28 March 2006

Before the Big Night: Arsenal-Juventus Preview

What a huge night for the Gunners. I'm edgy now, seven hours before the match. I don't know how I'll react as gametime approaches. Better back off on the caffiene today. I'm so thankful that I was able to be at Highbury for two matches back in November. Even for Sparta Prague, the atmosphere was electric; it really brought home for me how special the Champions League has become. But for Juventus? I can only imagine. It helps that the weather here is cool and misty -- a very London day. In fact, the forecasts are quite similar. So in my minds eye, I can see the bright green pitch glistening under the lights; rows of transfixed fans, tens of thousands, and yet still intimately close to the action; and the players, running their drills, loosening up and calming the jitters before that first whistle. And the roar that greets it.

So the match is progressing normally. Of course most of the stories are about Viera's return to Highbury, and why not. But of course that has no relevance after the first kick. What's going on tactically? Arsenal are missing Sol Campbell and Freddie Ljungberg. Sol was unlikely to start anyway but Freddie will be missed; Pires needs to play with immense energy today if we're to succeed. Of course, Emmanuel Adebayor is cup-tied and unavailable also. Arsene Wenger will have the services of Jose Antonio Reyes, Robin van Persie, and Abou Diaby, so at least a few of our recent injury worries are past us.

For the other side, Juventus are missing some key players as well. Alessandro Del Piero is unavailable after the Roma match and Pavel Nedved is suspended. The tough 1-1 draw against Roma on Saturday will surely have some effect, while Arsenal inadvertently took the weekend off due to poor groundskeeping at Fratton Park. It will be interesting to see what tactical formation Wenger will use, the standard Arsenal 4-4-2 or the 4-5-1 that served so well against Real Madrid. Given the strong midfield pairing of Viera and Emerson, it wouldn't surprise me to see the 4-5-1 to put more pressure on the middle of the pitch. But if we do, then Pires needs to have a huge game, and to provide defensive support for Emmanuel Eboue. Or perhaps Wenger will start Aleksander Hleb wide right instead.

I don't know and it really doesn't matter anyway. I'm excited and nervous, and more than anything I want to see a fiery, aggressive performance from the Gunners. We know they have it in them, and the Champions League has treated them well so far. Let's have at it, boys, and give THOF one more classic night under the lights. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

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