Saturday, June 15, 2024

Shaktar preview – slight site change

Arsenal go into tonight’s Champions League game knowing that a win would ensure qualification and would, barring disastrous results in the final two games, mean we qualify as group winners.

We also go into this game without some important players. Our midfield taking the biggest hit as we’ve travelled to the Ukraine with Cesc (hamstring), Song (calf), Denilson (hair) and Diaby (life) all injured. With Andrei Arshavin also on the missing list it means a fair few changes from Saturday’s game against West Ham.

Jack Wilshere returns from suspension so he’ll come back into the team, Samir Nasri could move back from a more forward position into midfield, Tomas Rosicky would be disappointed if he didn’t start but the manager might also consider Emmanuel Eboue in there as well. Some youngsters have travelled – Eastmond, Lansbury and JET – but it does look as if Wilshere will be asked to play a more holding role with Nasri and Rosicky in front of him.

Up front there’s room for someone to come into the team and it’ll be interesting to see what he does here. Again Eboue could be a candiate, we’ve seen the manager use him there before, or he could play Chamakh with Bendtner right and Walcott on the left. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he rested the Moroccan for this one and perhaps brought in one of JET (up front) or Lansbury (as an extra midfielder). And reading back over this I realise I haven’t mentioned Carlos Vela who is another option. It’s not obvious anyway so we’ll await the team news later with interest.

The manager isn’t too concerned about Cesc’s absence, saying the creative responsibility shouldn’t just fall to one man:

When Fabregas is not there you have to share a little bit the decisive passing, the building up of the game between Nasri, Wilshere or Rosicky for example, so that is the task we have. We have many creative players who can create good passes and that’s what I count on. Wilshere is not scared to take the ball so he will have a part of it to do.

Shaktar will be a different animal tonight, I reckon. They took a right spanking at the Grove and will be keen to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Eduardo and captain Darijo Srna have spoken about just that and it seems they’ve yet to lose a match in their new stadium. That’s another record they’ll be looking to protect as well as looking to make sure they progress from this stage of the tournament.

Traditionally we haven’t been great going that far east in Europe and with most of the first choice missing it’s going to be tough. That said, it’s a chance for others to come in and show they can do a job. The way certain players have taken their opportunities this season has been very positive so hopefully that’ll continue tonight. The Shaktar coach has revved things up a bit with comments about the first leg, saying Wilshere should have been sent off, but for me that’s just deflectionary. He knows his team was convincingly outplayed on the night and is just trying to obscure that fact. His assertion that Scandinavian referees shouldn’t take charge of matches involving English teams is ludicrous as well. If he’s hoping to influence tonight’s official, the experienced Swiss Massimo Busacca, I’m not sure that’s going to work.

Arsene continues:

We have a good opportunity to qualify straight away and finish top of the group and you want to take that chance. I believe as well we want to confirm that we are stepping up a gear from game to game and that we are capable of being consistent and that is what is at stake for us.

With so many important players missing it’s a good test of the squad and our ability to go and win games without them. It’s not as if the players coming in are raw and untested. Theo Walcott will get a chance up front with Arsene saying he’s ‘very close’ to the central striker role. It’s hard to see how Theo would fit into that position in the current formation which really needs a bigger, more physical player to do a lot of hard work and bring others into play, but the boss says the best of Theo is yet to come:

In England, you are very impatient. Thierry Henry came here at the age of 23 and Theo is 21. Give two more years to Theo and imagine what he will be.

He does seem to have added a measure of composure to his game this season which, I suppose, we can just chalk down to experience and maturity. It’s easy to forget how young he still is because he seems to have been around a long time now. He has 6 goals so far this season and hopefully he can add to that tally tonight.

There’s no point talking about avoiding defeat tonight, while a draw would be a decent result we know we’re always going to go there looking to win the game. We go into it with three clean sheets in a row – which equals our record from last season – so while the manager looks for consistency in terms of results it’d be good to maintain a measure of that when it comes to goals conceded too. Kick off tonight is 7.45 and I’m confident this is a game we can win.

In other news congratulations to Samir Nasri who was named PFA Player of the Month for October while young striker Benik Afobe has joined Huddersfield on a month’s loan.

And finally, I know I’ve been promising a more ‘work friendly’ theme for the blog but as easy as it sounds it’s unbelievably complicated with WordPress. It’s hard to share the database which contains all the posts etc because the database also contains all the theme information. However, I’ve now made the header scroll so that when you read down it disappears and doesn’t leave a big red sign for your boss to realise you’re not updating that very important spreadsheet at all. I hope that helps.

Right so, here’s to CL qualification tonight and another clean sheet. Till tomorrow.

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