there’s a rather important game this evening so before we think about players who don’t want to be here any more and who might replace them, we’ll focus on that.
The team news is that Johan Djourou travels, as do Armand Traore and Tomas Rosicky. The latter is still not a definite starter and will have further fitness tests pre-game to see if he can take part. If he does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Song start at centre-half alongside Vermaelen with Djourou providing some cover from the bench.
I imagine that as the only natural left back in the squad Traore will start there with Sagna moving back to right back. I think we need as much experience and solidity as possible out there tonight so all told I reckon we could see: SZCZ – Sagna – Song – Vermaelen – Traore – Frimpong – Ramsey – Rosicky – Gervinho – Arshavin – van Persie
We have the one goal lead from the first leg and the clean sheet which allows us to take advantage of the away goals rule. From the bits and pieces I’ve been reading from Udinese players and their coach won’t be taking us lightly, despite the surface turmoil. He says:
I’m not buying into the “Arsenal are in crisis” theory; they are used to playing in this competition and if they’ve been successful over the years it’s because they’ve been able to overcome moments of difficulty such as these.
All the same, if they aren’t in the home dressing room tonight thinking they might just have caught us at the right time I’d be very surprised. They know, as we do, that this is hardly the strongest Arsenal side we’ve seen in recent years. Further weakened yesterday (more on that anon) we don’t have the same ability to create chance after chance at the moment and even on Saturday it was clear that Nasri was one of the only players capable of making things happen.
I think, like the first leg, they’ll be happy to let us come onto them and then hit us on the break. They did it very well at the Grove, turning defence into attack quickly and efficiently. That’s something our defence needs to be aware of, and our midfield too. It’s no coincidence that in that first game some of their most dangerous moments came when Song was pushed quite far forward. We don’t need to be as gung-ho tonight, what we have we hold, and all that, so positional discipline will be crucial.
As a team we’ve been goal shy so far this season. Just one in three games, and that was Theo’s in the first leg, so we’ll be looking to Robin, Arshavin and Gervinho to provide us with something to give us a bit of breathing room. Arsene has been trying to keep things as normal as possible, talking about the pressure for this game being no different to any other, but I suspect that’s for the benefit of the squad. This game is absolutely massive.
And I don’t mean from a financial point of view although failure to go through tonight would cost us in the region of £25m. It’s massive for the football club, for our standing, our reputation, our confidence, for our ability to bring in players before the transfer window closes, and for the manager himself. The damage done if we don’t qualify for the Champions League would be enormous. Like the Liverpool game the only conclusion you could make is that our ineffective summer will have been the overriding factor and the consequences of that … well, I shudder to think.
In a summer when we appear to have waved the white flag far too often, meekly surrendering to outside elements, it is absolutely vital we remember what this club is all about and fight back. The only way we can do that tonight is through our performance. The players chosen to represent us have to give everything, and more, to ensure we go through. Anything less than that will be punished by a decent and clever Udinese side. What we lack in quality we have to make up for with heart, simple as that. Arsene says of the current situation:
It can have a positive consequence as well – if you are strong mentally it can increase the solidarity, knowing you have to fight more.
Let’s hope so. The rest can wait until we’ve got this job done, but it’s then over to the management and the board to show what they’re made of too. All eyes tonight will be on the game, however, so let’s dig deep and grind out the result we need.
So, that brings us to Samir Nasri who is on his way to Manchester City. No surprises there, only that it’s taken this long to get the deal done. The deal is good business from a financial perspective for Arsenal. £25m for a player in the final year of his contract is monstrous money, and reflective of a) City’s bottomless pockets and b) City’s behaviour throughout this summer for which Arsenal are being compensated via the fee.
As for the player, well, if he didn’t want to be here then that’s entirely his choice. Arsenal offered him parity with the top earners at the club, he agreed to that deal, then refused to sign it once he was made aware he could earn more elsewhere. Don’t buy the spin about trophies, his refusal to sign happened long before our end of season collapse, the period in which Nasri scored just 1 goal and fluffed countless chances. Now, after everything that’s gone on, it’s easy to say it’s about ambition but it was never about that.
So we add £25m to our already overflowing wheelbarrow of cold, hard cash and the manager has to spend the money he’s got available to him. He was asked yesterday about replacing Nasri and said he’d already bought players like Gervinho and The Ox who could do that job. Not exactly what fans want to hear but he’s right in this regard. Gervinho for Nasri, wide forward for wide forward, that’s a direct replacement. And while we might want to see another, more experienced player for that role, I don’t think Nasri is the one we ever needed to replace. It’s Cesc.
For me that’s where the money has to go. Arsene says it himself:
We are short in midfield at the moment and that is where we want to strengthen.
We lack real creativity in central midfield. You cannot find another Cesc Fabregas. There’s a reason why the best team in the world wanted to sign him. Aside from his DNA and his nationality he’s one of the best midfielders on the planet. All the same, I don’t believe that with his extensive scouting network and knowledge of world football, Arsene can’t find a player that would give us a boost in experience and quality in this area, especially with the money he has available to him.
There are a lot of whispers this morning that a central defensive signing could be in the offing, although quite when that will happen I don’t know. Again, this brings us back to tonight’s game, the importance of qualification in general is exacerbated by the impact failure would have on our transfer business. Some of the money would be offset to cope with the loss of CL revenue and the basic fact is that you will find it almost impossible to attract top players without playing in Europe’s top competition.
Anyway, Nasri’s not our problem any more. Players bigger and better than him have left in the past and we’ve managed. My only concern is that the timing of it may come back to haunt us but fingers crossed the players tonight can find the solidarity the manager spoke about and come together to produce a real Arsenal performance.
There’ll be live blog coverage of the game, more details on that later on. And the one boost we got yesterday was that Arsene will be on the bench tonight after UEFA kindly allowed his appeal over the ridiculous 2 match ban to take place after the game.
Right, that’s that. Fingers crossed for later. Come on you Gunners!