I don’t know if I speak for all Arsenal fans, but I’m rather looking forward to tonight. A couple of big wins in the league have changed the mood in the camp, and what previously looked like a humiliating dead rubber now feels like an opportunity to face glamorous opposition with, really, nothing to lose. No one has ever over-turned a four-goal deficit in Europe and the Champions League betting reflects the uphill task Arsenal face. To all intents and purposes, we’re already out, but any sort of positive result would be catalytic fuel on the fire of our momentum. And if – IF – we were to score a couple of early goals… well, you just never know.
A succession of injuries in midfield means we have little option but to be gung-ho about our attacking intent. We’re without Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Frimpong, Diaby, Benayoun and Coquelin, whilst doubts persist over Tomas Rosicky. If the Czech is fit, he’s certain to partner Alex Song at the base of our midfield.
Ahead of that, I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be afforded a start in the roaming central role he briefly occupied against Liverpool, with Gervinho and Theo Walcott on the flanks.
Some have suggested the possibility of switching to 4-4-2, but we’re perhaps the only team in the world for whom introducing a second striker (Park or Chamakh) probably makes us a weaker attacking force.
Robin van Persie will, of course, play. Some fans are already quaking with fear about the possibility of Robin picking up an injury. I don’t think you can go through a season, or indeed a life, with that sort of attitude. He might get a knock, but it’s no more likely to happen tonight than in any other game – or arguably even a training session. And the idea that we have any chance of getting a decent result without him is more fantastical than our hopes of qualification.
As I said though, you never know. Football can be a strange and miraculous sport, and the likelihood of going out is not a reason not to bother qualifying. I admire Arsene’s guts here. He could written it off, and said: “Yeah, we’re out, I’m going to play the Reserves”. Instead, he is rallying the troops:
“When you are a top-level competitor, even if statistically we have a 5% chance, what is important is that we believe that we can be in this 5%. That is what is at stake for us. Let’s make sure that we do not miss out because we did not believe in it.”
Well put. Arsene and Arsenal were deeply hurt by the 4-0 hammering in Milan, and tonight is, in the first place, about restoring some pride. Any kind of win would undoubtedly be a good thing. If it’s by the margin of a few goals, and close enough to get us excited about the remote possibility of reigning the Italians in… well, then it’ll have been a very exciting night indeed.
Come On You Gunners. You never know, this might be our last night in the Champions League for a while. Let’s enjoy it.