Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Shakhtar Donetsk - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

“He arrived here and became a star very quickly. But when you are out for nine months at this level, and even after you are back you struggle and need another surgery, then you have a hell of a problem.

“Credit to him, he never put out any sign of giving up. But it was just too big a hurdle for him because when you are out for such a long time someone else can always come in.”

That is Arsène Wenger’s two-paragraph epitaph on the Arsenal career of Eduardo.

The striker had first caught the manager’s eye by scoring for Dinamo Zagreb in a Champions League qualifier at Emirates Stadium in 2006 – the first European goal at Arsenal’s ‘new’ home.

So it is richly ironic that he returns for the first time since his move to Shakhtar Donetsk in the same competition on Tuesday evening.

His three-year spell in North London ended in the summer but was defined back in February 2008 at Birmingham when he suffered an horrific broken leg and dislocated ankle.

“It was a bad day,” mused Wenger at Monday’s press conference. “A very bad day.

“He was injured and we dropped points in the last seconds of a game after a penalty that was difficult to take.

“He didn't lose his ability,” the manager went on, “He lost his confidence.  You never know exactly about the psychological damage to a player [after an injury like that] because there is no physical damage.

“But most of the time when they get into exactly the position they got injured, they have a resistance. It is unbelievable. They play normally until they get into that position and then have a reluctance.

“His case is difficult to measure. Was it the time he was out?  Or was it that some players moved in front of him?

“You waste your time when you miss a year at the top level.

“But don't forget that, after the injury, I extended his contract. He had shown signs he was coming back to his normal level but, after that, he had little muscular problems, was in and out then decided to go.

“There was no interest from clubs in England. But Shakhtar wanted him last year when I extended his contract.”

Eduardo has returned to England at a time when dangerous tackling is under the media microscope once more. The Croatian’s career-changing experience is one of a number of incidents that has fuelled Wenger’s anger on the matter over the past few years.

The Frenchman is the flag-bearer for the cause. The fact that the latest example - Jack Wilshere’s challenge on Nikola Zigic on Saturday – came from an Arsenal player is unimportant to him. Both manager and the midfielder expressed regret and disappointment afterwards.

We can only hope the challenges received by Wilshere throughout the rest of his career garner the same amount of attention.

Tuesday’s game will be the last action the 18-year-old will see for a fortnight. The temptation must be to play him however, on the eve of the game, Wenger was unsure.

“Maybe he’ll start yes,” he said. “I don't know yet. I have not picked the team yet but I don't rule it out.

“I think he has got over Saturday already. He has a good rest after tomorrow. The good thing is that he will be out for three games but only one week because we play in midweek against Newcastle in the Carling Cup. That will give him a good breather.”

You could argue that Wilshere’s impending suspension might have helped put Cesc Fabregas on the bench against Shakhtar. Why rush the skipper back after hamstring trouble when his soon-to-be-suspended counterpart is in such fine form? The Spaniard needs a run of some sort before the trip to Manchester City on Saturday but his apprentice has been more than holding the fort.

Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles), Robin van Persie (ankle), Laurent Koscielny (back) and Manuel Almunia (elbow) are still out. However the last of those is very close to a return.

“He is at 90, 95 per cent,” said Wenger. “He has had training sessions but he still has a bandage on his elbow and when he extends his arm he has to stop. It is not easy.”

If Group H has been a stroll for Arsenal so far then Shakhtar have matched them stride for stride.

The teams are tied at the top of the table with six points from two games. If there is a victor on Tuesday then that team can pretty much coast into the Knockout Stages from there.

That would be as far as Shakhtar have ever gone in this competition and they seem an altogether stronger side than the one beaten 3-2 at Highbury a decade ago thanks to two goals from Martin Keown in the last five minutes.

They won the Ukrainian League last year by losing just one game. This term, they have won 15 of 17 matches and arrive at Emirates Stadium on a run of seven straight wins.

Over the summer they added quality in key positions from top European clubs. Eduardo arrived up front and centre Dmtryo Chygrynskiy was re-signed from Barcelona. Douglas Costa is one of seven Brazilian in the squad of Mircea Licescu and has been compared with Ronaldinho. Meanwhile Darijo Srna comes with a mighty reputation from free-kicks.

“It is a key game because it gives us an opportunity to basically think we have qualified,” said Wenger.

“In this group you have had 12 points at stake - six went to Shakhtar, six went to Arsenal. That means what is at stake now is qualification and also being the top of the group.

“They are on a good winning run. They are dominating their league and have just won 3-0 at Braga. We are on our toes. We know that only a great performance will win us the game.”

To be honest, qualification is not at stake on Tuesday. Surely Arsenal will still reach the Knockout Stages even if they lose to Shakhtar. However this game could well decide top spot in Group H and, in theory, the chance of an easier draw in the last 16 next February.
While Arsenal needed a win at all costs on Saturday frankly Tuesday is not so desperate. However dropping points in this game could store up problems later down the line.

Pos. Team P W D L F A Pts
1. Arsenal 2 2 0 0 9 1 6
2. Shakhtar Donetsk 2 2 0 0 4 0 6
3. Partizan Belgrade 2 0 0 2 1 4 0
4. Braga
2 0 0 2 0 9 0
See Full List

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