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GUEST ARTICLE: Theo and Eboue Must Start
Guest contributor, Greg Schwartz, proposes a radical lineup change as a way to help stop the explosiveness of the Barcelona attack. Whether you agree or disagree, and I have a feeling many of you will disagree, it shows just how ridiculously these two matches are to Arsenal supporters.
So, I write this blog post knowing full well that many of you will disagree with me, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will even agree with myself by the end of it. That said, here are my thoughts on the Barcelona match. To win this game, Arsene Wenger must take a risk, and that risk is to start Theo and Eboue down the left side. I have given this match a lot of thought, probably too much thought, as I have an Organic Chemistry exam directly after the match, but here is what I have come to:
Dani Alves is frightening coming forward. He runs at defenders in a similar manner to Eboue, and provides a constant threat in the attacking positions with pace and great crossing ability from the right back slot. That said, he often leaves himself, and the Barcelona backline, exposed with his rampant runs. He either forgets, or ignores his responsibility to track back. This leaves an exploitable space down the Arsenal left flank. In addition to this, Alves provides the bulk of the supply to Messi, and provides him with overlapping runs in order to maintain possession.
In order to limit this attacking threat, my solution would be to start Walcott down the left. While starting a player like Arshavin gives Arsenal skills and tremendous experience out wide, Walcott brings sheer pace. He gives a different option and makes himself a relief valve against the pressure of a possession-based attack; which Barcelona seem intent to play against Arsenal.
Starting Walcott up against Alves limits the latter’s ability to go forward by constantly having the threat of Theo peeling away. Even if Theo’s final ball lacks product, the option of handicapping Alves, makes the decision worth the cost.
Additionally, I was reading a piece in the Daily Mail today by Martin Keown, about what Arsenal can do to beat Barcelona. In it, he suggests starting a right footed player against the naturally left-footed Messi. He calls the plan, “sacrificing Clichy;” I see it more as enabling Eboue. Eboue has played left back before, with moderate success, and I see him as capable of performing his duties intelligently and diligently. His work rate and defensive prowess would provide more security for Walcott to play higher up the wing, further handicapping Alves.
Further, if Arsene were to start Diaby down the left as well, it creates an intriguing blend of pace, power, as well as the ability to cover the entire field quickly. I see that as the most effective way to neutralize the threat of Messi and Alves. Messi and Alves provide much of the attacking threat for Barcelona, with Messi banging in the goals, and Alves providing ten assists this season from the right back slot.
I admit my plan has drawbacks. Theo is unproven at the top level, and could take away from the efficacy of the front line. Also, Eboue has been an integral part of the Arsenal front line thus far, and moving him out of position risks minimizing what he offers best. Continuing in that vein, Clichy’s form right now is remarkable and he deserves the chance to continue playing so well. I worry with him though, that he will forget his defensive duties as he sometimes does. In this game in particular, we cannot afford that.
All that said, I think whatever team Wenger goes with, this presents an opportunity for Arsenal to prove their credentials as a truly top team. After all, Barcelona has shown chinks in their armor, which Arsenal are capable of exploiting.