A familiar feeling emerges as you trawl through this morning’s papers – I did so you don’t have to and as per usual, there’s nothing to read. Ben and Jerry, sorry Wrighty and Tel both reckon that an away win is not going to happen (2 – 2 and 3 – 1 to Spurs if you’re interested) whilst Alan Smith thinks Tottenham’s squad is stronger all round and Arsenal are just too groovy and laidback without the nasty, which means the former are the better of the two. If nastiness is going to make Arsenal better, Arsène has to get over to Ligue Un and sign Joey Barton. Maybe that’s the errant midfielder’s plan; con Wenger into thinking he is French and an oft-vaunted move to The Emirates is on. Although it would be nice if Emirates did sign him up and then throw Barton out of the hold mid-flight…
Sunday’s team news, well, it wouldn’t be Arsenal if there were not injuries around. Bacary Sagna’s return to form proved to be fleeting whilst Kieran Gibbs remains sidelined. Both have capable replacements, Nacho Monreal adapting quickly to the English game that Gibbs cannot be certain of returning to the first XI quickly when he recovers. Like Diaby, question marks remain about the left back’s fitness. This season looked like being the first when he might feature in more than twenty Premier League games, something he may yet do but it will be by the skin of his teeth if that is the case. Monreal offers a good role model for Gibbs and at twenty-seven, old enough not to kill off the younger player’s career. Whilst Gibbs has come on leaps and bounds in the past two seasons, the Spaniard offers the reliability that has often been missing on the left side of the Arsenal defence. More importantly, if Gibbs’ fitness returns for sustained periods, there will be less reliance on playing central defenders as full backs.
Carl Jenkinson may yet find himself in the same boat. Whilst he will no doubt play on Sunday – the options of midfielders slotting in on the right seem fanciful – this is a big game for him personally. Many have expressed concern over the inexperienced displayed on Wearside; that match typifies his Arsenal career. Baptism of fire, progress, setback, return stronger, setback…you see the pattern. With all of the fuss about Tottenham’s Simian superstar – a legend in his own rainforest – there would be little surprise if Jenkinson turned in a performance that marked him out of the game.
Wenger will be hoping that the team continue their form away from home, the record of conceding just 11 goals in 13 matches is the best in the division. Unfortunately only ten teams have scored fewer than Arsenal’s 17 and therein is the problem. Tottenham’s home form is not much better in that sense, scoring 20 and conceding 13. Talk of a continuation of the high-scoring matches of recent seasons on the face of it, seems somewhat fanciful. That may well induce a sense of caution; neither side can afford to lose the gap either increasing to seven or reducing to one point depending on the victors. A stalemate cannot be ruled out and in the longer term, that may suit Arsenal better. Tottenham will have travelled to Anfield during Arsenal’s enforced lay-off from Premier League action and could conceivably only be a point better off having played a game more.
Crucially, Arsenal need to get hold of the midfield. In the fixture at The Emirates earlier in the season, Tottenham were the better side in the initial stages and were outwitting Arsenal’s midfield trio. This time around, the roles need to be reversed, to put Spurs on the back foot to exploit the pace of Walcott up front; it is by no means certain that Giroud will start this time around especially with Walcott enjoying recent encounters with the Tottenham defence at White Hart Lane.
It is a decision the manager will need to think on, as well as Diaby himself. Whilst the midfielder will be itching to play, his injury record suggests that anything less than 100% fit is going to see him disappear for another few months. That cannot keep on and as harsh as it may seem, the time is fast approaching when Arsenal need to make a final judgement on the player. Without doubt he is a good player but if he is not going to be fit for more than half a season, he is a passenger that the club can ill-afford to keep with the current squad requiring more depth this Summer. It is a shame since he has always struck me as a well-mannered and sensible young man. However, this is the problem with constantly being in transition; harsh choices have to be made.