Arsenal play host to Eduardo and his new buddies from Shakhtar Donetsk tonight in a game that Arsene Wenger believes will “give us an opportunity to basically think we have qualified” if three points are secured.
A quick glance at the table shows he’s probably right: both Arsenal and Shakhtar sit on six points with the other two group opponents Partizan Belgrade and Braga currently on zero. But another conclusion is also very possible: a failure to beat Shaktar tonight could lead to the possibility of the Ukrainians, who are particularly strong at home, finishing above us in the group.
The interest factor in this contest comes through the brusque return of Eduardo to North London. Forced to leave Arsenal to seek playing time after a prolonged period of rehabilitation and the signing of Marouane Chamakh, the Brazilian-born Croatian is sure to receive a fantastic reception from the crowd at Emirates Stadium. It is a sentiment he will reciprocate in his own way, with Eduardo admitting he is unlikely to celebrate if he happens to score tonight.
Eduardo’s return will not be the only important one with Cesc Fabregas finally ready to take is place in the squad, if not the starting team. Eduardo admitted in an interview with the terrific Jonathan Wilson from The Guardian that he hopes to swap shirts with Fabregas at the conclusion of tonight’s game: every Arsenal supporter will hope he can.
While Fabregas has been declared as “fully fit” by Arsene Wenger, several other players are not so lucky. Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Vermaelen, Robin van Persie and Manuel Almunia have all been ruled out alongside Bacary Sagna and long-term casualty Aaron Ramsey. In more positive news Theo Walcott is a chance to start despite failing to complete mid-week training with a banged-up toe.
The various injuries will not prevent the manager putting out a strong team against Shakhtar, although as against Birmingham on Saturday, the defence does have a makeshift quality about it. Lukasz Fabianski will look to continue his good form on in goals behind what is likely to be the same back four from the weekend: Emmanuel Eboue, Sebastien Squillaci, Johan Djourou and Gael Clichy.
Further forward Alex Song and Jack Wilshere are the two nailed-on starters in the middle with Fabregas, Abou Diaby and Denilson all possibilities to provide support. Up front Nicklas Bendtner’s lack of match fitness means Marouane Chamakh will get the nod again in the centre of the park. I have a feeling Wenger may use this opportunity to give Andrey Arshavin a rest before the trip to Manchester City, with Tomas Rosicky and Samir Nasri likely to provide attacking support for the Moroccan.
For the reasons stated earlier in the post, I believe it is important that we secure three points at home to Shakhtar tonight. The return of Eduardo will make things a little bit tricky – will our defenders tackle him with the same force that they will tackle some of the other players? – but I always fancy us to do the business at home in the Champions League. To their credit Shakhtar are a side that like to play good football – it was one of the reason’s Eduardo went there – so tonight could be a great spectacle for the footballing romantics, myself included.
In other non-Shakhtar related news over the past day or so Vito Mannone has secured a loan move to Hull City until January. It is a good move for a player that is clearly fourth-choice at the club and with Fabianski playing well, Wojciech Szczesny on the bench and Almunia still “injured”, our goalkeeping dilemma appears to have been solved for the time being. I wish Mannone all the best at his time with Hull.
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