The most important Arsenal news in what has proven to be a very busy day came with the revelation that William Gallas has escaped any further punishment from his altercation with Luis Nani during the weekend’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United. I touched on how delighted I was with this result a little earlier today and in all honesty not much has changed.
I expected Gallas to cop a three-match ban and the fact that he has gone off will give the side a big psychological boost going into the Milan game. Although the Frenchman would not have missed the game even if he had been suspended (FA bans only count for FA games, after all) there’s little doubt that a negative outcome would have affected the morale of the team. As such, every Arsenal supporter should be dancing in the streets (or their office) about this news.
Turning the attention to the only game that matters right now – the huge first-leg Champions League tie with AC Milan – and English manager Fabio Capello has predicted Arsenal to shine despite their poor performance at the weekend. Capello, who managed Milan earlier in his career, said he expected three of the players who missed out on the clash with Manchester United, Mathieu Flamini, Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy, to have a huge impact against the Italian side and suggested they could swing the tie Arsenal’s way.
“[Arsenal] were lacking three very important players [on the weekend] who can make all the difference. Milan will need to watch out for Emmanuel Adebayor, who made an immediate impact when he came on [against United].”
Although Capello singled out Adebayor for particular praise I couldn’t agree more with the assertion that the three players in question will make all the difference. You could add Bacary Sagna to that list as well but as I mentioned yesterday the sudden death of his brother means the Frenchman is highly unlikely to play any part of the Milan game. I think most supporters would agree that Sagna should take as long as he needs until he feels up to playing again, because even the world’s best player will struggle to perform if their head is not in the right place.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record now but I think it is worth stating again that Arsenal has not lost this season with Flamini in the starting side and as soon as the little Frenchman is confirmed as a starter I’ll be very confident that the side will get a positive result. Although Flamini will certainly run-on if fit for the match Arsene Wenger has very interestingly hinted that he may also choose to play Gilberto Silva in the middle in an attempt to nullify Milan star man Kaka’s counter-attacking ability.
“We need to be more cautious in the centre than we usually are. [Kaka’s] especially dangerous at counter-attacking. I don’t know if I’ll use Gilberto for him.”
There will be quite a few supporters who will be scared stiff at the thought of Gilberto starting the match – particularly after the Manchester United debacle – but I can certainly see the value of playing all three of Flamini, Fabregas and Gilberto in a five-man midfield. Defensively it would clog up the area of the pitch that Milan are most dangerous – indeed, they have arguably the narrowest midfield out of all the top European sides – as well as allowing the Brazilian to effectively man-mark Kaka for the entirety of the match, while offensively it would allow Fabregas to have a more creative roll and be one of the three main attacking threats along with Alexandr Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor. Additionally, Flamini would be able to excert his energy on the midfield and push forward a little more than usual, something Milan might not expect. As I said, while many people will be crying out for a stock-standard 4-4-2 with Eduardo and Adebayor up front and Gilberto on the bench I can certainly see the merit in Wenger’s potential strategy.
An unpredictable team
There is, of course, no certainty that the manager will set his team out in this manner at all. According to Physio Room there are still six Arsenal players unavailable for this match, namely; Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Manuel Almunia, Denilson, Johan Djourou and of course Robin van Persie. However, while options remain quite limited there is still a huge element of unpredictability about the entire shape of Arsenal’s starting team.
Regardless of whether Wenger goes with 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 he will be forced to choose whether or not Philippe Senderos returns to the centre of defence and Kolo Toure is pushed out wide to account for Sagna’s absence or the Ivorian holds his spot in the middle and Justin Hoyte or even Emmanuel Eboue plays on the right. My suggestion would be the former, particularly after Hoyte’s poor performance against United. While Eboue’s cntribution in the same match was arguably worse than Hoyte’s he at least has the potential to upset Milan with his unpredictable nature and I will be hoping he starts on the right side of midfield. That would mean a middle pairing of Fabregas and Flamini or the trio including Gilberto as well as Hleb on the left.
Up front Adebayor is a certainty while Eduardo’s participation in the game will be dependent on the formation that the manager goes for. Despite supporting Wenger’s reasoning for the potential use of a 4-5-1 I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I hope Arsenal line up in a more attacking 4-4-2. I feel Eduardo’s clinical nature in front of goal will be perfect for a match like this and I’m convinced that a midfield pair of Flamini and Fabregas will be enough to do the job both offensively and defensively.
The final thing to bare in mind is that Milan have significant injury worries of their own. First-choice goalkeeper Dida is out with a back problem and even their second-choice, Zeljko Kalac (Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!) is a massive doubt after dislocating a finger. His absence would mean a start to veteran Valerio Fiori – a player who has made only one appearance in the last eight seasons – a massive blow for Milan and a reasonable boost for Arsenal. On a more positive not for Milan, the Italian side will welcome back Brazilian Pato and should have both Kaka and Clarence Seedorf fit for the clash, so in most departments they are looking good.
This post certainly wasn’t meant to be a match preview and while things have certainly panned out that way I’m still going to refrain from a prediction until tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the build-up to what will be a massive game and make sure you have your say on what you think will unfold by leaving a comment below.
What do you think?
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