Fulham pitch up at The Emirates, the return of the fixture that suggested this season would not be quite so straightforward as the hope that the summer months brings, suggested.
Injuries once more dominate, no-one of note returning but unsurprisingly, an returnee has dropped out. Abou Diaby knacked his calf in midweek and rather like Eduardo, is missing straight away. But that was quickly superseded by yesterday’s news that Diaby is fit once more.
Andrei Arshavin will return to the side following his midweek rest, perhaps more prepared for a longer turn-out than the sixty minutes or so he got against Sunderland. Certainly, he will hoping for a more productive outcome for the team. That will not necessarily be so straightforward although it would be nice if Fulham rolled over in the same manner that they did at Old Trafford recently.
I would not envisage Wenger making too many changes from midweek, perhaps other than Arshavin in for Eboue and Song for Diaby, surely Arsene will not want to risk aggravating the Frenchman’s injury from which he is quickly recovered. Either will be a good replacement, Song and Denilson’s efforts acknowledged by their captain:
I’ve played with both of them, of course, and I can say they work really hard, they always give their best and are very honest players. At Arsenal there’s a lot of pressure because we are a big club but from my perspective, and from outside, I think they are doing well
Denilson has received some recognition for his recent performances and it would be nice to see him pushing further forward with Nasri and Arshavin, Song’s natural defensive game helping this. Others may well (and do) disagree but I personally believe Song is a good squad player, potentially developing into a solid midfielder.
The team will probably be something along the lines of:
Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Arshavin, Denilson, Song, Nasri; van Persie, Bendtner
A win is vital to close the gap and with Villa playing on Sunday, it is the chance to put real pressure on them by closing the gap to three points. It is at this point of the season that Villa will either crumble or respond positively; all Arsenal can do is win their games.
Cesc also spoke more sense, as per normal, earlier this week:
It is not realistic to look at the league title now. You can never say never of course, but at the moment we would not be intelligent to be looking right to the top of the league. To be intelligent now is to go game by game and think about who is directly in front of us. Now we have to make sure we put a run of wins together and don’t lose more points. Chelsea and Aston Villa will drop points, of that I am sure, and that is why we need to be ready to capitalise at the right time
The failure to capitalise in recent weeks has been a stark reminder of the task ahead for the remainder of the season. Had we won the last two fixtures, the gap would have been four points. The thin line between success and failure highlighted by those results.
We are a young team and we have changed our style. We don’t rush forward as much anymore. We looked at what was going wrong and the reasons behind why we were conceding a lot of goals. We wanted to continue with the pace we displayed last season, but it was not helping us. So we have changed our style of play and we have not lost more games because of that…The most important thing is not to concede goals.
It has been the key element in building an unbeaten run, a tighter defence than previously displayed. That may well be helped by the renewed confidence and vigour being displayed by Toure and Gallas in the centre.
Almunia elaborated on the balance that needs to be found between the two styles Sagna spoke of:
Before, we probably used to create a few more chances and also we would finish those chances quicker. Now we are spending a bit more time to get a final shot. The players realise the fans deserve more from us and maybe some of the players are feeling more pressure at the moment at home because we are not winning games…The team in general, defensively, are doing very well. We now need to find that nice balance where we are tight at the back but get the goals.
There are two elements to what Almunia is saying. Yes, the goalscoring problems exist and they need to address that. With Adebayor likely to return against Roma, and Eduardo for the cup tie against Burnley, there is no doubt that Bendtner needs to start scoring for the sake of his seemingly limitless confidence but more importantly, to justify his claim for a starting line-up place. Without goals, it matters not that the Dane’s movement is good, it is hard to look at him as a short-term replacement for Adebayor or even someone to put pressure on the players ahead of him. At the end of the day, scoring is his fundamental role in the side at the moment.
The second aspect of Almunia’s comments again echo Sagna‘s last weekend. The crowd on Tuesday were more supportive of the team than last Saturday. Davebluez highlighted the difference between the two matches, the latter waiting to be entertained, the former behind the team from the start. Personally, I have always believed that the crowd should be behind the team from the off, rather than waiting for the team to lift the crowd. It does not always work this way and that is nothing new to The Emirates, it happened at Highbury and had been that way long before the EPL came into existence.
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