Ask a tough question. It might just work.

Ok then, some Champions League action and a chance to put some things right after the weekend’s defeat.

The team news is that Gael Clichy, Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie have not travelled. Clichy has a back injury, meaning Kieran Gibbs will deputise. It’s another chance for the youngster, hopefully one he’ll take. Arshavin and van Persie have been ‘rested’. On the face of it resting a guy who hardly ever plays 90 minutes and a player who has barely played 90 in total all season seems a bit ludicrous. Arshavin might get fitter if we play him more, you know, and there’s something a bit iffy about van Persie. The boss says:

Van Persie is not 100 per cent fit at the moment, not in a condition physically to fight in the top level games. So I take advantage of that to make him work very hard.

The hint from John Cross’s piece in the Mirror that there’s an element of punishment to this. I dunno, wouldn’t actually playing him increase his match fitness? Then again if the manager feels a week of laps and sprints and whatever else is required then who are we, without the full facts, to argue with that? That doesn’t mean that it’s any less disappointing that our ‘star’ striker remains short of the required fitness to have an impact even as a sub. I know he’s been out injured but come on.

Despite saying Cesc is getting stronger with every game Arsene admits he doesn’t know if he’ll start the captain tonight as the worries about his hamstring continue.

I don’t know whether he will be on the bench. I will have a medical meeting in the morning and I will speak with the player as well.

There’s a bit of room for manoeuvre if Cesc doesn’t make it. We can bring Nasri back into midfield, Jack Wilshere can come in from the bench, Tomas Rosicky could play tonight too. I hope Cesc makes it but there are options if he doesn’t.

Up front Nicklas Bendtner will start in place of Marouane Chamakh and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to being dumped for the derby. I did wonder if Arsene regretted that decision, when we could probably have done with somebody good in the air in the last 10 minutes against Sp*rs. Bendtner’s a guy who we know has a lot of self-confidence and that decision will have dented his pride. Let’s see if he gives the manager the right answer today by doing his talking on the pitch instead of in the papers.

With all the potential changes it’s difficult to predict the team. I expect Theo Walcott to start as well tonight. He started the season very well but has been kicking his heels on the bench a bit lately. What’s important, above all, is that the players show they’re capable of responding. Too often this Arsenal team has followed a bad result with another bad result. We tend to wallow in our misery a bit and there’s simply no time to do that. A win tonight ensures qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League and gives us a great chance of finishing top of the group. The manager fears the hangover though, saying:

Mentality can become an issue. I don’t think it will be but that’s the fear. If it’s repeated then it can become something that can block the team.

As yesterday’s blog illustrated it has been repeated and it does block the team but I don’t want to dwell on that this morning. Sometimes there’s nothing as dangerous as a wounded animal. Granted, as an animal we might be more fluffy kitten than snarling tiger at the moment, but still. If we show the right desire and attitude tonight there’s no reason why we can’t go there and get a result. We might never have won in Portugal but then records, as we know from painful recent experience, are there to be broken.

I mentioned Bendtner’s pride being dented having been left out of the team at the weekend, the whole squad’s pride should have taken a huge hit after what happened. A game so soon afterwards is the football equivalent of getting straight back into the saddle after being thrown off the horse. We have to show that we’re not Christopher Reeve. We have to show that we can fight and that we have the right attitude. Arsene says:

I want so much for this team to win that I am giving every drop of my blood to make sure that they win. I want them to be successful because they deserve it.

I take his point about working hard but I’d urge the team to ignore the part about deserving it. They don’t deserve anything yet. If, at the end of the league season, we finish top then we can say we deserved it. Success is something you earn, something you fight and scrap and battle for, something that comes with hard work, dedication, committment, concentration, focus and all the other buzz words you can think of. You don’t get success just because somebody else thinks you should.

That’s the lesson for this team. Ignore the manager and listen to me, heh. But you know where I’m coming from with this. It’s time for responsibility to be taken. It’s time for these ‘mature’ players to step up and show what they’re made of. It’s not just one player’s job to lift people when things are going badly. Sure, a Tony Adams character would be great but there isn’t one.

That doesn’t mean that teammates can’t shout at each other, that they can’t demand more from each other during the course of a game. They can still hang out and play Playstation afterwards but what happens on the pitch and the standards that are demanded of each player should be exacting. If a player needs a rollicking or a verbal/physical kick up the arse then it should be given without fear of causing offence. Was it in Tony Adams’ biography when he turned to Dennis Bergkamp and said something like ‘You know, for a player of your quality you haven’t won much, have you?’. Harsh but perhaps fair and Dennis went on to respond to that in the best way possible.

So maybe somebody might apply that to this Arsenal team. ‘For all your quality you haven’t won much, have you?’. Does it hurt? Can they respond? Let’s hope so. Starting tonight.

In other news Henri Lansbury has gone on loan for a month to Norwich. It’s a good move for him, I think, provided he plays regularly. I think he’s at the point where he needs to play first team football somewhere. He’s not quite ready for us but probably too good for the reserve level. A bit like JET in that regard. Fingers crossed it does him some good because he’s a player I like the look of.

And there we go, more tomorrow and hopefully a slightly happier blog after a good performance and three points tonight. Till then.

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