Arsene’s team talks will have been something along the lines of ‘a repeat of the first half performances in both games’ for this lunchtimes meeting with relegation threatened Reading. At the start of the season when you look at the fixtures in the run-in, it is one that would have been identified as a home win with Reading being in mid to low placings in the table but probably clear of the dogfight. Well, they are not which will require the team that plays today to put in a great deal of effort. They ran us quite close last season at The Emirates but this time around, there will be a definite edge to their game.
Reading have nothing to lose from being vanquished and a lot to gain from any favourable result because this will have been identified as a match where a point is a bonus. Steve Coppell has noted his problem as few, if any, of his team have experience of a relegation scrap. That they are in marginally better recent form than Arsenal says how badly our results have been impacting on the league.
Now that the title is gone, it would appear that there is little for Arsenal to play for with Everton’s defeat to Chelsea ensuring another season in the Champions League Qualifiers at least. Victory today and Chelsea are still emminently catchable; defeat and fourth place yet again would be a probability. With that in mind, Arsene will be playing Jens Lehmann ahead of Fabianski. Denilson is the only other returnee so it is pretty much as you were, squad-wise. Whether the line-up will be is another matter.
The visits to Anfield and Old Trafford required a different tactical set-up; we were happy to hit on the break although as it happened, Arsenal dominated both matches for long spells. With Reading they will be sitting back, trying to hit Arsenal on the break. With that in mind, it is perhaps time to revert to a more familiar back four with Toure moving into the centre and Eboue taking the vacant right back berth. In the centre of midfield, it is time to see if Alex Song can replicate his African Cup of Nations form in the Premier League. Gilberto did little wrong at Old Trafford but with his departure this summer seeming an almost certain event, Arsene cannot afford to have too much inexperience as back-up to Flamini, assuming of course, he stays.
All of which would mean Theo Walcott getting a start on the right. It is the sort of match where he should start because Arsenal will have to force the pace and require some width. Putting he and Hleb on the flanks might give some urgency to the play in those areas of the pitch. The other thing to bear in mind is the interchangibility that Hleb and van Persie have with either comfortable enough on the ball to take the centre or wide positions. The difference is that RvP’s shooting boots are still finding their aim and dear old Alex, well, he has just got to find his shooting boots again.
Hopefully Arsene will have picked himself off the floor to motivate the team back to winning ways. A line-up has follows would not go amiss in my book but whether Arsene agrees is another matter entirely,
Lehmann; Eboue, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Walcott, Fabregas, Song (Arsene will put Gilberto in), Hleb; van Persie, Adebayor
With a bench of
Fabianski, Traore, Senderos, Gilberto (Song),Bendtner
To be honest, I will be somewhat disappointed if Eboue and Gilberto start today. I do not mean any disrespect to either but now is the time where next season’s European adventure is confirmed and we should be trying to increase the experience of the squad. Four games may not seem like much but there are four teams who need something from the matches so will fight; better experience than pre-season friendlies. It is the same with Lehmann although perhaps it is time to bury the hatchet (preferably not in Almunia’s back) for what might well be his final Emirates appearance. It is a shame his Arsenal career is ending amid rancour and bad press. Time to remember the good times and a performance that rolls back a season or two.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.