Liverpool arrive at The Emirates possibly in their best form of the season having taken 17 out of 21 possible points from their last seven games. Arsenal meanwhile are licking their wounds; the manager lambasted by sections of the ‘support’, chastised by the media for not buying, the players told that a team which is third in the division might well be relegation fodder come the end of May. OK, the last one is an exaggeration but not much of one.
Little joy could be gleaned from the injury bulletin posted by Arsene with Eduardo not making tonight, instead only likely to take the field again in Portugal next week. At least he has no fresh worries furrowing his already well-ploughed brow in this area.
Not so elsewhere and the signs are that, at long last, the straw on the media camel’s back is close to breaking point as far Wenger is concerned. Other managers have routinely banned the media, refusing to give interviews for perceived slights substantially less than those barbs aimed at the Frenchman.
Daily Telegraph hacks invented the story that Thomas Sorensen was a transfer window target, emphatically denied by the Wenger
Back to tonight. Eduardo’s absence hampers Wenger’s choices; Bendtner is apparently obviously not fit, the injury situation such that the Dane seems to have returned too quickly, unable to run freely. It is reminiscent of many who return to fitness at Arsenal although one can only hope that the gentle easing back in will not cause any recurrence, ruling Bendtner out for another period.
Defensively, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown both highlighted the failings of the performances against Manchester United and Chelsea, rather more ratonally than Ian Wright who is apparently fearful that the second leg of the Champions League clash with Porto will spell the end of Arsenal’s season. I do not think I am wrong but the away trip has yet to take place which does rather make it seem that Wright’s glass is indeed half-empty. In pieces. On the floor. Contents strewn everywhere causing others to slip on the misery.
Much is being made that Liverpool can be two points behind Arsenal if they win this evening. A small point, overlooked, is that so will Manchester City be if they win their games in hand, no matter how unimpressive their performances. Liverpool travel to Eastlands this weekend which may well be more decisive in the race for fourth place.
Third should not be the target for the remainder of the season nor should we believe the pundits opinions. The players know the hole they have dug themselves into; tantalisingly, some kind soul left a ladder close to the edge so that they can reach it if they have the necessary belief in themselves and an ample smattering of good fortune from teams facing those above. Arsenal has always talked a good game under Wenger. Arshavin and Clichy continue that vein but both are realistic in their appraisal of the current situation.
The left back is not having the easiest of returns to the side, a tough run in which he has not yet shaken the cobwebs free to the extent that there are calls for him to be replaced. No doubt they will be wanting him reinstated if Traore has a poor match; some people want their cake, to eat it and go back for seconds. I suspect that Wenger is going to be fielding the side, more or less, which started at Stamford Bridge; his options for change are limited which is why I would expect him to go with, essentially the choice is whether Eboue comes in for Sagna and who to choose from Walcott, Rosicky and Nasri.
Personally, I like all three of the midfield choices but Rosicky has more unpredictability than the other two whilst Walcott has the pace to unsettle Liverpool, provided he gets the service:
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky
Liverpool are obdurate in defence and did well against Everton last weekend although they were not pushed hard in that respect. No doubt that they will have the idea that beating Arsenal is entirely feasible using the tactics employed by United and Chelsea; whether they have the personnel capable of doing so is another matter.
It has been a while since we beat them at home, a betting man would not be far from placing a wager on a 1 – 1 draw which has been the outcome in recent years. A win for Arsenal is essential to keep pressure on the top two, ensuring that they know the race is not over. It will not be if there is a draw or even defeat tonight, provided the gap to first does not widen. A win will see a surge of confidence through the side and ease the pressure from below.
Enjoy the match wherever you watch it. ’til Tomorrow.