Arsenal will prepare for the encounter with Birmingham in the knowledge that centre-back Philippe Senderos will be available after recovering from the knee-ligament problem he picked up against Tottenham. The return of the big defender is a boost for the side with Kolo Toure and Alexandre Song away on international duty and Johan Djourou nursing a groin injury. Despite this Arsene Wenger has hinted that Senderos will not necessarily be starting the match and it may in fact be Justin Hoyte who starts alongside William Gallas in the centre of defence after a strong midweek performance.
“There is not much choice [in defence] but I think Justin Hoyte did well at centre back in the second half. He has not all the reflexes of a centre back yet but we will continue to work with him in this position. He has a good chance to play as well.”
I’ve never been a fan of Hoyte as a right-back but he looked quite a different prospect in the centre of defence against Tottenham and at 1.82m – the same height as Toure – is certainly tall enough to play in the position. It’s a very interesting opportunity for both Wenger and Hoyte and I personally hope the Englishman starts there. It could be the start of something big for a player who has been so patient and determined waiting in the wings. Good luck to him.
Other important team news is that Theo Walcott has pulled up fit from his ankle problem and is available while Robin van Persie and Johan Djourou are not. The former is suffering from the flu and as I mentioned earlier, the latter is out with a groin problem. I’m sure Djourou will be disappointed to miss out on the opportunity to play against the club that he was on loan tp for the first half of the season but that’s the way things go sometimes. Just ask van Persie.
The ins and outs shouldn’t prevent Wenger from putting out a strong team and I’d predict the following starting lineup in a 4-4-2: Manuel Almunia in goals; a back four of Bacary Sagna, Hoyte or Senderos, Gallas and Gael Clichy; a middle four of Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky; and a front pairing of Emmanuel Adebayor and the finishing machine Eduardo da Silva. What’s more, after being allowed a little bit of a mental break by Wenger of late they should be fired and raring to go, something captain Gallas agrees is necessary for Arsenal to challenge for the title.
“I think that we will be really fresh, having missed the last couple of games. We still have a long way to go this season and I am sure everybody will be ready for it, because we have to be.”
The rest has come at the right time for the club and I’m sure it will do the side a world of good. Before the Christmas period players like Fabregas and Hleb were struggling a litle bit for form after returning from injuries. But their absences, as well as those of a number of other first-choice players, in the games against Burnley and Tottenham will have given them the time they need to mentally and physically prepare for the second half of the season.
Lehmann stays, Diarra to leave?
Normally the bench is not a big talking point going into any sort of game but it is this week for a couple of reasons. The first is that Jens Lehmann will be there after turning down his move to Borussia Dortmund. The big German, who was looking to leave Arsenal to get the first-team football required for him to play for Germany at Euro 2008 confirmed that the move had broken down due to personal reasons.
“Although it would have been a very attractive challenge to play for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga once again, I have decided against taking this step due to personal reasons.”
I have to say that even after all of the trouble he caused with his inability to keep his mouth shut in the early part of the season I feel quite sorry for Lehmann. He mentioned a little while ago that the personal issues he had to consider were directly involved with his family, who were now used to life in London and did not necessarily want to leave. I wonder whether Wenger would consider loaning him to a fellow London club like Fulham or even first-division Charlton in a bid to allow Lehmann to stay in London but get the playing time he desires.
The second bench issue is that of Lassana Diarra. After the news broke that Diarra had made himself unavailable for the game against Tottenham it will be very interesting to see whether Wenger puts him on the bench against Birmingham. I have to say that the ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ saga surrounding a potential move away from Arsenal is getting a little annoying, so much so that’s it got to the point where I’m not really bothered whether he stays at the club or moves on.
Either way, I’d encourage you to check out yesterday’s Arsecast over on Arseblog and listen right to the end. There’s a little message from Diarra (well, a part of him) and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. Seriously. Full credit to Arseblogger for coming up with it because I laughed myself silly.
On that note I’m going to head off a friend’s birthday party and then (hopefully) to a pub to catch the game. It’s on at 1am over in Australia so hopefully I’m not too drunk by then and can report back to you guys tomorrow with a clear memory. It’s not likely, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. For the record I really feel the boys are going to give Birmingham a bit of a belting tonight and I’m predicting a 3-0 win.
What do you think?
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