Arsenal’s Young Guns Battle the Green BlacksBy
Arsene Wenger runs the risk of being accused by the UEFA establishment of undermining the elite European club tournament. Today, he will field possibly the youngest side ever seen in a champions league fixture. With an average age of 20 (skewed somewhat by the inclusion of the 32 year old veteran defender Mikhael Silvestre), the Arsenal team sheet will leave many scratching their heads wondering who the players are.
If the Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood was doing the press conference, he’d probably call on his famous mantra and suggest that ”woe betide the Greek champions if they think Arsenal are turning up with the kids to make up the numbers”. To tell you the truth, fielding this Arsenal reserve team is quite a risky strategy that forces the players to sink or swim. The result is totally unpredictable as there’s no precedent to such a game.
However, the Green Blacks , who need to avoid defeat to guarantee a place in the last 16 of the tournament will realise that complacency is going to be their worst enemy tonight. A win for Arsenal alongside a win for Standard Liege in the other group H fixture will throw a cat amongst the Greek pigeons. From Arsenal’s point of view, it’s a win win situation. Any result at the Karaiskakis stadium will benefit the young guns enormously.
Despite any accusations levelled against Wenger for fielding a supposedly weaker team, you have to admire the courage of Arsenal for putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to youth development. Yesterday’s match day 6 ties for Chelsea and Man Utd showed a good comparator to measure our reserve side by. Man Utd had a sprinkling of their young talent at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, and Chelsea – well, Gael Kakuta seems to be their only talent on show – and even with their big guns, they had one of those nights you want to forget. It was nice to see Ancelotti spitting out his dummies in protest at Chelsea’s poor performance.
So will the young guns sink or swim?
I think they’ll have a good game. The kids know they’re on the shop window and Wenger is watching alongside the millions of Arsenal fans who are keen to see how bright our future is. Also watching will be a plethora of managers from the lower reaches of the premiership and the Coca-cola championship who will be talent spotting for potential loan signings to shore up their squads for the second half of the season. It’s an exercise in futility to try and predict the score as this one could go either way. The Greek champions will be playing for pride at the minimum and that makes it a very difficult match. No one wants to be given a hiding by a bunch of kids especially in Europe.
Difficult is good though. Olympiakos are the most successful Greek club ever with 37 league and cup titles to their name, and they’re not going to let that be tainted by a bunch of kids. On our part, it’s unfair to tout the virtues of our youth development policy and not have the cojones to throw them into the lion’s den and let them fend for themselves. It’s also nice to have the option, unlike some teams we know, to rest the entire first squad in preparation for a juicy tie at Anfield on Sunday.
On the matter of the champions league knock out stages, our 7 potential opponents are emerging – and we’re facing possible trips to Munich, Moscow, Milan, Lisbon, Florence, Lyon or Budapest. Group G is by no means finalised and both places in the knock out stages are up for grabs so it’s feasible that we could end up in Milan, Moscow, Kiev or the Nou Camp for a small matter of a tie with Barca. It’s also possible that both CSKA Moscow and Rubin Kazan (the only team I know to be named after a human being) will go through (CSKA are already through) – and if that’s the case, it makes sense to move the ties away from the deep freezer that is Russia this time of the year – perhaps to a neutral venue in warmer surroundings.