27 August 2013

Fener-Arsenal preview: not a leg to stand on

At first blush, we go into this match all cozy and warm, cocooned in a 3-0 advantage, holding a seemingly insurmountable away-goals trump card. However, without sounding alarmist, I'd like to remind us all how fragile such a lead can be. After all, we've fallen
behind in the first leg in similar fashion before only to mount a stirring come-back that, while it fell short, was about as famous as a victory can be. Bayern came away from the Emirates with a 3-1 victory only to get the scare of a lifetime as we stormed back to win 2-0 at Allianz Arena. Had Mandžukić not scored that ugliest of goals in the first leg, things could have turned out very differently. It's a fair reminder that anything can happen, and we'd best be on our toes. We don't know what to expect from Fener. Will they play like tranquilized three-toed sloths, or will they come out like rabid banshees?

Either way, I hope the squad approaches this one with the same urgency and focus that has seen us score six goals in our last two matches. There's no sense going up three only to let a team claw its way back. Arsène has stated as much:
You qualify in the Champions League when you're ahead after the two games, and what we want to make sure is that we mentally prepare for that. It is a fight, everybody wants to give his best, and we want to finish the job....We go into the game to win it without thinking about the result of the first game.
Well-said.

For as much as we're celebrating the goals we scored, though, the clean sheet matters just as much. Goalies don't normally get enough attention or action to merit a man-of-the-match award, but Szczęsny's performance against Fener was vital and will be again. After facing zero shots in the first half, he came up with several vital saves as time wound down, crucial to keeping that clean sheet and preserving that well-earned advantage. On the assumption that Fener will come out with a frenzied attack to try to score early, I'm looking to a strong performance from our keeper. Hoping that last season's inconsistency and immaturity are fading, we need to know that he can put together a string of strong performances and build towards becoming a world-class keeper. After getting thrown under a bus a bit against Aston Villa, he's come back with two strong performances. If Fener throw everything they have at us only to see that Szczęsny can foil them at every turn, whatever intensity they've brought should fade. Of course, an early goal of our own wouldn't hurt, either.

Arsène has said that there will be little rotation from Saturday, saying that  "95% of the team who played at Fulham will play [on Tuesday] night." Good. Let's make UEFA's ruling on Fener's appeal an afterthought for all involved. Szczęsny? Best behavior. Kos? Exact a little revenge. Giroud? Make it four in four. Walcott? Score. The rest of you lot? Keep doing what you've been doing.