Just as chins hit the floor with a resounding thud, spirits were lifted at 9.45pm yesterday as Frank Lampard’s penalty hit the roof of the net and inflicted a damaging wound to Manchester United’s title-winning season (© wethemediadecreeyouwontwintheleagueunitedandchelseathrewitaway plc).
Whether it is a fatal blow will be determined to a certain extent by the results in both team’s fixtures this weekend. A win for Arsenal and failure by United to do the same will put Arsenal in a strong position with a game in hand. Reverse the outcomes and the game in hand will close the gap to three points. It is becoming increasingly possible that the outcome of the season may rest on the meeting at The Emirates in May. Or April if Sky move the match forward.
The joy was relative. Cesc is a strong possibility for returning in the Camp Nou which will no doubt please the Barcelona board and faithful. No, wait they wanted him in their shirt not the colours of Arsenal. Oh well, can’t please all the people, all the time…
Robin van Persie though is likely to return to full fitness just in time for the Dutch international double-header with Hungary, a new era in club v country relationships as Arsenal decide to keep their players fit for national teams and to Hell with their own ambitions. Very generous I am sure, which will not go unnoticed in the corridors of Nyon and Zurich.
It means that Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner need to hit the ground running, finding their scoring boots very quickly. The Dane has form in replacing van Persie, 8 in 12 games last season whilst Chamakh made an excellent start to his Arsenal career this season.
The Moroccan has admitted that he struggled towards December / January but has been rested over that timescale which ought to leave him fighting fit for the rest of the season. Arsenal need both strikers to show their finest form in a crucial three weeks before the international break. FA Cup and Champions League campaigns will be made or broken in that spell whilst the Premier League can be driven forwards positively.
So to this evening. There are more walking wounded than van Persie from Sunday. The Chuckle Brothers are both out, Szczesny will be a substitute because Almunia ‘needs the games‘ according to the manager whilst Laurent Koscielny is suffering.
Not as much as we are with the mithering that is going on about world class goalkeepers and world class centre backs. Or rather the perceived absence of them, a matter of days after we were being regalled with tales of derring-do by the same voices, how the Djourou / Koscielny partnership was going to be the difference to last season.
With Abou Diaby not risked on Sunday because the Final was deemed to be too intense for a player who has missed most of the last five seasons through injury, it seems likely he will return tonight, a midfield triumverate with Denilson and Rosický most likely, Eboué wide on the right, Arshavin scampering his little socks off on the left.
Personally, I would start with Bendtner this evening. Chamakh looked out of sorts on Sunday as a substitute although it could be argued that he would be better served playing himself into form once more with the same leeway given to Arshavin. Tellingly, Bendtner was van Persie’s immediate replacement and that perhaps gives some indication for team selection whilst the Dutchman is absent.
For the rest of the side, I believe numbers are sufficiently short for the team to pick itself,
Almunia; Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs; Rosický, Denilson, Diaby; Eboué, Bendtner, Arshavin
The bench whilst somewhat threadbare has a reasonable strength available although I am sure that the manager and players will want to win this game before the ninety minutes is up. And with all due respect to Orient, they should be able to do so. Little came from the first match to suggest that Arsenal will struggle to overcome them but complacency is a killer. Ask Everton.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.