Tired Legs and Injured Stars Leave Wenger With Tough Choices
No on likes Sam Allardyce. No one with any brains that is. He is a miserable, brooding oaf who thinks football is best played with elbows flailing and studs showing. Allardyce was born to manage a roller derby team but somehow ended up in football. Tomorrow, if we’re lucky, the Emirates pitch will open up and swallow him. Of course, he’d probably give the pitch acid reflux.
It would be nice to continue to bask in quartfinal qualification glory, but now there is serious work to be done in the league. A win tomorrow temporarily puts us ahead of Villa on goal difference and ratchets up the pressure for their match with Sp*rs. Hate them all you want, as an Arsenal fan, you will be in the unenviable position of supporting Sp*rs on Sunday.
Arsenal expended a lot of energy in Rome and it would be easy to think that Blackburn are a pushover. That would be a fatal mistake. Allardyce’s teams always come to put a beating on us and frustrate us out of our lovely footballing methods. The last thing Arsenal can afford is a lethargic effort. Wenger acknowledged the impact of the midweek match and the impotance of staying focused tomorrow in his prematch interview.
“We were highly focussed on the Champions League tie this week, but having got that out of the way we can look at the Premier League. It could be a highly important game for us tomorrow and we will play with energy don’t worry.”
It’s nice to hear him talk about playing with energy considering that a lack of energy is something the team have struggled with throughout this campaign. Allardyce meanwhile isn’t being coy about the tactics he plans to employ.
“You must set out a game plan and make sure they don’t enjoy what they want to do, which is retaining possession and moving it around if and when they feel like it.”
Translation: kick them up the arse, commit hard fouls, play the long-ball all day long, and try to convince them that it’s not worth the effort. It should be another game where we spend most of the time in the opposition half trying to find a way to break them down. For that reason, our dearth of attacking options is all the more frustrating. Just a few days ago we were celebrating all the players that were returning, now it seems they are leaving us again.
Adebayor appears to be set for a slightly longer layoff than we were lead to believe. Now it sounds like his return is planned for early April. Fabregas and Rosicky are obviously not back and Eduardo leaves again with what is being described as a “three or four day groin.” I had one of those during my bachelor days and a simply ointment usually does the trick.
So once again, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the team selection. From watching Wednesday’s game, you get the idea that Nasri will absolutely be rested tomorrow. He really looked dead on his feet by the end of the match. I also have a feeling that Van Persie will start on the bench. Let’s face it; he doesn’t usually play this many games a season. His form hasn’t been great lately and he might just need a rest to get the spark back.
I suspect that Clichy will be rested in favor of Gibbs in part due to fatigue and in part due to a recent dip in his performance. Sagna could really use a rest and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Eboue take over at right back. Sagna has been solid but he is really racking up the minutes now. Either Toure or Gallas will give way to Djourou but it’s purely as guess as to which one. Even Almunia could have the game off. He claims that he was “running on empty” by the end of the match. I’m not sure that a ‘keeper really needs rest, but certainly the emotional hangover from Rome might make it wise for him to sit this one out.
While many people questioned the acquisition of Arshavin, situations like this match really make his arrival look even better in my eyes. We may well need his energy and creativity to carry us tomorrow.
Based on these assumptions, (and that is really all they are) here is are some of the possibilities for the lineup. Vela should come into the starting lineup either as a striker or as a replacement for Nasri on the left side of midfield. Song will likely start in the holding midfield role. If Walcott is even close to full fitness then he can reclaim his starting spot on the right. Arshavin gives Wenger some options. He could play on the left, or up front supporting a lone striker. Perhaps playing some of our smaller and quicker players will make more difficult for Blackburn to execute their ugly, physical game plan.
Unfortunately, Wenger can’t escape the need to start some of the player who gave their all in Rome. We need a win in this match almost more than we needed to progress in midweek. For that reason, Wenger must strike the right balance between playing fresh players and playing the best available players. As a pure guess, I could see him playing a 4-4-1-1 that looks something like this:
Vela – Song – Denilson – Walcott
Gibbs – Djourou – Gallas – Eboue
Some variations might include; Diaby instead of Denilson, Toure instead of Gallas or Vela possibly partnering Bendtner up front with Arshavin pushed out to the left. (If that were the case then look for Arshavin to roam all over the pitch rather than staying on the left.) It will really be interesting to see the lineup. I never look forward to a Song-Denilson central midfield, so if we’re lucky, Arsene will come up with something better.
The players must dig deep tomorrow. The games are coming thick and fast now, and only seem to grow in importance. It’s all on the line in the next few weeks. By this time tomorrow, Aston Villa may be in the uncomfortable position of looking up at Arsenal in the league table. Hopefully the Emirates faithful will be as strong in their support tomorrow as those 1,000 brave fans who made the trip to Rome were on Wednesday. Let’s stomp Blackburn tomorrow and show them what we think of their “style” of football.
Come on you Gunners!