Tottenham arrive at The Emirates this lunchtime, the opposition more determined than most to try and rain on Arsenal’s parade and stop their ascendancy to the summit of the Premier League, even if that top position may only be held for a few hours.
The recent internationals have not been as costly as in the past. Jack Wilshere was the only real scare but Arsene noted that the youngster had recovered and passed a fitness test yesterday. It means that the only absentees are Vermaelen, Almunia and Diaby. Bendtner and van Persie are likely to be on the bench based on Wenger’s comments about them being nearly ready for the starting line-up and whilst he might not have said it, he has a very good idea of whom he will choose plus the tactics employed. Which is more than can be said for ‘Appy ‘Arry.
Much has been made in recent days about the new toughness about Arsenal. Wenger observed,
I take that as a compliment because before people felt they could do that [be physical]. I feel it’s part of maturing, becoming a man. Unfortunately it goes down with the worst Fair Play record and we have to change that but it shows we are more committed.
Commitment is one thing which you expect in this match and Spurs will no doubt seek to kick anything that moves, attempting to provoke a reaction from Fabregas and Wilshere most notably. The former has been frustrated with his form being affected by his fitness and the latter, the exuberance of youth when his touch lets him.
Fabregas’ goal at Everton will have done wonders for him in that respect, a sign that things are beginning to come back into shape. For Wilshere though, recent Arsenal outings have seen a plateau, culminating in his half-time substitution at Goodison Park. Wenger commented afterwards that he felt Wilshere was tired and he will not have been disappointed at the youngster missing out on Wednesday night.
Indeed, the question is whether or not today is a good day for Jack to be dropped to the bench. Arsenal has to contend with the world’s greatest player in Gareth Bale – it’s true because the media all tell us so – and putting Walcott on the right hand side of attack will cause some hesitancy in the Welshman’s forward progress, causing him to be more aware of where Theo is.
Walcott has in the eyes of neutral observers, a point to prove. As is the norm, he was not at his best for England. The usual withering comments have been made not once noting that Capello and the squad singularly fail to play to Walcott’s strengths. He is hampered by the fact that few of the England squad know that lumping a ball over fifty yards into space is not a pass; it is a fifty yard hoof, exacerbated when they expect Walcott to jump, win the header and then chase the ball. Bale beware; Arsenal know his strengths.
The one thing which might save Wilshere’s place is Andrey Arshavin. Wenger commented that he often seems a spent force returning from international duty and no doubt that the Russian will have been assessed by the Arsenal staff regarding his fitness. Part of that was psychology on the manager’s part, as was his praise for Arshavin prior to last week’s away fixtures. He got the desired results.
A win is essential today, to put doubts in Chelsea minds and to put belief in Arsenal hearts. Even if they return to the top following a win at Birmingham, Chelsea will know that the pressure is on ahead of a tough set of fixtures leading up to Christmas. Arsenal in touch or ahead pose a serious threat to their title ambitions; what better way than to win today and go top?
The line-up I would start with is:
Fabianski; Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Nasri; Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin
No place for the returning Koscielny. Johan Djourou has done well in his absence and the back four looked settled at Everton – why change it, especially with two players who seem to be at the same level. It sends a powerful message as well that places in the team cannot be taken for granted with those coming into the side aware that good performances are rewarded.
And fourteen good performances are needed today from the Arsenal team that plays during the ninety minutes. Tottenham has lost at Bolton, Manchester United and West Ham, only victorious at Fulham and Stoke on their travels. Not a good record for a team with Champions League aspirations and one that Arsenal should look to keep at it’s poor record.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.