Arsenal will face a tough test approaching the game as though it has meaning
Manchester United. Old Trafford. Champions League semi-final. It’s the game on every Arsenal players’ mind. But it’s not until Wednesday. And before we can prepare for the match of the season, we must take care of business in a match that appears almost utterly irrelevant.
Arsene Wenger talked up ‘Boro in his pre-match press conference. He suggested that they are a good young team that started slowly and maybe lacked a little belief at times. I had to re-read that part of the quotation to make sure he was talking about ‘Boro and not Arsenal. But regardless of Arsene’s flattery, ‘Boro really are in desperate danger of relegation. They will need a result tomorrow and even one point might be less than is required. An animal is always most dangerous when backed into a corner, and ‘Boro are backed as far into the corner as you can get. On an interesting and bizarre note, Wenger has never beaten Gareth Southgate, so tomorrow is a chance for Arsene to get that monkey off his back which I am certain keeps him up at night.
While ‘Boro haven’t been great at home, they have been beyond abominable on the road. They have two wins and two draws with twelve losses on their travels and have shipped 30 goals on the road with only 9 scored. Add up those numbers and all signs point to an Arsenal win. But the equalizing factor will certainly be the attitude of the two teams. You might argue that we will not win the title this year because of our approach to games just like this one. We have lost to Stoke and Hull and Manchester City and even drew ‘Boro in the away fixture. Were we more successful in the matches we were favored to win, we would surely be in the thick of the title race.
Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, every game is life or death for ‘Boro at the moment. They have a very tough run-in and could come to the Emirates believing that they are catching us at the right moment to go for all three points. Add to the mix our old friend Aliadier and there could be some tense moments for Arsenal…if anyone is able to generate tension from this match. Tomorrow will be the ultimate test of attitude for whichever eleven Gunners take the field at kickoff. Aston Villa’s inability to hold the lead against Bolton today only further renders this game meaningless and it will be a real test of the boss’ motivation techniques to get his team properly prepared to compete tomorrow.
Wenger’s attempt at motivation might be his suggestion that we can not only catch Chelsea for third place, but that doing so is essential given the new format for Champions League qualification next season. However, we won’t need to qualify for the Champions League next season because we will have an automatic entry after winning the trophy this season so we can really rule out our final league position…
It appears that Djourou, Almunia and Adebayor are set for fitness tests tomorrow. It would be nice for the first two to get some playing time before Wednesday, but Adebayor will probably be protected regardless of his test tomorrow. If Almunia and Djourou can have a decent showing tomorrow, it will send us to Old Trafford feeling a bit more secure defensively. It also means that Silvestre can be banished back to whatever miserable place he came from. I’m sorry, but I just can’t accept him as an Arsenal player. I couldn’t accept him before his miserable performances this season and I certainly can’t accept him now.
Manchester United may have scored five goals today, but at one point they trailed 2-0. It shows that they can be a very imposing attacking force, but there was certainly some frailty in their defending today. The most interesting thing I saw in their match against Sp*rs was that Patrice Evra was given a very rough time by Aaron Lennon. If Lennon can torment Evra, then just imagine what Theo can do to him. It’s enticing to consider, but it also probably means that Theo isn’t named to the starting XI tomorrow. His importance to the team is at an all time high and he can’t possibly be risked. So we’re almost certain to see Eboue on the right tomorrow. After that, the midfield selection is anyone’s guess.
I think that Song, Nasri and Fabregas are all candidates to be rested tomorrow. Arshavin will undoubtedly start while Diaby and Denilson will likely round out the midfield. Denilson’s form has been as poor as it gets, but he’s really just a place holder tomorrow. Bendtner will almost certainly start in attack but I think we could finally see Eduardo as well. Wenger doesn’t really have the luxury of resting anyone in defense unless he opts to play Silvestre tomorrow so that he can give Kolo, Gibbs or Sagna the day off. While we would all hate to see Mikael play tomorrow (and no one more than me), I wouldn’t blame the manager for resting a key defender given our current luck with injuries. Let’s be clear; three points tomorrow are expected, but getting through the match unscathed is most important.
It’s the first time in a long time that we will be watching a match without biting off our fingernails before the kickoff. There’s something nice about looking forward to watching Arsenal without any nervousness, but that can all change very quickly if we’re trailing 2-0 at halftime. I’d prefer a nice 6-0 route and an injury-free 90 minutes. That would make for a lovely Sunday.
One final bit of business. Arsene Wenger has suggested that Cesc Fabregas will be cleared of the FA’s charges. Apparently there is some exculpatory video evidence Arsenal have in their possession that will be sent to the FA. Moreover, Arsene Wenger has also stated that he will not institute a dress code and that he’s not sure what is wrong with Fabregas coming onto the field after the match. I think everyone is ready for this nonsense to be done with and there is little suggestion that Fabregas will be required to miss any games.
The really sad story from this Hull City fracas is that the Hull players have been robbed of their glory. They might well avoid relegation this season when every pundit had them back in the Championship before the season started. It’s been an amazing season for that team marked by great performances by some of their players. While they have been dragged back into the relegation battle, that’s no reason for them to be ashamed. The Hull City story this season should be the heroic performance of their players.
Sadly, the entire story for that team revolves around their egomaniac of a manager, Phil Brown. The solitary moment the players might be remembered for this season is being berated like school children on the pitch at half-time. What was their sin? Being beaten. We lost 3-0 to Manchester City this season and you didn’t see any Gunners on the pitch at half-time did you? No. Because we are blessed with a classy and professional manager. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Hull City. No matter what happens to Hull at season’s end, the only thing anyone will remember from their season are the antics of the manager. That is arrogance plain and simple and it is a shame for the players who battled on the pitch to be denied any possibility of limelight or glory. I rarely feel sorry for professional athletes but in the case of the Hull City players I do.
Phil Brown, you are truly an ass. Regardless of Cesc’s behavior and your frustration at losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup, you are an ass. You have taken a feel-good sports story and destroyed it with your pride and arrogance. You have made people want to root against the underdog. And most of all, you have chosen to deprive the players, who you claim to respect, of their moment in the spotlight. What a shameful waste of a man you are. What a terrible, terrible coward you are. And if there is any justice in the world, your story won’t end dramatically. Rather, the best ending for you is to just be forgotten. But I have a feeling a cowardly, small, insecure man like yourself would never allow that to happen. So we’ll all just wait for your next shameful moment.
Phil Brown, you have been charged by the FA with bringing the game into disrepute. I wouldn’t be surprised if your players agreed with the charge.
Lucky for us that we have Arsene Wenger. Lucky for us that we are the Arsenal. Tomorrow we have a game that matters little but still must be played. So fingers crossed that we play with the proper attitude and achieve the proper result.
Come on you Gunners!