Arsenal draw Sparta Prague
The Champions League qualifying draw took place yesterday and predictably, Arsenal were handed a tough draw against Czech champions Sparta Prague. Arsenal will play the first leg away in the Czech Republic on August 14 or 15 before returning to the Emirates Stadium for the home leg on August 28 or 29. Arsenal’s club secretary David Miles did mention that the club were reasonably happy with the draw:
‘I think we will be pleased with that, we have played Sparta Prague four times in the last six years in the group stages of the Champions League and are very much looking forward to the trip to Prague.”
I know it’s the Champions League and there are no easy games but when you look at some of the other ties that were drawn it’s easy to feel a little hard done by. I mean, FC Zurich v FC Sheriff/Besiktas for goodness sakes. The key advantage that Arsenal have – as mentioned by Miles – is that there will be no surprises when the two teams meet. Arsenal have played the Czech champions on numerous occasions and should get past them comfortably. It was nice to see Liverpool get a tough draw as well against French side Toulouse. Wouldn’t it be funny to see them slip up after all the money they’ve spent?
Adebayor to miss season opener
Arsenal’s medical staff have some more explaining to do after Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger revealed that the club’s Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor will miss the start of the Premiership season because of the groin injury he picked up during pre-season training in Austria. Wenger conceded that Adebayor will not be featuring in the Amsterdam Tournament and won’t return to training until next week, ruling him out of Arsenal’s first Premier League match against Fulham:
“Adebayor has a groin problem. He missed the Emirates Cup and will miss the Ajax Tournament. At best he will be back next week. We hope he can come back in to normal training on Tuesday and Wednesday. But I think he will miss the start of the Premiership.”
In the short term, the injury is no problem. Young Dane Niklas Bendtner has looked impressive in pre-season and could slot into Adebayor’s spot with consumate ease. The same could be said of Eduardo da Silva or even Alexander Hleb, who has been simply brilliant in his more natural support striker role. But it is worrying to see a big player struggling so early in the season after all the problems that Arsenal had with injuries last season. I would hate to see Adebayor fall down the pecking order because of injury after all the hard work he put in last season and hope to see him back in the side quickly.
How will the team line up against Fulham?
There has been a lot of talk on the blog about what starting line-up Wenger will use for the Arsenal’s opening Premier League game of the season against Fulham. With probable club captain Gilberto Silva still on holiday at that point and the fresh injury to Adebayor the side will have a slightly different feel to it than the first-choice starting team from last season.
Jens Lehmann should start in goal despite Wenger’s continued use of Manuel Almunia and the new signing of Lukasz Fabianski. Recent comments from Fabianski suggest that Lehmann is still first-choice and there’s really no good reason why this shouldn’t be the case at this stage of the season. I’m expecting Arsenal to start with Kolo Toure and William Gallas as the central pair in defence, with Phillipe Senderos just ahead of Johan Djourou as third choice. Bacary Sagna’s impressive performances at right-back should see him get the nod over Justin Hoyte and Emmanuel Eboue, with the latter likely be used further up the field on the right side of midfield. Gael Clichy, who has looked as sharp as anyone so far this pre-season will surely start at left-back.
There’s little doubt that Cesc Fabregas will start in the centre of the park but with Gilberto away the question is about over who will partner him. My personal preference would be Abou Diaby, who was absolutely outstanding against PSG in the Emirates Cup when deployed centrally. We haven’t seen him play since that match but I get the feeling that Wenger will be starting him alongside Fabregas against Ajax as practice for the Fulham game. Tomas Rosicky should get the nod on the left side of midfield but may face some competition from Alexander Hleb. As for the right side, it will either be Theo Walcott or converted right-back Eboue. Personally, I am hoping it will be Eboue as his pace has been electric so far in pre-season and Walcott looked a little flat against Lazio after just returning from injury.
Up front Robin van Persie is a certain starter but the question marks remain over who will line up alongside him. As I mentioned previously, Eduardo and Bendtner have looked promising but I just get the feeling that it will be Alexander Hleb who starts ahead of them in a support striker role. Anyone who has watched Hleb this pre-season will know that he has looked remarkable in his natural position and his experience at the top level should give him the nod over the other two.
I’m sure we will have an even better idea of the team after the match against Ajax which takes place later today. Wenger played a virtual second-string side against Lazio and is likely to put out a much stronger team against the tournament hosts. To be honest, I’m excited about watching Hleb play again. His performances have been a breath of fresh air and I can’t get enough of him – although that may have something to do with him consistently ripping apart my friend’s Manchester United team in Pro Evolution 5 last night. Five goals and four “Star Man” awards from six games means he deserves a little favouritism from me. After all, who needs Thierry Henry when you’ve got “Super Hleb”?
What do you think?
Have your say on Sparta Prague, Adebayor or Arsenal’s starting team by leaving a comment.