If you remember last season’s Carling Cup Semi-Final, you will recall the tie was poised in pretty much the exact same way. With the score’s level at 2-2, the return leg could have gone either way. There is no doubt that last year we had the psycholigical edge going into the second match having come from 2 goals down and drawn a game we could and should have won. This was at the Lane against their first team with the second leg at home, a further advantage. That year we managed to progress after extra time, I’ll take the same this year.
Both teams have a few things in their favour this season. Like Arsenal did in the previous season, Tottenham take a draw back for the home tie, an obvious advantage as they did not lose the away leg and have a chance to knock us out with a win on their patch. Playing at home is always going to aid a team. It is the reverse from last season, something which went in our favour last time around.
However, one thing we do have over them is that mental edge as they should have beaten us at the Emirates but still failed to do so during Arsenal’s worst performance of the season. They should have taken the victory by a couple of goals but in the end Theo managed to get the victory with a somewhat fortuitous goal. Another thing that I feel will help the team is that we have no pressure on us. The lads did not perform at the Emirates but to beat the Spurs first team away will be a real achievement for the second string. We also have the desire to get to the final and avenge last season’s defeat with the opposition looking like it could well be Chelsea once again.
Last season we had two away goals going into the home leg and this year Spurs have one. To be honest, away goals do not count in the same way as they do in the Champions League. In Europe away goals are taken into account at the end of 90 minutes of the second tie. In the Carling Cup, they are only used after 210 minutes of football. We saw last year that despite scoring two away from home and conceding one at the Emirates, we still had to put ourselves through an added 30 minutes of Football with the aggregate score at 3-3. The fact we had scored two at White Hart Lane made no difference.
To the team now. Arsene Wenger has a massive list of injuries for tomorrow night, especially in defence. Kolo Toure, Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue are all on African Cup of Nations Duty and can all play at the back. Add to that Johan Djourou – out for 2 weeks – and Philippe Senderos – out after injuring his nose at the weekend – and you have a minor defensive crisis. That has caused William Gallas to be drafted into the defence for tomorrow night. This will do the team no harm as his experience will help the team hugely on a massive night.
Alongside Gallas Wenger can either select Justin Hoyte or GIlberto. After his excellent showing in this position during the second half at the Emirates, I think Wenger will go for Justin alongside the skipper. This also enables him to bring in Bakary Sagna at right back, once more adding experience and solidarity to the defence. Armand Traore will continue at left back with Clichy on the bench I think. Fabianski will keep his place in goal.
It will be interesting to see whether Theo Walcott starts tomorrow night and if he does if it is on the wing or through the middle. He played out wide against Spurs two weeks ago and in the same role against Birmingham. In those games he was ominously poor despite his fluke of a goal. Wenger has since stated his worry about Theo’s current level, I have to say I agree. However, Wenger will stick with him and has said he will not be used out wide from now on. Intrigued to see what happens tomorrow.
There are a few options available to Wenger. One is to play the same midfield as the home tie. This midfield was passed out of the game and looked lacklustre throughout. Gilberto was a passenger and gave away the ball with nearly every pass. Diaby refused to pass the ball until he had dribbed himself into dead end after dead end. Theo Walcott was running around like a headless chicken on speed. I felt quite sorry for Denilson however, who was always facing his own goal and Gilberto failed to provide a platform for the Brazilian.
You probably have guessed that I would rather we did not see the same combination of players start the game. I would prefer to see Randall and Gibbs start on the right and left. Gibbs will add natural width and provide crosses for the strikers. He will look to go at his man with pace and purpose and provide good cover for Traore against Lennon. I know from personal experience that when you step up to the first team early, you are determined to do your defensive work as well as attack, in order to impress the manager. Randall played well at Blackburn and linked the play very well. His passing and movement are very good and we will need to keep the ball tomorrow as Tottenham will want to harry and get at us for long periods. Walcott just cannot seem to hang onto it for more than 5 seconds. It was as if the ball was a hot potato.
Denilson is going to be our main creative outlet from midfield and will look to dictate play as we have seen Fabregas do so many times in the past. He will look to unlock the Spurs defence and try and free the wingers and full backs. Who to play alongside Denilson? He really only has two options. Gilberto or Diaby.
Neither really fills me with confidence right now. As I mentioned, in the last game they were very poor but both have their advantages. Gilberto, on his day (rare this season), can intercept and break up attacks with sensible and effective play. He likes to sit back and guard the back four, as well as being a big threat from corners. Last game he did none of the above and if Wenger keeps faith with him, he needs to do these to warrant Wenger’s trust.
Diaby can add muscle and strong tackling to the side. At times this season he has produced some brilliant challenges and scored some good goals. He does like to get forward but I believe he can also do his fair share of tracking back, if given the chance alongside Denilson. He is lost on the left but has not been given much opportunity in the centre. If Denilson is prepared to control the game from deep it could free Diaby to get from box to box and try and burst into dangerous areas.
I would love to see this tried out but Wenger said the subs from Saturday will play, Gilberto was one and Diaby another. Therefore I am pretty sure Wenger will go with Diaby on the left and Gilberto in the centre, with Theo on the right. They all need big games but for me that is a risk taken by Wenger. Hopefully it pays off.
Le Prof made an error in my eyes in putting Eduardo on the bench in the first leg but I feel he will not make the same mistake twice. He can be lethal if given a sniff and this could be key tomorrow night. Chances may be scarce and we need someone we know can take these chances. Bendtner and him have developed a good understanding and can work together to break the Spurs back line.
Wenger will use some first teamers off the bench if the game needs changing. Like last year he will probably havethe likes of Fabregas, Clichy, Rosicky and Adebayor ready to come on. We do not want to be left short of options should we need to push for a goal or two. They were not there two weeks ago but I feel we will see them at the Lane.
Subs: Mannone, Clichy, Fabregas, Rosicky, Adebayor
Berbatov willbe the main threat once more and we must, I mean must not give him any room to play. In the last game he got too much space to bring the ball down. We must get ti
ght as Spurs did to us in the home match and try and stop them playing. Berbatov is the main link man for them and will look to bring Lennon into the game on many occasions. Traore has a big job on his hands and a lot of the responsibility lies with Gallas to marshall the defence. We have the pace at the back to deal with the ball in behind, it is the long ball we must prevent as much as is possible.
All that’s left to say is, Come on Arsenal, do us proud, let’s get to the Final, once again at the expense of Spurs.