It’s a two-legged affair, which takes a little of the shine off tonight’s game, but it is obviously absolutely essential that Arsenal win this tie with Sparta Prague to qualify for the Champions League. After the embarrassment of last year’s exit against PSV, Arsene will be desperate to prove that his young charges truly are in the top eight squads in Europe. Defeat tonight would show that they’re certainly not.
The Czech Champions are shorn of stars but are still a functional unit. They’ll look to contain Arsenal and nick a goal on the break – they will know their best chance lies in victory tonight. A few to look out for:
Tomáš Řepka, Defender
Arguably Sparta’s only familiar face, having represented Fiorentina and West Ham as well as his country with varying degrees of distinction. Whilst he played primarily at right-back for the Hammers, he is winding his career down at centre-back. He’s almost guaranteed to have a fiery spat with Van Persie at some stage.
Pavel Horváth, Playmaker
Capped 31 times by his country, Horváth is the man who makes Sparta tick – the closest thing they currently have to their former star, Tomas Rosicky. Horváth left Sparta as a teenager without playing before returning years later as the team’s star. The former Galatasary and Sporting Lisbon’s cult status only grew with this strike from close to the halfway line.
Marek Kulič, Striker
Signed in January from Mladá Boleslav, his goals helped fire Sparta to the title. With 8 caps for the Czech Republic, most recently in their defeat of Wales that marked the end of Ryan Giggs’ International career, this formerly “lost talent” is the man most likely to put the ball past Jens Lehmann this evening.
For us, the same sixteen who faced Fulham have been joined by Justin Hoyte and Armand Traore in the squad, which means that Eduardo, Adebayor, Denilson and Diaby are all still out. It must be particularly frustrating for Diaby to be injured whilst Gilberto is still recovering from the Copa America.
In other news, it seems the press put 2+2 together and made 7 as far as Morten Gamst Pedersen is concerned – we’re not interested.
But if we do want to sign more players, the money and prestige of a Champions League place is absolutely essential. Quick question: is anyone who has played in the Champions League qualifiers now cup-tied in Europe for the whole season?
An away goal tonight is essential. A 1-0 win would be a very good result.