The Champions League draw has for once been quite favourable for Arsenal. Whilst a few believe that United has the easier draw, I am not sure that there was an easy draw in the round; certainly there could have been much tougher ones. Defensively, they are not particularly strong, clean sheets not a regular feature to their game since the Spanish season restarted after the winter break. In that respect, Arsenal need to make sure that they take advantage of opportunities which arise. It will not be as straightforward though, as some would have you lead you to think. I believe we will triumph over the two legs and face United in the Semi-Finals.
So the business of the Day. Newcastle entertains the resurgent Arsenal, three points vital for both sides with the hosts looking to clear the relegation fight and the visitors looking to heap pressure on Aston Villa ahead of their visit to Anfield tomorrow.
The corresponding fixture last season saw the best and the worst of Arsenal. Adebayor’s goal was sublime but the defending for the equaliser was ridiculous. A repeat of the former would be most welcome, a repeat of the latter an unwelcome intervention.
Newcastle are in a run of poor form but that has never previously stopped Arsenal from underperforming on their travels. However, the current run that the team are in is embedded in them, confidence drawn that even a goal conceded can be overturned and a win extracted from a seemingly wretched situation as Hull found out in the week.
Having rotated for the cup game, Wenger looks to have his strongest available squad for the trip. Almunia is fit following the assault perpetrated by Diouf whilst Clichy should be reinstated ahead of Gibbs. In the centre of the defence, I would expect Toure and Gallas to return as a pair , hopefully with the solidity that they have shown in recent games as well.
The midfield is Wenger’s problem area except this time, he has nice headaches. Aside from Fabregas and Rosicky, everyone else is fit. Song has been showing the sort of form that many doubters believed was not possible from him in midfield. Indeed, I thought some time ago that his future lay in the centre of defence rather than his preferred midfield role. However, for the first time on a consistent basis, he has been performing as he did for his country at the last African Cup of Nations.
Song certainly deserves some recognition for them as he admitted:
My job is to work for the team but people don’t realise this. When I made those two goals against Burnley people noticed me but I always try to do my job and when the opposition don’t score, I think I’ve done well. I know I’m not the guy in the team who has to be offensive – I can do it but it’s not my main role. We have players who can do that and when Denilson or whoever goes forward, I stay back. But that doesn’t mean I don’t go forward when I get the opportunity to. My job in the team is a more defensive one than that of Abou, Denilson and Cesc.
His situation reminds me of Gilberto’s early seasons at the club. He was overshadowed by Vieira for a time but it was not until the Brazilian was missing that you realised how well he gelled the team together. It took him some time to win everyone over but he did just that. Song needs to apply himself in the same way to achieve the same result with supporters.
I suspect that he will get the nod ahead of Diaby to partner Denilson in the centre, Wenger probably preferring to hold steadier with the attacking options available through others. Walcott‘s injury in training changes matters a little. Personally, I would move Arshavin to the right rather than centrally as he might well have done if Theo had been fit. He could put Eboue in but my guess is that Wenger might consider that to be overly-defensive, despite the need to keep things tighter than in a home game.
Up front, that would mean Bendtner continuing to lead the line rather than the more dynamic Arshavin / van Persie pairing that might have been preferential had Walcott played. The directness of Theo will be greatly missed and the Russian on the right would compensate for that. Eduardo has been included in the squad but it would be a surprise if he started. Even so, the prospect of him and Arshavin in the same team is mouth-watering, the Croat will surely benefit from the supply that the Russian provides.
The team I would expect is:
Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Arshavin, Denilson, Song, Nasri; Bendtner, van Persie
The season is coming into focus swiftly now. Time for the oft-derided ‘boys‘ to don their hoodies, stick their middle fingers up to the media and prove that they are a team that has been under-estimated and over-criticised.
Craig Burley‘s Wikipedia entry includes a forthright analysis of his media career to date.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.