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Arsenal’s time to shine in the Champions League

by on December 8, 2011

It’s fair to say a lot has happened since our 4-0 away win at Wigan last Saturday but it was an important game for us. Last weekend saw us visit the DW Stadium in an attempt to climb further up the table. We started our regulars and despite this fixture being a bit of a hard one in past times for us, we took the opportunity and got the 3 points with a return to top form and a convincing win.

We were in control for the whole of the game despite a bright start early on from Wigan and I think that it again shows our progression as a team as a whole to remain composed when defending and build up the pressure slowly to take the scoring opportunities when they come. Arteta, Vermaelen, Gervinho and van Persie all got a goal to their name – an impressive collection of players from all over the pitch. We’ve now taken 19 of our last 21 points and shows we’re only going one way and continuing to improve.

It is encouraging to see us doing so well in a time of the season when we normally have difficulty in taking the points. But we’ve risen to 5th in the table in an impressive couple of games. Despite the loss to City last week, we came back all guns blazing, rightly not disheartened by the valiant yet unsuccessful performance our young guns put out mid week. Koscielny was the only one to remain in the team for our Wigan match, filling in at right-back once more.

The Olympiakos game presented itself with a few more talking points than the Wigan one however.  We went to Greece with the group done and dusted, finished top already etc etc. However the incentive was still there to finish the group on a high, and stay unbeaten in the Group Stage of the Champions League and of course to mark Wenger’s 200th game in Europe. On the other hand injuries were not something we needed to pick up. Wenger went with experience at the back and gambled and played Santos and Vermaelen in defence: a risk that backfired on him. Santos went off injured during the course of the game to be replaced by Miquel, picking up an injury which will now see him sidelined for a while, much to our despair.

The dilemma of full-backs and defenders continues to haunt us. Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs and Santos are now all out injured meaning we will have to reshuffle our back line once again. Vermaelen could move to left back with Mertesacker and Koscielny playing at CB, a move I would probably be more in favour for than calling up a young defender. When we have to play must win games, we need experience at the back and every game is a must win.

Even though Benayoun pulled one back for us, we were never really in control and Olympiakos were very unlucky to not have more than 3 in their favour. The gaffe by Vito Mannone to allow their second goal, was, I hate to admit it, pretty hilarious and it was with absolute relief that I could watch that and not even mind too much given that we had already qualified as group leaders. And that’s exactly why I’m happy we had already gotten the job done, because playing in Europe is always hard, the fans are always loud and sometimes the pressure can get to the team and you can miss out on the result that you need. It also has to be remembered that Olympiakos were fighting for their place in Europe’s most prestigious competition and while we had nothing to play for, they had everything. And even though they beat us, the result between Dortmund and Marseille meant they didn’t even qualify despite their brave efforts.

What can be said about the Champions League is that while Arsenal had the hardest group out of the lot, Dortmund, Marseille and Olympiakos, we managed to qualify top and early at that. Man United on the other hand drew a group which most would pick out of the 32 teams, given the choice, and yet still couldn’t qualify and now they and Man City face the joys of Thursday night football in the Europa League. Man United fell into the trap of underestimating their group, something we were guilty of last season but while we managed to finish 2nd, United fell at the first hurdle of the Champions League – navigating out of your group – in a somewhat embarrassing fashion.

Chelsea qualified as well, and it just goes to show how things can change. This season Arsenal and Chelsea have been accused of being in ‘crisis’ at different stages and have been under most scrutiny while people lap up Man City and Man United’s results delightedly, which see them sitting at the top of the table. However we’ve shown much more consistency than them to stay above in Europe and in the league and this goes to show just how strong, despite the doubters, we are. Between us and Chelsea, we could easily be favourites to go further, however us and them face many similar problems this season, mostly in defence, which were highlighted when we beat them 5-3 at the Bridge earlier this season.

With the early and somewhat surprising exists from the two Manchester clubs in the Champions League this season, it could be a good chance for us to go further in this competition. The draw that takes place next Friday will decide who we face in the last 16, and the hardest we could draw would be AC Milan. We’d do well to avoid Napoli and Lyon too. Saying that Barcelona and Real Madrid are on a different level in Europe this season and while I’m not sure how far we can go if we face one of them, we can certainly do better than last year’s exit from the last 16 at the hands of Barcelona. It seems like a good opportunity for us to seize as Man United and Man City will no doubt be directing all of their attentions to lifting the title now.

We’ve picked up a good number of injuries already and it’s vital that the rest of the team stay fit. I think the Olympiakos game proved how much we need a certain Wojcech Szczesny and resilient back four, something which Djourou and Squillaci combined don’t often create… We can continue to pick up wins in the Premier League, with a home game against Everton next and then a crucial game against Man City the following week. We lost to them in the Carling Cup last week, painfully and undeservedly and I hope we take the opportunity to really shine and put out a spirited performance to prove the doubters wrong. Till next week, Gooners :)

 

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One Comment
  1. I agree with u.its our time.up gunners

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