Arsenal vs Shakhtar
By Phil Gregory
The first mistake most fans seem to be making in regards to this game is taking their ignorance of Eastern European’ to mean that those teams aren’t up to much.
Shakhtar aren’t a soft touch, by any means. There’s a lot of money in certain Eastern European countries, of which Ukraine and Russia are notably wealthy. In Russia in particular, many of the club’s are sponsored by a wealthy oligarch or an oligarch-owned giant gas/oil company. That’s fed through in terms of performance, with both Zenit and Shakhtar winning the UEFA Cup (as it was known then) recently, while the former comprehensively outplayed Manchester United in the European Super Cup not too long ago.
That is to say nothing of their current domestic form: eleven wins out of thirteen matches played. With both Arsenal and Shakhtar having won both of their matches to date, the winner of this tie will be well on their way to the reaching the knock-out stage
While I can’t profess to be an expert on the nuances of Eastern European football, I do know a few of Shakhtar’s players. Brazilian Willian is a pacey, tricky wide attacker not too unlike our own Arshavin. Douglas Costa was strongly linked with a big-money move to Manchester United after being hailed as the next big thing from Brazil.
Srna captains Croatia and can play anywhere along the right-hand side. He’s another who has been heavily linked with some big sides in the past, with Chelsea’s Eastern European connections seeing them the most commonly cited as being interested. And then of course, there’s Eduardo Da Silva.
The knock Koscielny picked up before the Birmingham game still keeps him out, while Almunia and Van Persie are no nearer a return. Walcott injured a toe in training, but is expected to be able to take part in the game.
Eboue Squillaci Djourou Clichy
Walcott Chamakh Arshavin
The injury returnees and a couple of other issues make the line-up harder to predict than normal. I’ve gone for the same back five as played against Birmingham, I can’t see why Wenger would rotate in this game and he lacks alternatives in most of the positions anyway.
I’m unsure whether Wenger will use Wilshere, either. He can select Jack if he desires (the ban only applies to domestic games) but after the controversy around his tackle I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsène decided to take him out of the media gaze considering we have options. Much will surely depend on Cesc Fabregas. He’s been declared fully fit, and if Wenger thinks a start would do him good before playing City away, I’d expect him to come in for Jack.
Theo goes wide right in place of Nasri, to give the Frenchman a bit of a breather. Chamakh continues up top, while Arshavin completes the attack.
Getting the three points here would be excellent. It almost feels like a two-legged tie, given our next European game is against the same side. Three points here would put no pressure on us heading to the away leg, which will certainly be a tricky game.
By no means am I taking the three points tonight, Shakhtar will be a tight, tight game. As such, I’m expecting it to be decided by a single goal. Given we seem incapable of keeping clean sheets, I’m going to plump for 2-1 to the Arsenal instead of my original feeling of 1-0
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