Arsenal have an opportunity to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League tonight, if they can defeat Belgian side Anderlecht and Borussia Dortmund can do likewise against Galatasaray.
The Gunners had quite the scare in Brussels a fortnight ago when they were rather fortunate to escape with three points thanks to a pair of goals in the final minute of the match.
The Gunners have strung together a couple of league wins since then and have slowly began to find some defensive stability and attacking rhythm, the latter largely thanks to Alexis Sanchez.
Realistically, the visitors are battling with Galatasaray for 3rd place in the group to keep their European campaign alive, albeit via the Europa League.
Arsene Wenger may look upon tonight as a chance to give some of his squad players, such as Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski, some game time. There again, having just implemented a new 4-4-2 shape, perhaps he will want to continue to build chemistry and confidence in his team.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has urged his side to go and try to win Group D as he welcomes Anderlecht to North London this evening, ‘I don’t know exactly how it is in the groups, but it is always better you finish first because in some way you feel guilty if you don’t finish first. People think if you are punished you deserve it, because you finished second.
‘We’re playing at home and we have an opportunity to win the game and we want to take this opportunity. We are on a good run and we want to take advantage of that.
‘We respect them because they gave us a tough game. We had a bit of a miraculous win because we needed to go until the last minute, but that also showed our quality in that game.
‘We have been warned and we have learned a lot from this game and we want to win the game at the Emirates.
‘It is far from done because Anderlecht is a team who is certainly more dangerous away from home because they are good on the break. So let’s do it and then see. I think if we win tomorrow we have a good chance to be qualified.’
Meanwhile, Anderlecht coach Besnik Hasi told arsenal.com that organisation would be the key for his side, ”They might dominate, but we have a young side with a lot of talent, despite the fact that we’re missing [Matias Suarez] and [Steven] Defour,’ Hasi said. ‘We must not be afraid – we need to give our all. They are at home but we need to be organised and face up to the challenge.
‘We were satisfied in the first half [in Belgium a fortnight ago]. We knew that they had a lot of quality and they would push it.
‘We thought if we were organised and kept [Arsenal out] in the first half, we would get more spaces. We made it 1-0 but we forgot to make it 2-0 or 3-0 and in the end, due to some mistakes we made, we let Arsenal come back.
‘I think that the first game Arsenal underestimated us a little bit. They were probably surprised in the second half, because they needed to push and we used the spaces.
‘I think we dealt with Alexis pretty well at home, but he’s always dangerous whenever he picks up the ball,’ he said. ‘They played two games after they played us and they’ve won them both very easily, creating a lot of opportunities. He’s not the only dangerous player – they have several guys who can change a game.’
Arsenal Team News:
Arsene Wenger has ruled midfielder Jack Wilshere out of the game due to illness, insisting he will be fit for the trip to Swansea on Sunday. Wojciech Szczesny returns from a one match European suspension to play in goal.
Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Mesut Özil (knee), Olivier Giroud (ankle), David Ospina (thigh) and Isaac Hayden (thigh) are all unavailable.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Rosicky, Arteta (c), Podolski, Walcott, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Sanogo, Welbeck, Martinez, Campbell, Bellerin.
Player to watch: The full backs
Anam wrote a very interesting piece on the use of the Arteta and Flamini partnership in midfield liberating our full backs.
Against Anderlecht, Gibbs equalised from a Chambers cross and against Burnley, Calum Chambers scored one and assisted one, with Kieran Gibbs also helping himself to an assist.
Chambers and Gibbs have been given license to get forward in Arsenal’s nod to 4-4-2 recently and I would expect that trend to continue tonight, even if I think Aaron Ramsey may slot into central midfield tonight.
Anderlecht Team News:
The Belgians have lost Matias Suarez (knee) and Steven Defour (thigh) to injury. They join Fabrice N’Sakala (knee) and Bram Nuytinck (toe) on the sidelines.
Anderlecht (from): Proto, Deschact, Najar, Praet, Colin, Cyriac, Alvarez, Acheampong, Kljestan, Conte, Mbemba, Heylen, Kudimbana, Tielemans, Dendocker, Roef, Vandenborre, Wigor, Kabasele, Mitrovic.
Player to watch: Anthony vanden Borre
One of the more experienced of the Adnerlecht troop, vanden Borre is a kind of right wing back in the Antonio Valencia mould, capable of playing at right back or on the right wing.
Anderlecht are strong on the break, as Arsene Wenger acknowledged in his pre match briefing and as they showed after taking the lead against the Gunners in Belgium. The wing heeled vanden Borre will look to lead those counter attacks.
Match Facts & Stats
The last time Anderlehct played away at Arsenal was the 1970 Fairs Cup Final. They took a 3-1 lead to Highbury, only to lose 3-0 and surrender the trophy to the Gunners.
Anderlecht have avoided defeat just once in their last eight encounters with English sides. They drew 1-1 with Spurs in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup group stages.
Anderlecht have played 29 times against English sides (W6 D4 L19). Away their record is W0 D1 L12, the only time they avoided defeat in regulation time came in the 1984 UEFA Cup final when they drew 1-1 at White Hart Lane. The home leg with Tottenham had also ended 1-1, and Spurs won the penalty shoot-out 4-3.
The Belgian champions have finished bottom of the group in all seven group stage campaigns since they reached the last 16 (qualifying for the second group stage) in 2000/01.
Anderlecht have won just one of their last seven matches in all competitions.
The match will be overseen by French official Clement Turpin. With a surname like that, the headlines could write themselves…….
I am backing Arsenal to win this one 3-0, with goals from Alexis, Podolski and Cazorla.
Arsenal are away at Swansea City on Sunday at 4pm. Anderlecht play away at Gent on Sunday.