Imagine the scene, you are sitting at home watching TV some mindless entertainment comes on screen in the shape of Family Fortunes, a footballers wives special hosted by Les Dennis. It plays out something like this:
LD: In our survey of 100 Arsenal fans, which five teams did they not want to lose their first home game at the Emirates Stadium to?
Mrs Wenger: Chelsea, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Bong) Correct, they are in at Number Three
Mrs Henry: Manchester United, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Bong) Correct, they are in at Number Two
Mrs van Persie: Liverpool, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Dong) Correct, they are in at Number Four
Mrs Rosicky: West Ham, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Duh-Duh) Wrong, surprisingly not in there
Mrs Lehmann: Newcastle United, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Duh-Duh) Wrong, Nobody’s worried about them winning away from home
Mrs Wenger: Anyone, Les?
LD: [barely suppressing patronising laugh] Yep, any football team you want to name
Mrs Wenger: No Les, they don’t want to lose to Anyone
LD: Oooh good answer; you must be the brains behind the team (Dong) Correct, they are in at Number Five
Mrs Henry: Tottenham, Les?
LD: Our survey said! (Dong) Correct, they are in at Number One with an astounding 96% of the votes cast…
It is just unthinkable for the first defeat to be tomorrow. Absolutely unthinkable. And yet it is hard to envisage the Tiny Tots having a better opportunity with Arsenal coming into the game on the back of two abject away performances, one win in their last six Premiership fixtures. Yet they have not been sparkling either, no wins in the last nine Premiership away trips and only three points on the road this season; only four from their last nine league treks in total. So neither team is in what could even vaguely be called rude health.
And it should have been so different. Despite Martin Jol’s predictions prior to the start of the season, I suspect that Tottenham fans were no different from us in that their expectations have been underwhelmed by performances on the pitch. For Jol’s influx of new players, read Arsene’s new tactics. Same result, different reasons. Having been one dodgy Lasagne away from a seat at Europe’s Top Table, there is little doubt that they would be expecting to challenge for fourth place. They are still on course for that challenge but sit five points off the pace. Not an insurmountable gap but as Arsenal have found in the last three weeks, consecutive poor results can soon make it a bridge too far.
With Henry’s absence confirmed, Wenger has the opportunity to plan ahead for Wednesday night. Senderos is suspended so he has to reshuffle the defence, both full backs also returning following their night off on Wednesday. My preferred line-up would be:
Lehmann; Eboue, Toure, Djourou, Clichy; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Walcott; van Persie, Baptista
I would pick the Brazilian ahead of Adebayour as I think he would prove more of a goal threat, his physical presence could upset a Tottenham defence not necessarily used to handling a player with his strength. Given Rosicky has just returned from injury, another start may be too much, too soon and Walcott has done well when playing on the whole with good delivery. Baptista has the aerial ability to get on the end of crosses, I believe he is a more potent threat than Adebayour.
Tactically, I think Arsene has to drop 4-5-1. Comments from Fabregas indicate how the players feel about it (although it is unclear if he spoke personally or with the tacit approval of the rest of the squad) but I don’t think he will have been alone in being dissatisfied with the formation thus far. With Wednesday in mind, this is a good opportunity to see how Baptista and van Persie link up. The key however is the defence. They have to concentrate from the start and not concede the first goal, ideally none at all. To do so would make this another fraught afternoon for those of us in the ground.
Warmed up for this one by watching the 5 – 0 win at White Hart Lane. Everyone remembers the Brady goal but to be honest all of the finishes were class. Sunderland’s first with the outside of the boot in the opening minute, Sunderland’s second a powerful shot from the edge of the area, Stapleton’s diving header following Brady’s excellent cross, Sunderland’s hattrick goal taking the ball wide of the defender to shoot across Naylor. The dominant defence is something we could do with this afternoon, perhaps dragging Big Wullie out of retirement? To think it could have been 7 – 0 had Sunderland’s header and Stapleton’s drive been an inch lower, hitting the back of the net rather than the frame of the goal. And before you ask, yes I did have Lasagne.
Off for my train now to get a few ales in and back tomorrow with a report, hopefully one that is happier to write than they have been in recent weeks.