After a home game that was tougher than it probably should be, we’re now in a week where we play two away games which are going to provide real tests to a squad still finding its feet.
Blackburn away next Saturday is never an easy game while tomorrow night our Champions League campaign kicks off in Germany against Borussia Dortmund. Quite how the German champions ended up in pool 4 of the draw, alongside FC Zxsplicickity and Kosovo Rovers is beyond me, but there you go.
History: We’ve played them before in the CL group stages, in 2002-3. We beat them 2-0 at home but lost 2-1 away. A certain Tomas Rosicky scored both Dortmund’s goals after Thierry Henry had put us ahead.
It will certainly be a tricky game, made more difficult by the suspension of Arsene Wenger from touchline duty. I am assuming he’ll travel with the squad and prepare the team as normal but with UEFA undoubtedly keeping a close eye on things he’ll have to trust Pat Rice to make the decisions on the night during the game. It was clear during the Udinese game that Pat was awaiting instruction from on high and the result of that was a further two game ban for the manager.
Obviously he’ll be able to prep the players pre-game and I suspect communicating with his peeps during half-time will be relatively simple, but while the game is going on it’ll be down to the Riceinator to make the decisions. I think it would be unwise to give UEFA any more ammunition and the boss will have to trust his staff to get things right on the night.
New boy Per Mertesacker has warned of the quality of Dortmund but is confident we can get a result, while the manager thinks his experience of the Bundesliga will be important, saying:
He knows the Dortmund stadium well and knows German football. He talks and communicates with the team and when a German communicates, you listen.
This is where adding experience to the team will prove to be so important. Mertesacker has 21 Champions League appearances under his belt, Benayoun 23 (with 6 goals), and while Mikel Arteta may not ever have supped from the gold encrusted goblet at Europe’s top table, you feel it’s something of an ambition yet to be fulfilled. Making his Champions League debut at 29 will ensure he’s determined to make the most of the years ahead of him.
Update: Thanks to the twenty bazillion people who reminded me Arteta played in the CL for PSG and Rangers. You knew what I meant though!
Interestingly, behind van Persie (40 CL games) our most experienced Champions League player, with 38 appearances is Sebastian Squillaci. Anyway, we should get a full idea of the squad available later on and with a press conference this evening in Germany there’ll be plenty more to look ahead to.
So far this season Dortmund have played five in the league, won two, lost two and drawn one, so not as auspicious a start as they would have liked (sounds familiar). But last season they conceded just 8 goals at home in the league so they’ll be a tough nut to crack.
Meanwhile, Wojciech Szczesny has warned a couple of his international teammates who play for Dortmund, and who gave him stick over the Old Trafford game, that he won’t fall for their wind-ups. He says:
They’ve been taking the mickey out of the 8-2 defeat but they can’t get into my head. I will be focused. I hope after the game I will be the one who comes out on top with the banter.
‘They can’t get into my head’, I love that. For all the drama and everything else this season, we’ve kept three clean sheets in our six games so far, and much of that has to do with the SZCZ. His save on Saturday will be right up there with the saves of the season and in general his presence and confidence have been important. That he comes for crosses and corners, even if they are right on the edge of his area, is something of a departure in Arsenal goalkeeping terms.
For seasons we’ve been used to Almunia staying on his line and when he did venture off it, it usually ended in some kind of disaster. We’ve long wanted a keeper that will dominate his area and Szczesny treats his area like his own personal fifedom. Anyone who comes into it is fair game, ask Gareth Bale, and while it won’t really trouble the bravest players it might make them hesitate a bit. If he keeps fit and keeps developing then this is a guy who could spend the next 15 years as our number 1.
Elsewhere, Stan Kroenke has broken his silence, indirectly, to talk about Arsenal and the transfer policy at the club this summer, saying:
There’s a risk of going backwards if you overreact and start throwing money around in an attempt to solve your problems. Our track record is out there for people to see. If we think there’s good value, we’ll spend.
I’m not sure that comparisons to US sports teams really work, considering the very different way the player markets work, and his comments have already sparked plenty of debate. Leaving what he said aside, it seems obvious to me that the growing mistrust of Kroenke is down to one thing and one thing only – his almost complete lack of communication to fans since he took over the club.
Arsenal making a profit in the transfer window is not a new thing, it’s not a Kroenke edict, we’ve been doing it for years. Perhaps not on the scale as this summer but the circumstances were exceptional. All the same, it would be no bad thing for Kroenke to consider the fact he has yet to outline his vision for the club except in very vague terms, and only then via people like Ivan Gazidis.
Good communication and good PR is vital at a time when it feels like it wouldn’t take much for there to be an almighty schism at the club, on many levels. It’s worrying that nobody seems to be aware of this, or that Kroenke himself can’t see the benefits of a more open stance with the fans. Sometimes silence is absolutely the right thing, let people get on with their jobs etc, but since taking over we’ve heard precious little from him and I do think that’s something that needs to be addressed. For everyone’s benefit.
Right, plenty to come throughout the day. Stay tuned for another blog post here while all the breaking stuff will happen over here.