Villareal v. Arsenal; Key Matchups

cesc3 Cesc v. Senna senna

Spain teammates Marcos Senna and Cesc Fabregas will face off tonight in the Villareal half of the midfield. Expect to see Cesc “in the hole” or “off the shoulder” however you want to say it (calling positions in Wenger’s system is very difficult) basically he’ll be leading the attack in the midfield. This means that he will be marked closely by Marcos Senna: the man who single-handedly handcuffed Andrei Arshavin in Euro 2008.

Neither player is 100% fit, both coming off injuries, so neither player has an advantage there. Senna has a ton of experience which will serve him well, but Cesc is Cesc and his guile, vision, and ball control will serve him well. The one thing we don’t want to forget is that Senna also starts the attacks and can get forward himself, even scoring some great goals. Cesc will have his work cut out for him on that front. So, I’m calling it a draw.

The problem is that Cesc is so important in the creative role that even a draw in this battle is a win for Villareal.

pires Bobby v. Sagna sagna

Pires is well past his prime but that doesn’t mean we can just write him off. If the press is to be bellieved he’s hungry to show Arsene what he missed by offering the 33 year old just a one year contract (he’s 35 now) after the bitter disappointment of the Champions League final. Bobby’s being very diplomatic but it has to hurt that Wenger sacrificed him instead of Ljungberg on that day, and I have to think that he’ll want to stick the knife in.

Physically, I have no doubt that Sagna can handle Pires. But Pires isn’t going to try to blow by Sagna, rather, he’ll use his experience and inherent guile to get into problematic spaces and take shots. Mentally, Sagna better be on top of his game, there’s a reason why Pires was called the Fox in the Box. You can bet your ass if there’s a shot, Bobby’s taking it.

One thing Sagna can do is get forward and force Pires’ old legs to work extra hard. Tired legs make mistakes.

Irregardless of Sagna’s youthful vigor, Pires’ desire and guile give the advantage to Villareal.

adebayor Adebayor v. Godin godin

You never know which Adebayor you’re going to get. Adebayor can be a beast or he can be a mouse. It’s no stretch to say that Arsenal need Emmanuel Adebayor to work hard, keep his head, and (most importantly) take his chances: in short, he needs to be a beast tonight.

I think he will be up for the game, it’s a big match and he’s talked about how hungry he is to win a trophy, moreover, Wenger will leave him alone up front in the 4-2-3-1 and when he’s up for the game, he thrives as the lone hit man. Still, it’s his aerial ability which will likely net him a goal so, look for him to harass the back line, win corners, and I’d bet he gets a goal off a set piece.

Advantage Arsenal.

gallas Gallas v. Rossi rossi

Arsene Wenger will look to his former captain and best defender to lead the line against Villareal’s big Italian (via America) striker. For Rossi, service from the midfield will be crucial as to whether he will have the kind of chances that he needs to convert goals. So, Arsenal’s two-headed stopper (Denilson and Song) will be employed to soak that up.

If Arsenal manage to stop service from midfield, then Villareal will probably try a more direct approach. In which case Gallas’ speed and awareness will be needed to slow down Villareal’s top goal scorer.¬† I’m counting on the former, and thus Gallas’ role is crucial to keeping Rossi out of the sticks.

Gallas has another advantage; he scores goals. In all competitions, Cappy has 6 goals this season, half of which have come in the Champions League. It’s an impressive haul for a defender and a huge threat to Villareal. Watch for Cappy to get an equalizer if Arsenal are down late in the game: he loves scoring those late goals and being the hero.

Advantage Arsenal.

Conclusion

I see a 1-1 draw here, Villareal will be up for the game and their fans will make life uncomfortable for the Arsenal. Both teams will be tentative to start and Arsenal need to use their speed on the counter to try to open Villareal’s defense.

That said, an early goal from either team will force their opponents to attack and could lead to a huge scoreline. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the longer the game goes without a goal the more tentative both teams will become and the less likely to score. It’ll be boom or bust I tell ya!

Of course a million things could happen but I see a momentary lapse of concentration (Clichy?) leading to a Pires goal (PK?) right after the start of the second half and then the Arsenal onslaught to ensue which will lead to a late goal from Cappy or Adebayor off a set play. 1-1 would be a good result, as it gets us that crucial away goal, to take back to Emirates where we can seal the deal.

If you’re in town, see you at 11:45. If not, wherever you are, get out the kits and let’s cheer these boys on!

Villareal v. Arsenal; a Preview Full of Question Marks

Injuries

Arsenal will release more information this afternoon on injured trio Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and Samir Nasri but Wenger spoke very hopefully about all three yesterday. Wenger said that van Persie was 50:50 to pass fitness, that Samir Nasri’s tests looked good, and that “Theo Walcott should be all right.”

I look forward to this afternoon’s press release and I will update this section when that’s made public. No news will be forthcoming on Diaby, Eduardo and Rosicky as they are all 100% ruled out for the trip to the Spanish coast.

Update: Nasri and Walcott are in, van Persie out.

On the other side, Marcos Senna is being included in the team but is a question mark to make the game. I’m going to say that he’ll be fit and that Villareal’s manager is just trying to keep Arsenal guessing.

As I said yesterday, Cazorla is out for the season, suffering a broken leg in Villareal’s complete loss to Almeria. How complete a loss? They finished the last 30 minutes with 9 men after Cazorla was injured and Pires was sent off. Fingers crossed that they have heavy legs tomorrow!

Contracts

There’s a lot of column inches being devoted to the two or three supposed¬† contract/transfer stories swirling around the club. Is Cesc leaving? Adebayor? Robin van Persie? Will there be a wholesale clear out?

I don’t know.

No one knows. What we do know is that if Arsenal lose this match and the one against Chelsea on Saturday then our hopes for any kind of trophy this season will be severely diminished. So it’s best to stay focused on these two matches rather than a bunch of shit stirring.

I also know that this “five years without a trophy” story is seriously getting on my nerves. If van Persie leaves because he wants to win a trophy, good luck to him. I don’t know where he thinks he’ll go where he will be guaranteed to win something: as far as I can tell Man U don’t need another perpetually injured striker. But irregardless, have fun in Italy or Spain or wherever will have you, Robin, oh and you’re welcome for the years that Arsenal stood by you while you spent months upon months in the infirmary. Honestly, if Robin leaves it will particularly chap my ass, but if he leaves then f*ck him.

I also know that, like Wenger, all this speculation and chitter chatter about stuff we have no control over just serves to get people amped up over nothing. Moreover, talking about contracts and Cesc leaving, despite the fact that he has been unequivocal about his future every year (including this one) that he has been at the club, distracts the players from what’s important: Tuesday’s Champions League match against Villareal and Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea.

So, that’s my final word on this speculation. I’m not devoting any more column inches to bullshit rumors and shit stirring by cunts like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, etc. etc. No one is leaving the club this week so speculating about what might happen this summer is pointless.

Good bye yellow brick Pires

Robert Pires has admitted that this Champions League match up is very emotional for him, and that especially the return leg to the Emirates will be like the testimonial he never had.

I agree, and I will be very sad to see Pires, at 63 years old, limp around the pitch and get dumped out of the competition by a very hungry, young, and fit Arsenal. I will be sad for a moment… then I will be happy!

The first leg kicks off at 11:45am (PST) and unless you’re going to watch the match alone at home on ESPN Deportes I’m inviting all locals to join us for Setanta’s broadcast at Doyle’s Public House. I can’t have a pint because I will be caring for my lovely daughter after the match but I will have one of their state of the art sarnies. They are delicious.

See you there and remember: UP THE ARSE!

Lazy Sunday

Finally, some peace.

The girls are all either at church or at their friend’s house and I have the TV and the computer to myself. Plus, there’s very little, no… there’s no Arsenal news. Fox Soccer Channel is playing the Man U/A. Villa match and it’s looking like a pretty good match; 1-1 at the 30th minute.

Here in a bit, I’ve got a 10:30 kick around, I have new boots (the $20 Telstar’s arrived), and it’s supposed to get to 65F in Tacoma today.

I think I’m going to take it easy today, play a couple hours of football and have a pint after!

There is a bit of Villareal news ahead of the match Tuesday. I might as well get that over to you. First, I was reading this article about Robert Pires and how he still hasn’t gotten over being subbed in the 18th minute of Arsenal’s Champions League final loss to Barcelona. Anyway, Robert is being classy about it all but you can tell that something’s seething in there about the way the whole thing played out: subbed out in the final, offered just the 1 year contract that all 30 year-olds are offered at Arsenal, and never really recapturing the glory he had at Arsenal. It’s sure to be hard.

Anyway, uhhh, oh yeah… in that article, Wenger talks up the attacking threat of Pires on one wing and Cazorla on the other. Which is true, when healthy they are a threat. Too bad Cazorla is out for the rest of the season. Villareal are going to have Senna back, though, and that is a pretty big boost, but I liked the coincidence of Wenger talking up one of Villareal’s players and having him come up injured.

I like having Senna back in their team, who better to really test the mettle of our burgeoning midfield duo than a true craftsman like Senna?

Right, that’s all I’m writing today. I’ll hang out in the comments until about 10am (local time) if you want to chat about something.

See you tomorrow for a full Villareal preview.

CHEERS!