A seven day break was supposed to ensure that our walking wounded had the chance to recover for tonight’s Champions League resumption. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred, and the squad have flown to Portugal without Almunia, Gallas, Song, Eduardo and Arshavin.
Most have ready made replacements who will be determined to prove a point. Fabianski will be relieved to get another chance in goal – his performance at Stoke in the FA Cup was wobbly at best, a surprise to many who have been impressed with his progress over the last couple of years. Tonight, he gets another opportunity to prove not only that he can challenge Almunia for the number one jersey, but that he is superior to the promising Mannone and Szczesny, especially important given how well the latter is playing on loan at Brentford.
Denilson will return for Song in midfield, while the absences up front mean two of Rosicky, Nasri and Walcott start. I suspect Walcott will come on as an impact substitute, with the other two ensuring that the 4-3-3 formation becomes a tight 4-5-1 when we lose possession.
Gallas’ injury means a return to Champions League football for Sol Campbell, an extraordinary culmination of events since his inauspicious start to the season at Notts County. And don’t forget – last time Campbell played a Champions League match, it was the 2006 final, and he scored. It would be something of a fairytale if he repeated the trick tonight, but at 12/1 with Sportingbet to score at anytime, I can’t resist. His threat from set pieces cannot be discounted, and so that is my bet of the day.
Tonight is likely to be a tight affair – first legs usually are – but an away goal would be priceless. Wenger would probably take a score draw now if you offered it to him, but I think we can nick it. A 1-0 victory is 13/2 with Sportingbet, and would represent a terrific night’s work. I’m backing the team to get it.
Elsewhere, the Cesc to Barcelona ‘stories’ refuse to go away, and won’t as long as he is used as a pawn in Barcelona’s presidential campaign. Undeterred by the player’s consistent denial of the story, the Mail lead with a ‘Arshavin demands Cesc decide on Barcelona‘ headline, despite the Russian simply saying that Cesc will always be in control of where his career takes him, but right now that is to be captain of Arsenal.
It is only two weeks since the transfer window closed, and the next one doesn’t open for four and a half months. But I guess silly season never goes away.
Fortunately, we have a rather important game to distract us. Enjoy it, wherever you are.