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?