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Rare occasions

Arsenal go back into Premier League action with a match against Manchester City tonight and we’ll be looking to rebound back with a positive result after our defeat away to QPR last week. For the first time since the inception of the Premier League, it is City who are challenging for the title and not us. Frankly, Arsene Wenger admits his jealousy over the opponents for tonight.

It’s a game that is important to both sets of teams. Roberto Mancini finds his team 5 points behind Manchester United despite leading the table for much of the season. Anything other than 3 points tonight and they could potentially kiss their title hopes goodbye. The same goes for us but not in the title sense. We’re locked in a 4 way battle for Champions League places with Sp*rs a point ahead while the pair of Chelsea and Newcastle two point adrift of us. Needless to say, we need the 3 points ourselves.

Micah Richards, Samir Na$ri, Sergio Aguero and Joleon Lescott are all facing late fitness tests to determine whether they’ll have any part to play tonight. However, with the stakes as high as it is, I’m fairly certain that they’ll start. The form of David Silva has tailed off since the turn of the year and weirdly, Mancini could rely on the once castaway Carlos Tevez to provide the spark for his team. There’s plenty of familiar faces on the other side and this will be one game where Patrick Vieira won’t be able to wish us good luck, something which his employers might not like.

We can focus on the return of Na$ri but we won’t. This match is not about him. Give him a hard time when he’s on the ball, that much is a given. However, the team should not just play to that. There are other players in City’s side who could hurt us. Whatever his problems off the field and sometimes on it, Mario Balotelli remains a very talented player whom we need to be wary of. Then there’s the need to reduce conceding unnecessary freekicks close to the penalty box as Aleksander Kolarov is a very good set piece taker.

On our side, we have the same squad as we had last week. There’s no new returnee with Jack Wilshere only slated to go through some behind-the-doors friendly games to bring him up to match fitness while Abou Diaby continues his recovery. With this being a home game against a side who generally tends to be more cautious when facing us (something which might change tonight), I think we’ll see a more attacking line-up than the one we saw last weekend. Or a more wider attacking side than last week, if you like.

That means that one of the midfielders will be drop and that looks likely to be Aaron Ramsey. The trio of Alex Song, Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta has been a good working combination and there’s no need to break that up without any massive of form or injuries to disrupt it. I doubt this is a game to bring Andre Santos back into the side, what with the pace and power that Adam Johnson/Micah Richards could produce on the left of our defence. Which should see us playing the same back four that played the entire month of March (except the one Aston Villa game where Djourou started)

Walcott—Van Persie—Gervinho

The questions surrounds who takes up Ramsey’s spot in the side. 3 choices are available to Wenger; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Yossi Benayoun. It’s incredible to find Benayoun in the position that he’s in. Mainly because he played in the match that has been widely acknowledged to be the one that has spark our recent upturn in results, the Sp*rs game. Having helped us turn the ship around, it’s hard not to pity the fact that Benayoun has not started another game since and that looks likely to continue unless Wenger decides to have a little more experience for tonight.

That said, the selection is more likely to be between Gervinho and AOC. The former has not hit the ground running since his return from the African Cup of Nations but has shown tremendous resolve to work his ass off while trying to find that form. We can only applaud the defensive shift that he put in during the Villa game. AOC has been given a little bit of respite lately and while he wants to play to ensure that he gets the call-up to the Euros, I’m sure Wenger will only think of managing his Arsenal fortunes. AOC could be a game changer later on when the pace of the game has considerably dropped.

In recent months, we’ve had good results at home. The Grove is fast turning into fortress and we need a little bit of that. That’s not to say that every will be a walkover, it will still be a challenge. City’s home record is something to aspire for, one draw and 3 points in every home league game. It has been stated many times how opponents don’t feel the same sense of fear as they do when they walked up the marble steps of Highbury. We need to create some of that aura at the current stadium.

A draw would not be the end of the world but that’s as far as I will go. A defeat tonight is unacceptable. The team has shown that they are capable of rising to the challenge when pressed upon. It is the same spirit, desire and determination that is needed tonight. What we care about is the 3 points to consolidate our position in 3rd. Whatever happens in the title race is none of our concern. City fans who think that we’re trying to beat you so that you don’t win the trophy needs a rethink. It’s about The Arsenal getting 3 points and that’s that. If what Robin Van Persie thinks become a reality, tonight could be a real spectacle.

Beyond the match, there’s a very interesting article on the Guardian from Sol Campbell.

I rule myself out as a contender for now and instead look to Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, both of whom I know would love to be offered such a role and, who knows, could replace Arsène whenever he does quit as manager and, ideally, takes up a role upstairs. Sadly, I cannot see this happening. Arsène is a single-minded leader who does not like to have anyone around who could threaten his authority, either by challenging his decisions or by being the person that will eventually take his job. But hopefully he proves me wrong and makes such an appointment.

That probably explains what we already suspected, that Wenger is adamant on the way things are run and do not want his staff to question his methods. I’m not saying that the likes of Campbell, Vieira of Bergkamp is in total disagreement over the way things are run. Perhaps there has been prior discussions where it did not end with complete agreement from around the table. I’m not making a judgement on this because there’s still so much more we do not know. Just something to ponder upon.

Up The Arsenal!!!