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Will be the key tonight. Song needs to be alert to United's counter attacks

Been missing for the last 2 days, as I was rather busy with my personal life. I know no one reads my blog but if you do and you look forward to it every day, I sincerely apologize. There’s a lot to go through, not forgetting the big match that is coming up tonight. So, let’s get to it.

Thierry Henry returns to the Grove as a playing member, probably for the last time in his illustrious career. He will of course return as part of the New York Red Bulls who have been confirmed as one of three teams in the next edition of the Emirates Cup. Paris St. Germain are also coming though I’m suspicious whether that has anything to do with the potential transfer of Mamadou Sakho to Arsenal. Completing the line up are Boca Juniors. I have a soft spot for Juan Roman Riquelme ever since I saw him as a 19 year old in the World Youth Cup in 1997, so it would be good to see him again before he retires.

There’s a lot more coming out from Arsenal and especially Arsene Wenger on how our season has turned out. He pointed out how decisive the loss of the Carling Cup final has been. I can’t help but agree. The belief went away a little after that. It is almost like our team suddenly became a little conscious that they might not get over that line and onto the next stage, which is winning things.

The manager continues to blame himself for our shortcomings this season. He stressed that the 2 points gained from the last 3 matches could just as easily be 9 points and that is the most frustrating part of it. The self-blame can viewed 2 ways. One, he realises the weakness of his team and regrets not adding a body or two during January to give us the final push. Two, he uses this to deflect outside criticism of his squad. It would not be in the interest of the manager to lay blame on our failure on any particular player and from that perspective, it’s totally understandable. I just hope that in private, he tells the team what he really thinks.

Here, the manager was also adamant that our season was not lost or defined by any specific match. Again, the manager is right. I’ve lost count on the number of times that we thought our title challenge was over, only to be given chances after chances to come back into the fight. Unfortunately for us, despite the the numerous lifelines that we received, we did not capitalise on it. The last few weeks has seen a lot of draws but we could easily point to our home form and see that we’ve dropped points throughout the season to teams that we should be beating.

Last on this reflection is his admission that the captaincy is putting too much pressure on Cesc Fabregas. This is a part which I don’t get. We’ve seen a lot of youngsters being given armbands at big clubs. The likes of Tony Adams, Paolo Maldini, Raul and Iker Casillas comes to mind. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Fabregas, with all his dedication and quality, is not capable of leading us to glory. Perhaps it was a dig at his performances this season, which to be fair, has not reached the heights of his previous seasons with us. Another point which bogs me is the source of this quote. I’ve seen the pre-match interview with AVTO and the press conference but none of this was mentioned. It is just weird to me that Wenger conducted a separate interview from those 2 that he normally does prior to any game.

Apart from the manager, Johan Djourou also provided some insight into our season and he believes we are closer to the final product than we realise. Comparisons with the Invincibles will never be a fair argument but the big Swiss defender believes that the current squad are on par if not better than that team. Rome wasn’t built overnight and Djourou is requesting for patience as the team continues to grow to that level. Fair point but the fact we are frustrated is more to do with some of the collapse that we’ve seen, not so much to do with the quality of the playing side.

On to some good news, Thomas Vermaelen captained the reserves and completed a 90 minutes run out at Old Trafford on Thursday. I don’t think we can expect too much out of it. He’s been out since end of August and will need to bid his time before a return to first team action. I’m anticipating something like what happened with Djourou last season. Getting a few minutes in the last game of the season and coming back stronger next season. This is almost like his personal pre season.

Now, with all that done, we can look at the match that is going to happen in 7 hours’ time. First, some team news from both sides. Ryan Giggs might be even a day off as United seek to protect their lead in the second leg of the Champions League next week. This can only be term as good news for us. Giggs may be getting on with age but the quality he still produces on the field is unbelievable. Patrice Evra, who has a running feud with us, is no longer talking about babies and kids but advices his team to be more wary of us. Darren Fletcher also played in the same reserves match as Vermaelen, might be easing himself back to full fitness and could feature tonight.

As for us, apart from Abou Diaby, Vermaelen, Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski; we should the rest of the squad available. I do not foresee any changes to the side that played at Bolton a week ago. If there are any changes at all, it could be Andrey Arshavin coming in for Theo Walcott. Though personally I’d rather that doesn’t happen. If past matches against United is any indication, they will be looking to hit us with counter attacks again. Without Walcott in the side, we are basically ensuring Evra joins up with the attack. Here’s the line-up I expect to start;

Szczesny

Sagna—Djourou—Koscielny—Clichy

Fabregas—Song—Wilshere

Walcott—RvP—Nasri

Wenger wants us to keep fighting until the end of the season. You can’t argue with that. No matter the situation that we are in, we are Arsenal Football Club and we should always go into matches thinking of winning the game. We do not let our direct rivals win the trophy on our ground, we are no Spurs. The players have done it in the big games this season and I fail to find another reason why it cannot happen once more.

United has been somewhat of a brickwall for us, the past couple of seasons. We said the same thing about Chelsea but we seemed to have broken that hoodoo with a victory in December. Time for the same thing to be done to United. A win tonight may not have any special bearing on how the season turns out but it will be important on a psychological level. Like I said in previous posts, our 2011/2012 season has already started and we should build our run now. A win against United will do just that.

Here’s to a good win.

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