Shakhtar vs Arsenal preview
by Phil Gregory
Off the back of a deserved late winner against West Ham at the weekend, Arsenal are off to Eastern Europe. Not usually the most lucrative of hunting grounds for us, a solid victory in Belgrade earlier in the European campaign hopefully marks a new beginning for Arsenals travails in the region. After beating the Ukrainians 5-1 at home, most Arsenal fans are fairly confident to get the away win that ties up the group, but again I’m cautious.
For the home leg, I only predicted a cagey victory for us, so was certainly surprised when the goals started flying in. Shakhtar are not a poor side, and with typically Eastern European atmosphere behind them, they will certainly pose problems.
Much of the problems that Shakhtar faced at the Emirates were self-imposed, with two potent attackers in Da Costa and Eduardo named on the bench. In my previous preview, I mentioned their strength going forward, and they didn’t seek to use this. Ultimately, by setting up more conservatively Shakhtar invited us onto them, and opportunity we were always likely to take.
You could see their reasoning as a draw would’ve have been a bad result for them, so set up not to lose the game. Sitting deeper allowed them to limit the space behind their back four, but led to them effectively ceding the middle of the park to us, as their midfield in turn had to sit deeper to limit the space between themselves and the defence. Gifting Arsenal possession in the middle of the pitch is never a good idea, but given the personnel at their disposal, they didn’t really have the legs to try a pressing game against us.
At home, they won’t have this problem so much. They’re likely to come at us playing in front of their own fans, and will look to play the ball and cause our defence problems. How this plays out in reality will depend on the quality of the midfield play from both teams on the day: by looking to move the ball forwards, they’ll leave much more space in behind that we can exploit if they are lax with possession. If however they move the ball well, we could find our forward players doing more running than they are used to, and taking up deeper positions than they are used to.
In regards to the group, a draw would be absolutely fine for us. We’ve got vastly superior goal difference to Shakhtar, and even if it came down to head-to-head results they wouldn’t have a hope of overhauling us after the result at the Emirates (touch wood). Naturally a win would be great to get the group nicely tied up, but if Arsène has any doubts whatsoever in his mind about the fitness of a player, he won’t play them given the low stakes involved in this match and the quality of the alternatives available.
The case in point of that would be Cesc, who’s been left in London with a hamstring issue. Joining him seems likely to be Alex Song, who has a calf problem that’s subject to a late test. Arshavin and Denilson complete a quartet of casualties since West Ham.
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Walcott Chamakh Rosicky
The back five picks itself, with Fabianski deservedly continuing in place of the injured Almunia and Vermaelen’s absence mitigated by the impressive Squillaci. With the sudden depletion of our midfield options, Wilshere is a dead cert to start, while I’d expect Nasri to takeover for Cesc, and Eastmond to fill the holding role.
There’s more of a debate wide right, with Nasri having played there against West Ham. After an impressive appearance off the bench, I think Theo might be preferred there to punish Shakhtar on the break. Given the injuries that have sapped our strength in midfield and the fact we are playing away, we may even see Eboue wide right. I also have Chamakh continuing up top, but given the amount of games the Moroccan has put in since the start of the season, he might be left on the bench and Bendtner may well get the nod.
All in all that makes for a significant number of changes, many of which are enforced. I’d imagine there is an element of caution in that decisions being taken, if it were a semi-final a couple of the injured players would be considered fit to play.
I’m loathe to give a prediction for this game. Sitting in my girlfriend’s flat with the commentary on and the game approaching the last few minutes still goalless, I was suitably agitated. After expressing surprise that Song was still on the pitch given we were chasing the game, the Cameroonian only went and scored the winner a minute later, leading to a much-amused “I thought you wanted him taken off?” from my girlfriend. Can’t really argue with that.
I’m going for a 1-1 draw. I’d probably have expected us to grab a narrow win but with due respect to Shakhtar and our wounded, I’m settling for a scoring draw.
- But it was all so different in the past. Making the Arsenal: available from Amazon.co.uk but for a signed copy dedicated to whoever you want just order from the publishers (follow the link) and add details of the dedication wanted to your order.
- Arsenal History: Arsenal’s origins – currently telling the story of the end, the very end, of Woolwich Arsenal
- Untold Arsenal on Facebook here
- Untold Arsenal Index: silly stuff, serious stuff, and sociology
- Arsenal Worldwide: supporting Arsenal from outside the UK
- Arsenal Independent Supporters Association show your support, be part of changing the club
- Does Arsenal really have a mega injury crisis ahead of Tottenham game?
- 2022-23 Womens Champions League – Ajax v Arsenal (second leg
- The stupidest thing said about Arsenal this week
- WSL North London Derby – reflections on the game at the Emirates
- Arsenal have not got the youngest team in the PL. Or have they?