After an end-to-end late victory against Southampton on Sunday, the Gunners are back in action tomorrow in Russia. A tricky fixture on paper, in a tough environment; country, stadium and predicament – does Wenger stick or twist?
Any long serving Arsenal fan will tell you that Arsenal are not great at defending leads, especially over a two-legged tie, with a first leg lead. That being said, it has been a fair while since the club has been in a situation like this and in all honesty, it’s a nice problem to have.
Wenger rested a few big boys on Sunday, and again scraped three points. Forget the performance though; a result and momentum were the key outcomes from Sunday – Thursday night is where it’s really at. With Koscielny and Ramsey left out completely, both should be extremely fresh ahead of expected starts. Jack Wilshere only saw a few minutes as did Alex Lacazette, and with Monreal and Ozil unused subs, much of the expected starting XI for tomorrow is in relatively good shape. David Ospina and Henrikh Mkhitaryan remain out through injury whilst Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied. Besides these, expect another strong starting XI with plenty of experience set up to score and get the job done.
CSKA Moscow in their own back yard are a different team, completely. Make no mistake, they will be more of a threat and will look to build pressure by utilising the hostile atmosphere to their advantage. The diehard Moscow fans will rally and get behind their team, without doubt. They need goals though and having conceded four last week, the ageing (combined age of 108) back three are no Chiellini, Barzagli and Benatia so it will be extremely tough to keep Arsenal out. Ramsey is in the form of his life, Lacazette is back and on the prowl, whilst Welbeck too is in decent form so Arsenal goals are expected.
For the Russians, Vitinho may come in from the start this time around as he looked lively after coming on last week. Expect Musa’s pace and in-behind runs to cause a few more issues, and Alan Dzagoev too is due a better performance. Combine these with a pro-CSKA atmosphere and they will be up for it. This will not be an easy match and a positive result will be hard to come by. A low scoring draw will do though and two or more Arsenal goals will mean the tie is over. Arsenal in a European semi-final, it sounds great…and for the first time in a long time, it’s in our hands and more than achievable.
I expect Wenger to name another strong team, very similar to last week’s first leg but see Danny Welbeck being rewarded for his recent performances, coming in on the left for the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Prediction: a 2-1 win with Lacazette and Welbeck bagging the Gunners’ goals.