Games against United have always been special since Arsene Wenger took over as manager and with a Champions League final place at stake tonight’s game at Old Trafford certainly falls in the category. A score-draw would give us a strong chance of finishing the job at home while a win would have us with one big, Arsenal-shaped foot in the final.
Team news going into the game is very interesting with Mikael Silvestre and Kieran Gibbs both doubts to take part. The good news is that Johan Djourou has been cleared to play while Bacary Sagna will surely return to the side after being rested against Middlesbrough. Meanwhile Emmanuel Adebayor, Alex Song and Abou Diaby, who were also rested at the weekend, should join Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott to complete an excellent front six.
I have to say that the manager’s comments regarding Gibbs give me the feeling that he’s preparing to leave the youngster out of the side. He’s mentioned no specific details about Gibbs’ “slight problem” and that suggests to me that he’s going to play Sagna on the left and stick with Emmanuel Eboue on the right. Personally I think it would be the right decision because although Gibbs has done well in Gael Clichy’s absence, there’s a huge risk in putting the responsibility on such a young player to mark Cristiano Ronaldo in a game of this magnitude.
Regardless of who starts tonight, the most important thing is the players put in 100%. With our position in the league safe and a week’s rest between this and the home leg (the weekend clash with Portsmouth simply doesn’t matter) there should be absolutely nothing left on the table at the end of this match. We have a team good enough to score and a defence and midfield good enough to contain United – even at Old Trafford – but only if our players give it absolutely everything they’ve got.
Liverpool and Porto have shown that a high-intensity pressing game is the best way to upset United and that means our midfield five needs to be working extremely hard when we don’t have the ball. When we do have it our passes need to crisp and our touches sharp and look to catch out United through the pace of guys like Adebayor and Walcott. I sincerely believe we have the personnel to get a result away from home but a lot of that will be down to putting in the effort and taking our chances that come our way.
History shows us that United don’t do particularly well when they play at home and it would great to see that trend continue tonight. I read somewhere recently that they’ve only ever come through two knockout ties when they play the home leg first and even in those two they failed to win both home games (1-1 against Juventus in 1999 and 2-2 against Porto in the last round of this competition). I’m not 100% on that statistic but the feeling is that United look a little lost when forced to set the tone of the tie in front of their home crowd and I hope that continues again tonight.
To be completely honest I haven’t looked forward to an Arsenal game as much as this one since the Champions League final in 2006. I absolutely hate Manchester United and the thought of knocking them out to make the final for only the second time in our history is as exhilarating as it is scary. Let’s just hope we can get off to the start we need to come out on top at the end of both legs.
As I final though I just want to say that I think Adebayor is set for an absolutely massive game tonight. I listened to an interview with him on the ESPN website yesterday and he seems really up for it. In my opinion he’s our most likely source of a goal and if the hard-working version of the Togolese man turns up for tonight’s game then I think we could see something special.
Enjoy this one wherever in the world you might be watching and COME ON THE ARSENAL!!!
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