This week is crucial to the remainder of Arsenal’s season (I believe I’ve said that before and will no doubt say it again) with the visits to The Home Of Football (THOF) of Liverpool on Sunday and before that, the small matter of Real Madrid tomorrow night. The Tiny Tots visit Stamford Bridge where 3 points are expected to go to the home side, which would leave Arsenal three points behind in the race for fourth spot should we beat Liverpool. The team are in a position to take advantage of their superb performance in the Santiago Bernabeu and go into the game having suffered one away defeat and one comprehensive victory in a derby match. So that’s the same as Real then, aside from the comprehensive bit.
Having gained a one goal advantage from the first leg, the opening twenty minutes are going to be crucial for the match. If Arsenal can score early, some nerves may disappear and also Madrid will have to push forward to score leaving gaps at the back. Tactically, Wenger will be unable to play for a draw as this team is not confident enough in their own abilities to do so. For this reason, I am anticipating a repetition of the tactics he employed in the first leg, exploiting gaps in their defence with the pace of Reyes, Henry and Ljungberg. Unless things go awry, I do not expect Bergkamp to start with Fabregas replacing Diaby and playing on the right whilst Ljungberg moves into the centre of midfield. Which means the XI would be:
Lehmann; Eboue, Senderos, Toure, Flamini; Pires, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Fabregas; Reyes; Henry.
One other change Wenger may be considering is to drop Pires and leave Diaby in the centre, pulling Reyes back onto the left hand side of a five man midfield. The major difference between the two matches will probably be caused by the narrowness of the Highbury pitch, with Wenger already noting that his side prefer larger pitches as they allow more space.
Historically, Arsenal are now favourites to progress as they have never lost a tie where they have won the first leg away from home. Similarly, Madrid have never recovered a deficit from a home first leg in the knockout phases of the European Cup. Indeed, Arsenal’s win was only their second home defeat in the competitions knock out phases ever when they have played the first leg at home, the other being in 2000/01 when Bayern Munich knocked them out 3 – 1 on aggregate having won 1 – 0 in the Bernabeu. However, taken on form since 1st January Madrid still have the better record and I think start as slight favourites to win the tie.
Todays Tunes bring forth three Spanish bands in honour of the esteemed guests at THOF tomorrow night:
Los Flechazos – Un Bidón De Gasolina