News on the night before the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal at the Emirates offered a boost to Arsenal, with team reports confirming the return of Robin van Persie from injury as the Gunners look to fight back from being 1-0 down and advance past Manchester United and into the final.
Arsenal.com’s Richard Clarke reports that both van Persie and Mikael Silvestre “have improved sufficiently from their groin injuries to participate in training on the eve of the game. The Dutch striker seems to have recovered somewhat better than the French defender, but both will be involved.”
Just how van Persie’s return will affect the lineup or formation for this semifinal remains to be seen, as manager Arsene Wenger hinted that he will wait until some late fitness tests before making such decisions. Will a positive outcome result in a switch to a 4-4-2 setup for this match, after the Gunners 4-5-1 formation failed to fire in the opening leg at Old Trafford?
“Why not?” Wenger stated at a Monday press conference. “But it will depend on who is available.” Speaking on the more traditional two-forward setup that worked well on the weekend (with Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela scoring), the manager added, “I think it looked more threatening and we looked more comfortable. But when you play Walcott on the right you play more 4-3-1-2 anyway. He is a winger not a midfielder so you have to balance the side to be a bit more defensive.”
But, “no matter who starts, what is important is that everybody is focused so they can come on and help the team to qualify,” remarked Wenger. “That’s what we have to produce on Tuesday night — the game worthy of a semifinal. We have to make it hard for them.”
Arsenal, who defeated United 2-1 at the Emirates earlier this season in a league match, will need to score at least two goals to win. That could be tough without Andrey Arshavin in the lineup, as the Russian is Cup-tied for Champions League matches this season. But Wenger is “confident we can beat United by two clear goals because we are 90 minutes away from the final. These are special circumstances because if we go a goal ahead they will be under pressure, knowing that if they concede again they will be out.”
Advancing to the final might also require a clean sheet from the Gunners defense. While many seem to be focusing on the changes in attack for Arsenal, their manager believes that Kolo Toure could be the team’s key player in this contest. With so many defenders out injured, the Ivory Coast international has had to anchor makeshift back fours in recent weeks. With William Gallas and Gael Clichy still out and Silvestre not yet fully recovered, Toure will again be asked to shoulder the load as veteran leader at the back.
Given the season he has had, Wenger believes he will handle it well. “He went through a difficult period because he didn’t always play,” said Wenger. “That shows that all players have to face competition from within the squad and they have to handle that well.
“But Kolo is a fair player. He has given a lot to this club already,” continued Wenger. “As for this game, I feel Kolo has the experience in the Champions League. He has already played in the Final. He is one of the most experienced players at the back and so he will have a vital role to play.”
One of Manchester United’s defensive stalwarts will also return, as reports Monday suggested that Rio Ferdinand is fit to play. That could put extra pressure on the Arsenal attack and could play a role in Wenger’s decision on who to line up against the formidable Man Utd defense.
I, for one, was not so much upset with the 4-2-3-1 formation employed by Arsenal in the first semifinal leg, but wondered why a number of Gunners were playing somewhat out of position. With more players fit and available since that first match at Old Trafford, I’m confident that Arsenal won’t be as stagnant in attack as we saw last Wednesday.
I’d like to see van Persie given at least some time on the pitch tomorrow, as well as young Carlos Vela, who arguably is more of a goalscoring threat than some of his more experienced teammates who did feature in the first leg. I’m also hoping that we see Cesc Fabregas playing deeper in his more natural role and relying on others for support forward.
What do you think? Will we see Fabregas again in “the hole” behind a lone striker? Will youngsters like Bendtner or Vela be given a chance in place of a Diaby or Song? And just who will be playing in the left back position for this match to thwart United’s bursts forward?
Send in your views and comments on how you believe Arsenal can recover from the 1-0 deficit and “work some magic” on a special night at the Emirates to gain another Champions League final!