Champions League action tonight and we begin our campaign away at German champions Borussia Dortmund. From our point of view the team news is that Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky are added to our midfield injury list (quite the collection at the moment) but there are returns to the squad for Alex Song and Gervinho, both of whom have been domestically suspended for their Bartonary indiscretions.
I would expect both of them to go into the team to be honest. I think he’ll keep Theo on the right, and start Gervinho on the left to offer more protection to Gibbs at left back than Arshavin would, and Song will take his place in midfield. I guess the only other decision the manager has to make is whether or not to start Benayoun but again I think he’ll leave him on the bench as a player who can provide something different coming off it.
I reckon we’ll start with: SZCZ – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs – Frimpong – Song – Arteta – Walcott – Gervinho – van Persie
As mentioned yesterday Dortmund had an excellent defensive record in the Bundesliga last season, conceding just eight goals at home, and while their start to this season might have been poor by the standards set by champions I don’t think we should pay much attention to it. They’ve got some quality players and with Mario Gotze in the hole they’ll be looking to stretch the Arsenal back passage as much as possible, leaving us red raw. The manager is certainly aware of his threat and his ability to pull us apart from both sides if given the chance.
So we’ll have to be solid at the back again and the manager explained last night why he signed Per Mertesacker, not the usual, nimble player normally on his list. He said:
Usually, I look at the quality of the player and not at his size. Because we play a more technical game, I choose smaller players. But he is a calming presence, he has over 70 caps with Germany so he has experience and people forget he is only 26 years old.
He reads well the game, has good communication with the other players and he knows how important it is to communicate.
It’s interesting that he brings that up because I know many have felt that our defensive issues aren’t entirely down to personnel or formation, but a lack of proper organisation. Mertesacker, alongside someone more vocal, like Vermaelen, would certainly address that. I suspect when he becomes more settled and when his English includes the on-field vocab you only pick up from training and playing, we’ll see more of that from him.
Speaking of communication, the manager is banned from the touchline tonight and says he still doesn’t understand why. Asked at his press conference if he’d be trying to circumnavigate UEFA’s pettiness, he said he was too tall to try a Mourinho-esque laundry basket trick, and went on to say:
I will now send my vibes and hope they will not be detected by UEFA. I will give my team-talk at the hotel before we go to the game.
When I arrive at the stadium, I cannot go to the dressing room. I don’t think I will be man-marked. I have to leave it to Pat Rice. We will go through all the situations before the game. Pat will make the right decisions. For once, I will have somebody else to blame!”
Let’s hope there’s nothing to blame anyone for though. I think we’ve said enough about UEFA’s pettiness and anyway, Wenger has never been the most reactive of managers during games, so maybe this time that’s something of a bonus.
Up front it’d be nice to see Robin van Persie spark into life. We saw a hint of the van Persie of last season against Swansea, a fantastic piece of forward play culminating in a shot that smacked off the outside of the post, but he’s just looked a little off the pace this season so far. Not that I’m criticising, but by the incredibly high standards he set last season, and as the focal point of our attack, he’s been a bit below par.
The early signs of his on-pitch relationship with Arteta were encouraging on Saturday though and there’s certainly an onus on the Spaniard to create in this Arsenal team. Without Cesc that’s an area where we need someone to take up some of the slack and Arteta’s eye for a pass in the final third is unmatched by anyone else in the squad at the moment. I got it wrong yesterday saying this was his Champions League debut, he’s previously played for PSG and Rangers, but apart from one qualifying round for Everton (which they lost) he hasn’t appeared in the competition since 2003. Plenty of lost time to make up for there.
Overall, we need to see a perhaps more sensible Arsenal than we might normally. I don’t expect the manager to curb our attacking instincts too much but this is just the first game of the group stage. A draw tonight would be a perfectly good result, and if we can grind one out and add another clean sheet to our collection so far then all the better. Again, it might not be pretty to watch but I’d take it.
All the same, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Both teams like to go forward, it’s whether or not the attackers can take advantage when the defences are exposed. Either way, Pat Rice is going to have his hands full tonight, concentrating on the game and trying, like Luke Skywalker hanging off an aerial above a gigantic wind shaft, to use the force to hear Arsene.
Come on Arsenal!
There’ll be live blog coverage of the game, as per usual, which gives you live text commentary and in-game betting. If you fancy signing up with Paddy Power you can get up to £50 in free bets. Click here to register with Paddy Power to take advantage!
In other news, if you missed it yesterday, do check out the interview with former Gunner Sylvinho carried out my chums at Arsenal Brasil. He was always a favourite of mine and the way he talks with such fondness about his time at Arsenal, the people he met, the friends he made etc, is absolutely fantastic.