Saturday’s disappointment is still fresh in the memory, but there’s no time for the players to dwell. Arsene will have to lift spirits in the camp ahead of the squad’s trip to Italy on Wednesday. It hasn’t been a good start to the domestic campaign, and signs are worrying. But there’s still 36 games left to right the ship. Conversely, we only have 90 minutes to ensure our Champions League participation. It’s a potentially season-defining moment and one that can serve to stem the tide, or open the floodgates of criticism.
We head to italy with a one goal advantage which means the onus is on the home side to press for goals. That could play into our hands. Robin van Persie will return to the lineup as will Gervinho who served the first of a three match ban in the premier league on Saturday. With the Ivorian on one flank and Walcott on the other, we should be able to turn defense into attack in the blink of an eye. And with the flying dutchman as the focal point, I have confidence in our finishing.
Where the manager will have to make his most difficult decisions is in midfield. Ramsey’s form has been poor. He was mostly anonymous on Saturday with the exception of scoring Liverpool’s opener. Rosicky was rested at the weekend, presumably with one eye on the midweek fixture. Both should be available on Wednesday, but neither will inspire much confidence. Rosicky has arguably looked the better of the two so far, but Ramsey provided the assist for the only goal we’ve scored this season.
Regardless of form, Wenger might have no choice but to start both players. There are rumors that Jack could be fit enough to make the team, but I’d be stunned if it was anything more than a place on the bench. Apparently he is back to full training, so it will hinge on how he feels and Arsene’s assessment of his progress.
Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong will both be available for the match, although neither will feature at Old Trafford at the weekend. I think they give Arsenal an interesting alternative to starting Ramsey and Rosicky. Frimpong’s impressive cameo in the first leg of the playoff, combined with his strong showing against Liverpool, could be enough to convince Arsene to start him alongside Song and either Ramsey, Rosicky or Wilshere.
Frimpong showed he can drive the ball forward and we already know that Alex Song likes to join the attack every chance he gets. Playing both together likely wouldn’t blunt our attack any more than using an out-of-form Ramsey, and it could give us the solidity required to protect a defense that will be a little makeshift due to injuries.
However, if Johan Djouorou can’t play on Wednesday, then I’d expect to see Song moved to center-back rather than risking Miquel. In that case, it’s back to Rosicky, Ramsey and Frimpong in midfield. Not ideal, but as we’ve discussed at length already, the situation with the squad is far from ideal at the moment.
Arsene does have one other solution to his midfield woes. He can hand Samir Nasri another start as he did against Liverpool. Nasri wasn’t fantastic on Saturday, but there’s no question that his experience and quality would be welcome in such a crunch fixture. Wenger has already stated that he would consider starting the want-away frenchman, but that’s where it gets interesting.
Roberto Mancini has come out and warned that if Arsenal use Nasri on Wednesday, then Manchester City would likely abandon their pursuit of him. His frustration over this transfer saga was evident, with Mancini saying,
“If he plays in the Champions League [for Arsenal] it is a big problem. I don’t know [if we would still sign him]. I’m sure we can close the deal. But it’s a problem because we have followed Nasri for 40 days and it’s important we take him. Also, for Nasri, I think it will be important [for him] to play in all the Champions League.”
It hardly makes sense for Manchester City to pay big money for a player that can’t help them in Europe, and the player would be less likely to want the move under those circumstances. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that if Wenger uses him on Wednesday, the deal is off. That’s an outcome the club would likely deem unacceptable. But it’s worth remembering that qualification for the group stages is worth more than what’s being offered for Nasri. It should be an interesting test of wills to see what the manager decides to do.
And speaking of a test of wills, there’s an fascinating article on the internet that has been making the rounds, suggesting that Arsene and the Board are at loggerheads. It’s from a site called The Football Network written by an author only identified as “Eduardo.” There’s no way to confirm the veracity of the story, so it may be best to ignore it altogether, but you can read it here if you like. It suggests a very tense conflict between Arsene and the Board over the issue of wages. The article seems to exonerate Wenger from blame over our recent transfer business, while painting the Board in a most unflattering light.
Whether the information is credible or not, there is an important point to be gleaned. It doesn’t matter if we buy £40 million superstars or £5 million bargains. If we don’t align our wage structure closer to our rivals, then it’s irrelevant who comes to the club, because they won’t stay long. I expect this to continue to be a problem for Arsenal unless it’s corrected.
Finally, there’s transfer speculation aplenty today. Every monday since July has been dubbed a “big week for Arsenal’s transfer business.” But with the exception of departures, they’ve all failed to live up to the hype. I’m not sure this week will be any different. Although with names like M’Villa, Jagielka, and Eden Hazard being thrown around, it’s easy to get sucked in. Spare yourself the disappointment and ignore the rumors until you see these players on Arsenal.com. (And I don’t mean that wretched “transfer linked” page.)
United play Sp*rs today. It’s been so nice to get through two weekends of football without seeing the LWCs. Like all good things, it had to come to an end. If you believe we’re challenging for a title this season, then you’ll probably be reluctantly rooting for Sp*rs. If you think we’re going to struggle for fourth place then you’ll swallow your pride and root for United. I recommend you do what I always do in these situations; root for a 22-man brawl and points deductions. Or Godzilla. Either will do.
Getting nervous for Wednesday anyone?