With everything happening to Arsenal in the last four days, the only thing left was a Champions League play off! We are going to face Udinese, tonight, in the first leg of the qualifier with a much depleted squad.
Udinese are a decent side and they will offer us more than what Newcastle did on the weekend. These fixtures before haven’t caused us much trouble before. Therefore, failing to overcome Udinese over two legs is not only going to be disastrous, we will also have a hard time in attracting players to the club this season.
Just like us, Udinese have also lost their best players. However, they still have a team that will give us a hard time. With Di Natale, they have a striker that can cause us all sorts of trouble if we are not on top of our game. They will test us on a more continuous basis than what Newcastle did and they will surely look for an away goal. Being Italians, they will also have a sound defence and give us very little space. This also will prove advantageous for us if we utilize our pace effectively. Therefore, quick and accurate passing will do the trick and open them up.
Still, I am expeceting a tight game so our first priority must be to not concede a goal and then find the winner.
With Van Persie and Nasri suspended and Wilshere out injured, we are without three key figures. Rosicky, it is now confirmed, didn’t pass his late fitness test and suddenly we have very limited options to start with.
We were short of ideas going forward against Newcastle, now with no Van Persie and Rosicky; I am hoping that the others will rise to the occasion and make their mark.
I am caught between Chamakh and Bendtner to take the striker role. Chamakh didn’t have a very good pre-season while Bendtner was busy trying to move out. Still, with the future of Bendtner not clear, I will start with Chamakh and hope he shows he is a striker. Bendtner can come on later, if required.
To partner him, I will go with Arshavin and Gervinho.
In the middle I will start with Song and Frimpong behind Ramsey. Song has the ability to produce great passes, so I will want him to play a bit up field. Frimpong should stay behind tonight and shield the back four. Ramsey will have to take more responsibility and make sure he doesn’t give the ball away in dangerous positions.
The backline will pick itself up. Sagna and Gibbs on the flanks, Vermaelen and Koscielny to partner as centre backs. Szczesny will of course be in goal.
We can then bring on Walcott and Chamberlain for their pace. I am also hoping that Arshavin will take over as the creative outlet for us today. He can carve open defenses easily and tonight his skill will be more than needed.
Probable starting eleven: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Frimpong, Gervinho, Chamakh, Arshavin.
Udinese’s Manager, Francesco Guidolin, admitted that this is the most important game in their history. So,we won’t have it easy any minute of the game, over the two legs. If we want to qualify for the group stages, every player will have to perform. His words were:
“Udinese also has a tradition of playing in Europe before, but for the charm of the match and for the opponent then this is probably the most important game in Udinese’s history. I would probably compare it to the match against Ajax in the UEFA Cup some years ago but because it is the Champions League this is probably more important.”
As Wenger said:
“We want to be in the Champions League, we want to qualify, that’s what we want to achieve.”
And that is what we would all like. Despite being short in number, I am confident the team will give a great response. It is our first home game of the season, by the way, so a win will be a an ideal result.
Have a good day and enjoy game. Hopefully in a fortnight, we will be in the group stages of the Champions League.