Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge this lunchtime for a test of their credentials. Quite what they are is unclear, mixed messages coming from the interpretations of Arsène’s Churchillian AGM speech and other ramblings from directors. Len Shackleton is still right after all these years. According to the masses, the club has a target of a top four finish. The manager disagreed at his pre-match press conference, questioning those who would ‘write off the title after nine matches’. His claimed intention was to stress that, at the moment, we are out of contention.
Whether we will get back into contention depends as much on days such as today as it does in winning our other matches. This season, you suspect that the winner of the top six mini-league may well emerge at the top of the pile. The media favourites change every minute. United have played three of their five at home already, switching emphasis to their away form. Arsenal have only played one, such is the disparity in the fixture list.
Crucially much of the recent revival has taken place in home games. The win in Marseille was the only success away from The Emirates; today will test the depth of the revival. For once there are relatively few injury worries. It seems that the partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will not be broken up just yet, this match too soon for Thomas Vermaelen according to the manager. The player disagreed earlier in the week when he proclaimed after the Stoke match that he was impervious to pain and loss of form so he could play straight away following injury.
One man not coming back tomorrow is Abou Diaby. This list is just simply astonishing. His absence ought to give the midfield a settled look with Arteta, Song and Ramsey remaining in place. There is a case for bringing in Coquelin or Frimpong but for me, it is too big a game. That formation might give the midfield a compact look, defensively better to cope with the wider players of Chelsea, all of whom seem to like to drift inside. I just cannot see that happening.
The only other choice is whether Arshavin plays instead of Walcott. My own feeling is that the youngster will give Ashley Cole more to think about, offers a quicker escape route over the top of a Chelsea defence that is displaying a certain naivety when faced with pacey forwards. That and Robin van Persie has made no bones about the fact that Walcott is a good strike partner, creating 15 of the Dutchman’s century of goals. Not bad for someone who apparently does not lift his head when running with the ball.
The team I expect Wenger to go with is:
Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos; Ramsey, Song, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
Matters were spiced up nicely with Bruce Buck’s frustration at not being able to get his paymaster’s own way over buying Stamford Bridge back from the fans, manifested itself in claiming that it was now time for the heathen hordes to unite and ‘beat the crap’ out of Arsenal. With leadership like this, it is little wonder that the players have the morals of an alley cat.
It was a marked contrast to Wenger‘s own words, an oration that called on the media and society to eradicate intolerance, prejudice and outright racism,
I have worked for 15 years in England and I have been abused how many times? And that doesn’t shock anybody. And the media has a part to play as well. It is not only about racism – any abuse is wrong. Nothing is done [about some forms of abuse]. I would like to see people sitting on the [bench] for one day and hear what people chant. And you know it’s completely wrong – it’s the same as racism.
You have to punish people and you will see if the rest will do it again. This is an important subject, racism, but it’s not the only one. Any kind of violence, or abuse, you have to fight against.
Expecting the media to help is naive since they thrive on the controvesy; no news is good news, bad news is even better. And they feed the atmosphere as well, ably assisted by the crass comments of Buck and his ilk. The deterioration in journalistic standards is often lamented and it, the incitment, does not apply across the board. Unfortunately, the populist papers are the ones who sell the most copy, a vicious circle continues.
The atmosphere in the stadia may have improved in terms of the pall of violence but abusive behaviour? I don’t see any lessening just different types. Will that change? All-seater stadia sanitised football but did not eradicate the verbal aggression. There’s a thin line between abuse and trying to wind up an opposition player or taunting their fans. It is crossed on a regular basis and dealt with very rarely. Football is a microcosm of society and behaviour in its broadest sense does not change in a football ground from outside, it is an outlet. In that sense, Wenger is right to highlight the issue. And from small efforts can bigger things change.
But I don’t hold out much hope of any tangible gains being made soon.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.