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Victory Through Harmony
By Phil Gregory
Well, the second leg our first semi final this season has crept up on us, or at least it has on me, having thought it was being played tomorrow. Not the best of timing really, considering I’m balancing big shifts to finalise the report I’m writing for the Commons Inquiry between Uni commitments (read: skiing), but if you can’t find time for a match preview, what can you do?
So, Ipswich come to the Emirates with a new man at the helm, after their caretaker boss took over for the first leg of the semi-final. There was certainly a bit of fallout from that game which is neither surprising nor unjustified given we lost to a Championship side, and not a great one at that.
That said, much of the furore was around Cesc Fabregas’s “rugby” comments, and poor old Cesc really made a slip-up here. The journalist asked him a question about Ipswich’s playing style, using the rugby comment in the question knowing Cesc was likely to respond at least mentioning rugby. Cesc did, and voila the journalists had their headline of “Fabregas lambastes rugby tactics”, soft old Arsenal don’t like it up ‘em, etc etc.
While we don’t expect much more from the media these days (and indeed while the average Joe foolishly laps that stuff up, they’re within their rights to do it to make their money) it was simply disappointing to see many of our own fans fall for it, and lambaste our Captain for “being soft”.
Anyhow, today is a new day and all that, so let’s have a look at Ipswich. Since beating us, they lost away to Millwall and beat Doncaster at home in the Championship. Looking at their home and away data, they do quite a bit better at home as you’d expect with 6 wins in front of their home fans against only three for the travelling contingent. Travelling to the Emirates, with 50,000 fans behind us (extra seating given to away support – but the game, which is not included on season tickets, is sold out, which says something itself) and yelling at the ref, as well as a pitch that is only going to help our game, I’d expect our home advantage to have significant influence on the game.
As for team news, we know that there are no new injuries from the last game, with a handful of doubts being passed fit. Squillaci and Diaby are back in training on Thursday counting them out of this game but available for the weekend. Rosicky has been ill, rendering him short of full match fitness for this game, while I’m assuming Fabianksi is still out given the lack of mention on ArsenalTV.
Considering some of Wenger’s comments in regards to minor rotation, I’m expecting the following line-up then:
Eboue Djourou Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Chamakh Nasri
Szcznesy continues in the absence of Fabianksi, giving the younger Pole a further opportunity to stake a claim to the number one jersey. Our ever-present and increasingly impressive centre back double act continues at the heart of defence, flanked by Eboue and Gibbs. I’m anticipating the fullbacks however to be rotated for this game. We’ve got fantastic depth in both positions, with Eboue and Gibbs both highly capable deputies, and given the distance our fullbacks cover in a game, it’s a real advantage to be able to rest our first choice players and have complete confidence in the backups.
Give Ipswich have that one nil lead, we can get away with rotating defence as I don’t see them doing much attacking at all. However, we do need to win the game, so I’ve gone for a full-strength midfield, with all of those who played against Wigan appearing in this game too. The next game isn’t until Sunday, so we don’t really risk tiring them out for it either.
Further forward it’s largely a first choice forward line, with only van Persie rested for Chamakh. While I did say earlier we need to win the game, I’m bearing in mind here recent comments of Wenger’s whereby he said he was choosing where to play Van Persie carefully. While the Dutchman is playing brilliantly and would be an asset in unlocking a likely packed Ipswich defence, Chamakh is a highly capable forward, and we could bring Van Persie off the bench if he is needed.
On the whole, while not our strongest eleven, I think that team has more than enough to it for a big win. I’m going for 3-0 to the Arsenal, though it is a tricky one to predict. Much will depend on if we score early: an early goal would force Ipswich to come out and look for an away goal, making it much easier to rack up a comfortable score line. We’ll certainly exceed three goals if we grab one in the first ten minutes; that much is guaranteed in my mind. If however we struggle to score in the first half, Ipswich’s resolve will be strengthened and their players will give absolutely everything to keep that clean sheet, knowing they are in with a real chance of Wembley. In such a case I wouldn’t turn down a scrappy goal or two to force them out but realistically I see us opening them up at home.
We’ll be playing a high line, likely with our defence on the half way line for much of the game. That’ll leave us vulnerable to the ball over the top, even more so than we saw in the first leg. If the fullbacks bomb on playing as auxiliary wingers, there’ll be space down the flanks for Ipswich’s players to receive the ball, and we’ll have less pace in the backline as a whole.
It’s something the team will be aware of after the first leg, and the best defence is simply excellent pressing. If a player is closed down from the front, he is going to struggle to play a decent ball forward, and will likely look to play the ball to someone else who can do so. If those side passes are limited as well by more pressing he may just lump it forwards, hit and hope style. Those sorts of balls will be ideal for our centre backs, who’ll be able to use their numerical advantage to mop up misguided passes without too much difficulty. If we limit their possession by using the ball well ourselves, and limit their ability to use the ball well when they do have it, they’ll get few opportunities to test the pace of our backline.
Enjoy the game, Gunners
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