Ronald Koeman has hit the headlines by claiming that Arsenal have defects.
It starts with self-belief. We must be at our best and for them to have an off-day. I saw their game against Blackburn and they could have scored 15 times! On the other hand, Blackburn had four excellent chances and scored twice. Arsenal, therefore, have defects. We must take the initiative, dominate possession and take the chances that come our way.
He is a man who knocked us out of the competition a couple of times (02-03 with Ajax and 06-07 with PSV). We have to respect him and what he says has some merit as well. No one can deny the fact that we have some weaknesses. Whether Koeman be able to exploit them with his tactics and the talent at his disposal remains to be seen.
Interestingly, he wants to beat us by dominating possession. I am not sure it is a strategy that can work given his present squad. I saw their game against FC Twente last weekend. They looked like a technically capable team but the tempo of their game was quite slow. In fact, they were completely outplayed by a Steve McClaren team in the first half. I guess most Arsenal fans and followers of the English game will find that amusing. The second half was more evenly matched but the Eredivisie leaders showed more desire and tenacity at the end to seal the points.
It would be foolish on my part to comment on their abilities after watching just one game. But they are yet to win in the competition this year, have scored only one goal and are off the pace in their domestic competition after losing half of their ten games so far. Such a saga might not inspire confidence in even the AZ supporters. I can’t see them dominating possession and it could just be a bluff on the part of their manager. When Koeman was in charge, PSV knocked us out by relying on a strong defense. But this Arsenal team is stronger in attack and AZ don’t look like that PSV team defensively. Moreover, this is not a knockout fixture. It should make for an interesting and exciting game for the spectators.
Hamdaoui is their main attacking threat. But Vermaelen probably knows all about the Moroccan international. I guess it would be an advantage to the manager to have a player he can talk to for first hand information about the opposition. But we expect Wenger to be thorough anyway. I have a feeling AZ will try to hit us on the break because if they play an open game like they did on the weekend we might be in for a new scoring record. On the other hand, a win will put us on the brink of qualification and AZ might not have a realistic hope of qualification. So the onus of getting a result will be on the hosts.
Unfortunately, from our point of view, the injuries are stacking up again. We might see a bench full of youngsters and a defender from their fathers’ generation. Hopefully most of the knocks are minor and we will have the full squad back soon.
I would still like to see Mannone continue in goal because he didn’t do too badly against Birmingham but the manager might just sneak Almunia in after the Italian’s mistake for the Bowyer goal. Our first choice keeper is probably getting an idea of how Lehmann must have felt when the Spaniard kept him out of the team.
It also looks like a great opportunity to give Vela some time on the pitch. This is not a must win fixture and such games should be used to give some of the younger players a look in. The injuries to other wide players mean that Wenger’s only other choice might be to play Eboue on the right in the attacking third.
By the same logic Rambo should also get a start. Song has played consistently and tirelessly. He could really use a breather. It might mean that we won’t have a recognized DM on the pitch but even then we should be able to defeat Alkmaar. I am not sure if that would be one change too many and Arsene certainly doesn’t like to tinker with a winning team.
I expect us to start with
Mannone, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Diaby, Cesc, Arshavin, Van Persie, Vela.
Let’s hope Wenger’s boys give a new meaning to the term Dutch treat.