Monday, 7 March 2011
Barcelona (a) preview, Corruption debate opening up?
Arsenal have produced a real rabbit from the hat this afternoon with the news that Robin Van Persie might yet play tomorrow at Barcelona. RVP trained today and will travel as part of a 19 man squad for the big game. The fact that Arsenal are taking an extra player (something George Graham always did for every game, but Wenger never does) tells me that they're really not sure on Van Persie. I will be pleasantly surprised if he plays from the start. I hope that we are not seeing a massive gamble that could affect the rest of the season in the Premier League and FA Cup - a further setback for Van Persie could mean curtains for Arsenal's campaign. Whatever happens it seems that Van Persie was not as badly injured as we were being told. If that means he was withdrawn early at Wembley last week, merely as a precaution, then I think it's a disgrace. I sincerely hope that wasn't the case. Joining Robin in the squad is Cesc Fabregas. I don't think there was ever any chance of Fabregas missing out on the Nou Camp for a second season running. It comes as no surprise to hear that the skipper will play tomorrow. I am surprised, however, that a sprained ankle is keeping Theo Walcott out - what happened to a decent strapping and an injection?
The bad news is that Alex Song is not fit. The fact that we have no adequate cover for Song is an indictment on the Manager. Every fan knew how short we were in that area, and the chickens may be coming home to roost. The simple facts are that Denilson and Diaby are not up to the job of covering for Song. With that in mind I wonder if Wenger will simply go for it tomorrow. On the basis that we might as well not bother with Denilson or Diaby I would like to see Nasri sit alongside Wilshere with Fabregas in front of them. This would see Nicklas Bendtner move to the right (not ideal I know) with either Van Persie or Chamakh at centre-forward. I don't think Wenger will do that, and I expect one of the other two to partner Jack - they will need to improve ten-fold from Saturday.
I don't need to comment on Barcelona going forward as they are as close to irresistible as its possible to get at times, and everyone knows how good they are. However, they are not that strong at the back - and even less so tomorrow night without Puyol or Pique. Barcelona are incredibly effective when not in possession of the ball - they hunt in pairs or as a three to win the ball back as soon as possible. However, this can also be their downfall. It stands to reason that when Arsenal get the ball tomorrow, if they can get through three quick passes and keep it, then Barcelona will have their entire midfield out of the game. Arsenal are better equipped than most sides Barca play against because of the technical level of our players. Our second goal in the first-leg was indicative of what I am talking about. In that move Nicklas Bendtner drew three players to him before finding Wilshere, whose first-time ball took two more out of the equation. By the time Fabregas sent Nasri away down the right the entire Barcelona team was caught ahead of the ball in their attempts to win it back straight away. The gaps are there to be exploited, and Arsenal must do just that. The presence of Cesc Fabregas in the team will certainly add to our ability to hurt the opposition tomorrow.
I still don't think we will get the result we need tomorrow night. However, we go there with a lead nobody expected us to have. Last season we were thrashed in Barcelona, but it's easy to forget we were on the end of a one-man masterclass from the World's best footballer. It is beyond comprehension that Messi could perform quite so well again - no matter how good he is. If one or two of their players have an off-night (specifically Villa and Iniesta) then we have a real chance. Arsenal will miss Theo's pace as it scares the Barca defence half to death. The players will have to find a way of compensating for the loss of that pace but, make no mistake, whichever of our strikers plays they have the ability to seriously hurt Barcelona - provided we can get them the service required. It promises to be another potential classic. It would be great to be on the right end of it.
I've been saying for a long time that I am suspicious of a lot of stuff that is going on in football at the top level in England. Manchester United are feeling hard done by after Carragher got away with making Nani cry yesterday (I'm loving the "Smooth Carragher" song), but they conveniently ignore Rapael's own leg-breaker of a challenge on Lucas Leiva (interesting to note that when a United player does that they are "frustrated" - according to Ray Wilkins - rather than petulant and nasty). I read this morning that David Gill apparently confronted referees boss Mike Riley in the Director's Box at Anfield. I believe that rumours of Gill saying "I thought we had an understanding" and "if you can't control these referees we'll get someone else in" are, as yet, unfounded. There is a good article at www.onlinegooner.com on the subject of corruption - you can read it here. You can feel free to ignore the quotes in the article from Jeff Winter - a more arrogant, cheating oaf you would be hard-pushed to find - but the rest of the piece makes very interesting reading, and more than a little sense. I am convinced that some day soon the English game will be rocked by news of corruption on a grand scale - it stands to reason that the richest league, in the richest sport in Europe can not be untouchable. If the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea happened to be at the centre of it I would not be surprised in the slightest.
I'll review the Barcelona game either late tomorrow night, or on Wednesday evening - the timing will probably depend on the outcome and how calm I need to be to write a rational post.