Arsenal look to avenge their last league defeat with the help of our returning captain
It was back in December and yet it seems so recent. Arsenal were trounced by the Citizens 3-0. That day, it was a makeshift lineup in midfield and in defense with several first team regulars missing. Since that time, we’ve suffered some crushing injuries but nary a league defeat. Manchester City should be in for a very different challenge at the Emirates this time around.
The big story is the triumphant return of our captain and creative spark, Cesc Fabregas. It felt like this day would never come, especially during the international break, but now we get to bask in some Arsenal and Fabregas action without it revolving around Joan Laporte and his diarrhea filled mouth. The vast majority of the blogosphere surmise that Cesc will start. I have stood by my belief that he will not. Arsene Wenger reiterated in his pre-match press conference that keeping the team fresh in advance of the Villareal match will be relevant to his team selection for Saturday. As such, Arshavin will definitely start despite playing 180 minutes during the miserable, tedious break. (After all, it was against Azerbaijan and Lichtenstein for goodness sake.)
Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner are available in attack, and Theo Walcott appears set for a return to the midfield. But let’s not forget that this team has performed well lately with players like Eboue, Song and Denilson deputising in midfield. Wenger surely will be tempted to keep Walcott, Fabregas and Adebayor fresh enough to have a full impact in midweek. Their contributions will be even more important if Van Persie, Eduardo, Diaby and Nasri do not recover in time for the quarter-final first leg. So it’s a delicate balancing act. Three points are crucial, but a full team will be needed in Spain.
Manchester City will likely be without Craig Bellamy, which is fine with me. Robinho looks like he will be available to the Citizens, although the way he has played in their away matches, it might be better to see him starting. Wenger has been talking up Stephen Ireland. There’s no question he’s a resourceful player and makes the most of his chances, but he’s also a player we should be able to contain. Considering that we’ll be seeing Rossi, Rooney, Drogba and Torres in coming weeks (unless there’s a miraculous spate of injuries) I don’t think we should be fainting at the sight of Stephen Ireland.
I did a little previewing of this match yesterday and it really is astounding how terrible Citeh have been in their away matches. Hopefully, they continue that trend at the Emirates. With the number of players they have on the brink of returning from injury there’s no telling what the lineup will look like, but they don’t play a lot of defense and there should be plenty of opportunities for Adebayor and Bendtner, if not Arshavin, Walcott, Fabregas etc. (I just got a very inappropriate tingle at the thought of Cesc scoring. If Eduardo can do it in his first game back, why not Cesc?)
Arsene Wenger has talked a lot this season about eleven captains on the pitch. It’s a nice concept, but there’s no substitute for one real captain on the pitch. I really don’t think it matters when Cesc comes on the pitch against Citeh, his presence in the Arsenal shirt, and eventually wearing the armband, should be enough to inspire the team. I’m particularly excited to see his partnership with Arshavin. Andrei has already shown a great awareness of where other players are on the pitch. His movement is fantastic and with a pass-master like Cesc on the pitch, the possibilities are dizzying.
But enough mental masturbation. There’s still work to be done. Cesc may walk on a well-watered pitch, but he doesn’t walk on water. (The studs on his boots break the surface tension.) It will still take a concerted effort and professional approach to win this match. Most of our players had a busy week with their national teams and there was little time for team preparation. That can be a recipe for disaster. So here’s hoping that Cesc’s return is enough to keep the team laser focused.
It’s no small matter that Adebayor and Walcott are back. Bendtner has been wonderfully dangerous and I feel for him that his finishing has been poor lately, but Adebayor has that extra burst of pace and close control that could be the difference in the final third. And I won’t bore you again with my thoughts on how much fear Walcott strikes in the hearts of opposing defenders. Enough said. If Adebayor and Bendtner both start, it will be interesting to see how that relationship has developed considering some of their past difficulties. But if Toure and Gallas can figure it out, why not Bendtner and Adebayor?
This may be the hardest starting eleven to predict. Arsene will certainly be tempted to start all three returning players but Villareal will be in his mind as he fills out his team sheet. Let’s take a stab at this:
Adebayor, Bendtner, Arshavin, Song, Denilson, Walcott, Clichy, Toure, Gallas, Sagna, Almunia.
Obviously Cesc would then come off the bench on the hour mark. Walcott and Adebayor would probably give way to Eboue and Vela if he’s available. In that scenario I actually think Vela would play on the left and Arshavin would move in behind Bendtner. Let me make this clear, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Cesc start. I realize that everyone believes that he will start. But consider Cesc’s own statement:
“I feel good and I’m available for selection, although I don’t know what the
extent of my involvement will be yet. During the past week I’ve felt really
sharp – I don’t know if I can cope with 90 minutes in my first game because I
haven’t played competitively yet. But whether I start or I am on the bench, the
good thing is that we cannot say I am injured any more. I’ll be very happy
because I will feel like a footballer again.”
He was always a footballer in my book, but it doesn’t sound like he’s playing 90 minutes against Citeh. And tactically, wouldn’t you rather have the lift of seeing him come onto the pitch for the final 30 minutes rather than leaving the pitch at a critical juncture in the match? I realize it gives him less time to have an impact, but as Wenger pointed out, he’s not going to be a his best just yet. His influence as a leader may be more crucial than his actual performance. And he can have that influence just by wearing the uniform.
Whatever the starting XI against the Citizens, we have the players to boss the match. We have the momentum, assuming it hasn’t been sapped by this miserable two week yawn-fest. I don’t like seeing Denilson and Song line up together in the middle of the pitch, but they’re capable, especially with weapons like Walcott, Arshavin, Adebayor and Bendtner surrounding them. Maybe my belief that Cesc won’t start is fueled by my terror at the thought of him being unavailable in midweek due to some stupid “setback.” I find myself getting more and more hopeful of a special Champions League run, and it can’t happen without the captain.
There’s nothing more dangerous as a football fan than excitement. Nothing more scary than optimism. Because football loves to destroy hope and crush dreams. I’m really horrified by how much excitement I’ve allowed myself to feel about this upcoming week of Arsenal football. It makes me vulnerable to desperate disappointment. I’ll be counting on the players to save me from the throes of depression tomorrow by turning in a five-star performance to match my level of anticipation. Fingers crossed.
The one other really positive sign from Wenger’s press conference, is that it doesn’t sound like any of our new injuries will be long term. I had that feeling, but it’s nice to hear Arsene confirm it. Unfortunately, it sounds like Rosicky has had another little setback in his rehabilitation. It continues to be a soul-crushing story for this talented player. I can only hope that the story has a happy ending before too long.
On a bizarre tangent, for some reason I’m terrified that Wenger will be tempted to start Silvestre in some match soon. Hoepfully it’s an irrational fear. Like my fear of being caught between Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini wrestling naked, covered in pudding. Either way, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen.
This preview has been a bit of a rambling, disorganized stream of consciousness. It doesn’t help that I’m writing it at 3am and used some of my best preview material yesterday. But I’m running on Arsenal powered adrenaline right now, let’s just hope it’s still coursing through my veins this time tomorrow.
Come On You Gunners!