I still haven’t returned Arsene Wenger’s call about the starting left-back position
We can win a spot in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. We can earn a place in the FA cup final next weekend. But thanks to a disappointing start to our league campaign, this little match with Wigan Athletic at the JJB tomorrow is hugely significant. It’s a strange juxtaposition really. We’re a team once again loaded with talent and while we are playing for big trophies, our league position is precarious. Aston Villa will have put their toughest matches behind them after they face Everton on Sunday. We still have Chelsea at home and Liverpool and United away. So whether we like it or not, we must be focused on taking all three points tomorrow. A lapse in concentration simply can’t be tolerated and it probably means that the boss will have to start some players he’d prefer to rest.
It’s really an interesting position for Wenger right now. He has some tough choices to make all over the pitch. Some of the choices in midfield and in attack are luxuries. When the options include players like Nasri, Walcott, Cesc, Arshavin, RVP, Ade and Eduardo, you’re not going to make too many mistakes. The choices in defense are by necessity and far from ideal. I’ve been worried sick that Arsene would rely on Silvestre to fill the void, but thankfully it looks like he’ll give young Kieran Gibbs the nod. Regarding his selection at right back and the state of the defense generally, the managers said,
“I am completely confident. We have Mikael Silvestre and we have Johan Djourou [who can play at centre back]. But we have lost Gael as well for two to three weeks so at the back we are a bit short. At the moment yes Kieran Gibbs will play. I will see how well he does – he will play on Saturday. He is a player; I am confident that he will do well. And I have full confidence in Lukasz Fabianski. He has shown that when he came on the other night that he can deal with a situation very well. I am not worried for them; I’m confident they can cope with that.”
It’s a lengthy quote but I found it telling. He’s talking up his available defenders because it’s the right thing to do, but he’s clearly saying that Saturday is a test for Gibbs to take over at left back for this pivotal two week period without Clichy. It doesn’t even sound like Silvestre is a consideration for left back, but instead a backup to Djourou. Frankly, from what Gibbs has shown us this season, there’s a chance that he could be a very nice replacement. If he looks particularly strong, it might urge Clichy to give that little bit of extra concentration and attitude that has been missing this season. And just to inspire some debate, I’ve had a thought. Couldn’t Eboue deputise at left back? Or could Sagna switch sides and let Eboue play his natural right back position? I seem to remember him being pretty solid in defense. I wonder if Wenger has considered this.
The managers is also taking a measured position regarding our possibilities in the league. He’s hopeful of a third place finish, but hasn’t lost sight of Aston Villa in the rear view mirror. His reasoning for third place aspirations can’t be ignored. It means that you don’t have to compete in the redesigned Champions League qualifying round in which the top teams can draw one another. Arsene said,
“For us to finish third is a massive difference because the Champions League is
guaranteed. At the moment our first target is to get away from Aston Villa as much as we can. And then we need to try and get closer to Chelsea and Liverpool because you never know.”
He couldn’t be more right. At the start of the season I would have said that fourth place wasn’t on our agenda. In February I might have opined that we weren’t going to be playing in the Champions League next season. Here we are in April with third place aspirations and challenging for trophies in two major competitions. It’s been a very strange season. But it doesn’t look like the boss is going to let the players forget how important the Wigan game is for our future. Speaking like Yoda, Wenger said, “Yes, the League remains the priority of the future.” It’s an interesting concept isn’t it? “It remains the priority of the future.” Does he mean that the league will be our priority in the future? As in: not now? Perhaps he means that the league is our priority now because it decides our future. But the most likely interpretation is that he’s already been to the future and knows that it will be our priority due to factors that we cannot predict. Perhaps, in the future, Michel Platini has had the English teams banned from European competition forcing the league to become our priority. Seems plausible.
Tomorrow’s lineup is a priority of the future. However, since I do not possess Wenger’s time travelling abilities, I have no earthly idea what the starting XI will be. It’s a guess. I’m not certain that le boss even knows for sure. Does he rest Ade, or Cesc, or Theo? Probably. At least one of them. A lot hinges on the availability of Van Persie and Eduardo who had fitness tests and I can’t seem to find any hint of the results. The back four are probably predictable. I’m assuming it will be Gibbs, Toure, Djourou, and Sagna. It’s not a bad back four, but Wenger will be happy that we’re not facing Zaki, who’s gone walkabout, or Heskey, who was sold.
In midfield it’s really a guess but I think you could see Arshavin, Song, Cesc, and Eboue. Walcott might be the one big name to get a rest. Nasri doesn’t need to start thanks to Arshavin and he’s a big part of our match on Wednesday, so why not get him some extra rest.
The strike force is truly up for grabs. Ade could start, or he could sit. Eduardo and Van Persie are both in line for a start if healthy, but it would be unwise to risk Van Persie if there’s any doubt at all. At this point, Eduardo is probably not needed for Wednesday night so he could start tomorrow if he’s fit. But what do you do with Bendtner? The boss has almost as much confidence in him as he has in himself. He’s not the kind of player that likes to sit on the bench and this is a perfect opportunity to get him a start. But as Wenger said, the league is the priority of the future. So you can’t just play Bendtner because it would make him happy. I admit that I have no idea who will start in attack. I’m going to hazard a guess for my own amusement that it’s Bendtner and Van Persie. (Although the odds makers have Ade at 4/1 for the first goal.)
There is one other possibility that we shouldn’t overlook. We could see a 4-4-1-1 with Nasri on the left and Arshavin playing behind the lone striker. I actually really like him in that position and I think that Cesc could run riot that way. Cesc looked his best last year when Hleb was playing right behind the stikers. The passing was sublime at times. In that scenario, it’s still anyone’s guess who plays the lone stiker role, but I like Van Persie less in that capacity. Then it’s down to Ade or Nik.
As you can tell, I really have no idea. My idea formation tomorrow would be a 4-4-1-1 with Ade as the lone striker and Walcott on the right instead of Eboue. I doubt we’ll see that.
Wigan will be a tough test. A lot of people think that this is a game that we should win. But who knows what that means anymore. The one thing I do know, is that Wigan have never beaten a member of the “big four” and we don’t want to let them start doing it now. Wigan currently sit an impressive 8th in the table and they’re doing it despite having sold Palacios and Heskey in the January window. They defend well but they don’t score much. In fact, they’ve allowed only one more goal at home than we have allowed at the Emirates. It’s the kind of statistic that puts the fear of nil-nil right into you. I think we’ve all had enough of those scorelines this season thank you very much.
Wigan is a rugby town. They don’t get a huge crowd at home and we can probably expect a pitch that’s less than perfect considering they played rugby on it just yesterday. The JJB is anything but a fortress so winning there is feasible. However, it was nil-nil in the corresponding fixture last season. In our previous league meeting this season, we scraped a hard-fought 1-0 victory with Adebayor netting the lone goal. There’s a glimmer of hope that Wigan may have put their season on cruise control now that relegation fears have subsided. Last time out they were pasted 4-0 at Everton and Steve Bruce’s comments do nothing to dispel the feeling that Wigan may believe their season is essentially over;
“For a club of our size the priority is to s“At Arsenal I feel at home. I like everything here, the friendly team, a wise and experienced manager, and fantastic fans,”
The last time someone famously declared “mission accomplished” it did not turn out to be a good omen. Hopefully the same will be true for Wigan.
One thing that Arsene Wenger might want to take into consideration as he prepares his starting XI is the return of Lee Cattermole from a three game suspension. Cattermole is a walking leg smasher. He’s a rotten boy with a bad attitude and a bag full of vicious, dirty tackles. Our players should be well aware of what awaits them when he goes in for a challenge.
We’ll be hoping for three points tomorrow and there’s no reason we can get them all. It’s our first pseudo-test in the league during this strong run of form and would be a nice confidence booster heading into Wednesday night’s all important Villareal game. To leave you with some positive sentiments, I’ll finish with a quote from Arshavin suggesting that we’ll have the pleasure of seeing him play for Arsenal for quite some time.
“At Arsenal I feel at home. I like everything here, the friendly team, a wise and experienced manager, and fantastic fans. I won’t leave the club for any money.”
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!