Villa preview + Pires and the real ANR

Morning all from a very cold, very strange Dublin. Thunder, lightning and snow. Don’t think I’ve ever seen those conditions before. Clearly they are portents of the doom about to be unleashed upon us at Villa Park in a little while.

It is a game we simply have to win. Even if the position at the top of the league is up for grabs only temporarily to blow the chance on successive weekends would really beg questions about this team’s desire and ability. On our day we’re pretty damn good, let’s be honest about that. Amidst the misery and self-flagellation when we click we’re fun to watch and we show all the characteristics we want to see. It’s that we’re equally capable of bottling it and of showing our worst side that brings about the frustration.

The lack of consistency is both troubling and damaging to our league and european campaigns and the perception that we’re a bit brittle is, understandably, one that grows every time we struggle. I suppose it’s summed up by two headlines not too far apart on NewsNow this morning.

Arsène Wenger hits back hard over attacks on Arsenal’s ‘soft centre’:

When you don’t win your games people always find problems with the team. But is it the main problem we have? I’m not convinced.

Alan Smith: Aston Villa wingers will target Arsenal’s soft centre in clash at Villa Park

After two poor second-half displays defensively, first against Spurs and then against Braga, that Arsenal back four needs to shape up if they want to leave Villa Park with all three points.

So one man’s meat and all that but there can be little doubt there’s a fragility. We saw it last weekend against that pack of soil-eating cuntswains from down the road. And what made it worse was it came after some dogged away displays where we demonstrated the good qualities of our game.

The centre of our defence will be tested but I hope the manager sticks with the more physical Djourou today. He was unlucky to miss out against Sp*rs and for various reasons I think it was a poor call by Arsene to bring Koscielny back. But as we keep saying defending is not the sole domain of the defenders, they should be offered the right protection by the midfield and as I expect Nasri to move into the Cesc role that means Song and Denilson/Wilshere will be tasked with that job.

And if that’s their job then they’ve got to do that part of it first. With Chamakh, Arshavin, Walcott (I think) and Nasri further ahead there’s no need for them to bomb forward leaving us exposed. Song, in particular, needs to rediscover that part of his game. Or, to put it another way, Song needs to be instructed, firmly, where his main responsibility lies.

And instruction, or lack of clear instruction, seems to be an issue. In the Guardian article linked above Arsene spoke about the team’s need to be more cautious, questioning why, when we were down to 10 men, we threw so many forward to try and win the game on Tuesday. A very good question, it has to be said, but do you really need to tell 10 men not to overcommit lest you be caught on the break? It seems as if you do, so it begs questions as to why you’d need to do that in the first place and why it wasn’t done in the second.

We simply have to respond today. It’s been a miserable week and despite it all we have the chance to go top of the league this afternoon. Let’s see evidence on the pitch that the team are hurting, that they have the desire to turn things around and prove some of the doubters a little bit wrong. Let’s see a big game from Arshavin, rested during the week, with this fixture in mind no doubt. Let’s see something from van Persie or Bendtner if they get a chance today.

Above all else though, let’s see a bit of The Arsenal in these boys. Timid capitulation is not the Arsenal way. Some pride in the shirt, some pride in themselves, a lot of hard work and effort, will to win, will to go top of the league. That’s what’s at stake today. If we give it everything we’ve got there’s no reason why we can’t win this game. Fall short and it’ll be difficult as we’ve already experienced. Total focus, let’s see the ‘winning mentality’ the manager claims they have.

We blew the chance to go top last week. Let’s not do it again. Come on Arsenal.

In other stuff – I read this bit on the official site explaining why Arsene left Bendtner out of the Sp*rs game, and I’m none the wiser. If Chamakh was ‘dead’ … I dunno.

Today we come up against Robert Pires (fnarr!) and he talks about his return to English football. I’ve always been of the opinion that we let him go at the right time so perhaps re-signing him wouldn’t make much sense … until you stop and think about what he might impart on some of these players about what it means and what it takes to win things. I hope he’s quiet today but does well the rest of the time.

Finally, the real ANR has been re-jigged and redesigned. I’ve attempted to make contact with Leopold Mendacious but every time I ring I just get his answering machine which plays a Captain Beefheart cover of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Leopold obviously tripping the light fandango somewhere. I’ll keep trying.

And that’s about that. Back tomorrow.

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