By Phil Gregory.
Here we are then with the final installment of our feast of football. There’s everything still to play for, but after a 2-2 draw at home, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the odds had tipped just a little bit further away from us.
Truth be told, as I said in my previous article this is no standard tie. Conventional wisdom would say that a high score draw at home spells doom, but I’d beg to differ. This team can score two at the Nou Camp, no doubt about it. I won’t dwell on the first leg too much as it has been covered fairly comprehensively on the blogs, but suffice to say as many beers were drank in that first twenty minutes as I did during the rest of that match.
The big questions surround a certain Theodore Walcott. In the aftermath of the first leg, my friend Mike and I were in disagreement about whether he should start the tie in Barcelona. He argued he should, whereas I thought Theo has rarely delivered the goods from a starting berth. My logic being, when he attacks tired legs he has more space and time. Barcelona’s fullbacks, however, left plenty of space from the off: I daresay it seemed Alves spent as much time in our half as theirs. Might Theo be able take advantage from the start?
The other argument for his inclusion from the start is how Theo will affect Barcelona’s set-up. His pace on the break will force Barcelona’s fullbacks to be much more conservative, taking away much of their attacking impetus. Admittedly, if they sit back Theo’s threat could be mostly negated, but let us not forget it is a team game. If Theo can pin their fullbacks further back, the midfield will find it easier to restrict Barcelona’s possession, given the reduction in the Catalan’s options
Decisions, decisions. I’m still not decided as I write!
One thing I am decided on however is Arsenal FC’s resident scapegoat, Denilson, had one of the best games of his career during the first leg. That is no faint praise from me I have a lot of time for the Brazilian, his is a contribution that doesn’t appear on the the TV camera too often, and so can be easily missed. We were so much more solid when he came on, his game intelligence shutting down options and space and generally hindering a Barcelona attack that was just too quick for Song’s ballchasing. Denilson MUST start.
Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
Walcott St Nicklas Rosicky
Decision made: Theo starts for me. There’s some debate over Eboue, and no doubt many of you will disagree with me leaving him on the bench. I had a good mind to start him, with Theo as the supersub. I’ve changed my mind on that front, however, and am going to cutting edge instead. If we are needing a goal, put the Ivorian on at rightback, if we are holding out, sub Theo for him.
Shotstopping maestro Manuel will be between the sticks, while Sol slots into the back four given Song’s injury. Even is Song was fit, I wouldn’t have space for him in midfield, and Sol can marshal the back four. Ibrahimovic’s absence is a big loss for them: their attack lacked a focal point when the Swede went off.
Denilson, as I mentioned will do the holding role and turn the opinion of the D&G brigade in regard to him with a stunning performance as in the first leg. Samir Nasri, not long ago expressing his desire to play centrally, will get his wish in the biggest game of his career to date. The Frenchman has it in him to make us not even notice Cesc’s absence (a la Porto at home), let’s hope he does just that.
Rosicky goes out wide left, while Super Nicklas Bendtner, fresh from his winner late on in what should have been around fifteen minutes of stoppage time, will start up front. Theo Walcott goes wide right.
Up against us won’t be Zlatan, Iniesta, Pique or Puyol. Bojan will likely take the place of the Ibrahimovic (though Thierry replaced him in the first leg). Chgrynskiy, the Ukrainian holding player, won’t step in as he played in the Super Cup tie for Shakhtar before signing for Barcelona,though Yaya Toure is an option if he shakes off a knock. Expect a back four of Maxwell, Marquez, Milito and Alves.
Trying to predict this match is a bit of a fools errand, but sod it. 2-2 on the night, Arsenal to win on penalties. They are playing with but one member of their first choice back four, let’s take advantage. Hit them from the off, pin them back, impose our game on them. We soaked up their pressure, let’s see them do the same to us.
Whatever happens, it’s an occasion to remember. We’re going to the Nou Camp, we’re playing the best team in the world, and we’re missing four of our best players. And yet I couldn’t care less: no excuses, let’s go out there positive, play our football and earn our ticket to the semis.
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