It’s Villarreal in the Champions League tonight and there is a fair bit of excitement buzzing around my body in the build-up to this game. And while the tie can’t be decided tonight a good result in Spain will see us take a big step towards the semi-finals with the second leg to be play at The Emirates.
The very excellent news has come through that both Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott will play, making the absences of Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie far less of an issue. Given that Walcott’s knee injury seems to be more to do with pain than a restriction of movement, I’m fully expecting Arsene Wenger to go with the 4-5-1 that functioned so effectively against Manchester City, with the one change of Nasri slotting in for Arshavin.
The combined midfield anchor of Denilson and Alex Song will provide defensive stability to our back four, leaving the dynamic attacking triangle of Cesc Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott to help out Emmanuel Adebayor up front. I’d go so far as saying it’s as good a team as we could play even without the various injuries in our squad, given that the manager rarely plays two up front in European away games and Adebayor is the best lone-striker at our disposal. You could probably find a spot in there for Arshavin if he was available but aside from that it’s an extremely well-balanced unit.
The emphasis on this game will be to play relatively conservatively and hit Villarreal on the break through the pace of Walcott and Adebayor and the passing of Fabregas and Nasri. The impetus will be on Villarreal to score at home and in players like Guiseppe Rossi, Llorente and Robert Pires (read his pre-game thoughts here) they certainly have the players at their disposal to get that goal, even despite the significant loss of Santi Cazorla, the man described by Marcos Senna as Villarreal’s more important player.
I believe the return of Adebayor and Fabregas combined with the absence of Cazorla makes us favourites for this game, and in many ways I’m almost expecting us to win. I know it’s a little dangerous to make that sort of statement, but from what I’ve seen of them Villarreal aren’t a particularly dangerous aerial threat – an area of the game we sometimes struggle with – and if they play their normal passing game then I think it will suit us perfectly. They’re not on a good run of form just at the moment while we are and I full expect us to carry that momentum into this game.
The key to us getting the result we desire is to defend compactly without possession and look to move the ball swiftly when we break forward. With Song and Denilson set for purely defensive roles a lot of the impetus will be on Fabregas to provide the creative inspiration, but I think the likes of Walcott and Nasri need to really step it up in Spain. Nasri has a habit of sometimes being caught on the periphery in Champions League games while Walcott still has issues with consistency, but the two of them need to provide a threat tonight to take some pressure off Cesc.
So, what’s going to happen? Well as you can probably gather from this post I’m feeling confident. I really feel that the balance of the side likely to start is just about right and it can see us grab a really positive result. Some people will say a draw would be good but I really think we’ll keep a clean sheet and if our midfield can fire than 1-0 is very realistic and 2-0 is not as farfetched as it sounds. As always though, we’ll have to wait and see.
An exciting night awaits, a huge opportunity presents itself. Will we take it? I think we might.
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