The early season Champions League qualifier has become standard practice in recent years. While Arsene Wenger’s side goes through its ‘transition period’, it has continued to finish inside the top 4, however many times pundits predict otherwise. These two legged ties have been pretty easy going over the years and this season’s tie, on the face of it, is no different. It takes place earlier than normal this year and this could be a blessing in disguise. It’s an added opportunity to iron out any problems and highlight any slight problems. It also provides one last warm up just before the season starts. This year, we meet Steve McClaren’s new side which could be an interesting tie.
The side that Wenger puts out will look more familiar than those we have seen in pre-season. Wenger won’t mess around in the first leg and will want the job done then and there, with the home leg a formaility. It will be another game under the belts of those further back in their preparation and it will be a last chance to gain sharpness before the marathon begins. Almunia will start in goal as the defence pretty much picks itself. Sagna and Clichy will be eager to play competitive football again after missing out on Euro 2008 for various reasons. If they can start the way they played last season, that’s all Wenger will want and need. With Toure still recovering from Malaria, Senderos will be given a chance to prove his worth. His chances are running out and this is a big season for Big Phil. Alongside him, William Gallas will captain the side.
Cesc Fabregas made his first appearance of the season against Ajax and he will probably start, but not finish this game. He will still be working his way back to fitness and his technical levels may need a little tweaking to make sure he is prime for the domestic season opener. Cesc’s goals came early on in the season, two in last years qualifier and I think he will hope to begin this way once again. A big questions lies with who will be his partner for the first game. Wenger has given a few players the chance to lay down their claim and my bet lies with Denilson, for the start at least. I think Diaby will eventually play alongside Cesc as long as no one is brought in. However, Denilson has had a full pre-season and played well also. He looks stronger on the ball and in the tackle and is far more assured. This game is another test for the young Brazilian I have high hopes for.
Theo Walcott will want to start the season with all guns blazing. He ended last season with some amazing performances and it was a pity they came so late. Wenger will want him to carry on from there this season and cement a place in the side. He is nearly 20 and at that age, he needs to be a regular and it is time for him to fulfil his potential. One option for Wenger is to play Theo on the left and go with Eboue on the right hand side. I would prefer him to go with Nasri on the left and leave Walcott on the right flank. Nasri will take time to settle but the best way is to play games. Until Rosicky is back I would prefer to see him than Eboue. We may have to have patience with him, but I believe he can settle quickly into our style and getting games under his belt is the way forward.
In these kind of games, things might not always go your way, but if you have a potent strikeforce, goals are always in the air. Having Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie in your side guarantees goals. These games can be tight sometimes and these two can make something happen out of nothing. They worked well together against Real Madrid and will look to continue this into the season. Last season, they were brilliant together until Robin fell injured. This was a big part of why the goals dried up last season and we need them to work together and stay fit while Eduardo remains sidelined. Once he returns to his best, the goal burden can be shared, but until then, these two are our main source of goals.
One major thing in these ties, is to conserve energy of your first team players. Subs play a crucial part as they can come on and add another goal to the tally and provide another away goal. They can come on and give the side some new energy to run the ball out of defence. They can also add stability to what can be a weary defence early on in the year. Bendtner has shown greast promise in pre-season and can give us goals off the bench. The likes of Vela, Wilshere and Diaby can give the side new energy and fight late on in games. These guys must be ready as they will be called upon at some point.
Subs: Fabianski, J,Hoyte, Eboue, Diaby, Wilshere, Vela, Bendtner