The Champions League bowls into town this evening with a stiff test on the cards. Sevilla have won back-to-back UEFA Cups as well as drubbing Barcelona in the European Super Cup last season. Despite the paucity of opposition in both competitions, it is only the second time that anyone has successfully defended the UEFA Cup and they will be given due respect, highlighted when Le Boss mentioned that he felt that they were amongst the top five sides in Europe at the moment.
They are a side brimming with confidence at the moment having won six out of their seven games this season which have included four victories in which they have scored four or more goals, putting four past AEK, Recreativo and Getafe whilst Real Madrid suffered a 5 – 3 home defeat at hands. That they like to pass the ball around makes for the prospect of a good match. They have on the whole displayed this in their matches against English opposition in recent times; two draws and two victories over Middlesbrough, Bolton and Tottenham en route to their UEFA Cup triumphs. It is hard to read anything into those results though because with all due respect, none of that list are in the ‘elite’ of English football. That is not Sevilla’s fault; they can only beat the opposition put in front of them. That Tottenham were able to make life severely uncomfortable in the first leg of last season’s UEFA Cup shows that the Andaluz’s can be vulnerable. That cuts no ice with their Brazilian contingent with Daniel Alves and Renato both denegrating the hosts abilities in the past week.
Freddie Kanoute is their obvious goal threat, proving that a relatively unsuccessful spell in the Premiership need not hinder anyone’s career. Perhaps a more telling take on that though would be a comparison of the teams he played for over here; Sevilla are a country mile ahead of West Ham and Tottenham. The threat of Kerzhakov should not be ignored, the player has a record of scoring every other game in Europe, marginally better than Kanoute’s one in three. The vulnerability I noted earlier comes from the flanks and the desire to push forward; Navas and Adriano, if fit, have a habit of leaving the full backs exposed as does the desire and requirement of Alves and Dragutinovic to push forward. Tonight may see them more subdued in that respect but the gaps will still be there.
For Arsenal, there is still no William Gallas, West Ham is apparently the match being targetted for his return. Arsene yesterday indicated that he was considering resting Gilberto following on from the weekend and his arduous travel schedule from the Internationals. I am not convinced that he will do so for it is a big occasion and one where the strongest team available should be fielded; Derby’s visit at the weekend should allow for rotation. In defence, his place will be taken by Philippe Senderos, there is little doubt about that. It will be an otherwise settled back four with Sagna making his European debut for Arsenal, his twenty third in total though. Kolo Toure makes his fiftieth appearance in European ties so the experience is there. In midfield, the possibility of resting Gilberto would mean an extended run in the team for Flamini if that were to happen. Otherwise the form shown by others indicates no reason for change. Likewise for the forward line, Adebayor has now got three in two whilst the criticism of van Persie following the Tottenham win was somewhat unfair. It is borne from the expectation that he will score twenty or more goals this season which may happen. That should not negate the work that he does in matches where he fails to find the back of the net. However, it would not surprise me if the Dutchman is rested to the bench this evening for Eduardo to appear. I would expect tonight’s team to be – possible alternatives in brackets:
Almunia; Sanga, Toure, Senderos, Clichy; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto (Flamini), Rosicky; Adebayor, Eduardo (van Persie)
with a bench of:
Fabianski, Song, Flamini (Hoyte), Walcott, Bendtner, van Persie (Eduardo), Diarra
It is a game which should be won tonight, three points is a good start that can put Arsenal in pole position to qualify comfortably from what ought to be a relatively straightforward group. For those looking for omens, tonight’s referee was in charge for the 2 – 0 win over Juventus in 2005-06 and the 2 – 1 win in Hamburg last season. In terms of a winning ‘streak’, Arsenal are unbeaten in fifteen home games and have won the opening group game for the past three seasons running. Such a victory would place the emphasis on the good management on and off the pitch, reinforcing the solid start to the Premiership campaign. Arsene notes that point this morning in the press,
It is difficult enough to be successful when everyone is on the same wavelength. When you don’t have harmony, it is even more difficult. I care who is on the board because some people are more invasive than others and the tradition at Arsenal is always to let the manager work as he wants to
And that is how it should be. Forget talk of ‘investment’ and the need for it to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, thus far the manager has shown that the most important investment is in the future, something that appears to be well taken care of. It is up to the players now to prove his philosophy correct and that outside interference is not welcome. Yeah, I know, the laissez-faire attitude of yesterday has gone to some extent; amazing what one crabby mood in a morning can do for you.