Arsenal will go into tonight’s Champions League clash with Steaua Bucherest with the knowledge that a win will not only keep them top of the group but also condemn Steaua manager Massimo Pedrazzini to the sack.
Before moving on to a preview of the game against the Romanian champions, there are some lose ends to tie up with regards to Arsenal’s weekend Premiership win away to West Ham. After the match, Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy was asked whether he thought the current side could get through the season unbeaten like the ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04. Clichy responded that this Arsenal side are not worried about staying unbeaten but just want to finish as close to the top of the Premiership table as possible.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be unbeatable but I’m sure we’re going to be up there at the end of the season. The objective is not to be unbeatable really but to finish as close as possible to first place. The rest is a bonus.”
He’s absolutely right. When you look back at Arsenal’s unbeaten season a few years ago you see 26 wins and 12 draws; a total of 90 points. Compare that to the last three seasons winners tallies of 89, 91 and 95, you start to realise that not losing isn’t everything. Essentially, winning titles it more about turning draws into wins than it is turning losses into draws and for that reason it is not necessary or even desirable to have the mentality of wanting never to lose. What is desirable is the mentality of always wanting to win.
Scoring first is vital
Winning titles is what it’s all about and if the Arsenal side that went unbeaten for an entire season had not won the Premiership, then their lovely unbeaten run would have meant nothing. Thankfully it did mean something, and we can look back on it with the fondest of memories. Clichy also spoke about about what he believes to be the difference between the side so far this season as opposed to the last few.
“It was the type of win we didn’t get last season. In these types of games you do not get a lot of chances so you just need to try to take the first one and then keep it. We tried to score but 1-0 down they have to play but we had good counter-attacks.”‘
Again, he’s absolutely right. The big problem Arsenal had in the last few seasons and the one just passed in particular, was a tendency to always concede first. Most times the side was able to come back from a goal or two down but by going behind too often they spend too many matches turning losses into draws rather than turning draws into wins. So far this season the boys have been able to turn fixtures like the ones Manchester City, West Ham and Portsmouth into wins because they never went behind.
What’s more, in a lot of games this season Arsenal have not only scored first, but scored early on. This has forced their opponents to play attacking football, something that, as Clichy mentions, gives Arsene Wenger’s side the opportunity to hit hard on the break and put the result beyond doubt with a second goal. There will always be occasions when the opposition does score first, Fulham at home and Tottenham away for example, and Arsenal has been fortunate to come away with three points on both occasions. But if Wenger’s side continues the habit of scoring first then they will surely remain in the hunt for the Premiership title.
Injury list a worry for Steaua clash
Moving onto the Champions League and Arsenal are waiting on late fitness tests to determine whether or not Alexander Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mathieu Flamini, Abou Diaby or Robin van Persie will be available for the Matchday 2 clash with Steaua Bucharest.
“Adebayor has a kick on his thigh. Van Persie has more chance to play than him at the moment. I will adapt up front if one of them is a little bit short but at least one of the two will be capable to play. [Hleb] is 50:50. But much better than expected. Hleb, Diaby, Adebayor, Van Persie and Flamini – all those decisions will be made tomorrow.”
I think it is virtually impossible to predict who will start from that quartet but I’m going to give it a punt and say that van Persie, Flamini and Diaby will start the game with Hleb on the bench and Adebayor possibly missing out on the squad entirely. That’s a pretty wild guess though, so don’t get angry at me when it turns out to be completely wrong.
There are a couple of things that can be deciphered from Wenger’s rather cryptic comments and that is that the entire defensive line should remain unchanged from the game against West Ham. Also, Eduardo da Silva should get a start. Personally, I’ll be hoping that Gilberto Silva starts in defence in the place of Philippe Senderos but with a question mark over Flamini his role may lie in midfield, alongside Cesc Fabregas.
Pedrazzini’s future in Arsenal hands
It will be great to see Eduardo in the starting lineup and I feel that he may just be suited to the limited quality of the Romanian champions could see him run riot. He’s looked quite sharp when called upon so far in the Champions League with two late goals against Sparta Prague and Sevilla and supporters shouldn’t be surprised if the Croatian weighs in with a goal or two. Steaua Bucharest manager Massimo Pedrazzini will be hoping that this is not the case after a proclamation from club owner Gigi Becali that the Italian will be sacked if Steaua lose to Arsenal. Understandably, Pedrazzini is unhappy with the situation, mentioning that not even Chelsea’s recently departed manager Jose Mourinho could complete the task that he has been assigned.
“Becali should say to Mourinho: ‘You are coach of Steaua, you have three matches. You win them, you stay. You lose one of them, you go’. And he also should tell him that one of these matches is against Arsenal. Even Mourinho would have big problems. Nobody can perform miracles.”
It’s just another example of a European football club with unreasonable and frankly unintelligent leadership. Unfortunately for Pedrazzini I am expecting his side to not only lose, but lose heavily. The Romanians are one of the weaker sides in the Champions League and with Arsenal in top form at the moment there can only really be one outcome. As I mentioned earlier I just get the feeling that if Eduardo has a goal or two in him if he starts the match and I expect the likes of Bacary Sagna and the aforementioned Clichy to peg back the Steaua midfield and ensure a 3-0 win for Arsenal.
Before I go I just want to give you another reminder about the competition I have running where you can win a free shirt of your choice – generously donated by Arseshirts – by coming up a name for the new Arsenal FC Blog eMagazine that I will be launching in just under a week’s time. You can read all about the competition and how to enter here. Good luck, and be sure to check out the shirts on offer by clicking on the Arseshirts link on your right. Cheers!
What do you think?
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