Three points away to Alkmaar tonight coupled with Olympiacos beating Standard Liege will see Arsenal all but through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Those results would see our boys on 9 points and Olympiacos on 6, with the other two teams on a solitary 1 point and requiring three straight wins from their final games to have any hope of displacing Arsenal from the top two.
Arsenal’s opening Champions League fixture saw a scrappy but courageous comeback win at Liege, followed by a comprehensive dismantling of Olympiacos at home. And while AZ Alkmaar sit on the bottom of Group H with just a point to their name, this could arguably be the most testing fixture Arsene Wenger and his men face in the group stages of the competition even despite our recent good form.
One of the main reasons for that is Arsenal’s current injury situation. Theo Walcott has unsurprisingly been ruled out for three to four weeks (sound familiar?) after damaging his medial knee ligament while the Englishman is joined by Tomas Rosicky on the sidelines, although Wenger confirmed the Czech man will only be out for a few days. That pair are joined by Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo and long-term casualties Denilson and Johan Djourou to give the squad a thinness that we haven’t seen since the opening couple of games of the season. There is good news though – both Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski will be back in the reserve team to play Wolves tonight.
Thankfully the injuries will not stop us from putting out a very strong first team. Wenger has a decision to make regarding Vito Mannone and Manuel Almunia while our first-choice back-four will be fit and ready to start after wing-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy were rested against Birmingham. In midfield it should be the same trio as at the weekend although Wenger might choose to throw in Aaron Ramsey from the start if he sees a need to give one of Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas or Abou Diaby a rest. Meanwhile Rosicky’s knock should open the door for Emmanuel Eboue to play on the right wing with Andrey Arshavin to start on the left. Robin van Persie will of course play up front.
I expect us to win tonight although I would not be unhappy with a draw. As I mentioned earlier a win would almost guarantee qualification to the next round and allow Wenger to rotate the squad for the final few group games, so three points will surely be the priority.
The big bonus for Arsenal going into this game is that this is essentially a must-win encounter for the Dutch team. Sitting back and hoping for a draw will do nothing for their hopes of qualification and if Alkmaar play open, attacking football then we will have the ability to tear them apart on the counter. As such this could be another goal-fest if Arshavin and van Persie find their shooting boots and I’m very much looking forward to watching the game.
Cesc Fabregas Interview
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I managed to get an exclusive interview with Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas – and I want to remind you again that I will be posting this in full later today. Stay tuned while I put the finishing touches on the presentation and enjoy what should be a superb read, one which is exclusive to the Arsenal FC Blog.
Here’s to three points!
Have your say on Arsenal’s game against Alkmaar by leaving a comment.