Good news: Abou Diaby is back in contention for a place.
Bad news: Theo Walcott is out, Bacary Sagna is doubtful, Denilson is doubtful and Cesc Fabregas is 50-50 toplay in the first leg at Parkhead.
I have a feeling that Cesc will pass the fitness test and will start the game with Diaby taking over Denilson’s place, and Sagna will not be risked and will be replaced by Emmanuel Eboue. The rest of the lineup should be identical to the one that destroyed Everton on Saturday.
The good thing about Arsenal’s new 4-3-3 formation is that we have ample players to fill the roles even though if Denilson and Walcott are both confirmed out, we still have players like Diaby, Ramsey and Wilshere to step into the side. The only concern for me is that we have no real back-up for Alex Song and the sooner we rectify that the better. Good news is Alex Song is fit and raring to go.
Celtic will prove to be a tougher nut to crack as they are relatively experienced in the Champions League with some credible performances over the past few seasons. Despite the fact the they have a strong record against English opposition, it is worth noting that Arsenal will be meeting Celtic for the first time in a competitive fixture and Arsenal has a healthy record of doing things other English sides couldn’t manage to do, like being the first English side to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (ooooooo Henry!).
Another fact is they have lost Shunsuke Nakamura, who was their most influential player for the past two season and who scored a wonderful goal against Manchester United last season. Although they still have 23 year-old Aiden McGeady, whom Wenger rates highly.
A lot has been made of the loud and hostile atmosphere of Celtic’s homeground and former Cveltic player Alan Thompson even claimed that Arsenal “won’t know what hit them” when our team visit this evening. I’m sorry to disappoint Thompson but Arsenal have experienced more hostile crowds for example the one at Real Madrid which is larger than Celtic Park by 20,000. As Wenger said, “we can deal with the hostile atmosphere“.
If Cesc is really unavailable, Ramsey should be coming in to replace him alongside Diaby and Song and even with that, I am confident we can pull off an away win. I would be really surprised if we didn’t get an away goal at least.
Looking at what Celtic has to offer, we will have a better idea of who we will be dealing with.
Glenn Loovens, who never played for the full national Dutch team, is a key defender for Celtic and news has it that he will be out with an injury. His defensive partner Gary Cladwell is also doubtful but even if he plays, he is still best known for being a former Newcastle defender, and that isn’t saying a lot.
Their right wingback Andreas Hinkel is someone I quite rate and he is one of the reasons why Celtic is best known for their wing play, together with winger Aiden McGeady. Their strikeforce is former Manchester City reject Georgios Samaras and Marc-Antoine Fortune, both of whom are not prolific strikers at the highest level. Even though Celtic’s main threat will come from the flanks, we now have the aerially dominant Thomas Vermaelen to deal with dangerous crosses into the box.
Our own attacking trio of Arshavin, van Persie and Bendtner will also prove to be a real handful for the makeshift Celtic defence. Arshavin, in particular, always shine against European competition, especially one that prides itself on playing th passing game. Wenger tipped him to shine and I also believe he will be the one to watch tonight.
Despite Celtic’s strengths in flank-play and the hostile atmosphere their fans generate, I am still extremely confident we can pull off a result that will stun Celtic and then assure the passage to the ain Champions League draw at the Emirates.
Confidence is sky-high at the moment, and if we play at the same tempo as we did on Saturday, Celtic will have no answer. As I’ve mentioned, I firmly believe we can grab an away goal or two, but te question is, will we be able to keep a clean sheet?
I think so, and at the end of the day, the most important thing is to ensure we win the tie over two-legs. And I’m confident we will.