CL Preview: Arsenal - FC Twente

Wednesday August 27, 2008 - 07:54:45
Shaafici Muxyidiin
What: Uefa Champions League, Third Qualifying Round, Second Leg Who: Arsenal (14th, EPL) (2) - (0) FC Twente ( Dutch Eredivisie) When: Wednesday, 27 August, Kick-off: 2005 BST Where: Emirates Stadium, Ashburton Grove, London N5

Advantage Arsenal - And Do They Need It!

The good news for Arsenal, going into the deciding leg of this Champions League third qualifying round tie, is that they lead 2-0 from the first leg and that their influential playmaker, Cesc Fabregas, is set to return from a hamstring injury to provide the creative inspiration. The bad news is that, without Cesc conducting the orchestra, the Gunners lost in the Premier League to Fulham on Saturday and are now under growing pressure not only to ensure they complete the job of qualification to the group stages of the Champions League for the eleventh consecutive season, but also to produce a performance of poise, power and panache that reassures the fans of the team’s trophy potential.

Opposing them are Steve McClaren’s FC Twente, the Enschede outfit whose domestic season has not yet kicked off but who gave a decent account of themselves in the first leg at Arnhem two weeks ago. They have nothing to lose at the Emirates and could give the North Londoners a tense and nervy night if McClaren gets his tactics right and an Arsenal side lacking confidence are at all tentative.

Nevertheless, it would be a surprise if Arsenal, with Fabregas back in harness, didn’t use this occasion to reassert themselves with a dominant and morale-boosting performance. They won by two clear goals in the Netherlands, although only after the Twente questions had seen them on the back-foot for much of the contest. It was McClaren‘s first competitive game since he watched forlornly from under his umbrella as his England side slumped to Euro qualification defeat by Croatia last November. He set his new team up to go at Arsenal from the start, and that’s what they did.

With Twente dominating possession, Arsenal only began to look comfortable once captain William Gallas managed to turned in Robin van Persie’s free-kick after 63 minutes. When Theo Walcott set up Emmanuel Adebayor for a second eight minutes from time, the Gunners had achieved a flattering winning margin not wholly reflected by a disjointed performance. But they won without finding much rhythm, which is said to be the trait of a good team.

In was not only Twente’s first competitive match under McClaren, but also their Champions League debut. They were impressive for the first hour, pacy and tenacious, before Arsenal unpicked their game plan with those two goals. McClaren commented afterwards: “It proved our lack of European experience, and that is why we lost. I hope we can play well again as we want to improve. If we do that, then results in big matches like these will come."

Wenger’s squad had been depleted by the absences, for various reasons, of nine players. Philippe Senderos (hamstring), Kolo Toure (hip), Fabregas (hamstring), Abou Diaby (thigh), Samir Nasri (knee), Eduardo (broken leg), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Amaury Bischoff (groin) and Alex Song (Olympic duty with Cameroon) were all unavailable, so Wenger paired 17-year-old Aaron Ramsey with 20-year-old Denilson in the centre of midfield. The average age of the Gunners’ substitutes was 19-and-a-half.

Wenger said afterwards of Twente‘ tactics: "They imposed a very physical game on us, with man-marking all over the pitch. They did that with a lot of belief and spirit. That demands a lot of physical effort and the players gave it to Steve McClaren tonight. They gave us a tough game and credit to them.

“In the first half, they had some chances, but in the second half we slowly took over. They have given so much in the first half, they could not keep the same pace and tightness in their marking. From then on, we looked more comfortable.

"We were a very young team and we did not lose our nerve, did not panic and in the end maybe our technical superiority allowed us to score two goals. That is a massive advantage for the second leg but we will be on our toes."

Since then Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates but lost to Fulham at Craven Cottage, with Wenger admitting his side were poor and that Fulham fully merited their win.

The Gunners have attracted plenty of criticism After dropping points so early in the Premier League campaign, but Wenger believes the negative comments should be kept in perspective. He insists his squad has the quality and strength to bounce back, saying: “We live in a world now where you have to accept the critics and a definite conclusion from everybody.

“We had a bad game at Fulham and credit to them because they played very well. No matter how good you are in life, players are human beings and have been away for the whole of last week. When you have an away game, it can happen that you are caught for 20 or 30 minutes.

“But I know my squad is good, my team is good, our spirit is good. We are intelligent enough to know we did not play well , but we know as well we have the needed quality to respond.”


This is the third time Arsenal have been in the qualifying stages of the Champions League after finishing in the top four, but outside the top two, in the previous season‘s Premier League table. It is also the third time they have been drawn away first and the third time they have brought a significant lead home. Those first leg leads (3-0 v Dinamo Zagreb in 2006; 2-0 v Sparta Prague in 2007) have set them up for a comfortable aggregate victory on each of the two previous occasions (5-1 and 5-0, respectively), and their 2-0 win in Arnhem should help them on their way this time, too, though Twente have posed them the stiffest challenge so far.

Twente are yet to begin their domestic season, but on 16th August they lost their last warm-up friendly 1-0 to Spain's UD Almeria. This will be their first trip to England since a 3-2 Uefa Cup defeat by Manchester City in 1978.

Last Five Results:


08 Aug: Ajax 2-3 Arsenal (Amsterdam Tournament)

09 Aug: Sevilla 1-1 Arsenal (Amsterdam Tournament)

13 Aug: Twente 0-2 Arsenal (Champions League)

16 Aug: Arsenal 1-0 West Brom (Premier League)

23 Aug: Fulham 1-0 Arsenal (Premier League)


FC Twente

26 July: Twente 2-0 Olympia (Friendly)

01 Aug: Arminia Bielefeld 0-0 Twente (Friedly)

05 Aug: Twente 2-0 Ankaraspor (Friendly)

12 Aug: Twente 0-2 Arsenal (Champions League)

16 Aug: Twente 0-1 Almeria (Friendly)



Cesc Fabregas is set to start after recovering from a hamstring problem, but new signing Mikael Silvestre will not feature because of a thigh muscle strain. Philippe Senderos has joined AC Milan on loan, while Abou Diaby (thigh), Amaury Bischoff (groin), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) and striker Eduardo (leg) are all still sidelined.

Squad: Manuel Almunia, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie, Lukasz Fabianski, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Johan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Song, Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Eboue.


Teenage striker Marko Arnautovic suffered a hamstring tear on Under-21 international duty for Austria last week, while Twente's 2007-08 leading scorer, Blaise Nkufo, is suspended. Australian right-back Luke Wilkshire, 26, who started the first leg, has since been sold to Russian Premier League side Dynamo Moscow.

Squad: Sander Boschker, Rob Wielaert, Cheik Tiote, Douglas Franco, Edson Braafheid, Wout Brama, Theo Janssen, Eljero Elia, Romano Denneboom, Jeroen Heubach, Cees Paauwe, Ramon Zomer, Stein Huysegems, Niels Wellenberg, Patrick Gerritsen, Tjaronn Chery.



Cesc Fabregas’s return could not be better timed, though it is a worry for Arsenal that so much expectation rests on the youngster’s shoulders. Still, he grew further in stature in the summer with Spain’s victorious Euro 2008 team, and has made it clear he cannot wait to get stuck into the new season’s various challenges with his club. If his vision, touch and passing range are functioning effectively, Twente could be in for a busy night.

FC Twente

Striker Romano Denneboom was a persistent threat to Arsenal in the first leg, putting an early header past the far post, then ghosting past Denilson on 24 minutes on the edge of the area only to panic and blaze the ball over the bar. The 27-year-iold showed the ability to prise open the Gunners’ defence though, and he later put Marko Arnautovic clear through the middle for what could have been a goal had the striker's first touch been lighter.



Arsenal have that two-goal cushion but after getting their backsides tanned by Fulham the Gunners should not have a shred of complacency about them. That defeat has had the critics questioning whether Wenger's young squad can mount a sustained challenge for European and domestic honours this season. Wenger himself believes the answer is yes. He said: "We have a big game on Wednesday night and we have to respond with a top-class performance."

Arsenal 2-0 Twente (4-0 on aggregate)

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