Cesc v. Senna
Spain teammates Marcos Senna and Cesc Fabregas will face off tonight in the Villareal half of the midfield. Expect to see Cesc “in the hole” or “off the shoulder” however you want to say it (calling positions in Wenger’s system is very difficult) basically he’ll be leading the attack in the midfield. This means that he will be marked closely by Marcos Senna: the man who single-handedly handcuffed Andrei Arshavin in Euro 2008.
Neither player is 100% fit, both coming off injuries, so neither player has an advantage there. Senna has a ton of experience which will serve him well, but Cesc is Cesc and his guile, vision, and ball control will serve him well. The one thing we don’t want to forget is that Senna also starts the attacks and can get forward himself, even scoring some great goals. Cesc will have his work cut out for him on that front. So, I’m calling it a draw.
The problem is that Cesc is so important in the creative role that even a draw in this battle is a win for Villareal.
Bobby v. Sagna
Pires is well past his prime but that doesn’t mean we can just write him off. If the press is to be bellieved he’s hungry to show Arsene what he missed by offering the 33 year old just a one year contract (he’s 35 now) after the bitter disappointment of the Champions League final. Bobby’s being very diplomatic but it has to hurt that Wenger sacrificed him instead of Ljungberg on that day, and I have to think that he’ll want to stick the knife in.
Physically, I have no doubt that Sagna can handle Pires. But Pires isn’t going to try to blow by Sagna, rather, he’ll use his experience and inherent guile to get into problematic spaces and take shots. Mentally, Sagna better be on top of his game, there’s a reason why Pires was called the Fox in the Box. You can bet your ass if there’s a shot, Bobby’s taking it.
One thing Sagna can do is get forward and force Pires’ old legs to work extra hard. Tired legs make mistakes.
Irregardless of Sagna’s youthful vigor, Pires’ desire and guile give the advantage to Villareal.
Adebayor v. Godin
You never know which Adebayor you’re going to get. Adebayor can be a beast or he can be a mouse. It’s no stretch to say that Arsenal need Emmanuel Adebayor to work hard, keep his head, and (most importantly) take his chances: in short, he needs to be a beast tonight.
I think he will be up for the game, it’s a big match and he’s talked about how hungry he is to win a trophy, moreover, Wenger will leave him alone up front in the 4-2-3-1 and when he’s up for the game, he thrives as the lone hit man. Still, it’s his aerial ability which will likely net him a goal so, look for him to harass the back line, win corners, and I’d bet he gets a goal off a set piece.
Gallas v. Rossi
Arsene Wenger will look to his former captain and best defender to lead the line against Villareal’s big Italian (via America) striker. For Rossi, service from the midfield will be crucial as to whether he will have the kind of chances that he needs to convert goals. So, Arsenal’s two-headed stopper (Denilson and Song) will be employed to soak that up.
If Arsenal manage to stop service from midfield, then Villareal will probably try a more direct approach. In which case Gallas’ speed and awareness will be needed to slow down Villareal’s top goal scorer. I’m counting on the former, and thus Gallas’ role is crucial to keeping Rossi out of the sticks.
Gallas has another advantage; he scores goals. In all competitions, Cappy has 6 goals this season, half of which have come in the Champions League. It’s an impressive haul for a defender and a huge threat to Villareal. Watch for Cappy to get an equalizer if Arsenal are down late in the game: he loves scoring those late goals and being the hero.
I see a 1-1 draw here, Villareal will be up for the game and their fans will make life uncomfortable for the Arsenal. Both teams will be tentative to start and Arsenal need to use their speed on the counter to try to open Villareal’s defense.
That said, an early goal from either team will force their opponents to attack and could lead to a huge scoreline. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the longer the game goes without a goal the more tentative both teams will become and the less likely to score. It’ll be boom or bust I tell ya!
Of course a million things could happen but I see a momentary lapse of concentration (Clichy?) leading to a Pires goal (PK?) right after the start of the second half and then the Arsenal onslaught to ensue which will lead to a late goal from Cappy or Adebayor off a set play. 1-1 would be a good result, as it gets us that crucial away goal, to take back to Emirates where we can seal the deal.
If you’re in town, see you at 11:45. If not, wherever you are, get out the kits and let’s cheer these boys on!