It’s time. For the next week Arsenal and Liverpool will get very well acquainted, and it would be a surprise for one side to come out unanimously on top over the three games. That would suggest, with Liverpool now well placed in the league after their derby win at the weekend, that they’ll be more of a threat in the Champions League.
It’s a view that is hard to argue against. Liverpool have a bizarre knack of looking utterly useless domestically, and then picking off league leaders of other nations, who come into the tie on great form (see Juventus, Inter and even Chelsea).
But Europe does strange things to Arsenal too, who often look shaky at the back, until Europe comes along, and all of a sudden the back line seems unbreachable. The astonishing defensive record the players have built up over the last few years is consistently missed by pundits, who often tout the steel of the opposition, with their inferior record (Milan have conceded far more goals in Europe over the last few years).
The team tonight mostly picks itself, with Toure remaining at right back and Senderos partnering Gallas in the middle. Even though it’s an all-English tie, it will be a European-style game, as both sides look to keep a clean sheet, so Senderos, much more comfortable on the European stage, should thrive.
Adebayor will return, and with Van Persie now playing regularly there is only one spot up for grabs, a wide position contested by Diaby, Walcott and Eboue. My hunch is Eboue will win out, especially as he was rested at the weekend. Wenger likes Walcott as an impact substitute, and for all the calling for his inclusion from the start, you have to admit that he’s lethal coming off the bench against tiring legs.
Expect a tight one tonight, 0-0, 1-1 or 1-0. I actually think it might end goalless, with both sides protecting their goals with everything they have. That said, there are players on both sides capable of that one moment of magic, especially from dead ball situations.
But in my jinxing attempt to make it a good game, I’m predicting nil-nil.
Enjoy the game.