With just 24 hours remaining before the “biggest match of the season” at Manchester United in the Champions League semifinal, some additional injury news have hit the Arsenal team for their travel north for the first leg of the European competition.
Manager Arsene Wenger has mentioned that defender Kieran Gibbs is struggling with ankle and groin injuries and could be a doubt for the match at Old Trafford, further weakening the Gunners defense. With William Gallas gone for the season and Gael Clichy out with a back injury, Gibbs has filled in admirably the past few weeks at left back. With Mikael Silvestre also a question mark for the match, Wenger is hoping one of the two will feature tomorrow at the back alongside Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou — who did make it through training on Tuesday.
Captain Cesc Fabregas also made it through training OK on Tuesday, according to reports, but Wenger did note that Robin van Persie will not be available due to injury and Eduardo could potentially also be left out. That could mean that young Mexican Carlos Vela would be included in the team, although in one of the more bizarre news items relating to the Gunners’ injury front, Vela actually spent a day in quarantine and away from team training this week.
The 20-year-old had been visited by some friends from Mexico, where more than 150 deaths have been blamed for the swine flu-like virus that has been spreading across the globe. But he has since been cleared to rejoin the squad (on Tuesday), and would be available to play.
With Andrey Arshavin Cup-tied and not available for Champions League matches, it will be interesting to see Wenger’s lineup for tomorrow. I think we may see some form of a 4-5-1 formation from Arsenal, with Song in front of the back four, then Cesc and Diaby in the middle and Nasri and Walcott out wide … with Adebayor up front. And I have a feeling we may just see Eduardo at some point in the match, with Wenger counting on the Brazilian-Croatian’s guile and experience to pop up in the box and nick an important away goal.
Much of the pre-game banter from “experts” has centered on the major task for the bare-bones Arsenal defense to go against the imposing attack from Manchester United, with some focusing on that weak situation at left back for the Gunners being a major disadvantage.
But I believe that right-winger against left-back confrontation will be a key position for both sides, as Theo Walcott vs. Patrice Evra could be just as important as Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Gibbs/Silvestre in deciding the outcome of the match/semi. Walcott has certainly gained in confidence since his return to action, and his speed does cause some problems for opponents.
If there’s an advantage for the Gunners in any area in this contest it would be overall pace on the pitch, one aspect that seemed too much for Villareal to handle the last round.
But the depleted back four and inexperience in some positions have to be overcome for Arsenal to head home with a solid chance at getting to their second Champions League final in four years. Still, veteran Kolo Toure Kolo Toure believes that all the pressure lies on the shoulders of Manchester United in this Champions League semifinal.
The Ivorian told Arsenal.com’s Richard Clarke that his Arsenal side “can ‘play free’ at Old Trafford because Sir Alex Ferguson’s team are not only the reigning champions but favourites to lift the trophy again this year. The centre back also argues that football without shackles will be Arsène Wenger’s best tactic on the night.”
Toure added that “we are going there to do the best we can, playing free and passing the ball. We know when we play football against Man United, they struggle a lot.
“They are a really good team going forward but at the back they have conceded a few goals, like us,” he continued. “We have the same type of team – we both like to play but sometimes you can be caught out at the back. I think the team that will win will be the one that defends the best. A clean sheet in the first leg would be fantastic but they are a really strong team and they can score at any time. But we will go there and give 100 per cent.”
Considering that Porto was able to score twice at Old Trafford in the last round, I can certainly see Arsenal scoring at least once in this away leg. And I’ll be a bit daring and forecast a 2-1 win for the Gunners.
So, now you have seen my predictions for Arsenal’s formation and for the final score for tomorrow’s big match. What are your views and predictions for this huge encounter against Manchester United?