I know this season potentially has a long way to run. However, the bookies think it will be up tonight as they see Manchester United as likely to progress. Personally, I think that if United score, the season is over for us. I do not see us scoring 3 against United; when was the last time we even did? The last I remember was when Freddie Ljungberg made his debut back in 1998. We won 3-0 that day. 2-0 is enough tonight and we last managed this feat in 2003. The way Manchester United is playing right now, I feel we will need at least 3 goals.
Before I get to the other side of this article, I have to look at the crunch match tonight. Wenger clearly wants to go 4-4-2 against United. His comments after the Pompey game suggest he accepts it is our best chance at scoring enough goals to progress. Fabregas needs to revert back to his best position in central midfield. He is there to make the goals, not support our main striker.
Van Persie has been passed fit and this could be the boost we needed. RVP is one of our most talented players. I remember from December to February, he pushed himself while others dropped like flies, carried the side and kept us within reach of Villa. In January he either created or scored every goal we scored. That says it al!
The goal he scored against Liverpool at home, I reckon only Arshavin has threatened to do something similar. RVP is hungry to win things with this side. It is this sort of drive that we will need if we want to get through this tie. He can make something out of nothing, sees a pass, and links up well with others. Fergie picked him out as a player he would love to have at United, hopefully Van Persie shows us all why tonight.
The hunger I mentioned in RVP is something that seems to have gone missing in Adebayor. The fact he scored important goals meant people forgave him. However, his excuse of a performance against both Chelsea and United in our cup semi finals, were a joke. They resembled the performances of a man on £90 per week, not £90,000. It is time for Adebayor to prove he is worth this pay packet. Newspapers are beginning to suggest Wenger may consider moving him on this summer. If he continues to stink up the place with a lack of effort, maybe Wenger will consider it.
On the bench, Wenger has a player with arrogance like Adebayor, but also with a hunger and determination to do well for the team. He may not be everyone’s favourite, and may not be the finished article yet, but Nicklas Bendtner at least wants to score goals. Recently, I have begun to notice in Bendtner more of what he needs to be a world class striker. He is more composed, sharp inside the box and is bringing others around him into the game. We cannot afford to take 60 minutes to get going against United. Maybe Bendtner is the answer.
Wenger will start with Adebayor but unless he proves me wrong, which I hope he does, then Wenger must not hesitate to haul him off earlier than he did at Wembley and Old Trafford. Wenger has reason to start Ade and we have seen against Villarreal and against Man City that he has the ability. He just has to turn up to this game with a bit of determination and energy. Wenger said he would not hesitate to bring in the young players; maybe this was a subtle message to Adebayor.
With us playing 4-4-2, Nasri will revert back to LM but Eboue may start at RM. Wenger said we are almost too offensive with Theo on the wing as well as two strikers. Therefore, he may go for extra defensive balance. Eboue has looked much better going forward and may do a better job doubling up on Rooney/Ronaldo. We cannot allow United time on the ball in our attacking third and Eboue might be able to help Sagna out much more than Theo.
Alex Song MUST start this game. Arshavin may have felt that Denilson was MOTM against Pompey. The problem is, against the big sides he has not imposed himself on the game. Song was one of three players to excel at Old Trafford and he has come on leaps and bounds. He now has a presence on the pitch, tackles well and strongly, and has improved his passing. Fabregas needs a ball winner next to him, someone who will provide him with time on the ball. Denilson does not do this job; Song can.
Silvestre trained yesterday also and that leaves Wenger with a dilemma at the back. Gibbs will play at LB if fit but Djourou is pushing for the position next to Touré. Djourou’s pace could see him get the nod. We will need to push up and put pressure on Untied if we want to win this tie. Therefore, Djourou may be more suited to a high line than Silvestre. Djourou will throw himself at everything and allow Toure to sweep up behind him. I am tempted to go for the man with more pace and therefore Djourou.
All I ask from Almunia is “same again mate!”
Should we lose this tie, Wenger will be under immense pressure during the summer. Here is what I wanted to look at other than the game tonight. With Kroenke on board, and seemingly increasing his influence within the club, Wenger may feel the heat a little more. Kroenke will provide substantial funds for transfers during the summer, the way Randy Lerner has with Aston Villa. Wenger will be able to spend it how he wishes and I think Wenger has a few things he needs to decide.
At the back he has to address whether Toure and Gallas can be a first choice pairing. Gallas must be persuaded to stay as he has proved himself to be our best centre half. He and Toure played well once they sorted out personal problems between themselves. However, are Djourou and Silvestre good enough back ups. For too long, our defence has let us down in crucial matches and run-ins. It is time to sort it out and get a defence to rival the other top 4 clubs.
I think Silvestre needs to go. Untied would not sell him to us if they thought he was good enough. A Manchester United reject is not good enough for us. Djourou is still improving but I feel we need to get in an experienced, no nonsense defender to play alongside either Gallas or Toure.
In midfield, Wenger has players with potential but at the moment, no one who provides a presence alongside Fabregas. We need someone that can tackle, pass the ball and give Cesc the freedom to do what he does best. Song has started to put his hat in the ring for next season. However, if Wenger feels he is not ready to play a full season there, he needs to buy someone. Denilson is a few years off being ready yet and is actually more of a back up to Cesc than anything.
A big question lies with Diaby. He has been here for nearly 4 years. For 3 of those he has been hit with niggling injuries and has failed to put together a series of games. He has good games and then some awful games. His best position is behind the striker but we have so many better players that can do this role. Unless Diaby can get a run of games together and provide the strength we need in midfield, Wenger may consider shipping him out, leaving room to bring in a more experienced, winner in midfield. Is there room for Song, Denilson and Diaby? I am not sure we need three central midfield players with potential. Ramsey is going to be there soon as well. Maybe Diaby is the one to offload.
On the wings we are complete, but up front we may be overloaded. Adebayor, Van Persie, Eduardo, Bendtner, Vela are all going to push for games next season. With a full pre season to get fit, Eduardo will be ready to prove again why he is the best striker at the club. His finishing ability means he should play pretty much every game. With Arshavin creating so many chances, Eddy could get 30+ goals a season. Is Adebayor’s heart still in it? If not, he can leave. Van Persie and Eduardo can work as a partnership in my view. Add to this an ever improving Bendtner and life will go on without Adebayor.
If we can move on from losing Thierry Henry, we can damn well move on from losing Adebayor.
If Wenger does want to offload Adebayor, he may well replace him. If Adebayor decides he does want to leave, Wenger will look for a player who has scored goals regularly for a number of years to provide the stop gap until the younger players are ready.
We will have a full pre-season this time around as there are no international breaks. Wenger’s teams often perform much better after this benefit. Therefore, there should be no excuses for a poor start next season. Wenger will know this and needs to instil a winning mentality and steel to the side.
It could be Wenger’s most important summer yet. Transition no longer cuts it.
That said, a win tonight would see our season continue even further. Rome would beckon and the season could become one of Wenger’s best yet. Tonight has a lot more than a rivalry hinging on it.
When the Champions League music begins, I will know we are 90 minutes from deciding how our season will end. All Gooners going to the game tonight must raise the roof with noise and spur this team onto victory!