Arsenal v. Porto; any port in a storm

Let’s dispose of the chitter-chatter today and get straight in to the injury news. William Gallas has suffered a setback in his calf injury with the club describing him as being “back to square one” after admitting that they rushed him back. That Arsenal rushed him is not really a surprise, the other options at center back are Silvestre and Campbell. Silvestre is unconvincing at best and Campbell, while still a massive talent, is incapable of playing more than once a week. Any further injuries in that position could really put a dent in any hopes of winning a trophy this year.

There was an interesting exchange when Wenger was asked about Gallas’ contract negotiations. Wenger said that he’s meeting with William’s agent this week and if you remember, he’s previously said that Arsenal might break protocol and offer Gallas more than one year. He seemed to have pulled a 180 on that when he said “I am very resolute. Usually we always offer a one-year contract for an older player.” I’m not sure what he means there or if he has a replacement lined up already but it seems like Gallas could be on his way out.

Cesc, meanwhile, has a “small, small, small” and “grade one” hamstring pull which makes me really nervous. Last time I heard Wenger say that exact phrase Eduardo ended up sitting out a whole month. Dudu’s available today and that’s good, surely, but that Cesc has had a recurrence of his hamstring injury at this critical juncture of the season could be a real problem. Interestingly, after tonight, Arsenal have a month-long string of “easier” games before we face Tottenham at Wet Fart Lane. Could Wenger rest Cesc for that month?

Song, Diaby, and Campbell are all passed fit for the match tonight. I know a lot of people want to see Nasri in Cesc’s spot but I think Wenger will play Diaby there and put Nasri up front with Arshavin and Bendtner. Funny thing, too, Arsene will likely play a midfield three of Song, Diaby, and Denilson with Song squarely in the holding role, Diaby in the advanced role and Denilson in the very middle. What’s funny is that last year I remember thinking how much Denilson was going to be Cesc’s replacement and now it’s clear that he’s just not.

I’d even bet that some of you are eagerly anticipating Diaby in the attacking role. Diaby is 6/1 to be the first goal scorer and I might just put a pound or two on that.

Wenger has cover at right back with both Eboue and Sagna healthy so which of those two he’ll use is really up to him and will signal his intent: Eboue is more of an attacking full back and Sagna is more defensive.

A 1-0 win sees us through easily to the next round but any goals conceded will be a cause for grave concern since it means we have to score three or more to go through. Thankfully, Ladbrokes thinks the most likely scoreline is going to be 1-0 to the Arsenal and have it up at 11/2.

A 0-0 draw would be a huge disappointment and I have to think that’s highly unlikely. Yes, we are missing our leading scorer (in both the Champions League and the Premier League) but we have 10 other players in the squad who have scored in this competition. As you all already know, Arsenal spread the scoring around so I’m pretty confident we will get a couple of goals.

If we can work the ball around the way we did against Burnley and get some more of those deadly final balls from the wings, I have no doubt the goals will come. Like I said, I see Diaby getting the first, that in turn will open the game up as Porto will have to attack and should let our other creative players have more room to work.

A final score of 4-2 seems so unlikely given the history of the two teams and is a 40/1 bet but the thing is that I am very concerned with this team’s ability to keep a clean sheet. They have only managed 2 clean sheets in the last 10 games and given the sloppy way we concede goals (like the one against Burnley) I can’t be too confident that we won’t be breached.

Arsenal reportedly didn’t practice penalty kicks and I have to say that it would be a huge shame if the game ended 2-1 and we weren’t prepared. What are the chances the game will end 2-1? 8/1 according to the bookies, the second most likely outcome along with a 0-0 draw. Clearly the oddsmakers rate us to win but only by a hair.

Tonight’s official is Frank de Bleeckere and he’s been in charge of quite a number of high profile World Cup and Champions League matches in the past. From his history he’s not afraid to use yellow cards early in games to keep the match clean and that should be to our advantage. In Porto, Jesualdo Ferreira sent his team out to break up Arsenal’s play by rotational fouling on Cesc. If the referee chooses, he could stop that tactic and force Porto to play. That would be to everyone’s advantage, really. No one wants to see a 0-0 draw punctuated by dozens of tactical fouls. Well, no one apart from the dozen or so Porto supporters who will be at the match and Jesualdo Ferreira.

That’s pretty much all I know. I’ll be heading out to the Famous Cock (it’s a pub right outside the Highbury and Islington tube station) around 6pm GMT and it would be nice to meet up with some of you there and we can walk to the ground and get in a little early. REDaction is calling for all supporters to be in the ground early and get the atmosphere rocking, I’m bringing both the video camera and the still camera and hopefully the stewards will leave me alone tonight.

It would be special to get some action shots of a famous 4-2 drubbing of Porto in the Champions League, wouldn’t it?

There will be blood sausage

The day is going well I have to say. Started with some coffee and the photoblog earlier and then I met with blog regular fourstar for a traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, bacon, toast, and black pudding, made the old fashioned way, by Italians. It’s been about 3 hours and I’m still full. It’ll probably take an hour of walking to make me feel normal again.

In Arsenal news I’m starting to notice a trend; there are half a dozen high profile writers who basically do nothing but write pieces putting down Arsenal or Arsenal players. Most of these “writers” are formers players and they seem to love to wax nostalgic about the days when they could break ankles at will or some such nonsense. After reading today’s columns I’ve decided that Chris Waddle, Jaime Redknapp, Alan Hansen, and Tony Cascarino are the like the four horsemen of the shit-pocalypse.

Topless golf travel company shill and son of Harry “There Aren’t Enough English (insert one or more of: manager, player, owners) in the Premier League” Redknapp, Jaime has a paying gig over at the Daily Fail where he is paid actual British Pounds to write a paragraph like this:

Theo Walcott’s a very easy target, but I maintain that he will become a top footballer. He still needs more variation to his wing play. When faced with a full back who can match him for speed, he’s often too easy to mark. He needs to mix it up: come short, check, go inside, play one-twos and have more tricks. Pace alone is not enough. He played well against Burnley.

Maybe I’m just not getting it, maybe JR is just a comedian who has a keen grasp on the use of non sequitur’s for comedic effect. I’d probably use a 9 iron for the topless beach golf.

Meanwhile, former Liverpool player from the 80′s when Liverpool supporters were the most unbearable people on the planet, Alan Hansen, who very nearly cried on television when Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League is still going on about Theo Walcott. I think this is because he has nothing else to do. There are literally no other players in the Premier League who are eligible for the English national team and since the World Cup is Liverpool’s only hope for a trophy that’s the only topic left for him to write about. Arsenal won the league at Anfield.

And finally, there’s blog whipping boy Tony Cascarino who also is paid human money to write a terrible column. Today’s “fiver” is classic Cascarino; take an Arsenal player who had a bad game and say he’ll never be good enough. Tony’s target today’s is Bendtner and admittedly, after his profligate display on Saturday, Nicky is an easy target.  But this is exactly what Tony does. He picks the low hanging fruit, eats it, and shits out a column. I haven’t used my international eligibility, I wonder if I could play for the Republic of Ireland too?

I’d suggest we all ignore them but when there’s almost no other news I think it’s perfectly acceptable to take a peek at their columns. If nothing else they are worth a laugh.

There isn’t any team news quite yet. John Cross from the Mirror tweeted today that Cesc is 100% injured and will not play against Porto. It’s a pretty big blow, if true, and further proof that International Friendlies are the worst thing since Jaime Redknapp’s last column.

Without Cesc one of our many other creative midfielders will need to step up. Who do you think can play in Cesc’s spot?

That’s it for today, I’m off to the National Gallery to look at some art and stuff. See you all later!

Picture special

Very quickly, because I have to meet a man about some black pudding, here’s some photos that I took of the trip so far. After breakfast I’ll be back with a real post.

Flew in on a clear day, you could see Highbury and the Emirates. It’s amazing how central Arsenal are to the city.

Took the tube to Holloway Road, it’s amazingly close to the stadium, but unfortunately it closes down after the match.  I came out of the station, walked a block and this is what I saw:

Getting closer:

In the shop I saw the strangest stuff branded with the Arsenal logo. Does anyone really buy an Arsenal toaster? For $60?

Once inside, this is how close I was to the action, I mean Cesc looked fully, uhh, 5’6″ or so:

And this is how close the Burnley supporters were:

Chary was allowed to take some photos, there were no stewards where he was sitting. Here’s one of Jensen clattering Nasri:

After the match, the sun was shining on a pile of Tottenham:

How do you end the night? A large glass of Fuller’s… or 10!