Nice to be back on the trail of competitive football tonight, a tough match for an understrength Arsenal. Did I say understrength? Well, with Rosicky out as well as Gallas not making it, yes I would agree with that statement.
The match is relatively straightforward: avoid defeat, the Group is topped. Lose and we are dependent on CSKA failing to win in Hamburg, something that I just cannot see happening, not even in my most optimistic mood. So it therefore falls to the team to perform, something that they are aware of. I would draw a parallel between this match and the one in Bernabeu last season. Going into that match, the form was even worse than in past few weeks. Not many expected the win but a draw was eminently achievable. The difference is that last year we had “novelty value”. Not many had seen the true form they were capable of: this time though we have given enough indications, especially in the home legs of the Champions League.
Another key element to this is Porto’s attitude. In the press reports I have seen, they have not been commenting on winning the game, merely controlling it, avoiding defeat. That is good and bad for Arsenal. Good because it is likely that they will not be desperate for the win, pressurising the visitors goal in a way that they perhaps would have if they needed three points. Bad because it means that they will put ten men behind the ball when we are in possession; another ninety minutes of frustration akin to those seen at The Emirates this season already.
Other than enforced changes, it seems to me rather simplistically that there is little or no reason for changing Saturday’s team especially with the upcoming suspensions for the visit to Stamford Bridge. However, I can see Arsene making two changes other than that of Rosicky with Senderos returning in place of Djourou, ensuring that the senior of the two keeps his match fitness going. In midfield, he has two options for replacing Rosicky. Firstly, he could bring in Baptista in a straight like for like swap with the Brazilian moving on to support van Persie and Adebayour. The second is to bring in Hleb, again like for like. My line up would be:
Lehmann; Eboue, Djourou, Toure, Clichy; Hleb, Fabregas, Baptista, Gilberto, van Persie; Adebayour
although I suspect Arsene will line up:
Lehmann; Eboue, Senderos, Toure, Clichy; Hleb, Fabregas, Ljungberg, Gilberto, van Persie; Adebayour
I am not entirely comfortable with Freddie in the centre of midfield so he may swap his and Hlebs’ positions. I just feel Baptista will occupy Porto’s defence more readily, they being aware of his ability to burst through. The key thing tomorrow will be to not concede ideally at all but definitely not the first goal. To do so will mean having to press forward and chase the game. To score first would enable the team to pick off Porto in counter-attacks, something which they have the capability to do. What is certain, I would rather see a repeat of the performance in Hamburg rather than Moscow.
And I think that they will do it tomorrow; the confidence gained from Saturday’s win should not be underestimated; Adebayour should be able to plough a lone furrow up front successfully, he did so at Old Trafford successfully. With little incentive for either side to push for a win, I would be quite happy to watch a complete re-run of the West Germany v Austria 1978 World Cup match and a dull and entirely tedious 0 – 0 draw.