The weekend has all but arrived, the Football League has entered its final chapter for the season as Premier League season heads towards it climax for those whose fates are not already known. QPR know The Championship awaits next season. Along with Reading, their relegation came as no surprise and probably for the first time this season, the pressure is off them. Whether that works for or against Arsenal will only be known at the final whistle. By the time the match starts, it is more than likely we will be sitting in fifth place, the Europa League spot.
Which is brought into focus by Chelsea’s progress this season in that competition. The Champions League was a disaster for them but the club has the chance for a major trophy come May with that bringing about the ghastly prospect of them becoming the first English club to win all three of the European Club competitions. It is de rigueur to mock Thursday night football but the habit of challenging for trophies is a good one to have; it instills a confidence in the players and a winning mentality, something which has underpinned the recent run of good form.
Ahead of Saturday’s clash in West London, Arsène observed that his injury situation had stabilised, with all those present at last weekend’s match at Manchester United, fit for duty. Lukasz Fabianski won’t be testing the manager’s confidence in Wojciech Szczesny this weekend as he has yet to recover from his rib injury suffered against Norwich City. The decision for the visit of Wigan Athletic to The Emirates will be testing for Wenger; neither Pole has done anything wrong in recent times. No doubt this is down to the re-engaged mentality of the team as a whole but Fabianski would be rightly aggrieved at not being recalled when fit whilst his compatriot’s similar feelings at being dropped would be understandable given he has only conceded once in three games.
The immediate consideration is for the forward line. QPR at Loftus Road is a different proposition to Manchester United at The Emirates; does Wenger need the out-and-out central striker in Podolski or is the pace of Walcott going to be more suitable? To be honest, it is hard to see him changing the line-up; Gervinho did well for his twenty minutes or so but enough to warrant a recall? Whilst Podolski was muted against the champions, he worked hard and better strikers than he have failed to breach the United defence this season. His capabilities in the centre have been quickly dismissed and to be honest, I am not sure that he is Plan B or would want to be that but as a variation, we could do worse. And frequently have done in the past. Podolski is not a square peg in a round hole in the same sense that Aaron Ramsey playing right back but he is definitely ovular.
Key to the long(ish) unbeaten run has been stability, changes have largely been enforced on Wenger through injury or suspension. For that reason, I think he will stick with the German which is something Arsène hinted at yesterday,
He has the qualities because he is a good finisher. He has a good technique and because we have a game based on very quick combinations I believe he can be a part of that. Overall I am convinced in the coming games he will show it.
At the moment, yes [I will play Podolski in the middle]. A definite decision has not been made but if there is an opportunity then there is a good chance I will do it.
A three-match ban for your central striker seems what you might call ‘an opportunity’ to me.
The other decision to make is right back itself. Carl Jenkinson might reasonably be anticipating a first team recall following a run of uncharacteristic mistakes from Bacary Sagna that have been characteristic at the moment. Judged by his own high standards, the Frenchman has struggled and he laboured on several occasions with the pace of his opponents, most notably in conceding the penalty on Sunday. However, he has experience and in the next three games, this is going to be crucial and well be his saving grace. Arguably, Sagna’s best game this season came at The Stadium of Light as a makeshift centre back but I think that stood up more because of the unexpected nature of his appearance and the pressure the team found itself under following Jenkinson naïvety. It seems too soon to condemn Sagna’s career but a move from The Emirates this Summer looks likely or as Jenkinson’s mentor next season as the youngster looks to break permanently into the first XI.