It is the obvious question ahead of the north London derby. Who is going to tame the man of the moment, the outstanding British player in this country right now? Who can stop him from winning this match single-handedly through his rare ability with the ball at his feet?
But enough about Jack Wilshere. I will get round to him in a short while.
Or to paraphrase Carly Simon, “You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you“, which if the media are to be believed – and we’ll come back to that in a minute – is what we are all thinking. For Gareth Bale, read Robin van Persie; the boot is on the other foot, reliance upon one player to turn matches around in the darkest moments. Arsenal are aware of his form and will no doubt have instructions to minimise the opportunities of shooting from range. They also have instructions to keep a clean sheet every game but they don’t do so well in listening to those either.
In truth, as much as this game might turn on a moment of genius, it is more likely to be resolved by a moment of madness.
The defeat by Bayern contained a rarity for Arsenal these days, a goal which was well executed. Most conceded by Arsenal are directly attributable to a mistake by someone; rarely the same player which makes resolving the issue harder for the manager and staff yet also easier. The focus is on collective concentration. Yesterday I highlighted the differences between the outlook of Villas-Boas and Wenger in terms of the outcome, the former believing passion and emotion will win, the latter in calm focus. It underlines the difference in approach; the home side need to get the crowd behind them, the visitors to take the sting and inexorably stifle the hope from them.
That sets the game perfectly for a direct approach from Arsenal on the break and is why I cannot see both Podolski and Giroud starting. However, that means Cazorla on the left and this has been noted as neutering his impact. The German is hardworking on the defensive side but dropping the Spaniard for this fixture is unthinkable. Ramsey offers more in the midfield battle as Arsenal seek to marginalise Dembele and Holtby, restricting their attacking instinct.
The best way for this is an early goal, such as against Villa. The interchanges between midfield and attack, driven by Wilshere and Cazorla, offer pause for thought whenever possession comes to those in red. The England international garners praise but not the gushing X-Factor sycophancy, a more measured respect. There was a spell recently when it seemed to be veering that way – when Brazil visited Wembley – but the maturity of his performance seemed to bring more appreciation of his abilities than the necessity to reduce him to a pop culture chattel, hawked around whichever bazaar the media see fit. I am sure that bandwagon will roll on at some point though.
Arsenal will no doubt accommodate Cazorla on the wing but who to occupy the central striking role? Both Giroud and Podolski have similar attributes, the Frenchman better in the air, the German better at general play but Arsenal need a traditional target man in some respects this afternoon, someone who can hold up the ball for others to join the attack giving Giroud the edge.
The line-up I expect to be fielded is:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Wilshere, Arteta, Ramsey; Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla
Results yesterday mean this is a must-not-lose game for Arsenal and Spurs. Victory for either will cast severe doubt over Champions League pretensions for next season. Defeat will not spell the end of them either. Both have tricky and difficult fixtures remaining, both will drop points between now and the final whistle of this campaign. Remember the claims made by Gary Cahill after defeat at Stamford Bridge, nine points being too much to peg back? Four Premier League games later, that belief looks hollow.
Elsewhere, spurious reports of a bid emanating from the Middle East are undone by “It is unlikely Usmanov will want to sell his shareholding, given his “dream” of taking control of Arsenal himself, but the Middle East consortium believes it will be able to work with the billionaire“. Of course, this consortium of unnamed individuals wants to take over the club but will no doubt be rebuffed without leaving a trace of their identity or proof of the money. Doubtless a counter-offer from Red & White, presented to the world as continuation of ownership, preserving the club for the fans except with more investment from self-sustaining model – so long as there is enough left over afterwards for the dividend – will emerge and claim to have the backing of fans, as much of a fairytale as the reports of the bid itself, along with the manifesto culled from the Twitter feed from protest groups.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.