Champions League Matchday 3 sees us make the short trip along the Eurostar to Belgium, where we line up to face Anderlecht tonight. But before I go into some thoughts on the game, a little rant, if I may…
This morning I was up early driving back from the inlaws (Management has broken her wrist and so she is being ferried to and from her work by Senior Management) when I heard full chapter and verse about the “amazing atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The Real Madrid players will have played all over the world, but this will be special” and I wondered ‘is there any other club that enjoys so much hyperbole thrown at it in relation to atmosphere as much as Liverpool?’. I would love to see what Liverpool do differently to us when we’ve entertained Bayern or Barca in the past. I’d wager little. But this media soft-spot for Liverpool is borderline nausea-inducing.
Anyway, moving swiftly on and towards all things Arsenal, who face a tricky – but not insurmountable – away trip to Anderlecht. It’s been made all the more testing by the fact we’re missing both first and second choice ‘keepers, as well as our first choice centre half and right back. It will mean a somewhat unfamiliar and rather raw look about our back five this evening, but even so this is a game that Arsenal really have to be looking at to win tonight.
If it’s true what Arsène says, that 10 points is a minimum target that usually achieves progression into the next stage of the competition, then this is the sort of game that can help to put a foot in the door of the next round. An away win followed by a home victory against the. Belgian champions will leave us with nine points and will probably mean that a draw in our final two games will at least see us progress. Of course we want to win the group, but qualification is the first hurdle to try to overcome. Defeat, or even a draw, will probably mean that we have to beat Dortmund at home and that is by no means a given seeing as we’ve already been beaten by them once this season and defeated last season on home soil.
But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we’ll sweep aside Anderlecht tonight. They will be in the mood for an upset and, having seen Arsenal labour the point on Saturday, I’m sure they will be looking at Hull’s performance and thinking they should be able to get something from the game. We are yet to fully fire on all cylinders in any competition (even against Galatasaray and Villa there were cracks) and that will give enough fuel for their belief.
I’ll confess that I have very little frame of reference when it comes to tonight’s opponents, as the Belgian League is not one that makes my ‘must see’ list. Save for Anthony Van Den Borre (once of Portsmouth) and Stefan Defour (not bad on Football Manager), I know few of their players and am not sure of the style of football the ‘Purple and White’ will produce tonight. But without wanting to be accused of the type of arrogance that is labelled at Wenger when he doesn’t analyse an opponent, I suspect that we’ll see a team that will want to start the game quite tight, keep Arsenal at bay for the first 15 minutes, then up the tempo gradually as they build their confidence.
Of course, because I do little research of note on our opponents, I could be completely wrong and we could see them try to catch us off-guard by coming flying out of the box. Our defeats to Dortmund this season, Chelski and Liverpool last season, we’re built on a foundation of speed and blitzing us in the first 15 minutes, so if Anderlecht do adopt that tactic it could stun us enough to leave us as docile as a sloth. At the weekend after both goals we looked a little shell-shocked for at least ten minutes after each goal, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Anderlecht managed tell his players to adopt the same tactic.
Of course that is not without it’s risks. Last season saw an Arsenal side that could be pressed high from the front to the back without fear our quick counter attacks. This season we have injected notable pace in Welbeck and Alexis and playing a high line to squeeze space between attack and midfield, as well as midfield and defence, would leave a lot of grass for our forward players to play with.
So whilst our back four will have a makeshift feel about it, the attacking side of the team will look a lot more polished, certainly on paper anyway. They may have looked rather lacklustre on Saturday, but the Champions League often brings a more expansive brand of football to it, so you’d hope that we can find more space for midfield and attack in tonight’s game than we did in the Premier League at the weekend.
Although Walcott is back, there’s no way he’d start (I probably should have checked to see if he’s in the squad, but my internet connection on my phone has just gone down as I’ve just entered a tunnel, so I’m out of options there!) tonight after such a lengthy injury, so I think we’ll see Alexis, Welbeck and The Ox as our most forward-lying players, with Santi, Jack and perhaps Arteta playing in the middle of the park. Arsène could go for Ramsey and Wilshere if he thinks that we’ll spend most of the game on the front foot, but with a rather youthful looking defence (Chambers will surely come in for Monreal), I think Arsène will consider giving the captain the nod in the hope that there is more protection for the back four.
Tonight is a game that could prove quite significant. After stuttering at the weekend, victory tonight will ensure we to into this weekend’s game against Sunderland off the back of victory and hopefully some added confidence. We have a run of winnable games (in theory) and we need to start building momentum now.
Come on you reds!