I don’t need to remind you that it’s been a bit of a dark week for Arsenal fans coping with the fallout from the Tottenham and Stoke City debacles.
Thankfully the football returns again later today with Arsene Wenger and the boys hosting Fenerbahce in the Champions League. A win will see Arsenal (virtually) qualify for the Round of 16 and despite the recent troubles in the Premiership that should be well within our grasp, especially considering the thrashing given out to the same opponents in Turkey a fortnight ago.
Injury news going into the game is not great. Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott have been added to an injury list consisting of William Gallas and Emmanuel Eboue as well as long-term casualties Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo. However, there was some good news with the word from Arsene Wenger that while Adebayor looks to be out for quite some time, Walcott and Gallas are looking good for selection against Manchester United on Saturday. They will be welcome returns.
It’s a little bit disappointing to see that there’s not much talk from the manager going into this game. Methinks he might be keeping things a little bit under wraps after the recent poor performances by his side in a bid to keep the boys focused against Fenerbahce. However, what has come out in the media is a fierce set of comments by Wenger praising the bravery of his side and criticising the poor tacklers made by many of the Stoke City players on Saturday. Observe:
“I read that my team were not brave. All I can say is they are brave and, for me, you need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball. It happened at the weekend. Do you think Delap tried to play the ball when he tackled Walcott? Or that Shawcross tried to play the ball when he tackled Adebayor off the pitch. All the players have been injured deliberately.”
In my opinion it’s hard to argue with what the manager has said here. The tackles on Adebayor and Walcott were deliberate attempts to play the man rather than the ball and it’s nowhere near the first time this has happened this season. In saying that, I do think Wenger could have been a bit more clever than outright accusing Stoke of deliberately injuring our players. It’s hardly going to win us any friends and it’s not exactly what we need to be focusing on right now. And after all, as Stoke chairman Peter Coates correctly pointed out, it was Robin van Persie who was rightly sent off for violent conduct.
The team for tonight’s game is very much up in the air. If I was in the manager’s shoes I’d probably go for a Bacary Sagna-Kolo Toure-Mikael Silvestre-Gael Clichy backline in front of Manuel Almunia. In fact, scrap that, I want to see Johan Djourou start. Get him in there Wenger – he deserves a chance.
In midfield I’d probably plump for Samir Nasri and perhaps Carlos Vela on the wings with Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby in the middle. Knowing the manager it will most likely be a Nasri-Fabregas-Denilson-Diaby combination or perhaps even Alex Song and Denilson in the middle with Fabregas being given a pre-United rest. Up front I can’t see anything other than Nicklas Bendtner and van Persie starting due to Adebayor’s injury.
As I said earlier, despite the tumultuous week Arsenal have had it’s hard not to expect anything less than three points here. For me though, what will be more important than the result will be the performance that the boys and particularly the manager put in tonight. My challenge to the manager earlier in the week was to stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes and just pick the right players in their natural positions. Despite the injuries, he has a chance to do that tonight and it would be sad to see him pass it up.
As for the players, they need to show the fans that the difficult period just passed will not define their season. The onus will be on them to put in 110% in order to prepare adequately for the much bigger clash with United on Saturday. Anything less would be a disappointment.
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