It’s Friday – and you know what that means? That’s right, it’s almost the weekend and hooray for that. In today’s post I’ve got a preview of the Middlesbrough game, some thoughts on next week’s United clash and some details on the very first Arsenal FC Blog Podcast, which will launch on Monday, to talk about at the end.
I’ll kick things off today with the very positive news that Manuel Almunia, Johan Djourou and Emmanuel Adebayor are all in contention for Middlesbrough on Sunday and will definitely be available for the Champions League first-leg against Manchester United next week. However, it has also been confirmed that Robin van Persie will miss both games while Gael Clichy is likely to be out for a couple more weeks.
With Mikael Silvestre and Lukasz Fabianski struggling badly in the last couple of games, the return of our first-choice goalkeeper and an improved option at centre-back should mean a marked improvement in our defensive performance. Arsene Wenger has indicated that both Almunia and Djourou have returned to full training and I believe he will want to give the pair a decent run-out if he is to call upon them for United on Wednesday. It’s very much a matter of finding the balance between putting the pair in danger of sustaining further injury and getting them match-fit, but I suspect if they completed regular training yesterday then there’s little risk in giving Almunia and Djourou a full 90 minutes.
While it is more doubtful that Adebayor will return at the weekend – he will only return to full training tomorrow – I’d bet my house on him starting against United as long as his recovery remains smooth. He is the key component in the 4-5-1 formation we tend to employ in European away games and his importance, combined with the loss of van Persie, means the manager will want him super-fresh for Wednesday.
Personally I’m not too worried about the loss of van Persie. Adebayor’s return and the inevitable use of the 4-5-1 means he was unlike to play his usual role up front anyway, and in Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott we have three players who can provide the support that our loan striker needs to cause United problems. You have to think the manager will go with those four as well as Alex Song and Denilson to make up his front six, unless Abou Diaby sneaks into the side at the Brazilian’s expense. Personally I’d like to see it happen.
The team that Wenger starts against Middlesbrough could give us big clues as to how he may line up against United. I would suggest that whichever goalkeeper starts will play again on Wednesday, while it would certainly be a smart move to give his strongest available back-four the opportunity to familiarise with each other before the trip to Old Trafford. Bacary Sagna did not look fully recovered from his illness against Liverpool so it might be smart to give him a rest, but I’d like to see Kolo Toure, Kieran Gibbs and Djourou to start if that’s the way the manager will go on Wednesday night.
In midfield it wouldn’t be the worst idea to give Cesc Fabregas a rest – he’s looked a bit flat in the last two games – while Andrey Arshavin will undoubtedly continue after his four-goal haul against Liverpool. I’d suggest that Nicklas Bendtner will start again up top while we might even see the likes of Carlos Vela or Emmanuel Eboue get a start to give Nasri and Walcott a little break. I’ll be interested to see whether Denilson plays too, because he’s looked tired and lethargic lately and if the manager wants him ready for United then he’ll certainly need a rest.
In terms of the result it’s very difficult to predict what kind of match might be. The pressure is certainly off with out league position quite comfortable and the bigger task of United waiting in the wings – and that could either galvanise the fringe-players or see a decreased level of effort and performance. Middlesbrough will be pushing hard for points in a bid to ease their relegation worries but I feel it’s important to keep the squad’s unbeaten run going and maintain momentum going into the first leg of the United tie.
An interesting weekend awaits.
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Podcast Preview – Arsenal FC Blog Weekly
Regular readers of the blog know that I have been planning the podcast for some time, and I am happy to announce that the very first episode of “Arsenal FC Blog Weekly”, the Arsenal FC Blog Podcast will be broadcast on Monday next week (27th of April). You will be able to either stream or download the podcast from my usual Monday post.
Arsenal FC Blog Weekly will be hosted by myself, Spanish Fry, and my brother who goes by the name of Panda Bear on the blog. Each week we will discuss any topics of interest relating to Arsenal, things like match reviews and previews, player focuses and various other thoughts on the world of football. I will also be looking to conduct conference calls where the two of us contact regular readers of the blog and ask them their thoughts on Arsenal.
The aim of the podcast is to foster the already strong community at the Arsenal FC Blog by giving readers more Arsenal-related fun and providing them with the opportunity to participate via interviews or through contributing ideas to the show. It is meant to be a light-hearted but informative weekly review of Arsenal with lots of opinion, discussion and analysis.
In the first episode on Monday we will be discussing the Chelsea, Liverpool and Middlesbrough games as well as providing some thoughts on the upcoming Champions League game against United. There will be no reader interview this week – I’m still coming to grips with the technical aspects of recording three-way interviews – but it promises to be an enjoyable and informative show nonetheless.
Last but not least, as a celebration for what I am hoping to be the first of many podcasts, we will be giving away an Arsenal shirt. Be sure not to miss it.
Anyway, have a lovely weekend and come on the Arsenal!
Have your say on Middlesbrough, Manchester United or the podcast by leaving a comment.