Interesting Contrasts Between Arsenal-Barca And Real-Barca

April 29, 2011

This is supposed to be the worst Arsenal squad in recent memory (some say Wenger’s era, some say last 20 years, and there are other such opinions floating around). Some Gooners claim Wenger has lost it and gone senile. He has no ambition, is tactically clueless, and the players show no spirit.

Real Madrid on the other hand have a squad assembled at a cost that would make the Galacticos look like a bunch of paupers. They’re also supposed to have the world’s best tactical manager.

Not many people gave Arsenal a chance against Barcelona. Despite a 5-0 trashing earlier in the season, Real were supposed to provide a tough challenge to the Catalans.

Arsenal won the first leg at home, albeit with some luck. One can argue Arsenal deserved the win. Real lost the first leg at home with some luck going against them. Can anyone honestly say Real deserved anything out of this game based on that performance?

In the second leg, Arsenal had a lot to play for. Mourinho has given up on the tie and says there is no hope in the second leg.

After the second leg when Wenger gave an honest opinion about the ref, many fans and pundits got on his back. Arsene was criticized, his tactics were ridiculed, and the Gunners were berated. When the Dark Lord released a calculated and probably rehearsed (he knew he will be needing something to divert the attention from his inept tactics) rant against the ref and Barca, all the attention was focussed on the Catalan side. Even the articles in the media that repeated Mourinho’s allegations didn’t have any mention of the number of times the Dark Lord has benefitted from the refereeing decisions. Not least of which was an off-side goal that saw his Inter side beat the same opponents!

The red card given to Van Persie was a joke by any interpretation of the law. The red card given to Pepe was a bit harsh but could still be given for the way he went into the tackle even if Alves had pulled his leg out.

The Gunners gave a lot mentally. In the end the exhaustion told and the disappointment from the ref’s decision turned into an overwhelming factor. Real didn’t even try to play and completely collapsed after the red card.

The Arsenal players were criticized for lacking spirit and for poor attitude even by some Gooners. Many have been conned by the Dark Lord’s diversionary tactics as no one is questioning the attitude and spirit of the ‘Proven Players’ at Real.

Hardly anyone, except some positive minded Gooners, talked about Barcelona players grabbing Van Persie, Nasri, and co by their throats. How many are talking about the playacting by Alves, Pedro, and Busquest?

I don’t have a problem with the media and others. They are who they are. But why is there so much bile and hatred in the Arsenalsphere? Where is the balance? Where is the perspective?

El Classico More Like La Abominacion

April 27, 2011

Many who don’t follow the beautiful game intensely would still have made time to catch a game of this magnitude with two teams as highly rated and with such cherished histories as Real Madrid and Barcelona. This game should have been a spectacle not only for the hard core fans of both sides but also for the lovers of football around the world and even for the casual observers. Instead we witnessed a spectacular disaster and innumerable examples of everything that is wrong with the game.

In fairness, Barcelona didn’t do much wrong except for the awful playacting by Pedro, Busquets, and Alves. I thought Guardiola learnt from his past mistakes and played a very safe game tactically. His teams have struggled in big away games when they have tried to attack. Pep kept 6-7 men in his own half and they just knocked the ball around inviting Real to come at them. A defensive but prudent approach that paid dividends at the end.

Mourinho, probably inspired by Wenger’s tactics of attacking Barca late in the game, kept his players back as the game meandered along. The first half was a pedestrian performance from both teams not only in terms of the speed of the game but also the quality of football. It’s hard to recall a single moment where the technique or skills of the players stood out. The highlights package during the breather most likely contained some dives, playacting, and rash fouls.

It can also be said that Guardiola outfoxed Mourinho by eliminating counter-attacking opportunities. One could also say the Real manager was extremely one dimensional and didn’t have a plan B when his team failed to get counter-attacks going!!

As far as two –legged ties go, I believe the onus is always on the home side to show some initiative. The Dark Lord of Anti-football failed miserably and his rough tactics backfired when his pit bull Pepe was sent off for an over the top, studs-up challenge. Alves’ antics were shameful but it’s hard to argue against the card. Real got away with a lot of rough play in the Copa Del Rey final and one would think it had to come back and haunt them at some time.

I wonder what the Winner Worshipers and Glory Hunting Apologists have to say about Mourinho now. Of course, the second leg is still to come but it will take more than the biggest upset in the history of the game if this Real manager is to win by two goals or more at the Camp Nou.

To my mind, the managers at the big clubs have a responsibility not only to their fans and club but also to the game in general. They cannot send such a talented bunch of players out with such abominable tactics. I criticized Mourinho when he won with Inter and I am going to criticize him now when he flops at Real. People like the Dark Lord set a horrible example for other managers and they tarnish the image of the game. Imagine if someone who doesn’t watch the football is introduced to the sport through such a game after all the hype and hoopla! Will that person ever watch football again!? Mourinho and his ilk might win some trophies and get short-term gratification for glory hunters or billionaires with new toys, but they hurt a lot of people who love the game.

It will be interesting to see whether the bosses at Real, renowned for their lack of patience with the managers, keep the Dark Lord in charge for the next season. Surely no one now fails to understand why they came to Wenger, a manager who hasn’t won a trophy for six years, before they went to Jose. Earlier this season I did an article saying Mourinho was jealous of Arsene and such games show why.

Thankfully, Messi produced a moment of magic that will stay in the memories of football lovers for a long, long time.

The events after the sending off also put into perspective Arsenal’s performance against Barcelona. Way too many fans lost the plot after that game as the bile and hatred directed towards the manager and some players reached new heights. Can someone tell me why Real didn’t have any leaders on the pitch? Where was the winning mentality? Why did they crumble after going down to ten men? Where was the commanding voice that can supposedly be bought by buying proven players? Barcelona didn’t really threaten the Madrid goal when it was 11-v-11 so why did the red card change the game so much?

Earlier I had mentioned that Arsenal were really unlucky to draw Barca in the Champions League, undoubtedly the best team in the world at the moment. If it had been Bayern, Schalke, or Real, the Gunners would have had a great chance of going through. If you pause and think about it, Arsenal are probably in the top four or five teams in the world right now. Not the best, certainly a lot to improve on, but really far from being a disgraceful shambles as many flippant fans like to believe.

To end on a lighter note, just imagine the Tiny Totts (disdainfully dismantled by Real) taking on Barca. Now that would be a spectacle.

PFA Awards Disappointing + Mourinho Learns From Arsene + Original Cesc Interview

April 19, 2011

I want to start with a mention of the PFA awards and the Team of the Year. Congratulations to Wilshere for picking up the Young Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale was chosen as the Player of the Year and Nasri came in second. And in case you haven’t seen it, the team of the year is,

Van der Saar – Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole – Nani, Nasri, Wilshere, Bale – Tevez, Berbatov.

Rather uninspiring if I may say so. One thing that struck me about this seasons list, and by extension the performances of the teams, is that none of the players really stood out. Last year Rooney, Cesc, and Drogba had truly great seasons. I don’t think the same can be said for the likes of Nasri or Bale who have been good in patches but have had relatively little impact in terms of goals, assists, or match winning contributions when compared to their counterparts from last year.

Even looking at the whole team, it’s difficult to say anyone apart from Nani or Wilshere would have gotten into last year’s selection. So have all these players suddenly dropped their performance levels? Has the league got that much tougher this season? Has this season been more about grinding out results than mesmerizing displays?

I don’t know the exact reasons for this change but one thing is for sure, when any team’s best player doesn’t perform at his peak the performances of the whole team suffer. In that sense it is safe to say the top three teams have been a little below par this year, for different reasons though. Rooney has been moved to a different position where he is more useful to the balance of the side but does not have enough personal stats to show for it. Cesc has struggled with injuries while Drogba was down with Malaria and more recently Torresitis (an affliction where a good player cannot get enough games/starts because a more expensive one who plays the same position is in the squad).

One interesting question that arises is – Has Wenger been justified in promoting Wilshere rather than breaking the bank on Yaya Toure as many fans wanted?

The smaller teams have certainly improved a lot. This could have led to lesser space in attacking areas, better organization and marking, more competitive games, and consequently fewer chances for any individual to truly stand out. I don’t think this is the sole or main reason for the distinctly lower quality individual efforts but it is certainly a crucial factor.

Moving on to Spain, I was watching the El Classico last weekend and noticed something interesting. Real Madrid really had a go at Barcelona in the final 15-20 minutes and almost stole a win. This might never come out but I am fairly certain Mourinho saw the way Arsenal troubled Guardiola’s side and has adapted his tactics to follow in Wenger’s path.

Of course, we will know more in the coming days as there are three more Classicos to play. Many might not understand this or believe it but to me it is a great testament to Wenger’s tactical acumen that an evil genius like Jose is copying his approach as he can’t really deploy the Inter style at Madrid. Kudos to the Special One too for being such a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wenger is a tactical genius (regular readers know my reservations on this topic) but it is certain that Arsene is not a tactically clueless idiot as some would have you believe. As always the truth is somewhere in between. More on this topic at some other time.

While we are still in Spain, I wanted to share a couple of links from the Don Balon site. These look like the original interview transcripts but I am not sure. Can someone who knows Spanish please provide a better, more in keeping with the tone and context, translation than the one we have seen in the English media.

On this link you will see the interview about the need for Arsenal to choose between winning and training. On this one Cesc talks about the Champions League tie, his performance, and injury. I’d really love a good translation of the second one as it seems very relevant and is quite a short one. Unfortunately, Google translate didn’t do a very good job.

I’d also like to mention that fans should not fall for the sensationalism of the tabloids or the doom mongers. Cesc is an honest person and has given his genuine opinion. It is not an ultimatum to the club and I don’t think he is trying to talk his way out. It wasn’t the best thing to say but I have said this about Arsene and the players on more than one occasion – they don’t know how to play the media and often give intelligent answers that come to bite them in the backside because the words are twisted way out of context.

Nobody including Wenger denies that there is plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal. I don’t want to get into this discussion right now, it’s a never ending argument so will leave it for the summer. But we must respect Fabregas for saying what he believes to be true. We can criticize him for the timing and perhaps a little lack of tact but it’s harsh to say he is sulking or trying to force his way out. In fact, if anything, it seems he is mentally preparing himself for the long haul.

Finally, I wanted to mention something about the last article and the responses. One chap left ten or more anti-Wenger replies under different names. I just saw them this morning and have since removed them. I don’t know how people find the time and energy to write so many pointless comments but it’s not difficult to see why many Gooners consider such commentators to be Spuds in disguise. From now on if I believe that the same person is leaving abusive comments without any real contribution I will delete the comments without any explanation.

I have no problems with those who disagree with the manager, the board, or any other part of the club. I am also quite happy to allow comments that don’t concur with my opinion. But I will not tolerate an abusive person pretending to be ten people while not making a single meaningful effort to make a point.

Those fans who genuinely support the club should also remember that if it seems there are hundreds of people against the club and Wenger, it is quite likely to be a handful of disgruntled idiots and some Spud trolls polluting the sanctity of the Arsenalsphere.

That’s it for now, I’ll do the NLD preview a little later in the day.

Thoughts And Predictions For The Champions League Draw

March 18, 2011

Before I proceed I want to mention that this article is mostly speculation about the Champions League draw and the teams in it. There won’t be much about Arsenal.

Ok with that out of the way I thought I’ll jot down some thoughts I had about the Champions League quarter-final draw. While the draw is held live and involves some big names associated with the game, I often get the feeling that it is, at least partially, rigged. Do you get the same feeling?

The way some teams keep bumping into each other (Arsenal – Barca, Real – Lyon, etc), the way it throws up some exciting rematches like the repeat of last season’s final in this season’s second round, and the way some of the relatively smaller teams always play each other so that one of them can get through to the latter stages makes me wonder if it’s all a matter of luck.

Of course, one argument is that there are so many permutations that some patterns will always emerge no matter what the outcome. It really could be that simple. On the other hand the reasons behind fixing the draw could be twofold; firstly, it would allow some of the smaller teams a chance to go one step forward and break the hegemony of the big sides while earning some fame and highly useful cash; and secondly, rematches and the likes add more glamour and increase the chatter around the games.

So going by my theory I’d expect two out of Spuds, Schalke, and Shakhtar to meet in the quarter-finals. That way one of the lesser fancied teams is sure to advance to the semi-finals.

Similarly, there is a chance that Real get paired with Inter. This could lead to a great deal of media coverage about Mourinho’s return to the San Siro, how everyone feels about it, and stuff like that. Essentially, it keeps the Champions League in the limelight for a longer period, for free.

Personally speaking, I’d love to see Real meet United. The battle between two highly intelligent managers who both rely heavily on tactics will be fun to watch at a tactical level even if the football isn’t inspiring. It will also put extra pressure on United in their mid-week fixtures. And of course what could be better than having Barcelona meeting them in the semi-final after disposing off the Spuds in the quarters.

Seriously though, Barcelona-Spuds can be an immensely entertaining fixture with a lot of goals, mostly at one end but one or two at the other as well. I’m really hoping for this tie in the draw even if everything else I’m saying falls flat. ‘Arry’s comments, before and after the games, alone will be worth their weight, or should I say font size, in gold.

On the other side Chelsea could then have a rematch with Inter, a tie they lost in the second round last Year. This will nicely set up the small team fixture between Schalke and Shakhtar.

Well those are just some thoughts I had about the draw and a bit of light-hearted speculation. Even without Arsenal I’m going to watch most of these games as these days I’m trying to control the emotions a bit more and focussing on the tactics and other details.

By the way did anyone catch the Europa League games today? Man City really know how to cure a Gooner’s disappointment. I’d say Liverpool too did their bit by huffing and puffing to a goalless home draw with Braga, a team that did well against us in the Champions League. Interestingly, both these ‘giants’ lost to a couple of teams that have dropped down from the CL to the EL. Does that mean neither of them are really ready for the Champions League? And if so, how far behind Arsenal are these teams? I’ll leave you to ponder on that.

Is Wenger Right About The Impact Of The Financial Regulations?

September 14, 2010

Ever since the vote on the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations there has been an ongoing debate about the impact they’ll have on clubs. There seem to be three broad opinions; the new regulations will change the world of football, the new regulations will have some impact, and there will be no impact whatsoever.

Arsene seems to be in the first category,

It will be a massive advantage to Arsenal Football Club as soon as it’s applied if it’s well introduced.

I guess most of you will have noticed the “if it’s well introduced” bit at the end. That is where the debate is. Many believe UEFA cannot be strict with the rules simply because they cannot afford to leave out the marquee names. Others feel that clubs will find a way around these rules through creative accounting and via some loopholes that seem to exist in these regulations.

Broadly speaking I tend to agree with these arguments. If the clubs want to find a way around it, I’m convinced they can. But to me the biggest question is, do clubs want to find a way around the regulations?

Platini claims that the owners themselves came to UEFA seeking regulations. They don’t want to continue this indiscriminate spending.

It’s mainly the owners that asked us to do something. Roman Abramovich, Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan and Massimo Moratti at Inter, they do not want to fork out any more.

I believe that makes the more sense than any other argument. You have to wonder how long can the owners absorb losses. We’ve already seen a shift in the transfer policies at Chelsea, United, and to some extent at Milan. While Manchester United don’t have a problem of making losses, their debts are clearly affecting their transfer business.

Chelsea have let experienced players (high wage earners?) like Ballack, Carvalho, Joe Cole, Deco, and Belletti leave while bringing in only a couple of players like Benayoun and Ramirez (significantly lower wages?). They’ve also been looking at the youth market over the last few years, without the kind of success that Arsene has had, if I may add.

United have signed the likes of Smalling, Hernandez, Bebe, Obertan, Biram Diouf, and Pogba in the last two years. All of whom are young, relatively unproven players most probably on relatively low wages. By their standards, replacing Ronaldo with Valencia was a big step down and signing Owen on a free was wheeling and dealing at a Redknappesque level. And all this when they don’t even have a problem with the break even rules. Surely, this is planning for the future with an eye on the new regulations?

Similarly, AC Milan have been shopping for second hand has-beens and bargain buys. While they do have a decent squad, we can see they are no longer spending at the highest levels.

The case of Inter Milan is the most staggering. The excellent Swiss Rambler points out that the club have made cumulative losses of € 509 Million in the last three years (07-09). Overall, in the Moratti era the club lost €1.15 billion with about €730 coming from the pockets of the president.

How long do you think even the richest can sustain such losses?

This does explain why Wenger specifically pointed this out while talking about the financial fair play rules,

I don’t want to go into excuses but you want a business to be run properly and I believe that to lose £150 million a year you don’t deserve a lot of credit to win a competition.

[Meanwhile] we have balanced our books.

Maybe some people think it’s right because they don’t care but if they had to run a business I don’t think it’s right.

For some it’s a force of habit to dismiss everything that Arsene says about the financial issues. But those who do think about it wonder what’s going on. In effect, it’s like saying we have a hundreds of millions to blow, let’s see how you compete with us.

Is it at all surprising that other clubs are forced to spend beyond their means? Ultimately, many end up in the red and flirt with extinction.

This problem is even more pronounced in La Liga. Barca and Madrid have massive incomes. The other clubs have been forced to compete with them by splashing more than they are earning. It has reached such a stage that the Spanish government has been forced into taking some action.

In an effort to tackle reckless spending and rising debts among the 20 La Liga clubs, the country’s top teams will be subjected to financial regulation by a new independent body established by the Spanish government to ensure that teams are living within their means.

Clubs won’t be allowed to spend more than 70% or 75% of their income on player wages or transfer fees under new proposals from Jaime Lissavetzky, the country’s secretary of state for sport, which are expected to come into force for the 2011-12 season and will include powers to exclude offenders from competition.

One might argue that since Madrid and Barca report profits they will not be affected by these rules. To an extent that is correct but we must not forget that these clubs thrive because of La Liga. If the other clubs cannot compete the league itself will be threatened and that will have a direct impact on the big two. I won’t be surprised if they move to some sort of a revenue sharing model for the television rights.

There is a good chance that such a change will adversely impact the revenues of La Liga giants. We’ve already seen that everything is not right at Barca as they had to take out a loan to pay the players’ wages. Any impact on their revenues will directly affect their transfer decisions and wages.

In the short-term Madrid and Barca might be able to spend more than Arsenal, Chelsea, United, Inter, or Milan; but in the long run I see it evening out.

The final case is that of Man City. I think they are planning to spend big right now and will convert most of the debt into equity before the monitoring period begins. After that they will have to find a way of covering the amortization costs and wages by making a significant jump in revenues. I have a feeling if anyone does try to circumvent the regulations, it will be City.

To conclude, the intent of owners and the impact of local regulations will decide the future economy of football. UEFA have come up with a decent set of rules. If the owners decide to abide by these rules, which is in their best interests as well, the football world might see a rapid return to sanity.

If however, there are some who want success at any cost, we will continue to see an inflated market. I have a strong feeling UEFA will take strict action if an odd club like City, who don’t have any European pedigree, try to circumvent the rules. But the governing body will be helpless if all the big clubs continue to break the rules. Given the evidence we have seen I believe the market is already changing, and thanks to our prudence and foresight we are likely to be amongst the best placed clubs.

Wenger Protégé Dumps Real Madrid Out Of Champions League

March 11, 2010

Lyon have given us the biggest upset of the Champions League this season. Real Madrid, favourites in many eyes, have been out thought and out fought. Claude Puel take a bow.

I feel this victory for Lyon is a win for team work over brainless spending and sends a clear message to the world of football, buying is not always the solution. It is so easy to get enamoured by the glamour of big names flashing around in the print and electronic media. Very few people actually understand that glamour is not a quality that wins football games.

Lyon weren’t perfect but they did a job and played to their strengths. Madrid tried to play to their strengths, but just didn’t have enough in attack to break the resilience of the French side. Some may consider this a case of negative tactics by Lyon. Well, Manchester United and Chelsea used the same to beat Arsenal and have tried the same with Barcelona as well. If those teams are great, then so are the battlers from France.

There is an interesting and deep-seated connection between Claude Puel and Arsene Wenger that was established way back till 1988. I was not aware of this till last weekend when I read this brilliant article. Sometimes the writers in the media do a good job after all!

Puel was a key player in Wenger’s first trophy winning squad at Monaco. It was Wenger who recognized his qualities and encouraged him to combine playing with coaching. At Lyon, Puel was introduced as “A future Arsene Wenger”.

The similarities might not be immediately apparent. Lyon played a highly tactical game to outwit Real, while Arsenal have been on the receiving end of similar tactical drubbings. Any superficial analysis would lead to the conclusion that both are exactly the opposite.

I see it as an insult to top quality managers when their work is shredded to bits by such lame thinking. Either manager is capable of using multiple tactics and they choose the appropriate ones based on the understanding of their squad and the opposition. At times the tactics don’t work and it seems the manager does not know what he is doing. It would be fair to question the manager’s decisions, but to accept that illusion as a matter of fact is naïve in the extreme.

We do not know if Puel will follow the exact path as Wenger. He might play an attacking game once the basic ethos of team play and hard work are established, or he might choose to go the Mourinho way and back his natural defensive instincts. We don’t know if the Lyon manager can build a squad on a shoe string budget, develop young players and perform consistently at the highest level. Put simply, there is no way to say he will be a Wenger clone. And I’m sure he doesn’t want to be one either.

Arsene is one of the greatest managers of all time and if Claude Puel achieves even half as much, he will have an admirable and rewarding career. For now, I am just happy my prediction came good and the moneybags have been trashed. It does compensate for an insipid but expected Milan performance.

Thoughts On The Other Champions League Ties

February 16, 2010

Normally I don’t spend too much time thinking about the non-Arsenal games. This time though, the fixtures are intriguing enough to merit a post. Let me start with our English rivals.

Inter Milan V Chelsea

In the recent past English teams have been dominating the ties with their Italian counterparts. This fixture might just change that.

Mourinho claims the Chelsea team still plays the way he taught them to.

The last time I was there [Stamford Bridge] I was watching all the details with attention. Even the warm-up is the warm-up they did in our time. The way they defend set pieces is exactly the same. The position they have on set pieces is exactly the same.

Sometimes they play a 4-4-2 diamond, sometimes they play 4-3-3, which are exactly the systems we worked when there.

When I look at that team only Ivanovic and Anelka are not players from my time. All the other boys: Petr Cech, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Essien, Mikel, Drogba, Malouda, Joe Cole, Kalou; all of them are boys from my time.

He is right and it makes sense. When somebody is given hundreds of millions to buy players it is likely that the squad will not change much over the next few years. Not even the richest owners can afford to revamp the whole squad based on each manager’s whim. Similarly, Mourinho is without a doubt the best defensive manager in the world so there is no reason for the team to change the systems that he has perfected and that have worked so well for them.

Just like Wenger said, “ nothing + nothing = nothing” about the Cesc story, I see this game as a, “boring + boring = boring” fixture. I guess this will be the most closely fought second round tie and one goal over 180 minutes might settle the contest. I wouldn’t mind the extra dose of boredom as long as Chelsea are dumped out.

AC Milan V Manchester United

A couple of weeks ago I thought Milan might put up a fight as they were on a nice run and United have been shaky this year. However, since the San Siro derby the Rossoneri have lost some momentum. Historically the Italians have a great record against United and their experience is their only hope. I can’t see them out scoring United or Leonardo outwitting Fergie in a tactical battle.

A lot will depend on whether Milan can keep a clean sheet in the home game. In the first round their away record was much better than their home record but they failed to keep the opposition out in all the six games.

An aging squad will struggle to keep up with the likes of Rooney over two legs and this game is likely show us why signing Huntelaar was not the solution in January!

The Spanish teams have a mixed draw. I think Barca will cruise through and there isn’t much to analyze in that fixture. Real on the other hand might be dumped out by the French side.

Lyon V Real Madrid

In many eyes Real are automatic favorites for winning the trophy after their summer spending spree. To me it’s down to one player, Ronaldo. If Lyon can keep him quiet they are in with a chance. Kaka, Benzema and Higuain are very good attacking players but a well organized team can keep them quiet. Lyon conceded only three goals in the first phase and if they can keep a clean sheet at home they will fancy their chances of going through.

Los Merengues have a weak midfield and their defense is nothing special. Lyon have enough firepower to trouble Casillas but they will have to be extremely clinical to cause an upset.

This one could be the exact opposite of the Chelsea/Inter game and we might see a goal glut.

Bayern V Fiorentina

Based on reputation alone the Germans are firm favorites. I saw their demolition of Juventus and they looked really impressive. Fiorentina, though, have managed some surprise results in the first phase. I have no idea how this one will pan out but if we were to meet the winner of this tie in the next round I will certainly prefer the Italians.

Olympiakos V Bordeaux

We have seen enough of the Greek side to think that the French champions should have an easy route to the quarter-finals. I guess most of us will follow this one with interest mainly because of Chamakh. In case he is coming to Arsenal next season, it will be good to see him perform at the big stage.

CSKA Moscow V Sevilla

The winner of this game can easily be considered the weakest team in the final eight. If we can get through Porto (and there is no reason we shouldn’t) I would love to face either of them in the quarter-finals. I know our record in Russia isn’t great but neither of these teams is a tactical, defensive unit and that makes me feel we would have a good chance.

I’ll preview our game in detail tomorrow. For now, let’s root for the Italians!