Club football is either feast or famine at the moment; international weeks are a complete pain in the Royal posterior, disrupting fixtures and then once they are over, the matches come thick and fast, Arsenal now in the middle of four games that will have a huge bearing on the outcome of this season, all to be played in the space of ten days or so.
Blackburn return to The Emirates, still smarting from two defeats in The Premiership in the space of six weeks, including the largest victory at the new Stadium. Whilst the 6 – 2 scoreline that day was flattering on the hosts, Arsenal’s 2 – 0 victory at Ewood Park with ten men was thoroughly deserved and did not reflect the gulf between the two sides on the evening in question. It also confirmed the determination now flooding through the Arsenal ranks, as if someone had said, “Enough is enough, we will no longer surrender abjectly in the North West”.
Having seen off Bolton in midweek, Blackburn will provide a similar test in a physical approach that is embellished by slightly more football being played. Not much more though. Having had a hiding, they will be wary of receiving the same treatment. This time though, Arsene has already confirmed that there will be changes to the side that played the 120 minutes on Wednesday. Some are enforced, Djourou has knee-knack, Hleb’s hamstring has tightened faster than most Chairmen’s wallets when the manager asks for more transfer funds. Both are viewed by Le Boss as short term injuries with Hleb at the time of writing, being a sure returnee on Tuesday in Eindhoven. Phillipe Senderos has completed his suspension and should return to the heart of the defence.
Bearing in mind the overloaded schedule – not quite as taxing as the 1980 season close, but not far short of it – I would be surprised if Henry and Fabregas are not included in the squad, possibly even a starting spot for one or both. Jens Lehmann will again be rested, no doubt thinking up some suitable abuse to hurl at the German newspaper who conducted a survey of Bundesliga Clubs to find out if anyone would be making him an offer; the answers of “nein” from the Clubs in question not fitting in with media perceptions that he will be departing these shores in the summer but surely Jens already knows their thinking as he has an Agent. If this survey told him anything new, he needs to get some new representatives.
A squad has been announced but I can only find the one mentioned on the ever-reliable BBC site which contained three players specifically mentioned as being rested by Arsene at his Press Conference so I have had to take a punt at who will be involved:
Almunia, Toure, Clichy, Gallas, Senderos, Denilson, Rosicky, Fabregas, Ljungberg, Henry, Adebayor, Aliadiere, Hoyte, Walcott, Eboue, Poom
Le Boss has specifically mentioned this afternoon that Big Billy Gallas will start this afternoon. He is also quoted on the official site as saying,
“For this game I will rest Gilberto, Baptista, Diaby, Lehmann”
Not that you would know this, although you are about to be enlightened to the matter in hand, but I kicked off this preview at 10am on Friday morning with part of the now-scrapped post being that Gilberto and Diaby would be rested. I had not yet figured how the team would pan out for Gallas’ return had not been officially confirmed, merely rumoured. There is an apparent gap in the centre of midfield with both Diaby and Gilberto missing which leaves one of two options. Firstly, he could play Fabregas and Denilson – both have skill in abundance but they are both capable of putting the tackles in as well. However, I think this could be the game where he pushes Kolo Toure forward into the Defensive Midfield role that has been frequently mentioned here in the comments section. It makes sense to balance the midfield and as Cesc has been out with a minor knock, I would favour him having a subs role rather than the full 90. I am however surprised at Baptista’s omission. One can only surmise that AW believes he needs time to recover from Wednesday and that he has a substitutes role to fulfill in Eindhoven before starting in Cardiff.
With that in mind, I would expect the line-up to be:
Almunia; Hoyte, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy; Ljungberg, Denilson, Toure, Walcott; Aliadiere, Henry
with a bench of:
Poom, Fabregas, Eboue, Rosicky, Adebayor
It is difficult at times like this to read Arsene’s intention but I favour putting Walcott on the left to shake things up. An alternative would be Aliadiere starting in his place on the left, Adebayor partnering Le Captain up front, but I believe Freddie may start for more match minutes, possibly as a precursor to an appearance in the CC Final, rather than a start in Eindhoven.
There has been some explanation from Arsene as to why the team concede the first goal so often. Discussing team talks, he revealed that he never speaks for more than seven minutes at a time as any longer leads to a loss of concentration. Obviously this has a similar effect on the pitch at home games in particular with the long spells of possession enjoyed sending the team into a semi-comatose state. Hopefully this will be put right so that games do not require a Government Health Warning, “your blood pressure can be seriously affected awaiting the last fifteen minutes and the ensuing goal glut”.
Many pundits are predicting a tight match but I have a hankering for a reasonably open affair; Blackburn are looking to progress in the UEFA Cup and need a replay like a hole in the head. With their reported absences, they do not look to have as strong a defensive unit as they could so will not be comfortable defending a nicked goal. That said, it is a shame that Savage is missing as I’m sure he would have felt the depth of Arsenal’s love for him and it robs Denilson of the chance to make him look as big a Muppet as Fabregas did prior to Christmas.
Enjoy your football wherever you watch it today and here’s hoping for an Arsenal win.