Sunday, November 4, 2007

Slavia Prague vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

High-flying Arsenal travel to the capital of the Czech Republic this Wednesday to face the Gambrinus Liga leaders Slavia Prague. Arsenal beat Slavia 7-0 in the home fixture, but the Eastern European side has developed a reputation as one of the most difficult clubs to beat at home.

Arsenal will be looking to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds of the Champions League by coming home with a full three points, but Slavia, who are three points behind second-placed Sevilla, will be looking to deny them.

The Gunners will be confident of a victory following their draws against two of the biggest English teams in the Premier League and their incredible unbeaten record which stretches all the way back to April of 2006. Slavia have also been on a good run of form though, and they will be hoping to slay the British giants.

Arsene Wenger chose a 4-5-1 formation for both this weekend's 2-2 draw with Manchester United and last weekend's 1-1 draw at Liverpool. However, I feel like he will go with a 4-4-2 in Prague on Wednesday.

Almunia will most likely start in goal again, despite his decision making costing Arsenal a goal against United on the weekend.

In front of him will be Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy, who formed a tough defensive line against United and Liverpool.

Update: Kolo Toure did not travel to Prague, meaning that Gilberto is likely to start in central defense alongside Gallas.

The midfield against Liverpool and Manchester United consisted of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in the center of the pitch with Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue on the wings. Alex Hleb was played in his favored position, in the hole between a lone Emmanuel Adebayor and Arsenal's other four midfielders.

Update: Tomas Rosicky, Alex Hleb, and Cesc Fabregas did not travel to Prague

However, Emmanuel Adebayor looked very unstable alone up front, and was once again guilty of missing chances. For that reason, Arsene Wenger may opt to play Theo Walcott or Eduardo da Silva up front alongside the lanky Togo striker, dropping Hleb to one of the wings and taking out either Eboue or Rosicky.

Whether we play a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, Arsenal's midfield will be instrumental in creating goals. Alex Hleb's brilliant close control and laser targeted passing makes him a likely candidate to contribute assists or even goals, and Cesc Fabregas has already scored eleven goals in sixteen games this season. Tomas Rosicky also has a strong shot, and Emmanuel Eboue could provide Arsenal with another dimension by crossing balls across the face of goal for Emmanuel Adebayor.

Slavia will put up a fight and will be very physical, but I don't think they have what it takes to handle Arsenal's free-flowing style of play. Arsenal will boss around the midfield and should retain most of the possession, thereby creating lots of chances.

I predict a 3-0 win and an automatic spot in the knockout rounds.