Fulham arrive at The Emirates this afternoon, the efforts of nine months coming to an end at the final whistle. No end of season fayre this afternoon though; the outcome decides whether qualification to the Group Phase of the Champions League is automatic or what has been a customary trawl through the final qualifying round in recent seasons, is repeated. Not quite the decision that we hoped for a month ago.
The visitors minds will be elsewhere, Hamburg to be precise. With injury concerns for Wednesday’s Europa League final against Atletico de Madrid, the expectation is that Roy Hodgson will tinker with his side. The avuncular manager has form in this department and one hopes he stays true to that. Not through fear of their strongest XI, a decent, hardworking side but more to make life a little easier for the Arsène’s battered and bruised troops.
Injuries have taken their toll and of the extensive list of absentees at Blackburn on Monday, only Gael Clichy has any chance for this afternoon. And that chance is slim. For others, the rest means they will be ready for the World Cup which is of no consolation to Arsenal supporters. Their appearance in South Africa would merely emphasise the feeling of ‘what could have been‘.
For others, their absence means the chance to bade farewell to the crowd is reduced to a post-match lap of honour, the assumption being that William Gallas has agreed to ply his trade elsewhere, Paris St. Germain the current favourites for his services. Others will play their last game for the club, the natural cycle of the transfer market taking care of that, the probability of Mikael Silvestre leaving must be extremely high.
Reports this morning suggest that Wenger is considering offering Juventus some cash for Felipe Melo, a long-term favourite of the ‘we’ve got £25m to p*ss up a wall‘ theorists, the Italian club hope that the temptation of the Europa League will be too much for Robin van Persie and Bacary Sagna to resist, along with the fluttering of an Old Lady’s eyelashes and the prospect of watching first hand as Rafa Benitez blows another £300m of someone else’s money on over-rated journeymen with the odd superstar thrown in.
So to this afternoon. There won’t be many changes from the team that lost at Blackburn simply because Arsène does not have that many fit players to choose from. Lansbury has been added to the squad following his return from Watford but the only other change could be a starting place for Andrey Arshavin. The line-up I would expect to start is:
Fabiański; Sagna, Campbell, Silvestre, Clichy; Eboue, Diaby, Nasri; Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin
Possible changes might be the inclusion of Eastmond in midfield with Nasri pushing to the left if Arshavin is not entirely fit or a straight swap for Eduardo.
It is a match to partially brighten the mood, the disappointments of recent defeats will not be easily erased. It would be good to finish the campaign on a relative high and to see smiles replace the furrowed brows before the summer sideshow begins.
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