Arsène Hopes To Avoid Greek Tragedy With Carling Cup Squad
As the other English clubs contemplate life in an altogether different European theatre, Arsenal’s ‘weakened’ squad arrives in Piraeus already comforted by qualification for the knockout phase and top spot in the group. Even the criticism of naming his irregulars has been weakened with barely a murmur passing the lips of the media. And rest his first XI the manager has, only Vermaelen and Santos can lay claim to being regular starters; the Carling Cup is on its European tour.
That Wenger is able to do so indicates how well this European campaign has gone. From the minute a clean sheet was kept in the first leg of the qualifier against Udinese, the results have left the Frenchman will little to grumble about. The travails of the Premier League have often been forgotten with performances that helped scrap the team back into form. Largely these have been under the radar because they have been as expected; it certainly was not the toughest group to have drawn but nor was it anywhere near as straightforward as Manchester United’s or even City’s for that matter. Both Mancunian clubs have toiled to the extent where at least one is expected to have their fixture list severely messed around with; Thursday night football for little reward. Arsène is right to leave the sniggering to us.
The match is not a dead rubber with all sorts of qualification outcomes hinging on the result. Olimpiacos will be ready for action and looking for further adventures in the Champions League. Arsène noted that the only place the club hasn’t won in his 200 European ties is Barcelona; Greece isn’t too far behind either with Panathinaikos the only reward from their Champions League visits to these shores. A couple of other draws as well but mainly defeats. There are parallels with that win as it was carved out by an essentially Carling Cup squad. Like the more glorified wins in the San Siro and Bernabeu, it was another first for Arsenal, the first English team to win in Europe’s premier competition in Athens. A repeat performance of that please.
There is an element, I am sure, for Arsène to enjoy tonight with schadenfreude. Marseilles’ difficult trip to Dortmund takes qualification out of their hands to a certain extent although win and they are through; mixed emotions once Le Boss puts aside his professional loyalties. A quiet sip of wine with a wry smile I am sure, if the French fail at the last hurdle; revenge is definitely a dish that is being removed from his freezer to thaw out.
Focus is turning to Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanian has been linked with a loan spell to enhance his first team opportunities, Wolves the suggest location. Wenger wants to ‘channel’ his aggression, his enthusiasm and everything about the player in the right direction. In contrast to others who go out on loan, you can see that any move now is not about putting him into the shop window but educational,
Good players always respond to the game situation and make the right decision taking all the emotional part out of it. It’s a question of experience. When you are young you think you have a strong shot and people say: ‘come on have a go.’ You are tempted to do it even though you have a pass to make. At 24 you think: ‘come on, I have that pass to make’.
That is looking ahead and Frimpong is certainly popular when he appears. Battling qualities are different to those currently in the Arsenal midfield; more typically English than the interceptions made with Alex Song in situ. There is room for both in the team but Frimpong faces strong competition for a place with Coquelin seemingly further along the first team road than he. The youngster would do well to look at the positive impact loan spells have had on his rivals career as well as that of Jack Wilshere. Wolves is an interesting choice with the style of play and Mick McCarthy being opposite ends of the footballing spectrum to Arsenal and Wenger. Maybe the authoritarian route is the one that is felt to be of more benefit to Frimpong personally although the suspicion must be that they are the only ones to have public their admiration for the player.
Tonight’s team is very much a pick and mix. You can make a case for any of the eighteen who have travelled to start but here is my stab in the dark, in a 4-4-2 formation:
Fabianski; Djourou, Squillaci, Vermaelen, Santos; Frimpong, Coquelin, Rosicky, Benayoun; Arshavin, Chamakh
Whatever the case, this is the last time until the visit of Leeds, Leeds, Leeds in the FA Cup that en masse the team can be changed. Rotation for the next four weeks is going to be on an as-needed basis. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.