The last time we faced a team in the relegation zone, we lost. This time around, the gap is even bigger. It was 3rd against 18th then, today it’s 3rd against 20th. Wolverhampton Wonderers are the opponent for tonight and given the form that both teams are in and the position of both clubs, this should really be nothing other than a win for Arsenal.
That’s not to say we can walk onto the pitch and assume the victory is already ours. Wolves are in a rut even before the departure of Mick McCarthy. Though the plan to fire McCarthy and not have a successor in place is plain ridiculous. The inexperienced Terry Connor was promoted and installed as the new boss but that was never going to work. That is because Connor was also part of McCarthy’s coaching team and the system didn’t change.
Wolves have only garnered 1 point out of their last 7 games. That is relegation form. It is no coincidence where they are in the league right now. They do not have a strong enough back line, that Sebastian Bassong is there on loan, does not help matters. Emmanuel Frimpong was there midway through the season and looks to be the steel in their midfield but he succumbed to injury that ended his season early. Stephen Hunt, Jody Craddock and Jamie O’Hara are also out with respective injuries for this game. The last one is a crucial creative link in Wolves midfield.
We only managed a draw in our other game with them this season. The one where Nenad Milijas was harshly sent off. We couldn’t find the breakthrough that day, at a period where we had no full back. Our last meeting at the Molineux saw us scoring an early and a late goal. Both of them coming via Marouane Chamakh, who has now been limited to just appearance when we are really desperate.
Chances of Chamakh featuring tonight is not even slim, it’s practically zero. Robin Van Persie will lead the team in the attack as he has been all season. The captain has not hit the back of the net in four matches now. But that’s not a real problem for me. It happens, we never expected him to continue scoring in every single game anyway. However, it doesn’t hide the real issue that he might be in need of a little rest. Perhaps 45 minutes off here and there. Let’s not forget that his body is practically experiencing being fit for an entire season, for the first time in his career. Establish a good lead tonight and that chance to give him a breather might just come.
To do that, we certainly need our defending to be as resolute as it was on Sunday. Not an easy task considering half of the back line from the City game would not be involved tonight. Laurent Koscielny is out suspended after picking up too many yellow cards. His calm and magnificent reading of the game will be sorely miss. Johan Djourou gets another chance to show that he has come back to the right path after his struggle this season. Kieran Gibbs is the other that would not play in the 32nd game of our league season. Andre Santos will start for the first time since his return from 4 months of recovery. While it’s not ideal, it is still good that we would have Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen in between these two replacements.
Arsene Wenger spoke about the importance of the role that Yossi Benayoun plays in the squad and especially in that win over City. There’s no question that the Israeli did really well in that match and worked diligently to help our cause. It puzzles me that he doesn’t get as much games as some others but it is also evident that others do provide much more in the attacking sense in the final third. It is precisely because of that and the nature of Wolves defending this season, that I think tonight might see the return of Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain to the starting line-up.
AOC has not been given a continuous run in the first team despite excelling in those games that he has been picked, bar one or two off days. Wenger is definitely trying to protect the prodigious talent. Not from over burning but more likely to temper the high hopes that has been raised on him and also probably in an attempt to keep AOC level headed. Gervinho was not to be seen on Sunday and if he’s perfectly fine, I think the Ivorian would start. Otherwise it’s AOC.
Mikel Arteta is right, we can’t waste what we have achieved thus far. That means we cannot let slip our position in the league. There is now an opportunity for us to widen the gap. Against a team in the doldrums and facing up to the reality that they will be playing the football in the Championship next season. We have to consolidate our position. Most of all, we have to ensure that our concentration and desire is right.
We had that problem before in our last league defeat. Effort like that one put in on Sunday against Manchester City will serve us well tonight. No fight is ever won or lost on paper. We have to do our part tonight. The players have to do their part tonight.
Up The Arsenal!!!
I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the ridiculous decisions from the FA. They did not rescind the red card that QPR got at Old Trafford despite everyone in the world agreeing that it was a dive. Then they also did not suspend Balotelli for that high challenge on Alex Song. The loophole in the rule states that if the referee and his officials saw the incident, then nothing can be done. In which case, it raises the question of how competent the officials are. How can they deem that a stamp on the knee of another player is not a foul? Answers on a postcard please.