The return of Abou Diaby marks the first of Arsenal’s long-term injury victims to return to the squad in 2011. Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, and of course Jack Wilshere remain on the shelf as Arsenal heads into its mid-week Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund, and Tomas Rosicky is unavailable due to a thigh injury, but it is always nice to see a player return to full fitness and get back in the first team. Granted, Diaby’s reappearance will have nowhere near the impact that Wilshere’s or Sagna’s would, but at this point we’ll take what we can get.
I expect Arsene Wenger to put his best squad out there today, in an attempt to seal up progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League. The right back situation is still less than ideal, but I would expect to see Koscielny out there again as a fill-in for Jenkinson, who is himself a fill-in for Sagna. That being said Koscielny has been in good form recently, and deserves to be in the squad. I predict we will see a back line of Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny in front of Szczesny tonight at The Emirates. I also won’t predict any changes in the midfield from this weekend’s squad against Norwich, meaning I think we’ll see Song, Arteta, and Ramsey run out there again. Theo Walcott played brilliantly against Norwich over the weekend, so I can’t see him being left out on the wing, but Gervinho had a bit of a rough go against Norwich, missing what looked to be two or three sure goals, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Arshavin replace him on the wing. Nothing else to say about the squad tonight, if van Persie is fit he’ll play, and he’s fit so we’ll see him tonight. I’m just hoping we can put a couple early ones past Weidenfeller so the captain can get a rest in the second half. I realize that’s a lot to ask against a team that just took out Bayern Munich on the road over the weekend, but what does it hurt to ask for an easy go of things?
What to watch: Dortmund’s electrifying youngster Mario Goetze has been linked with Arsenal in recent weeks, but whether or Arsene Wenger can bring him into the fold at The Emirates, he is worth keeping an eye on. It was his goal in the 65th minute that was the winner against Bayern Munich over the weekend, and if Arsenal’s defense is not well-organized he could well notch another one tonight. For Arsenal, I’ll be looking to see if Walcott can maintain his excellent form of this weekend. Theo looked more dangerous against Norwich than he’s ever looked in the past couple of years, at least to my eyes. If he can continue that kind of play, Arsenal could make some noise going forward in this tournament.
A win today would put Arsenal on 11 points in Group F and would guarantee them a spot in the knockout round. Let’s not leave anything in doubt heading to Piraeus on December 6th.
Arsenal v. Borussia Dortmund – UEFA Champions League, Group F
November 23, 2011 – 19:45 GMT / 2:45 PM EST
Emirates Stadium, England
Fox Soccer Channel (US)