The next 2 games in the Premiership will go a long way to defining Arsenal’s League season – Bolton at Highbury tomorrow and Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday, a re-arranged match from earlier this season. Six points from these two games will mean a top three finish is attainable; the eleven point gap is too wide for us to catch Manchester United, even winning our game in hand and victory at Old Trafford in April will still leave 5 points between the two sides. A minimum return the team should be aiming for is four points from the six, a tall order given Liverpool’s home form and Arsenal’s abysmal performances away from Highbury this season.
Bolton, currently two points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, are what would be termed as a typically English side – a more sophisticated version of the teams that this country regularly produced in the twenty to thirty years ago. They are capable of playing football well, with smooth passing movements but are physically strong and more than able to hold their own in a battle. Rather unfairly, they are depicted in the media as “kick and run” merchants but one suspects that the combustible relationship that their manager has with various Hacks and Scribes is the driving force behind this reputation. Indeed, they should be held up as an example to Championship teams as to what can be achieved on a consistent basis, taking over that mantle from Charlton. There are perhaps only two or three players at the club who I consider could hold their own at a higher level, e.g. Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, being Stelios, Jaaskelainen and Okocha. Even the last one is moving towards the end of his career and that chance may have passed him by. Stelios has been linked with Liverpool over the last two summers but nothing has materialised whilst Jaaskelainen is a consistent keeper whose contract wrangles may well have placed him on Wengers watch list as a possible interim replacement for Lehmann.
The team have in recent years been a bogey side for Arsenal gaining a couple of creditable draws at Highbury but in the main it has been at Bolton where we have had most problems, exemplified this season with a 0 – 2 and 0 – 1 defeat in the Premiership and FA Cup respectively. Team news from Highbury indicates that they have a good opportunity to record their first Premiership win at the ground in what will be their last appearance there. Campbell will now be out for two or three weeks so the only fit defenders seem to Senderos and Dhjorou who acquitted themselves reasonably at Birmingham last weekend, augmented by the return to fitness of Alex Song. Kerrea Gilbert appears to have started training again but Wenger has admitted that he is probably not yet match fit.
Even with these problems defensively, I expect Arsenal to be too strong for them in attack and to claim a two goal margin of victory. It will interesting to see if Walcott makes his debut, having been on the bench at Birmingham. There should not be any concerns about the physical side of the tackling. Having seen some Championship football this season, the cloggers of the Premiership have nothing on their lower League counterparts.
Arsenal have asked that supporters with seats in the front 10 rows arrive at the ground earlier than normal tomorrow. This is so that they will be able to put on their waterproof clothing as El-Hadji Diouf has returned from the African Cup of Nations and may be in the starting line-up.
The Clubs website notes that this game is potentially the start of the final countdown to the end of Highbury, with this being the tenth last match at the venerable old stadium. When I first read that, it seemed to me that there was an awful long way to go in the season and why therefore, was I being pessimistic about our final League position being so dire? Well, reading the article we find that this is only in the final ten if we beat Real Madrid, which even though they’ve been on the wrong end of a 1 – 6 thrashing this week (and it was a thrashing – even Power Rangers schoolmates would defend better than Helguera did in Zaragoza), is by no means certain. I hope that the noise I hear in the distant is not the sound of fowl creatures being counted too soon.
Todays tunes – some indie bands from my past, creeping back into the aural spectrum. The Husker Du song featured on their Concept (shudder) album, Warehouse Songs and Stories, and was as strong an opening track that I’ve heard. As for Buffalo Tom, I’m still not sure that I’ve entirely forgiven them for their version of Going Underground which was frankly dire. Honestly, it was worse than anything Westlife, Atomic Kitten, Boyzone, Gareth Gates or Paul Young ever concocted. Steer clear of it. If there was a criminal offence for it, they’d have been guilty of murdering a perfectly good song. But Tangerine is very good, this being a live version from 2000.