Arsenal have qualification in target as they head to AZ Alkmaar in the Champions League

AZ Alkmaar v Arsenal, Champions League, October 20, 2009

AZ Alkmaar 5/1; Draw 11/4; Arsenal 4/9

After producing yet more scintillating attacking football in their 3-1 win over Birmingham on Saturday, Arsenal travel to Holland to meet the Eredivisie champions with a view to taking a real strangle hold over Group H.

With Arsene Wenger’s side having picked up two wins out of two, a victory at the DSB Stadion could all but secure progression to the knockout phase of the competition. The home side are entering last chance saloon, having picked up just one point from their opening two Champions League games and undoubtedly have the attacking talent to win the match.

Like most small teams that cause an upset and win the league, AZ were plundered during the summer by a bigger club. Although they kept hold of some of their best players, they lost Louis van Gaal to Bayern Munich and Ronald Koeman has struggled to put results together this season. As is illustrated by their league form which reads played 10, won five, lost five.

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AZ have had been woeful domestically of late, surprisingly losing to the likes of NEC Nijmegen and FC Utrecht in September. Their latest defeat came on Saturday to Steve McClaren’s FC Twente, 3-2, to a last minute goal from Blaise Kufo, in a match they had led 2-1 with half-an-hour to go.

Their recent poor form can be put down to the inexperience of many of their key players as well as the notorious “second season” syndrome after they won their first title since 1981 last season.

Mounir El Hamdaoui (8/1 to score first) is undoubtedly the player to stop for the Gunners defence. The former Spurs striker, who failed to make an appearance at White Hart Lane, was in terrific goal scoring form last season and has seven goals in 10 appearances this season, including AZ’s only Champions League goal this campaign.

In support Moussa Dembele (10/3 to score) is a playmaker of real talent and was linked with a move to Chelsea during the summer. The Belgian international had a spell on the treatment table last season and will be chomping at the bit to make an impression on the biggest stage.

Further back, Stijn Schaars (20/1 to score last) is the heartbeat of the side and left back Sebastien Pocognoli (16/1 to score) can make a real difference with his runs from deep. In goal, AZ have Sergio Romero, a talented keeper, who could still play his way into Maradona’s World Cup squad.

The major question for Arsene Wenger is whether to stick with young Italian custodian Vito Mannone. He was at fault for Birmingham’s goal on Saturday and Manuel Almunia is back to full fitness. One can’t help but think that if “The Professor” had invested in a top class goalie, Arsenal would have a great chance of silverware this season. ( Arsenal are 8/11 to keep a clean sheet.)

Despite the undoubted young talent in Koeman’s side, it is pretty difficult to see Arsenal losing to anyone but the very best at the moment. The Gunners have now won seven successive matches since the defeat at Manchester City and the turning point of the season may well be their comeback from 2-0 down at Standard Liege in their first Champions League match this season.

In particular, Robin van Persie (five goals in six games) (5/4 to score & Arsenal win), Andrey Arshavin (three goals in last three matches) (7/1 to score a brace) and Cesc Fabregas (imperious against Birmingham after scoring for Spain last week) (9/1 to score first) have been in incredible recent form and it will take a better side than AZ to beat them. AZ may cause a scare or two on the way though.

101gg predicts: AZ Alkmaar 1 – Arsenal 3 (10/1)

AZ Alkmaar 5/1; Draw 11/4; Arsenal 4/9

Full match odds here.


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