Match Preview: Arsenal v AZ Alkmaar Part II (UCL)
A fortnight ago, Arsenal had an early chance to close out Group H and qualify for the knockout stages of the Champion’s League. However, as was typical for some Arsenal teams of the past, the Gunners owned the game throughout only to relax in the last quarter of the game and watch David Mendes da Silva shot equalize in the last minute of the game. Today’s match is an attempt to once again close out the group and right the wrong that was done in Holland.
AZ Alkmaar come to the Emirates still following through on their erratic league form. They’ve lost to Ajax, needed extra time to beat a bottom feeding Eredivisie club and won 1-0 over another opponent. But still as was mentioned two weeks ago a Ronald Koeman managed side have managed to be a thorn in the Gunner’s side in the past.
In fact the Gunner historically haven’t been all that successful at home against Dutch Sides. They are an appalling 2 W 4 D 1 L. In order for them to progress into the knockout stages – they will need to halt that trend and come out with an emphatic win.
This is amatch less about what AZ can do and more about Arsenal comingo ut and dictating the play for a full 90 minutes. Coming off the draw to AZ and a following draw to West Ham – 2 matches they held the lead for most of the match – Arsenal have shown a renewed committment to focus. Arsenal’s young guns won in style 2-1 over Liverpool in the Carling Cup and even in a lackluster peformance against Tottenham, mauled their derby opponents 3-0. All the while in both matches it was evident that Arsenal were committing themselves towards protecting their leads.
A lack of focus isn’t in the only thing Arsenal will need to overcome. Trips to the trainer’s table are becoming a regularity with the team. On Tuesday it was announced that Gael Clichy could be out up to 4 weeks with a stress fracture in his lower spine. Niklas Bendtner is also out, having come up lame with a severe groin injury. Throw in long term injuries, to Denilson and Djourou as well as ankle an knee injuries to Walcott and Vela and some very talented people won’t being seeing the pitch for the next few weeks.
However, Arsenal will be bouyed by the return of Tomas Rosicky who was out the last few matches with a slight knee injury. And while he likely won’t start, he should factor in as a sub. Filling in for the injured Clichy will be budding England starlet Kieran Gibbs. Personally, I am a bigger Gibbs fan than I am a Clichy fan. Clichy is amazingly quick but I sometimes feel is commitment to getting the ball back is limited. Kieran Gibbs is a bigger, quicker and more adept at defense than Clichy. Everyone agrees that Gibbs could be a new version of Ashley Cole – hopefully without the ego. Gibbs sees the play real well and when he does make youthful mistakes always seems to correct them or learn from them. Like Thomas Vermaelen – he continues to improve game over game, month over month, etc. His downside is really his lack of first team experience. He played good chunks last year for an injured Clichy and will now get the chance to do the same. If he is going to be the star everyone is projecting him to be – this is where he needs to stake his claim. Frankly, I like the lad’s chances.
Arsenal sit atop Group H with 7 points out of 9. A win today with two more more games to go puts them into the knock out rounds. One more win after that puts them in first place in the group and gives them the likelyhood of a favorable draw.
How the match should play out:
I expect that Arsenal are going to want to continue to make a point that they have arrived. To a man there seemed to be actual regret and “pissed-off-ness” that they let AZ and West Ham back into those matches. In year’s past I never saw that from this team. Throw that desire into Arsenal’s recent home form and the Emirates is going to be difficult for the Dutch to prosper in. Arsenal are showing a good ability to strking repeatedly in a quick fashion. With the exception of the derby match they are also scoring earlier in matches which opens up a game for them. I expect early goals in succession from the club and coming from the likes of the red hot Robin Van Persie and his up front partner Andrei Arshavin. The match will be put away for good from an Eduardo strike in the second half.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Robin Van Persie is on a tear. He has 7 goals in 6 league matches and seems to be a threat every time he in the box.
AZ Alkmaar: David Mendes da Silva killed Arsenal’s qualifying hopes two weeks ago. Was a threat a few times prior to the equalizer.
Arsenal: Bendtner, Walcott, Fabianski, Denilson, Djourou, Vela, Wilshere
AZ Alkmaar: El Hamdaoui
Possible Starting XI:
Arsenal: Almunia, Eboue, Vermaelen, Gallas, Gibbs, Song, Fabregas, Diaby, Eduardo, Arshavin, Van Persie
AZ Alkmaar: Romero; Swerts, Moisander, Moreno, Poulsen; Holman , Mendes da Silva, Schaars, Martens, Dembele, Pelle
The game will be shown on tape delay on FSC at 5PM EST. Game day chat (www.youaremyarsenal.com/gamedaychat)