Hope that your festivities were enjoyable and that the fat bloke with the beard delivered your Christmas wishes to you and yours. Arsene’s wishes for everyone to be fit and well have not come to bear but rather like Number two son wanting a PS3 for himself and a Wii for his brother so that they would not argue over who was going to have a go on them, it was overly optimistic.
Recent games have been described as ‘must win’. I am not happy with such descriptions because I believe every game is a ‘must win’ if you are challenging for the title. And yes, Arsenal are still in the mix thanks to the inconsistency of those above and around us. Time though is running out to take advantage of such frivolity on their part; someone, somewhere, sometime very soon is going to start putting a run together and Arsenal need to be in a position to keep pace with that.
This evening’s visit to Villa Park mirrors last season’s meeting. Just over a year ago, Fabregas and van Persie were the key individuals missing. This time it is the Spaniard and Adebayor. Arguably, the same impact from those unfit to play will be felt. The crucial difference this time is the confidence in the two camps. Villa probably believe they can beat anyone at the moment whilst even the Arsenal players probably cannot tell you which version of themselves will turn up; will it be the lacklustre ones or the galvanised version from the last half an hour or so on Sunday?
The truth is that it needs to be the ones on the top of their game. It is a fixture that both sides need to win for differing primary reasons. Whilst Villa want the points to consolidate their top four position to fulfill their realistic ambition of finishing in a Champions League placing, Arsenal want the win for that as their basic requirement but more importantly to keep in touch with the leaders. Let us be honest here. By the time that this match kicks off, Manchester United ought to have taken maximum points from their visit to Stoke whilst West Brom and Bolton will have probably been put to the sword by Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. A win will be required for the Wenger boys to maintain the current status quo. Failure will mean that the squad will be Deeper Down in the mire; any title flame still flickering would be considerably dimmer but still not totally extinguished.
The absences of Cesc and Adebayor will mean a reshuffle. Defensively, I would not expect any changes unless there are late injuries. In midfield though, Cesc’s absence must surely mean a return to the centre for Denilson. He has worked hard on the flanks but he is not a winger nor does he claim to be. Wenger has the option of putting Diaby in there but I am convinced that this will be the case. It seems likely that Eboue will come in on the right. Diaby is lacking confidence at the moment, or seems to me to be, perhaps being the result of not getting regular games. It is a chicken and egg situation because unless he rediscovers his form, he is not going to get his run of games.
Up front, Bendtner will be given the opportunity to show himself. His media comments this week have been, as per usual, translated wildly from the ‘play me or I go‘ to the more likely, ‘I want to play and believe I can do a good job‘. Perhaps more than anyone in recent months, Bendtner personifies a ‘talks a good game’ attitude. He did not deliver when Adebayor was out. Fundamentally, he has to score goals to force his way into Wenger’s thinking on a more regular basis. Pressure will come if Eduardo’s return is successful next month. Wenger will have a good selection of forwards to choose from and Bendtner will not be the automatic replacement.
A different option for this evening would be van Persie leading the line with Diaby playing the supporting role but this role does not really bring the best out of the Dutchman which is perhaps the defining reason not to play him as the lead striker. I suspect the line-up will be:
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Song, Nasri; van Persie; Bendtner
With a bench of:
Fabianski, Diaby, Wilshere, Vela, Hoyte, Toure (if fit), Randall
The gameplan Villa employ will no doubt be not dissimilar to the one that they utilised at The Emirates; speedy attacks and swamping midfield. It is up to the Arsenal players to show that fixture was a lowpoint and to use a cliche, once bitten twice shy. The only concern that I have about countering such tactics is the ball over the top of the defence which caught us out for the second goal on that occasion and also Liverpool’s equaliser last Sunday. There cannot be a repeat. Three points are vital whatever the outcome of the other games to stay in touch.
Enjoy the match wherever you watch it. ’til Tomorrow.