Well, well. I wasn’t expecting a Newcastle result of any kind last night and the 0-0 draw keeps the door ever so slightly open for us.
It makes tonight’s game, already massive, even more so. The Last Chance Saloon is a place we’ve become quite familiar with in recent times but we’ll be drinking in Scuttery Joe’s, with the tramps and hobos, unless we can take three points later. In terms of the team news it’s all quite positive. No fresh injuries, Sagna, thankfully, back in the squad, Song fully fit and just a hint from Arsene that he might rest Jack Wilshere:
We have now three midfielders – Wilshere played many games, Diaby and Song – so we will rotate a little bit from game to game.
Jack looked tired on Sunday against Liverpool, which is no real surprise considering how much football he’s played. I do wonder if tonight is the right game to rest him for though. There aren’t too many in the squad with his spirit but much of what he does well comes from his enthusiasm and energy. If he’s a bit drained then maybe we’ll see a change. The likely starting 11: Wojscez©®- Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy – Song – Diaby – Cesc – Nasri – van Persie – Walcott
I did wonder if he’d play Arshavin but I think he’ll have Theo right to provide some balance as they’ll have Bale down their left. Theo can offer protection to Sagna but also an outlet if we can break them down as they come forward. Our reliance on Robin van Persie to score our goals is a bit of a problem now, as is our reluctance to find space further out to take a pop, so it’d be nice to see that change tonight. Gomes is a fine shot stopper on his day but also capable of Almuniariffic moments, we should test him.
And the goals can come from other sources. L0ok at the players. Theo (last goal Feb 5th v Newcastle), Nasri (last goal Jan 19th v Leeds, FA Cup), Cesc (last goal Jan 30th), Diaby (only two goals this season), so without van Persie’s contribution in recent months we’d be struggling even more than we are. Let’s mix it up a bit, have a go from distance if it’s on, we don’t have to score the 5-a-side goal every time, and let’s try and share some of the responsibility when it comes to getting goals.
What happened against Liverpool is the latest in a long line of confidence sapping incidents and at this point I can’t really listen to the manager talk about ‘mental strength’ again. Robin van Persie has described the way we throw away goals as ‘almost criminal’ and he’s absolutely right:
If you look at our history, when we are in front, when we are safe, when we have the three points in our pocket, we do concede goals. Some of them are silly goals, which we have to work on. We have to stay positive, but we really have to look at it because it is almost criminal to give away points like that.
Again we go back to collective responsibility. You can’t punish individuals because the malaise the panic that sets in, goes right through the team. The important part of what he says is about staying positive. Tough, yes, but absolutely crucial. That’s why I thought reports of that half-time bust-up at Blackpool were good. It showed that there was a focus on ensuring mistakes of the past didn’t happen again. And then we have Liverpool but at least there’s some hint that we’re trying.
If the team want to be positive tonight they need to draw some motivation from the bits that have hurt this season. It seems to me we haven’t shaken off the black cloud of the Carling Cup and frankly, at this stage, it’s long overdue. Every painful moment this season, and from any time in the recent past, ought to be used to get them up for this game. Carling Cup final? Make it right. Liverpool on Sunday? Make it right. United in the cup? Make it right?
The players aren’t stupid. They know how much the fans have been hurt by the last couple of months. Wojscez©® spoke about how they ‘owe’ the fans a performance at the Lane tonight. I’ll take it, but more importantly they owe themselves and the club a performance. They need to think back to the second half at the Grove against Sp*rs and tell themselves they’re going to make amends for that. They need to think back to last season’s game there and make that right too. Some bloke, who nobody has heard of since, whacks in a 40 yarder? Freakish but painful all the same.
As long as there’s a slight chance of the league title they have to go for it. Again, not for me and you, although they can use that if they want, but for themselves. To win something. To take the next step. To progress as individuals but more importantly to progress as a team. They have to want it more than them. And they’ll have to continue to want it more than the opposition, not just in the final games of this season, but in every game, every week. Otherwise they will remain nearly men and that should hurt. Who wants to be one of those?
You do not get to second place in the Premier League by being absolutely terrible. There’s talent and ability in this team and when they click they’re hugely effective as well as being a pleasure to watch. Sometimes though you need to work your hole off to make yourself click and that’s what we need to see from the Arsenal tonight. If I had the chance to give tonight’s team talk it would be as simple as this:
“We cannot lose to these cunts”.
The title door remains ajar, we’ve got to kick it open just a little further later on. And after that who knows what could happen? We’ve got to get that far though. Come on you reds.
For those of you stuck in work or away from your TVs later on there’ll be full live blog coverage starting at around 7pm. As soon as we have the teams we’ll post them and you can follow the match on your mobile, your laptop, iPad or anything else which will load the site. Check back later for the live blog post.
Remember too, if you fancy a bet, check out the Arsenal Odds page which provides you with the best odds from a range of markets, some good free bets there too.
Finally for today, there’s plenty of talk about the Cesc Fabregas interview which appeared on a Spanish football website. Of course, depending on who you read this morning it’s been portrayed as positive or negative. When read as one piece, and not just in snippets, there’s very little wrong with what he says. It’s thoughtful, honest and certain points that have been used as criticisms in some papers are actually just explanatory (especially the stuff about ‘Wenger would have been sacked in Spain’).
There’s frustration, yes, and understandably too, and perhaps a little pressure on the manager to add experience to the squad (again, any arguments over that?) but for me the line that sticks out above all others is this one:
I spoke with Puyol and he told me that until the age of 26 he won nothing. Puyol, who has won everything in the world of football! Patience and hard work are the most important things in life.
Nobody’s patience is endless, let’s not fool ourselves over that, but more than anything you get the feeling he wants to win with Arsenal. I see no case for criticism there.
Right, that’s about that. A long, busy day ahead and then we’ve got that rather important game to deal with. Until later.