We finally have club football back. Yes, I know there’s already Premiership games on Saturday but sue me if I only cared for Arsenal related ones. This is the first game back for the team after that defeat to Tottenham in our last outing. It was a bitter defeat, made much worse by the fact that it was a local derby.
The team had to wait a full 2 weeks to get a chance to make amends. A full two weeks away on their own and not at the training ground working with the rest of their Arsenal team mates to iron out the mistakes. In some ways, it was good to be away for some time and to train/play with other players. As that could help regain some lost focus and confidence.
The Sunderland game is the first of 4 crucial fixtures before the clash away to Chelsea. Marseille in the Champions League being the only away game sandwiched in between 3 other home ties. Stoke at home and Bolton in the Carling Cup being the other 2 matches. Imperative that we build some kind of positive momentum heading towards that match at Stamford Bridge.
Sunderland’s visit meant Nicklas Bendtner. Not that I’m saying he’s Sunderland because technically, he’s still an Arsenal player. While Bendtner might be in attendance, he will not feature as the Premier League has now enforced the rule against players playing against their mother club while on loan. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a soft spot for big Nick and would love to see him being given a chance to return to the team, despite himself being adamant that his future lies elsewhere.
Like I said before the start of this season, he could still play a role for us and I would certainly have him ahead of Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order. An idea which Arsene Wenger is not adverse to. However, I’m conscious that my preference meant nothing and it is the decision of Wenger, as well as that of Bendtner which are to be respected. If he’s not getting game time with us, the loan stint will certainly do him no harm.
Sunderland managed to hold us to 2 league draws last season and those 2 games were very winnable for us. Missed penalty and conceding the leveller in the final minute in the first game, while bad officiating cost us the second game. That said, we were in control of both games and should never have let it come to a third party decision affecting the final results.
Sunderland are not exactly in the best of form themselves. Firing 4 past hapless Stoke only to lose away to newcomers, Norwich in the next. Their last match prior to this was salvaging a draw against a visiting WBA side who has taken early lead in the game. In fact, their form are somewhat comparable to us and they are sitting in 16th position, one rung below us.
As mentioned yesterday, we have managed to rescue a few back from the treatment room and this will be a slightly stronger side than the one we put out in the North London Derby. Carl Jenkinson should come in at right back with Laurent Koscielny slotting back beside Per Mertesacker. That should see us line-up like such;
This allows Alex Song to move back into midfield. You will find that I’m firmly in the camp of those who thought he did significantly well enough in defence but it is in midfield where we need him the most. Granted Francis Coquelin had a tremendous game for someone inexperience as him, Song is a different level at this point in time. On a psychological level, opposition might be more intimidated by the presence of Song than Coquelin.
There’s no point in denying that much of the pressure will be on the shoulders of Robin Van Persie. It must be close to a year now, that he has been relatively injury free (as I type that, I do realised that I risked jinxing him). Being the best player in the squad, as well as the club captain are heavy responsibilities. Yet, RvP cannot do it alone. The rest of the team must support him the best they can.
This is where the likes of Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Gervinho comes into play. We cannot expect RvP to be the only one carrying the goal threat to the opposition. Someone else will need to assume that role from time to time, especially with the opposition expected to pay close attention to our Dutchman. Chances like the one Gervinho squandered at Tottenham, must be taken.
With less pressure, both from the fans and the opposition, the onus is on this group of 5 to perform. Easier to say so on paper but these players do have the necessary qualities to excel and should take their chances with both hands. There’s competition for places at Arsenal and with Abou Diaby returning, Andrey Arshavin/Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain/Yossi Benayoun expected to be on the bench, there’s alternative options.
Wenger said he thinks only of the short term. I cannot think of a more apt thought process. Where we are right now, it’s nonsense to think about lifting trophies in May. Let’s just focus on the game in front of us and try to win that. Then the next one, then the next one. We’ll have to see where that takes us.
Here’s to a good win, any win. Up The Arsenal.