Olympiakos – Injuries – Out Demons, Out!

If you’re going out to Athens for our last Champions League group game on Wednesday night I’d take your boots. There’s every chance you’ll get a game!
Our continuing blight of injuries rumbles on with Tomáš Rosický having done his groin against Stoke City on Saturday and William Gallas, Emmanuel Eboué and Armand Traoré all having picked up knocks too. Arsčne Wenger won’t risk anybody with the slightest injury on Wednesday with our qualification as group leaders already assured. That might be a little harsh on Standard Ličge who have a small chance of going through as runners-up if we beat Olympiakos and they get three points against AZ Alkmaar. We’ve got to come first though and we’ve got two vital League away League games next week.
Generally I’m a big advocate of one game at a time. In this case though, with qualification ensured I think we’re entitled to look to the future. One thing I don’t want to happen is a “non-aggression pact” nil-nil draw. As the result doesn’t matter for our qualification I’d like to see the youngsters who will inevitably form the basis of our side really go out and have a go at the Greeks. We owe our best efforts to win the game with the team we’re able to field to the Belgians. We’d want them doing the same if the situation were reversed. Aside from anything else a win would bring a smile to the face of our finance director with the extra prize money from the UEFA pool. Every little helps and all that.
It was nice to see “We love you Freddie” Ljungberg on the pitch before the game last Saturday. He didn’t get quite the reception I think he deserved. I know he left for the Boleyn Ground in bad odour but he was a good servant to the club in his time with us. One fairly persistent rumour we can apparently lay to rest is our signing him on loan from his American club Seattle Sounders. That one has been declared a non-starter by the boss.
The win against the Potters last Saturday at the Grove was fairly routine. Stoke offered next to nothing in the final third, and Andrey Arshavin did well up front. His favoured position is as second striker rather than out on the wing where he’s played most of his football for us. Him up against Abdoulaye Faye – who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Sol Campbell – was a comical sight. Talk about the long and the short of it. Faye, like Campbell is a big old unit (and a very good, solid defender). Arshavin, after fluffing one excellent chance early on, did very well, proving that brains can triumph against size if you’re smart enough.
There really wasn’t a lot of choice up front with Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo and Theo Walcott all crocked. Let’s hope the latter three at least are fit for selection soon. Arshavin, gifted as he is, isn’t going to be able to carry the load on his own. Much as I’d love him to play out the rest of his career with us I still have the nagging feeling he may move on sooner rather than later. He still strikes me as less than fully committed to either Arsenal or living in London. I hope I’m wrong, despite him having yet to hit the consistent highs of form since he joined us in January. Russia’s shock elimination from the World Cup in the play-offs by Slovenia seems to have hit him very hard. Still, if he does stay with us as I hope, at least he’ll be reasonably fresh for next season.
If you’re a fan of the England national team the draw in Cape Town on Friday night was relatively kind. As a Welshman I had my nose pressed up against the window looking on in envy. The “EASY” headline in The Sun on Saturday was all too reminiscent of the kind of hysterically over-optimistic media coverage we can expect between now and England’s first game against the USA on 12 June next year in Rustenberg. I’d counsel against treating any of England’s group opponents as mugs. The standard of football in the USA has shot up since they re-established a fully-professional league set-up over there following the 1994 World Cup. Algeria knocked out Egypt in a play-off in the Sudanese capital Khartoum after drawing with them in their qualifying group on points, goal difference and goals scored. I rate Egypt as a very decent side.
Neither will Slovenia be a walk-over having put out the Russians. The Russia isn’t as strong as the old Soviet Union, a side which was regularly dominated by Ukrainians and Georgians. At one time the entire Dynamo Kyiv side was selected en-masse for the USSR. They are however an excellent side very well coached by Guus Hiddink whose record speaks for itself.
Whether they’ll be any Arsenal interest in the England side is now doubtful. Poor old Theo has struggled for form and fitness this season and Kieran Gibbs’ outside chance of selection for the squad has taken a severe jolt with this metatarsal injury. One thing England will have is their best manager since Sir Alf Ramsey in Fabio Capello. If anyone can bring out the best in a relatively gifted but under-performing and often tactically naïve group of players it’s Capello. Like Ramsey he won’t stand for any of the nonsense with the WAGs that was seen in Germany in 2006.

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