Lyon in the next round of the Europa League with the possibility of facing Internazionale (if they get past Cluj and Stephen King) in the round after. It's just got real. No easy teams left in the competition which means our level of competitiveness has no room for comfort or casual strolling. Intensity is a key repeated word Andre Villas-Boas loves to cite in his pre and post match musings and we'll need plenty of it if we're going to get past the French and continue to progress.
Plenty of narrative with this tie. We're playing them on Valentines Day. Cue 'massacre' or 'love' headlines depending on result. Levy got a torrent of abuse from his counterpart over the way the Hugo deal was handled (practically had their chairman crying). Steed Malbranque plays a central role for them. I can't add any more commentary on this as I'll be fibbing if I told you he's doing an admirable job in the middle (and not out wide) as I don't follow Ligue 1 aside from listening to the updates on Football Weekly. Yoann Gourcuff plays for them, he's injured currently, but he's a bit of a dish - that's my Lyon knowledge. That and the fact they know their CL (not so much this season). Hugo Lloris returns to his former club which will lead to around 1000 different loaded questions from French journalists, including one particular lad who has remained obsessed with Lloris initial 'troubles' at the Lane, to such an extent he tweeted (in a serious tone) that Arsenal might be in for him in January. He's gone quiet since Lloris became our number one (as expected).
What will no doubt kick some life into this match is that it's now knock-out and we're up against teams with far more prestige. No excuse to fail in rediscovering the White Hot cauldron and stir up some N17 electricity to leave our opponents frizzled and fried on the midweek floodlit turf.
The two games against Lyon are sandwiched between Newcastle (H) and West Ham United (A). By the time these games arrive we should have a full set of returned players and possibly even a cheeky transfer signing for that extra push-consolidation combo in league and cup(s).
AVB is positively excited about the tie.
"The fact that we play Lyon, who are used to being in the Champions League and used to winning trophies, it's an important reference for us. If we want to set our targets for Champions League qualification, this is the kind of team we will face, teams with a winning mentality, full of quality players. In that sense I think it's excellent for the publicity of the competition in this country"
Moment of the day from him was in response to being asked to reflect on his year in 2012, to which he responded, "Well I had a good time in the Maldives when I was out of a job".
In other news, Adebayor hasn't trained with the team so far this week but is expected back in training on Friday. Just in time for the apocalypse. Bale is in contention along with Dawson and Scott Parker will no doubt continue his return with a starting appearance at some point over the Christmas period. That's the suggestion from today's interviews with our coach. Fixtures coming at us thick and fast, we need the depth.
He hasn't ruled out signings in January (well hello there) but obviously you can only truly concern yourself with the players you currently possess. Having Benny, Parker and Kaboul all back will be in < insert cliché referencing players returning being as good as new signings >. As for Adebayor, perhaps we can orchestrate en elaborate session with Derren Brown and have the player think it's last season and he has to perform well to cement a permanent move.