It’s wet, windy and cold therefore it must be time to go to Sheffield. Maybe it is my mind playing tricks on me but this away fixture when it comes up always seems to be at the most miserable time of year, weatherwise. The lead up to the game has been dominated by injury news with both camps suffering from colds and viruses amidst absurd claims by Neil Warnock that he may play his Reserves given he has no expectations of gaining any points from the fixture. As mind games go, my old teachers reports spring to mind, “If he put as much effort into his work as he does his talking, the boy would be a certified genius“. As it is both Warnock and I could lay claim to being one step away from certifiable.
The Arsenal team is pretty much picking itself through absences and I suspect that these have scuppered plans that Arsene may have had in resting key players at this busy time of the season. Hleb (shin) and Walcott (back) are added to list of Adebayour, Eboue, Henry, Djourou, Diaby and Ljungberg. On the plus side, the inclusion of Lauren hopefully marks the end of what could loosely be termed a bad year for him. Whilst Arsene has said he will not start, he has the versatility to offer some scope for playing on the right of midfield as a substitute.
From the squad announced, I would guess at a line-up of:
Lehmann; Hoyte, Toure, Senderos, Clichy; van Persie, Fabregas, Gilberto, Rosicky, Flamini; Baptista
In defence, Djourou’s failure to recover from the hamstring strain suffered at Watford was I think largely irrelevant as Senderos would probably have got the nod ahead of his compatriot anyway, his performance in the second half more what we have come to expect of the young Swiss international and United’s manner of play being more suited to him than Djourou.
It is however in midfield where the injuries have bitten hard. Fabregas looked tired on Tuesday and in need of a rest. However, the absence of Hleb has robbed Le Boss of a suitable deputy. One possible solution may be the inclusion of Denilson who is more attack minded than Song, to replace the Spaniard for the first hour at least. With Walcott and Hleb missing, it seems to me that the there are two possible changes on the right; move Fabregas to the wing (unlikely for if he does play, it would rob the centre of its creative force) but more likely is to push van Persie to the right where he has arguably been at his most productive. I do not think Arsene will go for a 4-4-2 today although he may with Adebayour’s absence. Baptista is already in the media’s mind set to start as centre-forward although AW has not confirmed this, observing that he can play through the centre. That comment leaves the way open for Aliadiere to lead the line with Baptista in the centre of midfield as the attacking player, Rosicky on the left and Flamini dropping out. A somewhat unlikely scenario but this is where the Czech international lined up at the start of the season but given it was not wholly successful, I find that positional ploy unlikely.
Baptista has been praised by Le Boss, “He has a great attitude and is very strong mentally. I like him as a player but I agree he has not got the opportunities to show how good he is” whilst Wenger has confirmed that he more or less made up his mind about signing him permanently. I would suggest that he is leaning towards completing the deal otherwise he would have offered a more non-commital quote along the lines of “We’ll decide at the end of the season“. One thing is that if he produces the goods this evening then he should be able to do so anywhere. He cannot get much more of a culture shock that Sheffield following on from the warmth of Brazil, Seville and Madrid. Gloves will no doubt be obligatory for him this evening but what price a set of Weller-esque tights although that does not quite fit in with “The Beast” sobriquet, more one of “The Poodle“.
United have been in decent enough form recently, pushing Portsmouth last week before succumbing but also providing Stuart Pearce with some relief by rolling over at Manchester City. It is a game that Arsenal ought to win and aside from the three points on Tuesday, the match at Watford proved that the team are able to grind out results when not playing as well as they can. I have to be honest that a combination of the weather and the directness of their opponents playing style lead to me to expect a re-run of the Watford game, a closely fought win again 2 – 1. And that would suit me down to the ground, especially with the other fixtures today. With Bolton entertaining Portsmouth and Liverpool travelling to Tottenham, it means that places 4 – 7 in the Premiership are playing each other. Whilst I expect Bolton to win, the same cannot be said of Liverpool meaning that this is the opportunity to put three points between us and the Scousers, who coincidentally entertain Bolton on Monday. With Charlton visiting The Emirates on Tuesday, the importance of a win cannot be overstated in putting the club in pole position for third place.