Today’s Champions League game against Liverpool at Anfield is the be all and end all for Arsenal’s season as far as I’m concerned. Should they succeed then Arsene Wenger’s side will be just three games away from being crowned Champions of Europe, should they fail then the season is finally over and the silverware cabinet will be empty for the fourth season running.
The players must realise this and respond accordingly. It’s clear that there have been some tired legs running around on the pitch of late and guys like Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini have been worked well beyond their call of duty. But if the boys are too avoid the possibility of ending the season without a trophy then they are going to have to ignore the aches and pains in their bodies and give it absolutely everything against Liverpool tonight.
Tactics will play their part for sure, but the single most important factor in determining whether or not Arsenal succeed tonight will be the physical and mental effort that the players put in. Winning the Champions League has to be the main focus now and the manager must make that clear to his team tonight. The players need to forget completely about the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday and they must absolutely run themselves into the ground. Anything less will mean failure.
Should the players hold up their end of the bargain then the rest will be down to how Wenger gets his side playing. The tie is on a knife-edge after Liverpool’s away goal and I feel the manager will have to get his balance between attacking and defending just right to get the required result.
In my opinion the best way for him to do this is to counter the typical five-man Liverpool midfield with a five-man midfield of his own and utilising his freshest players as the primary attackers. That means draughting Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby into the starting line-up as the two wingers and using Alexandr Hleb as a floating support behind lone striker Emmanuel Adebayor. The fact that Wenger rested both the Belarussian and the Togolese forward on Saturday suggests to me that this is the way he will play and I’ll be crossing my fingers and toes that it is.
Some people may point to Robin van Persie’s return from injury and say that he has to start but I think that it would be best to hold the Dutchman back until the need for a goal becomes pressing. The same can be said of Nicklas Bendtner who has done quite well each of the three times he has featured against Liverpool. Indeed, Wenger should be instructing Adebayor to work Liverpool’s central-defensive pairing from pillar to post in an attempt to open up the game before introducing either van Persie or Bendtner. Considering that the game could go for up to two hours, this might not be the worst idea.
Effort and tactics aside, the thing that Arsenal absolutely must do tonight is take their chances when they come. Over the past three meetings against Liverpool Wenger’s team have largely been the more impressive side and have created enough chances to win all three games. Yet, as Bendtner has pointed out, had Arsenal taken the chances they created then the results would have been different.
If Wenger gets his tactics right and the players give it everything they’ve got and take their chances then Arsenal will get past Liverpool tonight. It sounds like a lot to ask – and maybe it is – but I have every confidence in this side to put in one final effort and get the result they require. I usually go for a prediction of some sort for every Arsenal game but it’s really not worth it this time around.
As I said, I am confident of the boys doing the job, but they really have to be at the top of their game if they want to succeed tonight. Let’s hope they can do it. Come on Arsenal!
What do you think?
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