The trip to Villa Park provides an opportunity to consign an awful November to the history books, signing off with a win that would temporarily take Arsenal to the top of the Premier League. The grounds for optimism have diminished in the last two performances – one and a half to be more accurate.
The side which performed so poorly in Braga contained seven changes from that which imploded against Tottenham. The changes made were likely to be reversed but Wenger’s hand has been forced by the absence of his captain, out for a couple of weeks at least.
Wenger was adamant that he has no intention of relieving Fabregas of the captaincy yet I fail to see why this was even an issue. Whilst some have seriously countenanced such action being taken, believing that the Spaniard is still in sulking over his failed move to Barcelona, those critics overlook one important character trait; Fabregas is a winner and his demeanour suggests to me that he is unhappy with his own form, frustrated by injury – perhaps returning to action too soon?
With Chelsea visiting Newcastle and United hosting Blackburn, Arsenal has the toughest fixture. Psychologically it would be a massive boost for the players to win and win well today. It would also increase the pressure on two opponents who are spluttering in form. Chelsea could go onto the pitch at St James’ Park in third place, barely four weeks after the procession to the crown was heralded in the media. Such a turnaround in fortunes would be negative for them.
Pre-match, Robert Pires facing Arsenal is hogging the headlines although he is likely to be a substitute for the hosts. Personally, I wish him well at his new club aside from any fixture involving Arsenal when I hope that he and his teammates suffer from a collective failure to find any form and lose heavily. Perhaps that is overly optimistic but surely optimism is the heart and soul of being a football supporter?
With Fabregas out, Denilson is likely to form the central midfield partnership. Playmaking will probably fall on the shoulders of Samir Nasri although many would insert Jack Wilshere, I would omit him on recent form where tiredness seems to have been issue. With that in mind, it would be an attacking triumverate of Arshavin, Chamakh and Walcott supported by the previous trio.
The line-up I would select is:
Fabianski; Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy; Denilson, Nasri, Song; Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin
The suspicion is that Koscielny will return to the centre though. I was surprised by his return last weekend in place of Djourou as the Swiss had done nothing wrong in the previous two games. It was a clear indicator that, at the moment, the French duo are his first choice. When Vermaelen returns, it will be interesting to see which of that pair is considered first choice with the older of the two likely to win that battle.
On the subject of long term injuries, it was good to see Aaron Ramsey return for the reserves. He has since joined Nottingham Forest on loan until 3rd January 2011, conveniently avoiding being cup-tied domestically although the East Midlands club’s diminished status means that he will be free for the Europa League campaign…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow when Limpar will be filling in with the report.