Sunday, October 21, 2007

Arsenal vs. Slavia Prague: Match Preview

Match Review

Group H leaders Arsenal take on third-placed Slavia Prague at the Emirates this coming Tuesday. Arsenal will be confident coming into this match, having won eleven straight games in all competitions. A 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers this past Saturday will do nothing to ruin their morale.

Arsenal would do well not to underestimate the Czech team though. Slavia currently top the table in the Czech league, having collected 25 points out of a possible 30 this season. Slavia are 9 points ahead of Sparta Prague, the team that Arsenal defeated 3-0 to qualify for the Champions League group stage. While they may have lost their last Champions League game (a 4-2 defeat at Sevilla) Slavia do have a bit of pedigree as giant-killers. The Prague team defeated Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam home and away to qualify for the tournament.

However, the Czechs will have to play very well to defeat a nearly full-strength Arsenal squad. Arsenal's only missing players will be Phillipe Senderos and Robin van Persie, and while the loss of the Dutch striker will be lamented, Senderos was unlikely to start anyways, due to the return of William Gallas.

Arsene Wenger's lineup is likely to be nearly the same as that which played Bolton, with only one switch likely - Tomas Rosicky may start over Emmanuel Eboue.

That means that Manuel Almunia will probably start in goal, with the benched goalie being either Jens Lehmann or Lukasz Fabianski.

In front of Almunia will be Arsenal's starting backline of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. I can't foresee our defense having any difficulty in keeping the Slavia strikers at bay, and if Kolo Toure can strike a free kick against Slavia the same way he did against Bolton, we may not even miss Robin van Persie.

The most likely midfield lineup (and the best in my opinion) would be Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in the middle, with Tomas Rosicky and Alex Hleb on the flanks. The Czech national team captain is likely to start over Emmanuel Eboue who struggled to have an impact on Saturday and seems to be losing his place in the Arsenal side. Other options in the midfield include Abou Diaby, Gilberto, and Lassana Diarra; but while Diaby and Gilberto may get some time as substitutes I don't see either of them starting.

Arsenal's impressive midfield lineup should boss around Slavia's midfielders, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some goals coming from the midfield. More likely to score though, would be our front line.

Up front Arsene Wenger still has many options despite the loss of Robin van Persie due to injury. Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo started against Bolton on Saturday, and are the most likely candidates to start on Tuesday as well. However, Arsenal's young starlet Theo Walcott has been pushing for a starting berth as a striker, and Nicklas Bendtner will be looking for some action up front as well. No matter who plays, if Sevilla was able to put four past them, we should be able to score a few of our own...

While I urge Arsenal fans not to be too overconfident in this fixture, I do feel that we are heavy favorites both to win this game, and head the group in qualifying for the knockout stages. I'd guess we win this one 2-0.