Monday, August 27, 2007

Arsenal vs Sparta Prague - Match Preview

On Wednesday afternoon, Arsenal face Sparta Prague at the Emirates in their home game of their 3rd round qualifying fixture for the Champions League. Having won the away match 2-0 after goals from Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb, Arsenal are heavy favorites to go through to the lucrative group stage of the Champions League. The win was far from convincing however, as the Czech team controlled the first half and the opening minutes of the second. It took a moment of brilliance from Gael Clichy to set up Cesc's 72nd minute goal, and Hleb's second didn't come until injury time.

Nonetheless, it is the result that matters, and Arsenal will be happy coming into Wednesday's game with a two goal advantage. Also, with Adebayor, Gilberto, Eduardo, and Denilson (who were all out for the away fixture) all back from injury/fatigue, Arsene Wenger will have many more options to choose from. Our manager may even give some of Arsenal's younger players a chance by resting players such as Robin van Persie.

After a last-minute win against Sven-Göran Eriksson's previously undefeated Manchester City side, Arsenal will be fairly confident of qualification for this year's Champions League. If Sparta are to stand any chance of winning this match, they will have to fully shut down Clichy's marauding runs into the attacking third, as well as the defense splitting passes of Hleb and Fabregas.

However, it is possible that Arsenal will be weak in defense, although both Philippe Senderos and Bacary Sagna should be available for the match after recovering from minor injuries suffered before and during Saturday's win over Manchester City. With the error-prone Jens Lehmann out for two weeks, and controversial club captain William Gallas out for over a month, Arsenal will have something of a makeshift defense, which may be exploited by Sparta's front line.

Arsenal should prove nearly impossible to overcome though, and I'm guessing that the scoreline will come out 2-1 in our favor, for an aggregate win of 4-1, and a spot in the Champions League group stage.

By the way, here's a link to the goals from the away leg for those of you who are interested.

Edit: Arsene Wenger today told that Sagna would be sidelined for the match, but is likely to return for Sunday's premiership clash with Portsmouth. Senderos however, is fit, and is likely to start alongside Kolo Toure against Sparta Prague.

First and Second half reviews