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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Arsenal must rewrite 31 years of history - time for a Theology lesson for Chris Twaddle

FRANK STAPLETON is 53. He hasn't played football professionally for 15 years. So he must have choked over his cornflakes when he saw a picture of himself in today's papers, in action for Arsenal against Hajduk Split in 1978, 11 years before Theo Walcott (above) was born.
But of course there's a good reason for that Frank. It illustrates the last time Arsenal survived a European tie after losing a first leg away from home.
And tonight, as they try to repair a mostly self-inflicted 2-1 defeat at Porto two weeks ago, they have to manage it having accepted Cesc Fabregas's hamstring has forced him out for the second time this season.
Oh, and there's no William Gallas (Arsene Wenger accepts responsibility for that, saying he made the Frenchman train too hard), Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey... need I go on?
Wenger today gave a smiley press conference, saying: "We have good confidence. We are in a good position. Let's just go for it. There's always something new in our game and er... that's why we can change history. We have a good opportunity. This side has a good chance to make history."
Let's hope so - in all they've won just 3 out of 12 after losing the first leg in Europe. And perhaps more worrying than all those injuries is the fact that Nicklas Bendtner looks like he'll be playing up front again tonight. I counted five misses against Burnley on Saturday. The Sun does a lovely photo strip of Wenger choosing a wall dummy instead of the Great Dane on page 54 today. Harsh but fair.
Wenger accepts: "It is true at the start of the season you would want Gallas, Fabregas and Van Persie to be the spine of the team. Without them we can show we are still strong enough."
If he does it, Wenger will have restored his reputation quite thoroughly after the disastrous defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea barely a month ago.
In that short time, he has put Arsenal back in contention in the Premier League and, hopefully, the last eight in Europe once more.
Porto have lost their last six games in London and Arsenal beat them 4-0 at the Emirates last season, so victory is not out of the question. But on the 24 occasions Porto have led after a home leg, they have always progressed.
Some point to Porto's recent form - a 3-0 defeat against Sporting Lisbon and a 2-2 draw at home to Olhanense, but they've apparently been resting players to prepare for tonight.
Key to Arsenal's progress will be Theo Walcott, lambasted for his "brainless" performance against Egypt for England last week but looking a lot more assured as he scored and made three for Bendtner (who failed to convert them) against Burnley over the weekend.
Walcott says today: "I remember losing in a youth cup final with Southampton, I've lost the Under 21 final, lost the Carling Cup.
"I've got plenty of experience of the pain of losing. It makes you stronger for next time. And it would be nice if that next time was this year."
Former England winger Chris Waddle, who claimed live on radio at Wembley that Walcott "hasn't got a football brain" continues his attack today. He tells us how hard he worked on his weaknesses as a player to win 62 caps and insists Theo shouldn't go to the World Cup.
But I'll tell you younger readers something. There were times when Waddle, a gifted player, looked like he had no brain at all. He was an infuriating winger, the Berbatov of his time. Lazy, shoulders rounded, incapable of raising his game when it matters. And we won't mentioned the missed penalty.
If ever there was a time for Walcott to prove the critics wrong - and secure his flight to South Africa - it's tonight. And remember Gooners, no matter how bad things get at the Emirates, it can't be as bad as Liverpool were in their 1-0 defeat against Wigan last night.
Tomorrow: Manchester United welcome back Milan and Sir Alex Ferguson says: "Please God, don't let them ask about Beckham again."

Labels: 31 years, arsenal champions league, , chris waddle, emirates stadium, hajduk split, , theo walcott


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