Looking to reverse the result of the recent FA Cup semifinal encounter in the upcoming Champions League semi against Manchester United, Arsene Wenger stated that the European competition’s format will call for his Gunners side to be audacious in the away leg on Wednesday.
One would think that a team with a depleted defense facing a major European semifinal clash on the road would opt for a cautious approach for such a match, but Wenger’s sides, of course, have always favored the attacking option.
“At this level you have to be audacious away,” said Wenger, referring to the advantage of goals from visiting sides in the Champions League knockout stages. “The weight of the away goal in European football could be discussed I feel. It may be a little bit too heavy.
“We have spoken about it, maybe making it a Carling Cup rule where it only comes in at extra time,” he continued in an interview for the club’s official web site. “At the moment you are encouraged to be very cautious at home but very audacious away from home.”
It sure wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wenger’s men pressing forward in the encounter at Old Trafford on Wednesday, but what might surprise some is the strategy employed by the Frenchman the last game or two, where Cesc Fabregas was moved into more of an advanced role to help bolster the attack.
We have seen this ploy with Fabregas used by the manager this season, and I for one had not been too impressed by the results, with Cesc not making much of an impact in some matches when used this way. But the difference these past two instances has been the choice to deploy Samir Nasri in Fabregas’ natural role of lying deeper as a playmaker, which has resulted in success (evidenced by the brace for Fabregas on Sunday).
As Wenger told http://www.arsenal.com, “Usually Fabregas plays deeper with Nasri higher. I wanted to test how it would work the other way around. It could be reiterated that we will do it again because it was quite convincing. But that is open; we have 48 hours to study that then make a decision,” he added.
Since Andrey Arshavin is unavailable for the Champions League matches, I can see why the manager is considering this option for Wednesday while looking for additional ways to worry the formidable Manchester United defense. But I’d still offer that Cesc is not suited to that more advanced role the way a Dennis Bergkamp or Arshavin was/is, and the Spaniard is more able to control a match from his deeper slot. With only one “striker” up top and Cesc in “the hole” in a match like this, I’d wager there’s more a chance we see less from the Arsenal attack than what resulted on Sunday against Middlesbrough, as the Man Utd defense might welcome such a setup from their semifinal opponents.
But, then again, it’s been the versatility and “interchangeability” among Wenger’s players that has played to his advantage over the years, so some switching among roles back and forth throughout a match like this might be the way to confuse the opponent enough to nick an important away goal. With both teams and both managers very familiar with the opponents, it might just take that slight change in setup to make the difference as to who advances to the final. Wenger admits that Sir Alex Ferguson knows of the Arsenal approach, but believes that Fergie “will think it will be an exciting game between two teams who try to play. We know each other well but still the talent on the pitch always surprises you. But I believe that both teams will go for it and it will be an exciting game.”
“If you go to Old Trafford without belief you make it very difficult from the start,” claimed Wenger. “We’ll go there with belief, with desire and with enjoyment as well. We enjoy being where we are.”
Sunday’s win over Middlesbrough only seemed to add to the Gunners’ belief and confidence. Speaking after the Sunday win over Middlesbrough in preparation for the big mid-week match, Wenger believed it “was a very good game against a Middlesbrough team who played in a very positive way. We dominated it and we made some brilliant passing, some brilliant combinations. The first goal was absolutely outstanding and you could see that the team enjoy the way we play and loved the game.”
Tune in here tomorrow for more buildup to the CL semi, with an injury update as well as a look on positional matchups that could be key in determining who will head to Rome for this year’s final.