As AZ Alkmaar aim to secure progress to the last 32 tonight, coach Louis van Gaal will be looking to his field marshal Shota Arveladze to shine again.
The Dutch side have been in fine form in the UEFA Cup for the third season in succession and after scoring eight goals in the course of successive wins in their opening two Group C games, they can secure a place in the knockout stage again with a point at home against FC Slovan Liberec. Having scored in the first round victory against Kayserispor, 33-year-old Georgian striker Arveladze has found the target in both of AZ's group stage games and is proving to be a huge asset to Van Gaal.
Arveladze and Van Gaal's paths looked destined not to cross after the Georgian joined AFC Ajax from Trabzonspor in the summer of 1997, just as the coach left Amsterdam to take charge at FC Barcelona. The two finally linked up in 2005 as Van Gaal's AZ appointment coincided with Arveladze's arrival from Rangers FC. Arveladze scored 22 goals in 31 league games as AZ claimed second place in the Eredivisie last season and was rewarded with an extra year on his contract, tying him to the club until the summer of 2008. "The fact that he chooses to stay with AZ proves he wants to grow along with the club," said technical director Marcel Brands. "For the younger players, Arveladze's experience is priceless."
With the new contract came new responsibility for Arveladze. After last season's captain Denny Landzaat and his putative successor Joris Mathijsen left for Wigan Athletic FC and Hamburger SV respectively, the Georgian was offered the armband, and has been impressing Van Gaal with his leadership skills ever since. "In the old days at Ajax we had Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard, and Arveladze can be compared with them in terms of personality," the coach told uefa.com. "Arveladze is not only important as a player but also as captain and a human being. He is the top professional in the squad."
Accompanied by either Moussa Dembélé or Danny Koevermans, Arveladze continues to lead the line in the new 4-4-2 system. He has scored seven league goals, and set up six more, in AZ's first 13 Eredivisie games this season, and clearly leads the line with some rigour. Van Gaal paid his captain a mighty tribute when he thought back to his old Ajax days, saying: "I think that in this squad Arveladze has even more authority than Danny Blind did before him. He can get his message across very fast." With their field marshal in good voice, there could be no stopping AZ this season.
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