Just a few hours to go before Arsenal take on AZ Alkmaar in a Champions League clash that is being billed by some as Koeman v. Wenger. The two have met before and I remember it very clearly, it was a game which was dominated by a masterful defensive performance by Chelsea’s now second string center back, Alex.
Koeman and PSV dominated both legs of the match by employing the same tactic that the “oop norf” cloggers in the Premier League used to be able to rely on; kick, kick, kick, win a free kick, kick it to a big guy, score on a header, and go back to kicking. That second leg, in particular, was very hard to watch. Arsenal were completely disrupted and once PSV gained the away goal advantage, Thierry Henry was thrown on despite suffering a lack of fitness and form, and he was re-injured. It was the last game he would ever play for Arsenal and not exactly the way I would have wanted to see him off.
Now, there’s a lot of talk about Koeman playing “attacking football” with AZ and maybe they will, it would be suicide, but hey, weirder things have happened. He is talking about trying to dominate possession against us and that did make me turn my head a bit, but I suspect Koeman is going to be a realist. I’d be shocked if we saw the type of open, end-to-end match that Man City gave us.
This Arsenal team, though, has since been re-crafted. No longer playing a 4-4-2 or worse the 4-5-1 Arsenal play a 4-3-3 in which every player is called upon to play defense, score, and set each other up for more scoring. I know this will come as a shock to you all so you better sit down: Wenger admitted yesterday was that he thinks offense is defense:
If we score goals, it is because we have the ball. To have the ball, you need to defend. That is why I believe we have a good team ethic, a good working attitude together. We all play on the same wavelength, which is why everybody scores.
It’s team defense, team offense, and team hold onto the gods-damned ball!
From the presser, I don’t get the sense that Wenger thinks this will be a walk in the park. In fact, he warned everyone of the threat from Dutch teams in the Champions League. It matters little that AZ lost a match in league play on Saturday, they will be up for this game. And by up I mean fully committed.
Defensively, Arsenal are re-worked quite a bit from 2007 as well with Gallas and Vermaelen as the new defensive stars in the Arsenal back line. Funnily enough, when asked why Vermaelen and Gallas work so well together, Wenger “big-ups” Thomas Vermaelen by saying it’s his talent, plus Gallas hates playing on the left. There’s a bit of insight into what happened last year. It’s looks to me like both Gallas and Toure hated playing on the left and for some reason Toure got the nod over Gallas. That explains why the two were at each other all year and further explains why Gallas is so much happier this year. I remember back to when Gallas played for Chelsea and one of the main reasons for his departure was down to the fact that Chelsea played him at left-back, so this whole hatred of playing on the left is a long-standing gripe with him. I’m just happy that he’s happy.
Another change, hell a change even this year, is in the keeper spot. Gone is Lehmann, who was replaced by Almunia, who has subsequently been replaced by Mannone. Funny thing about that Mannone replacement… both Mannone and Almunia have played in 4 Premier League matches this season and so I did a little statistical comparison of the two:
5 shots — own goal, 2 saves — Man City 4-2 Arsenal
3 shots — own goal, 2 saves — Man U 2-1 Arsenal
3 shots — 2 saves — Arsenal 4-1 Pompey
5 shots — 4 saves — Everton 1-6 Arsenal
16 shots — 10 saves — 8 goals (2 o.g.)
62.5% Save Percentage — .5 goals/shot
5 shots — 5 saves CLEAN SHEET — Arsenal 4-0 Wigan
8 shots — 8 saves CLEAN SHEET — Fulham 0-1 Arsenal
5 shots — 3 saves — Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn
3 shots — 1 save — Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham
21 shots — 17 saves, 2 CS — 4 goals
81% Save Percentage — .2 goals/shot
Obviously a keeper proves his worth over a long period, obviously 4 games is not really long enough to judge either player, and obviously keepers do more than make saves, but I can see why Wenger is having a selection “problem” in picking Almunia. He’s not been anywhere near top form in his first four matches and when you have a team that only allows a handful of shots on goal, you can’t really have a keeper who is letting in nearly 40% of the chances.
Mannone will start today, I feel confident!
As for the other starts, Eboue is a shoo-in for Theo’s spot up front, van Persie is a fixture at the center forward (what with Wenger comparing him to van Basten) and unless the boss gets a wild hair Arshavin will start on the left. The middle is Cesc and Song and most likely Diaby. The back four is Clichy, Vermy, Gallas, and Sagna — who else would he play? Vela will get some time on the pitch irregardless of the scoreline. Just because he’s in good form and the boss will want to get him some turf time ahead of the Carling Cup match against Liverpool.
Viewing in the States has two options: live on Setanta or tape delay on Fox Soccer Channel. The Publican at Doyle’s in Tacoma has assured me that he will be showing the match live at 11:30am (PST) so, if you’re in Tacoma come on down and watch with me. I’ll be twittering pearls of swine live from the match and you can follow me over at the twitter, if you’re into that. If not, stop by tomorrow for the Good, Bad, and Ugly.
See you then!