30 September 2014

Arsenal-Galatasaray Preview: You've only come to see Eboué and—oh. Erm.

It's a rematch forged in the pits of hell. Two Ivorians, one demonized, one pilloried, both achieving levels of infamy unmatched by any other. Eboué. Drogba. The alpha and the omega. On the one hand, a prodigal son, haunted by his own errors, seeks a redemptive pilgrimage to the place of his spiritual de-pantsing. On the other, a proud nemesis, fallen from glory, looks to rejuvenate himself on the grounds of the club he had done to much to terrorize. Together, they'll join forces in a triumphant return to London. It's the Ivorian Invasion! It's the—what's that? Neither man will play on Wednesday? They're not even in the squad anymore? Huh. Well, I guess we can lay to rest the fear that Drogba the Destroyer will ever do what he does at the Emirates ever again. I just pity the hipsters who won't get a chance to chant "you've only come to see Eboué!"

Yes, it's true. Drogba's left Galatasaray to play for some club called Chelsea (anyone heard of it? I've checked the history and can't find much mention). Eboué's been relegated to the reserve squad. The omission of Eboué (which sounds like the title of a promising novel...) might rob the match of a bit of nostalgia, all the more so after he captained the side in the 2013 Emirates Cup match. On the other hand, we'll be denied (or spared) the indigestion of seeing Drogba do what he has done all too often at the Emirates, which includes a brace to win the 2013 Emirates Cup.

The Chelsea-connection runs a bit deeper, of course, which is timely as we look a few days past this one to Sunday's clash with Chelsea proper. Wesley Sneijder will be the lynchpin to Galatasaray's hopes. Their middling form to date (6th in the Super Lig after four matches and a despiriting home-draw to Anderlecht in their opening group stage match) hardly instills terror or discomfort, at least not at levels we may felt against Beşiktaş or Fenerbahçe. For one, we'll be at home for the first leg. For another, by the time we have to travel to Turkey for the second leg (9 December, the final group stage match), we should have things sewn up.

'Should', of course, differs a bit from 'will'. The loss to Dortmund may have stung, and it did put us on the back-foot just a bit in the group, but it's hardly a surprise. Coming back to the Emirates against a squad in a bit of disarray should give us a chance to seize a bit of momentum, both in the group and in the Prem. I don't mean to underestimate Gala, but new manager Cesar Prandelli seems to be struggling to find a formula for success—he's tried four different formations in five matches with 17 different starters in any number of different positions. In a way, they're the antithesis of Arsenal, where we've committed almost obstinately to one formation, moving players around only by dint of injury. Still, Galatasaray's inconstancy presents opportunities that we'll simply have to seize.

Their midfield, which includes Sneijder, Felipe Melo, and Selcuk Inan, among others, looks like it is vulnerable to being over-run. Melo was booked against Anderlecht and will have to mind his manners, while neither Sneijder nor Inan is known for his defensive tenacity. Behind them, defensive frailties should offer us chances whether we're facing a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. There's just not enough stolidity back there, a flaw exacerbated by Prandelli's tinkering, to cope with our technical superiority and pace.

Even as we lament our woes and lick our wounds, then, I'd like us to consider ourselves a bit of a wounded, cornered beast. Instead of moaning and whingeing about injuries and transfers that might have been, let's do what cornered beasts have always done: fight rabidly, doggedly, and grimly. So we won't have Giroud or Walcott or Debuchy or Ramsey. So what? We've gone into tougher matches with fewer fit players. Heck, it's become a calling-card. Part and parcel of what we do. We gird our loins and join the fray. On paper, we still have everything we need and more to see off the likes of Galatasaray. On the pitch, we'd better play with the kind of pride and passion befitting this club's history and ambition. Whether the hero be a grizzled veteran like Rosický or a greenhorn like Bellerin, I hope the XI go out and seize this match, throttle it, and throw it to the ground in short order. After a couple of downbeat results, we could use something to quicken pulses and lift spirits.

Vote for Woolwich 1886 as Best New Blog in the FBAs--click below! Right. A quick departure from the upcoming match. This blog is vying in the 2014 Football Blogging Awards, and I hope you'll cast your ballot, which you can do by clicking here or on the image to the left. In either case, enter Woolwich 1886 in the "New" category. This ballot invites you to vote in other categories, but I'll leave that to your conscience. A quick email confirmation later and you're done. If you're the twittering type you can click here to tweet your vote. Easy peas...

In any case, thanks for taking the time to give it a read. Your comments, as always, are welcome below the fold...