Three weeks ago a disastrous performance by Lukasz Fabianski allowed FC Porto to come away with a 2-1 first-leg lead against us.
Tonight our team must overturn that deficit to book a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and we will have to do it without Cesc Fabregas.
The captain’s hamstring tweak means he misses out with the extra responsibility of creative midfield duties likely to fall to Samir Nasri. The Frenchman put in a superb performance against Burnley on Saturday after moving central as a result of Fabregas’ substitution and he should be supported from more defensive positions by Alex Song and Abou Diaby.
Nasri has a real platform to show us what he is made of tonight.
His move from Marseille to Arsenal has seen him go from star man to a medium-sized fish in a big pond but he was not touted as France’s great hope a few years ago for nothing. He is a fighter and a natural leader, a player that relishes responsibility and is the most like-for-like replacement for our captain. If he plays well tonight it will send a clear message to the club and the supporters that a very special career for Arsenal may still be on the cards.
Song’s return is a no-brainer but there is an argument to be made for Denilson’s inclusion given that Diaby has only just returned for injury and did not start on the weekend. However, with the team requiring goals I feel the Frenchman will get the nod over the Brazilian and look to hurt Porto with his surging runs from the heart of midfield.
In defence Sol Campbell returns to the team to partner Thomas Vermaelen, while the need for stability over style should see Emmanuel Eboue benched and Bacary Sagna reinstated on the right. Gael Clichy should will play on the left while Manuel Almunia, who participated in the pre-match press conference, will captain the team from between the sticks.
Up front Nicklas Bendtner will have the opportunity to put Saturday’s shocker behind him while support on the flanks could come from a number of players. Personally I feel the manager will plump for a combination of experience and pace and that means Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott with Andrey Arshavin, Eduardo and Eboue providing possible impact from the bench.
I’m a little bit at a loss to try and predict what sort of game tonight will be.
Porto will know that it could very easily be a repeat of last season’s 4-0 win at The Emirates if they let us take control of the game, so it will interesting to see how they respond to that threat. Will they play a counter-attacking game in the hope of locking us out at the back and sneaking an away goal of their own? Or will they play the sort of attacking game that allowed them to grab a deserved 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season?
It is worth noting that despite Porto’s victory in the first leg they certainly didn’t show themselves to be a brilliant side. Although our performance was poor and we deserved to lose, the feeling I get is that if our boys can play near the best then we will simply have too much attacking power for the Portuguese side to handle.
An interesting night awaits.
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