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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Arsenal Vs Sparta Prague: Will Arsenal shoot itself in the foot?

By 1970’s Gooner

Arsene Wenger has said that two legged ties are usually won in the first leg. This is of course a very true statement as rarely a team that accomplished an advantage from the first leg finds itself not going through.

Unless of course it shoots itself in the foot.

This can usually arise through two ways. The club “lulls” itself into a false sense of security and therefore fails to give the tie the seriousness it deserves. Or the players get stuck into that “in between” state of mind which comes from not really having to win the tie.

This is the danger for Arsenal tonight when they meet Sparta Prague at the Emirates, leading 2-0 from the first away leg.

Sparta Prague have really nothing to loose and this state of mind often liberates players and allows them to express themselves without real fear of failure. If they score the first goal then the jitters set in and it becomes anybody’s game.

On the other hand the team in the lead from the first leg may try to get through the tie without exerting itself too much as there is an important League game coming up anyway in a few days time.

This state of mind was not evident at Anfield last night as Liverpool had only a one goal advantage from the first leg which made them vulnerable if they had conceded first.

They also had quite a few, shall we call them “fringe players”, who had something to prove to Benitez. Players like Crouch, Benayoun, Leto, Hyppia and others subject to the rotation policy.

The outcome of this particular tie therefore will depend more on how Arsenal mentally approaches the game rather than the employment of any specific tactics, formation or team selection. Although these are of course significant too.

The players will have to do a professional job, play their normal game and go for the win.

Getting that first goal will be vital as the opponents heads are likely to drop after that. Overcoming a three goal deficit will be insurmountable even for above average teams (which, having watched the first leg, Sparta is not).

On the subject of team selection: Does Wenger rest some of the key players and give games to players returning to the squad?

The sports writers of the national newspapers seem to think so as some, in their “probable” starting eleven, have RVP being rested or similarly Adebayor.

Others have Gilberto rested or starting at centre back. Flamini is at right back or midfield or rested according to which paper you read. Fabregas is rested and Diaby coming in. Others have Fabregas in…..In other words they are all confused!

Wenger will have to take this game very seriously as there is the factor of complacency creeping as explained above but also the (financial) cost of failure may prove too onerous for Arsenal Football Club to bear.

So he is not likely to take too many chances and will try to keep as close to his first team selection as possible barring injuries and fitness.

The two positions he has to make decisions on are the right back and centre back.

The choice at right back is between Hoyte and Flamini and he may go for Hoyte although Flamini perfomed very well against Man City. Wenger has belief in his players and he likes to show it to them for obvious reasons.

At centre back the choice is between Senderos and Gilberto. Does he go for an experienced but unfit player or does he give Senderos his chance?

But I think we will have to wait and see what Wenger decides.

It appears however that there is more strength in depth in this squad; much more than many people think.

Prediction: Arsenal do not shoot themselves in the foot. Home win. 1-0


Sparta Prague team news: Repka is a lot better and travels to London to face Fabregas


Fabregas has added a “Peter Storey” attitude to his vast arsenal of talents