. We can hurt them and even the biggest underdogs can win cup finals. That’s not to say we shouldn’t respect them or underestimate them like their supporters seem to underestimate us. It’s going to be a fantastic occasion but we are the Arsenal.
Lots of news stories around so I’ll try and round them up now. Arsene Wenger says even if we win the trophy it won’t be enough. Just like Prince’s mother he’s never satisfied.
I fear Arsenalâ€™s team as a whole.
I don’t like the word fear. You are scared to die, that is all you are scared of.
Emmanuel Eboue isn’t afraid of facing Ronaldinho. I like the way our boys are not afraid. I hope Giovanni van Bronckhorst is afraid too because I am hoping he gets kicked up and down the right wing by Eboue because more than anyone he keeps harping on and on about how great it would be if Henry joined Barcelona. He also says that Cesc wouldn’t even be playing for Barcelona B because the quality is so good. Really that says more about Barcelona and van Bronckhorst than Cesc. Some swollen ankles might keep your mouth shut, Gio. Twat. Meanwhile BarÃ§a captain Carles Puyol has been working out how to play Thierry on his Playstation. It’s just circle, X, square, X, X, triangle, L2, R2, Carles. You’ll have him in your back pocket then.
JosÃ© Antonio Reyes reveals he suffers from seasonal affliction disorder and that he gets depressed when it gets dark at 3pm in the winter. He says he’s settled and happy in England now though. Could be just because it’s summer but still. He’s happy now. Let’s hope it’s a warm night in Paris.
And that’s it. A final mention for Dubs’ fund raising effort which has doubled from the original target of Â£1,000. It now stands at Â£2,000 and all the money will be going to the David Rocastle Trust. Well done, Arsebloggers, you’re the best.