First of 2 trips to Wearside, starting with the league match tonight and the FA Cup the following week. Beginning of a very important 7 days for Arsenal Football Club according to Arsene Wenger. 3 matches that will decide our season. An European cup tie against AC Milan sandwiched in between 2 meetings with Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland.
MON replaced Steve Bruce and has drastically changed the fortune of Sunderland, from relegation threatened to only 2 spots behind us now. Yes, you read it right. They are only 2 places behind us in the Premier League with a 7 points gap in between. Having made such a leap in such a short period, it’s no wonder that Sunderland are currently the leading team if the table is counted in the last 6 games. Our form only puts us in 13th place.
Much will be depended on the performance of Stephane Sessegnon who has already amassed 6 goals and 7 assists, having played every single one of the 24 leagues games this season for Sunderland. But he’s not the only to our hopes getting 3 points back. Former Gunner, Sebastian Larsson could also be dangerous, especially if he’s allowed chances on set-pieces. There’s also the return of Frazier Campbell and the new sensation of the Stadium of Light, James McClean.
One player who will not feature though, is Nicklas Bendtner. The terms of his loan denies him the opportunity to line up against his real employers. He also has a facial injury and might not have featured even if the rules allowed. Having had a mixed career with us, it is clear to everyone that Bendtner has no desire to return to us. On one hand, I’m disappointed by that as I believe if given a prolong run in the central position, he could be a really effective striker for us. That said, having seen the amount of times that former players scores against us, I’m glad he’s not playing this one.
With the important Champions League fixture in midweek, question rises on whether Wenger will take this opportunity to rest a few players to be prepared for Milan. Yet, I’m firmly on the side that disagrees with this. I understand the challenges of keeping players fit and all that. However, the run that we had prior to the Blackburn win last week has robbed us the chance to relax in some league games. Every game between now and the end of the season is equally important and every game must be played with the best available players that we have.
The only scenario of which a rotation can be accepted is for when not more than 2 players are allowed to sit this one out. If you’re looking for players to rest, then it could be anyone of Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Robin Van Persie, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. The depth of our squad, or rather the lack of it, doesn’t allow for wholesale changes. Frankly, there is no 8 players of similar quality that we can put on to replace those lot.
If I’m a betting man, then I would choose Mertesacker and AOC from the list to be rested. Both could be crucial for the tie against Milan. Mertesacker’s experience crucial in the away leg while AOC’s pace and trickery vital against a defence without the service of Alessandro Nesta. It’s a tough choice but one which have to be made, simply because we are not machines. Arteta says we are and I really like those quotes, but we are not.
A game where we could actually play with full backs. Actual full backs on both sides of the defence. Wonder how stars have been aligned for this to happen. Any way you look at it, it’s a very mean looking defence. In midfield, while I’d want to see Francis Coquelin being given a chance, I doubt that would happen. But just like Aaron Ramsey, Song has been playing a lot of games recently and not in very good form either. Taking him out of the firing line for one game could help recharge his batteries.
Speaking of batteries recharged, Ramsey will be a sure starter today having sat last weekend’s game out. The Welshman can never be accused of not trying hard enough and that’s probably why has has looked every bit knackered in recent weeks. He has the capability to run the show just like he did at Stamford Bridge and something tells me that he could be influential to our cause today.
The form table serves as a guide. That this is not an easy game. We won’t have Titus Bramble kicking the ball at the shin of Cesc Fabregas for us to score today. If we get a penalty today, let’s hope the normal penalty taker doesn’t shy away from taking it. It will be a fight today and MON doesn’t normally give us an easy game. His Villa side in the past has given us a lot of problems and it would be remiss of us not to be 100% for this one.
It’s no use looking at the result of other teams. We are now close enough to take advantage of any teams above us dropping points. To do that, there’s only one way to go about it. That is to put the effort in today and win our game.
Simple request. Can the machines fulfill it?