It’s a hell of a long way to the Ukraine. Part 1

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

Eastmond Wilshere


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.

13 Replies to “It’s a hell of a long way to the Ukraine. Part 1”

  1. I think I would settle for a point from this game. And I wouldn’t take any risks with any injured player. We still have two games to get one win that will see us through to the next round.
    But still think that the players we have over could give us that point. And who knows maybe some European debut for Jay Emmanuel Thomas on the way?

  2. Thanks for the analysis Phil.
    One of the blogs reported that Shakhtar’s coach said that the referee in their match at Ems last fortnight was biased against them. Phil/Walter, what is your take on that?
    For this reason, I would like us to win outright tomorrow. Plus, an outright win will enable us focus on the domestic games coming thick and fast in November and December.

  3. id like to see……

  4. Phil,
    spot on.. top article, i’d rather see chamakh being rested.He s played too much football already for us.Time he deserves a break because he did look a little off colour against the hammers and when nicky b is raring to go why not start with him and put chamakh on thee bench? and maybe eboue instead of eastmond, why put the lad under so much pressure so early?

  5. Phil d’you know if the quartet you mentioned will be back for Newcastle? Or if it’s a longer term thing.

  6. Slim – in case Phil is tied up with academic type things today – I can add a little. For Vermaelen, Diaby, Fabregas, Song and Denilson there is no return date, with each being “assessed” or simply “out for the West Ham game”. The other players all have dates for their return, or a note of when they “return to full training”


  7. Fem Dee, I wouldn’t put too much stock on what the managers say, they’re too inherently caught up in it to be really objective. Check out Walter’s ref review for a view of the game from his point of view as a ref. To be fair, home advantage is mostly based around the ref being swayed by the crowd, so it’s part and parcel of the game. No doubt we’ll most likely see a lot of the 50:50s going against us out in Ukraine this evening.

  8. Ok, so I missed the game, but kept track of it via a min by min commentary. I understand Clichy gifted them the 2nd goal, after switching off again and giving away posession to them on the break. Maybe I’m alone in this, but he doesn’t inspire confidence in me with his defending, attackers breeze past and nutmeg him too frequently. And sure enough, teams prefer to attack us down his side. Even left-sided Chelski probed his side a lot. Apart from Gibbs, who are our alternatives at left back?

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