Arsenal will prepare for their opening Champions League match against UEFA Cup holders Sevilla with the knowledge that a win will make them firm favourites to top their relatively simple group.
The clash at home to Sevilla will be followed by two much simpler games against Slavia Prague and Steau Bucherest. As a result, beating the Spanish side in Matchday One should put Arsenal well on their way to topping the group. Arsene Wenger’s defence may be reshuffled for the third match running with the suggestion that Gilberto Silva is still struggling for fitness and that Philippe Senderos will be returning from suspension.
“I have not decided [about Gilberto] yet. I will decide tomorrow but Senderos is back in the squad.”
It seems to me that Wenger favours Gilberto over Senderos in the centre-back role at this stage and is waiting on the word from the Brazilian that he will be alright. Frankly, I’m not too bothered who starts the match. Gilberto seemed tired at times against Tottenham and if he and Wenger decide he needs a rest then it will be the best decision for the team. If he feels good then I think Gilberto should start.
Another option could be that Senderos starts at the back and Gilberto pushes to the centre of midfield but I highly doubt whether this will eventuate. Wenger would be foolish to remove Mathieu Flamini from the starting team after his tigerish performances of late, and if Gilberto is too tired to play at the back then there is no way he should be playing in the midfield.
Van Persie v Adebayor v Eduardo
One of the areas on the field that many readers of this blog believe should be shuffled around is the forward line. There have been a number of readers suggesting that Robin van Persie should be dropped against Sevilla to allow Eduardo da Silva to partner Emmanuel Adebayor up front. The general notion behind this is that van Persie has been struggling for form – and indeed goals – of late and that Adebayor and Eduardo have clicked quite well during the limited time they have played together.
While I can definitely see the value in playing Adebayor and Eduardo together up front I think Wenger would be unwise to remove van Persie unless he genuinely believes he needs a rest. The guy might be struggling for form a little bit at the moment but I just don’t think it would be smart to change a winning combination for the sake of it. Van Persie might not be scoring at the moment but that does not mean he is not valuable to the Arsenal cause. Indeed, most opposition sides will view van Persie as Arsenal’s best attacker and as such, he commands a lot of attention from his direct opponents which allows his teammates to capitalise.
I’m very open to the idea of Eduardo and Adebayor having an opportunity to work on their partnership, but the opening game of the Champions League is not the time for experimentation. As I mentioned before, three points will put Arsenal well on their way to finishing top of the group and avoiding the bigger clubs in the second round. Baring this in mind, I am hoping and expecting that Adebayor and van Persie start together up front.
Expect the unexpected
Moving the focus to Arsenal’s opponent for a moment, there is no doubt that Sevilla will prove as tough a proposition as the boys have had to face this season. Adebayor mentioned yesterday that every game so far this season is like a new test and the game against Sevilla will be no different. The UEFA Cup holders are a fanastic side who love to play good football so the game should be quite enjoyable to watch. Indeed, Sevilla possess quality all over the park, from goalkeeper Andreas Palop right up to eccentric striker Frederic Kanoute. When you throw in guys like Daniel Alves and Christian Poulsen as well as the much underrated Renato you start to realise just how difficult the game is going to be for Arsenal.
There is also the issue of the recent death of Sevilla player Antonio Puerta. The young Spaniard would surely be making his Champions League debut against Arsenal if it wasn’t for his unfortunate death, and the jury is still out on how his tragic death may affect his teammates or indeed, their opponents. Spanish journalist Inigo Gurruchaga has commented that there is different mood in the Sevilla camp as a result of the death and that it might spell trouble for Arsenal.
“There has been a certain seriousness about the players and when I saw them beat Huelva at the weekend the team didn’t show they were in mourning. They were clinical, it was a very impressive display, despite having the Puerta tragedy hanging over them. They have played very consistently and played very high-quality football.”
Despite this, I am confident that Arsenal can do the job against Sevilla. The boys are in such great form at the moment and a win over the Spanish will not only move them closer to qualification from the group stages, but also ensure that confidence remains high. I feel that Robin van Persie needs a big match to silence his recent critics and I think he will provide that, grabbing a goal or two in what should prove to be an exciting match. 2-1 Arsenal, and plenty of attacking football to be on show.
What do you think?
Have your say on Arsenal’s big clash against Sevilla by leaving a comment.