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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 15:30 GMT
Alan Hansen's column

By Alan Hansen
Match of the Day pundit and BBC Sport columnist

Arsenal captain Thierry Henry
Arsenal must qualify for the Champions League next season or lose Henry

I'm not surprised people are starting to compare Arsenal with Liverpool's Champions League winners of last year.

Just like Rafael Benitez's side were, Arsenal are really struggling in the Premiership.

Injuries and the departure of Patrick Vieira are factors in their demise, but the main problem for Arsene Wenger's team has been that their rivals have figured out how to play them.

Manchester United and Chelsea played the same way at home against Arsenal: two lines of four, allowing Arsenal to pass across them.

When Chelsea, the best team in the country, field a defensive formation at Stamford Bridge, content to hit the opposition on the break, that tells you something.

Other teams, notably Bolton, have adopted that: frustrating Arsenal by getting men behind the ball, defending deep and out-muscling them.

However, the Gunners' Champions League opponents Real Madrid will not play that way and because of that, the game could come as something of a relief for Wenger and his players.

It will be more open and that should suit the way Arsenal play.

Even so, given the way they are playing, Arsenal are underdogs - just like Liverpool were against the likes of Juventus and Chelsea in Europe last season.

Liverpool came through those games through organisation, concentration and their best players producing the goods when it mattered.

Arsenal will look to Thierry Henry to shine, but the back four will also have to play a lot better than in recent weeks.

Kolo Toure is back, which is good news for them, but it still leaves Arsenal with only one of their regular back four.

Communication has been a massive problem and Real have so many quality attacking players, they could really expose the inexperience of Arsenal's backline.

The ramifications of defeat to Real are simple: Arsenal must qualify for the Champions League next season or lose Henry.

All the top players want to play in the Champions League and if Arsenal fail to finish in the top four of the Premiership, it's very, very hard to see Henry staying.

But despite all their troubles this season, a big game like this could be just what Arsenal need to resurrect their season.

Sometimes you go into a match against a giant like Real Madrid in a crazy atmosphere - like the one Arsenal will experience at the Bernabeu on Tuesday - and it lifts you.

That's what Arsenal desperately need to happen.

Woodgate wary over Arsenal form
18 Feb 06 |  Europe
Real's Raul fit to face Arsenal
17 Feb 06 |  Europe


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