Alkmaar vs Arsenal preview by Phil Gregory
Arsenal travel away to Alkmaar on Tuesday, searching for a third consecutive win in group H. Alkmaar, managed by Dutchman Ronald Koeman, lie bottom of group H with a single point after the first two fixtures.
As a manager, the former Dutch international is a bit of an enigma. An initially successful spell at Ajax ended with his resignation as results turned sour. Koeman moved on to Portugal, taking control at Benfica for a year (finishing 3rd in his single season at the Portuguese club) before then being appointed manager at PSV.
Back in Holland, he again started the season strongly, before results once more petered out as the season went on, ultimately losing out on the title on the final day of the season despite leading the table for the majority of the campaign. Most recently, Koeman is the main credited with the frankly incredible achievement of taking a Valencia team who boasted such talents Villa, Mata and Silva to a fifteenth placed finish in La Liga, a mere two points above the relegation places.
As such, it is with a fairly poor managerial record that Koeman took the reins at Alkmaar. An opening day defeat away to Heracles Almelo did little to reassure supporters, but four consecutive wins in the league seemed to silence any doubters. However, since a defeat to Olympiakos (a match which the Dutch side dominated territorially, yet conceded a goal to one of Olympiakos’ few scoring chances) the results have nosedived, and they sit sixth, eleven points off the pace.
Where to start for Arsenal? The win against Birmingham wasn’t as emphatic as I had predicted, but it did seem that the rigours of international week affected the Gunners much more than Birmingham, many of whose players were afforded a rest as they weren’t involved with the national side.
Three points, three goals and the fullbacks rested is not a bad situation to be in though! We are continuing to score freely: I’m a big believer in goals from midfield being what wins titles, and that’s exactly what we have been getting so far this season.
I could quote the goal stats over the last few games, but we all know they are phenomenal. Instead, I’m going to attempt to debunk the “Arsenal’s dodgy defence” myth somewhat. Compared to any of the other teams around is in the table, we’ve conceded more goals (11, compared to 9,8, and 8) except Tottenham, who’ve shipped 13.
We’ve not exactly conceded many more, despite having played harder games against the top teams (Everton, City and United away). City have arguably had the next hardest fixtures: Arsenal at home, United away and Villa away, easier than our three away games.
Then, if we look at the goals conceded: we were six to the good when we conceded against Everton, United got a penalty and an own goal etc. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this: the defence isn’t perfect, but lets not all jump on the bandwagon too!
Walcott is definitely out for the next three weeks, and Bendtner and Eduardo are out, though Clichy should return. Long term absentees Nasri, Denilson and Djourou are still out, though Fabianksi is expected to be back in the fold.
Unfortunately there is no injury news in this blog for Alkmaar as their site is in Dutch only. However we have heard today that the bank that sponsors the club have gone into liquidation.
With a mere two days rest since their last game, Arsenal will be looking for the early goal in order to save their legs, with a win effectively tying the group up. As such, the free-scoring Robin Van Persie will be one such player capable of providing the early goal, while Alex Song will be offering a formidable shield to the back four during what is expected to be a hard-fought away game.
Abou Diaby, the subject of much criticism from Arsenal fans, has all the attributes to prosper in a hostile environment, and will be looking to take advantage of transitions in play to break away.
AZ Alkmaar will be looking towards pacy front man Moussa Dembélé for their goals this season. The Belgian striker was linked with many of the top clubs in Europe during the summer window, and will hope an impressive showing will put him in the shop window for a big move next summer. Thomas Vermaelen should be confident of keeping him quiet, having played against him when at Ajax as well as with him with the Belgian national team.
Arsenal predicted line-up:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy
Eboue Van Persie Arshavin
Subs: Almunia, Silvestre, Gibbs, Ramsey, Merida, Vela, Wilshere
It’s always a nightmare writing this part of the column for the European matches, as I submit the article before final team news comes out. I expect Mannone to continue in goal, he wasn’t at his best on Saturday, but neither has Almunia been all season.
It’ll be a real asset having the fullbacks rested, as they will be expected to put in a shift on Tuesday to make up for the tired legs of others. Expect the same midfield three, with Ramsey to come on if we are looking comfortable. The bench resembles a nursery with Eduardo and Bendtner out, but in terms of ability, we have gamechangers waiting to come on.
Very tricky this. We are on a great run of form, but the team weren’t at their best on Saturday, and are only going to be more tired on Tuesday. That said, Alkmaar are coming into the game on a very poor run of form and seem devoid of belief and direction. I’m going to go for a tight 1-0 to the Arsenal, but would be happy to be wrong if it meant us scoring more.
Rafa Benitez: how long is he going to last? Liverpool’s midfield was an absolute embarrassment against Sunderland, and the Mackems took a deserved three points. I personally blame Benitez for some of their troubles: his attempt to sell Alonso for Barry undoubtedly helped the Spaniard to accept Real’s offer and Rafa’s rotating door, hit and miss transfer policy has slowed down their progress. How long can the man live off Istanbul?
Postscripts.... When and how did the modern Arsenal start? The answer was 1910 – and the full details of what happened that year are revealed for the first time ever in MAKING THE ARSENAL. You can read more about the book at www.shop.firstandbest.co.uk – click on the cover picture and you can read about the book, and if you are interested, order a copy.
Meanwhile over at www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk you can read the daily blog about Arsenal’s world 100 years ago.
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The author: Phil Gregory is a 20 year old student at the University of Leeds. Studying Economics and French, he’s been a Gunner since he got interested in football at a young age, and plans on being a regular at the Arsenal away games in the North this season.
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