In less than four hours, the biggest game in the short history of the Emirates will kick off. For two hours (possibly more), those of us who can’t make it to the ground will be glued to our screens, nails chewed to a minimum, willing for the night to be a memorable one.
Many have harked back twenty years ago, when we needed a two goal win to pinch the league from Liverpool, but this is different – this match is on our patch, our territory. Highbury was often criticised for being too quiet, tonight our players should expect nothing short of a cacophony of support.
It doesn’t matter whether you think we should’ve signed midfielders last summer. It doesn’t matter whether you think Ade is a great striker or a clumsy fool. It doesn’t even matter that Silvestre won this trophy with United last season. The eleven in red are the eleven we have, and they need every decibel of support this great new stadium can give them.
The team, unlike the first leg, picks itself, and should look like this:
Van Persie’s return is huge – without him Wenger might be tempted to play Cesc in the hole again, but tonight we need our midfield maestro pulling the strings in his best position – central midfield. I am slightly concerned that Wenger may start with the Dutchman on the bench and play Diaby (who was rested at the weekend), but the above team is the strongest we have, and if we are to progress they need to put in their top performance.
United will look to compress our play into the middle third, and use Rooney and Ronaldo to get around us on the counter, so Sagna and particularly Gibbs have important nights ahead, while Walcott and Nasri need to offer protection.
But tonight is about scoring. I have a sneaking suspicion that United will get the away goal they think will kill the tie, but if we are aggressive enough we can get the three we need. Adebayor, Van Persie, Cesc, Nasri, Walcott – that should frighten a defence that may yet be without Ferdinand.
I read ‘holic’s preview earlier and was struck by the price bookies are offering against us going through – 3/1. That includes a 1-0 win leading to penalties. We are only 1-0 down and at home. That price is almost insulting, and as a result that’s where my pound is headed too, with a sneaky extra one on a 3-1 win, at 22/1.
The odds against us qualifying show how much everyone has written us off. Remember that not too long ago Villa were overwhelming favourites for fourth, and we clawed that back. We are at our best when no-one gives us a chance.
A little over three hours to go. If you are there tonight, make as much noise as you can, and more than anything, enjoy the experience – we will probably not appreciate how good these times are until we’ve lost them. This is a Champions League semi at home to United. It is beyond huge.
If you aren’t there, turn your phone off, settle down from 7pm and let nothing distract you from the most important night Arsenal have had in three years.
It promises to be a barnstorming night. COME ON YOU REDS!