Let’s begin this morning with team news ahead of tonight’s game against Borussia Dortmund.
Just to maintain the balance of the universe, Abou Diaby’s return to the squad comes as Tomas Rosicky drops out, having picked up a ‘small thigh strain’ in training. Diaby hasn’t played yet this season having undergone surgery on his ankle in the summer and I suspect he’ll start from the bench. Other than that there are no issues.
Robin van Persie will start and I imagine we’re going to play the same team as we did against Norwich on Saturday. A win tonight would ensure qualification to the knock-out stages and if the other result goes our way we’ll top the group. Arsene is aware of the importance of the game and that both teams have had vaguely similar starts to the season.
The game in Germany was not exactly one-sided but it came at a time when Arsenal were still struggling to come to terms with the Old Trafford game and was followed by that trip to Blackburn. Arsene says:
I believe that both teams have improved since. We have grown, they have grown. They had a difficult start, we had a difficult start and both teams have improved since. They were a good team in Dortmund but we feel strong enough to be at home and finish the job.
It’s another big test for our solidity and we will go into the game with that attitude, concentration, and desire to win the game and we hope we can do it.
Dortmund come into this game on the back of a 1-0 win at Bayern Munich and by all accounts they put in an outstanding defensive performance for a team that is best known for its attacking football. They also arrive with a 6 game domestic winning streak under their belts so this is really going to be a tough game tonight – and the quality of this Dortmund side makes a mockery of the fact they were in the 4th group of teams in the draw alongside FC Brigadoon and some Romanian distillery XI.
All the same, Arsenal’s form has been good and the team now is a much different animal from the one that traveled to Dortmund. There’s far more confidence and solidity, especially defensively, something Wojciech Szczesny emphasised at yesterday’s press conference. He said:
I think we have done very well defensively. We got two clean sheets in the last two games against Marseille which is a fantastic achievement because they are a quality side. That gives us a lot of confidence going into the game on Wednesday and hopefully we can just keep another clean sheet.
We work together on the training ground and it seems to be working during the games. We are much more confident, we concede less goals and I hope we can keep it going.
I like his comments about self-improvement as well. Arsene Wenger has backed the big Pole, defending him from accusations of cockiness, but as we’ve spoken about many times before a goalkeeper needs to have that bit of something about him, and whatever it is, Szczesny has got it. At 21 he’s still young and still has plenty to learn but it’s good that he’s aware of that too.
Anyway, the defensive hard work has to continue this evening. We know how good Dortmund are as an attacking force and if we switch off they’re good enough to take advantage. But, with the pace of Walcott and Gervinho, the most lethal and clinical striker in Europe in Robin van Persie, and players behind like Ramsey and Arteta we should give them plenty to worry about too.
It’s a big game tonight, if we can take three points it means a much more relaxed trip to Greece for the final game, but we can’t take anything for granted. If we have to go to Olympiacos to get a result then so be it but all going well tonight will see us through.
As an aside I’m reliably informed that Dortmund’s fans who, if you saw the first game at their stadium, you’ll know are very vocal indeed, have managed to get tickets all over the stadium tonight, using memberships and other methods to get more than their allocated amount. And I don’t say this out of any fear of trouble, but I’m told they just want to have as many behind their team as possible.
Hopefully the Arsenal fans can respond to that in a positive way and create a good atmosphere at the Grove tonight. I know there won’t be anything like the theatrics we saw at their place but if the two sets of fans can spark each other into life (again in a positive way) it might not be a bad thing at all.
In other news Arsene was asked about Mario Götze, a player we’ve been linked with quite a bit recently. The Guardian’s German football expert, Raphael Honigstein, last week played down the chances of him joining us in January but Wenger was asked the same question at yesterday’s presser. Once in English, once in German by a TV journalist. The two answers were quite different. In English we got the usual stuff about having a massive squad and not looking for any players in January.
He’s a very good player, I’m not surprised there is lots of interest, but from our side I don’t think this is the best moment to talk about it. We play Dortmund tomorrow therefore it’s important for us to focus on the game and not talk about transfers.
But you can never say never.
I know a January move seems very unlikely but the difference between the two answers in interesting all the same.
As usual there’ll be full live blog coverage of the game later on. You can follow the game with up to the second text commentary right here. As well as that you can get £50 free bet with Paddy Power and Robin van Persie to score 1st in a 1-0 for Arsenal looks good value to me at 25-1. Just click here to register with Paddy Power.
News throughout the day over on the news site, a live blog post to come later on. Till later.