The Easter breather is over now and it’s time to look ahead to an exciting and intriguing week of football. Indeed, with the return leg against Villarreal on Thursday and a trip to Wembley to play Chelsea on Sunday, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that it will be the defining week of of our season. By Saturday night we could be in the semi-finals of the Champions League and in the final of the FA Cup and even despite our mixed league campaign, it wouldn’t be a bad outcome by any stretch of the imagination.
The bad news going into such a huge week is of course the decimation of our defensive options due to the recent injuries to William Gallas, Gael Clichy and Manuel Almunia as well as Johan Djourou who went off at the weekend. However, despite the unavoidable problems at the back, Arsene Wenger has come out and said that he wants our boys to be positive and play their usual game against Villarreal despite the fact that a clean sheet will see us through. In his own words:
“We want to be decisive but you can only do that if you decide to play in a very positive way. I don’t believe that we are a team who can play for 0-0, that’s not our natural way. I expect some strength from us to say, ‘listen, we have the opportunity to get to the Semi Final at home, let’s take it’.”
Although it’s undoubtedly the type of attitude you want the players to show on Thursday you do have to wonder at what sort of impact the injuries in defence will have. Lukasz Fabianski is still inexperienced and was far from convincing against Wigan while the same could be said of Kieran Gibbs. And while Mikael Silvestre scored on Saturday there was a significant amount of rust on his overall defensive performance.
I feel the manager’s ability to get the balance between experience and talent right at the back will play a huge part in us going through. I’ve had a long, hard think about what I would do in his situation and the best outcome that I could procure was a central pairing of Kolo Toure and Silvestre flanked by Emmanuel Eboue at right-back and Bacary Sagna on the left. All four players have experience in the Champions League and all four players would be comfortable in those positions. For those unaware, Sagna played on the left at times for Auxerre and Wenger has commented on his ability to play anywhere along the back four on more than one occasion.
Although that’s the defensive structure I would go for, the manager does have other options. He might feel Gibbs is up to it and start him on the left, while Alex Song might drop into the centre of defence and push Silvestre out wide. Personally I will be hoping Wenger sticks with Song in the midfield as his performances of late have been too good to ignore and I feel a shift to the back would upset the balance in his game. As always though, the final decision comes down to the manager.
I have to say I’m getting just that little bit excited about the Villarreal game. It’s a contest that we should really win and the thought of making the semi-finals of a competition we’ve never won is very nice indeed. To think that we might be in there and Manchester United and Liverpool both out is perhaps just that little bit nicer, too. Heh heh.
I’ll have a full match preview tomorrow but enjoy yourselves in the meantime and let me know what you think of the defensive situation via the comments.
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