Portsmouth Preview

It could be lineup roulette for first home fixture of the season

Two games into the season and Arsenal are already out to prove a point. What point are we out to prove? Are we trying to prove the pundits wrong? Are we trying to prove we can compete on all fronts? Are we trying to prove that Ashley Cole and Phil Brown have a love child playing for Sp*rs’ youth? No. Those things are self-evident. We are out to prove that we can suffer more soul-crushing, depressing injuries than last season. And we’re doing a fine job at that.

Rosicky is out. Nasri is out. Djourou is out. Fabianski is out. Theo is out, and looking less and less likely to return. And now we’ve come to find out that Carlos Vela is out. Despite suffering an ankle injury on international duty, Mexico were nice enough to give young Vela an injection in the ankle to allow him to play against the United States. Now, somehow, Vela has come back from Mexico with an ankle problem that will keep him out at least one month. Well, at least it’s not swine flu. So thanks to Mexico for breaking our player, and for that stupid “wave” they invented. I’m generally a fan of my neighbors to the south for giving us “Spring Break Cancun.” But this means war.

And since I mentioned Theo, Arsene Wenger made some comments today that don’t auger well for his imminent return. In typical Arsene fashion, he wasn’t pulling any punches when it came to Theo’s participation for the national team.

“Theo will not be available for the United game. It will be a problem for England as well. … The player comes back late, you play him earlier than you should, he gets injured and you see him again in October.”

He added more vitriolic comments but you get the idea. What’s more worrying than the fact that England seem hell-bent on destroying their bright young talent is the fact that his return keeps getting postponed. Isn’t that how Rosicky’s injury saga began? Let’s hope this has a better conclusion. While Nicklas Bentner has brought energy, effort and some craft to the right wing position, no one in the squad poses a threat quite like Theo. His pace forces defense to change their tactics and it’s a quality we lack at the moment. Considering the blistering pace that usually graces the Arsenal lineup, we are relatively slow-footed at the moment. Theo’s speed will add that extra dimension, particularly on the counter-attack. But who knows when we’ll be seeing that again.

So we enter today’s opening home fixture with a game of lineup roulette. It seems natural that Arsene would consider some squad rotation for this game, but it’s difficult to know where he’ll make changes. This has all the makings of a “banana peel” game. We’ve just recorded two excellent results, we have two massive fixtures in the next seven days, and everyone will be expecting us to play Pompey off the pitch. But as Manchester United proved at Turf Moor, the games aren’t decided until 90 minutes are up…(plus an astounding 4 minutes of stoppage time to try to gift United a chance to equalise.) The best thing the boss could do tomorrow is show a little video from last season’s home fixture with Hull. While it makes me naseous just thinking about it, the memories of that match would surely get the players properly focused for today. After all, a loss to Pompey at home would more than undo all the good work we’ve managed so far, and destroy the fragile sanity of some gunners fans.

Ordinarily I’d feel pretty comfortable making a guess at our starting XI. After all, with so many injuries, there really aren’t that many options. But tomorrow could see Arsene make a variety of changes. Diaby, Eduardo, Gibbs, Eboue, Ramsey or Wilshere could very easily be handed a starting role. Any combination of a few of those players could start. Even Silvestre could be asked to deputise in defense, although I sincerely hope not. Wenger will have to balance the need for squad rotation with the need for a resounding performance in front of the home crowd for the first time this season. Arshavin could drop to midfield in place of Cesc. Wilshere could replace Bendtner. Ramsey could replace Denilson or Song. Diaby could replace Arshavin, Denilson or Song. Eduardo could easily replace Van Persie who could also move out to the left to replace Arshavin who could move into midfield to replace Cesc…etc, etc, etc. And, of course, Wenger could just start the same XI from the first two games. None of it would surprise me so rather than getting it totally wrong, I’ll just wait to see what he does and then say; “I told you that was an option.” That way I look brilliant.

The good news is that Pompey are missing key players for this match and they’re coming off consecutive poor performances. Papa Bouba Diop, Herman Hreidarsson and Steve Finnan will all miss out through injury leaving the Portsmouth midfield and defense looking decided ill-equipped. As it is, this Portsmouth team are a shadow of the unimpressive side from last campaign. So, while we might be far from full-strength, it’s hard to see Pompey having the quality or the resolve to live with us and our beautiful football.

So today is one of those days that should be enjoyable. But it’s the first match of the season where we’ll be expecting something fantastic from the team, and those are the most dangerous of all. When it’s all said and done, three points will do nicely whether it’s 1-0, 7-6, or anything in between. Hopefully the supporters at the Grove will be up for it, strongly behind the team, and won’t lose their resolve if we start slowly. This team deserves better support than it received last season. Of course, support is a two way street and the team must show a good work-rate. If we see the same tenacious, team effort today that we’ve seen through the first two matches, we should come through this in style.

On a final note, Arsene spoke briefly about transfers today and he plainly stated that we were not in the hunt for Hangeland. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of strengthening the side.

“[Will there be] much transfer movement? Certainly not. Any? Maybe, but certainly not much. … I was always happy with my squad, that’s a quality I have. Don’t forget the players we have out [injured] – we have quite a big squad. … Defensively, number-wise, maybe we could still do with one.”

So, in typical convoluted fashion, Arsene manged to give us hope for a new signing, while simultaneously leading us to believe that he was unlikely to make a move. Remarkable ability really. But even more interesting were Wenger’s comments regarding the transfer market generally.

“I’ve spoken to 10 managers and all 10 are looking for centre-backs or defensive midfielders. It looks like the offensive players are the most-paid but at the end of the day, in the modern day, all the managers I speak to ask me the same thing. ‘Do you know a player somewhere?'”

Somehow I doubt that Alex, Rafael and Arsene are sitting around having a pint asking each other if they “know a player somewhere.” But if Alex or Rafael did ask Arsene if he knew a player somewhere, hopefully he would point them squarely in the direction of a top talent like Mikael Silvestre. For just 10 million Pounds or a long piece of pretty string, he can be theirs. It’s also interesting that Arsene should make that observation considering his almost maniacal need to collect attacking talent. Who knows what to make of this. Maybe it’s an excuse for not signing anyone. Maybe it’s nothing. Either way, I thought it was funny.

Wenger also spoke briefly about Barcelona’s pursuit of Cesc and really let them have it. He pointed out that the Spanish football elections destabilise teams because every crackpot candidate feels the need to promise a big name signing. He went on to say that the day he agreed to sell a player one year in advance is the day he leaves his job. I could expand on the stupidity of the “one year pact” story but I already gave it the full treatment in the previous post. If you missed it, take a look, I think it explains my feelings on the matter rather explicitly.

So that’s the news leading up to the game today and it’s really not much news when you add it all up. We’ve got injury problems, we might sign someone or maybe not, and Pompey are a poor side that we should dismantle in our opening match on our home pitch. Simple enough. Amazing that it took this much writing to say that…All that leaves is:

Come On You Gunners!

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About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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