Tottenham return to The Emirates this evening in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi final. Much like European ties, I prefer the first leg to be away from home but that said I am not too convinced that is a crucial advantage.
The next sentence is one that I was not sure I would be saying again this season but it seems to be true. Robin van Persie is fit to play tonight. It is tempered with the knowledge that his place comes at the expense of Eduardo, without doubt the most in – form striker at the club. Partnering Bendtner though is going to be good for the Dutchman, a combination that will hopefully produce chances and goals.
In defence, Arsene has confirmed that Djourou and Senderos will play in the centre together, presumably giving him a final chance to decide who is going to partner Gallas in the first instance at least. The limitations and strengths of Senderos are well documented; not so with Djourou. His spell at Birmingham was inconclusive although a positive influence, one hopes, on his career. Whether it was enough to provide him with a springboard into the first team for the next six weeks cannot be gauged on one evening. Unless he is a supremely confident individual, and all of them ought to be given that they are chosen for Arsenal’s first team – as sure a sign as any of their ability – I would expect a nervous start from the player. It is how quickly he recovers from that which will be the indicator to look for.
Ordinarily in midfield, the expectation would be for Diarra and Denilson to provide the central pairing. These are not normal times though for the Frenchman. Diarra it seems is on his way out, most media outlets reporting that he has been dropped for tonight’s game due to poor attitude. Arsene seemed to back this up,
If he continues to fight, he will play
But that could have been spliced together from fifteen different conversations as the kidnappers used to in Starsky and Hutch. My guess is that contrary to media reports, he will play tonight at some point albeit from the bench as popular opinion seems to be that Gilberto will start. Diarra is alleging that ‘promises were broken’ from when he signed. It may be the case that he was told he would play but to demand a move now shows a lack of character that Arsenal are well served without. Interestingly, Lyon have said that whilst they would be interested in his services, he is more likely to stay in England. It begs the question as to whether or not his career will be well served by remaining here. The teams that are reportedly keen on signing him cannot give him any guarantee of European football, the absence of which is likely to stunt his burgeoning international career. With all due respect to Newcastle, Wigan, Tottenham, Manchester City and Portsmouth, I would have thought that a move to the Stade Gerland and regular Champions League football, along with a higher profile in the French media, would have been in his better long term interest but like many before and who will follow, money talks louder.
Gilberto it seems will be the preferred partner in the midst of this individual and self-inflicted turmoil. That ought to free Denilson to be creative, knowing that his partner is defensively minded, although that is no different from Diarra’s presence. It will mean though that there is a lack of drive in the centre, both Frenchmen that have played there are noticeably busy players whilst Gilberto is the opposite, quietly going about his work. My only concern is that the lack of match fitness he has is tangible and the older players seem to suffer more than the whippersnappers. On the right, I would like to see Walcott for the full back positions for Tottenham are not the strongest. That will depend on his fitness levels. If he is not ready to start, this could be the position for Diarra.
The bench, I think, will see some experience added to it with possibly Rosicky and Eduardo there to add attacking force if required to salvage an adverse situation
The team I expect to see is
Fabianski; Hoyte (J), Djourou, Senderos, Traore; Walcott (Diarra), Denilson, Gilberto, Diaby; van Persie, Bendtner
With a bench of
Mannone, Hoyte (G), Rosicky, Diarra, Eduardo
Fabianski has apparently been talking to Almunia,
He told me that if you save a penalty against Tottenham then you are the biggest man in the world
Personally, I would rather that we did not concede a penalty in the first place but that is my quaint and old-fashioned view of football. I suspect he is going to have a reasonably busy evening although it will be interesting to see how Ramos approaches this game, defensively or going for it. Berbatov and Keane are a lively pair and capable of scoring goals yet Tottenham willingly concede something that van Persie and Bendtner should be able to exploit.
The key tonight is not to lose and ideally not to concede, forcing Tottenham to chase the game at White Hart Lane. A two goal win would be nice but Arsene is following a risky path with reliance upon a youthful set up. That has paid dividends so far over the past two seasons; a continuation tonight would not go amiss.
Finally, just to let you know that the competition to win a copy of the Arsenal Opus has been extended from its original closing date to a new deadline of 18th January 2008. The photography competition asks you to submit a photograph that to you best sums up what it means to be an Arsenal supporter. Weekly winners will be picked, the prize being a pair of VIP tickets to an Arsenal game. The overall winner will be inserted into an Arsenal Fan’s Opus whilst the runners-up are to be included in a montage page in the book.
Enter here. Good luck to you all.
As they say in the film industry, that’s a wrap. Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it. ‘til Tomorrow.