I don’t need to tell you that it’s Manchester United at home tonight and there’s a Champions League final spot up for grabs. You already know that. I don’t need to tell you that we’re 1-0 down and need to replicate the score or net 3 times if United happen to grab a goal. You already know that too.
But what I will tell you is that that it’s going to take our best performance of the season, perhaps the best performance of the last three seasons, to beat United and make it to the final tonight. Anything less than that and we will fail – it’s as simple as that.
Thankfully we have the team available to get the result we need to win this tie. Robin van Persie has been passed fit and will certain to join Emmanuel Adebayor up front to spearhead an attacking 4-4-2 formation. My feeling is that Cesc Fabregas will drop back to partner Alex Song in the middle of the park, with Abou Diaby making way for Samir Nasri on the left and Theo Walcott completing the front six on the right.
At the back the only contentious issue is whether it is Mikael Silvestre or Johan Djourou who partners Kolo Toure at the back, with Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna set to take up the fullback positions. Personally I would be selecting the taller and pacier Djourou, who played against Portsmouth on the weekend. Manuel Almunia, our hero from the first leg, will of course start in goals.
Going into this game I think it’s fair to say that the tie is balanced at around 65-35 in United’s favour. We have to score and they don’t and that means they definitely have an advantage.
I’m certain that United’s philosophy going into this game will be to focus on defence but look to hit us with the pace of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in order to find the away goal. They won’t care when they get it and I just can’t see them coming out with the same intensity that they did at Old Trafford. Our formation won’t allow it and to be perfectly honest, it would play into our hands.
In my opinion the best way to trouble United at the back is to play a high-intensity pressing game and target their fullbacks. John O’Shea may have scored the winner in the first-leg but he’s far from a brilliant defender and Patrice Evra is not in the best form at the moment. Pressuring the full-backs will force the United wingers back and that means they become less of a threat on the break. Walcott needs to be going at Evra from the first minute and Nasri, although likely to play slightly more defensively to balance Walcott’s attacking role, needs to work to ensure O’Shea stays pegged back.
The key to getting through this tie is to score the first goal. While United will come out with the intention of getting an away goal at any point in the game, leveling the tie will fire up the crowd and massively change the complexion of the game. United will know that any time they push forward they could concede at the back and bagging the first goal might just give us the momentum to go on and win it normal time.
Arsene Wenger has alluded to the notion that it will take a complete team performance to get the job done, but in a game as big as this you have to look to the experienced big guns to put in big performances. That means Adebayor and van Persie up front, Fabregas and Walcott in the middle and Toure and Almunia at the back. It’s important that Walcott plays with real energy and directness to trouble United while the other four need to ensure they lead by example and work hard and stay focused for the entire match. Anything less and we will fall.
It really doesn’t get much bigger than Manchester United in your own backyard for a place in the Champions League final. It’s a huge opportunity for this group of players to show the world what they can do and with nothing else to play for this season, anything less than 100% effort from every member of the team would be unacceptable. At the end of the day that’s all we can ask for as supporters, we just have to hope that it’s enough to get us through what should be an epic contest.
Wherever you are in the world tonight, enjoy the game. I sincerely hope we get the happy ending we’re hoping for.
COME ON ARSENAL!!!!!!!
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