So, here we are, so close to a match which is more stressful than it needs to be. It is one of the cruel fates of the Champions League that should we win tonight there is every chance that we will finish second in the group, having taken it to the wire, yet still have more points than the Spuds who topped their group with a tally that would not see them top any of the other groups.
I chose to see this as an indicator of the strength of our group more than anything else.
A win and we are through, first or second we shouldn’t really care at this stage as qualification is the key. Partizan arrive at the Emirates with nothing to lose, no fear of elimination, and no doubt a belief that they can add themselves to the ever-growing list of teams able to take points in our own back yard.
Will we see as much rotation as we have witnessed in the past two matches? With our next match not until Monday evening, there is a chance to play a stronger team than Arsene might otherwise have done, but will he do it?
Rumours abound that Van Persie will be starting, but will that be instead of or as well as Chamakh only Wenger knows.
Eboue has come back in to the squad, but he has not impressed in his last few matches so I expect Sagna to maintain his place at right back. At left back I think we might see Gibbs, but if he or Clichy play there’s not much difference. In the middle we already know that we will be playing our only fit centrebacks, Kos and Squillaci.
In the middle we will have Song not playing the holding role, and Jack and Sami far behind him in midfield. Wide I fancy that we will see Arshavin and Theo, with Van Persie up front on his own.
Then again, we could see Rosicky instead of Theo, and if TR7 does play he should be out wide. We saw that Nasri is far more suited to the central role, and given that he is currently walking on water I say we put him where he can play at his stunning best.
We should win this match comfortably, and my gut which has been on the money so far this season sees no reason to be fearful. But we know this Arsenal team. We know they can be complacent, we know they can border on arrogance. Partizan may be bottom of the group with no points, but as I’ve already said, they have nothing to lose and that makes them dangerous.
If we are less than 100% we could yet again suffer at home. We might have won the past two at home in all competitions, and only conceded one goal at home in this years Champions League, but we simply cannot take the chance and hope that Shakhtar are too good for Braga (even though they should be).
We simply cannot rely on another match for our fate, even if we know that at 80% we are too good for Partizan, if we start the match with that mindset we could be in trouble.
Luckily, I don’t see that happening, I see a comfortable win.
Then we can turn our thoughts to our next ‘must-win’ match – Man united at Old Trafford.
Champions League Permutations for Qualification:
Arsenal win and Braga win (by less than 14 more goals than Arsenal) – Arsenal qualify as group winners.
Arsenal win and Braga draw – Arsenal qualify in second place.
Arsenal win and Braga lose – Arsenal qualify in second place.
Arsenal draw and Braga win – Arsenal fail to qualify.
Arsenal draw and Braga draw – Arsenal qualify in second place.
Arsenal draw and Braga lose – Arsenal qualify in second place.
Arsenal lose and Braga win – Arsenal fail to qualify.
Arsenal lose and Braga draw – Arsenal fail to qualify.
Arsenal lose and Braga lose – Arsenal qualify in second place.
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