Aston Villa preview + Sunday round-up

Morning all,

plenty to get through this morning so we’ll start with today’s game against Villa. It’s the final home game of the season and points are required. Obviously not in the way we had hoped but we still need to ensure we finish third and wrap up automatic qualification for the Champions League. Having to play a qualifying round would be most unwelcome as well as having an effect on our transfer business which, as we all know, is as crucial as it’s ever been this summer.

The careless capitulation against Stoke means that we’re in danger of being overtaken by Man City so we have to see the team perform a lot better today. There’s been no further news regarding injuries to Cesc and Nasri so I’m assuming that they’re unavailable. There’s some talk young Conor Henderson could be given a chance but we’ll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, and whatever plans he has for the summer, the manager has a duty to put out his best available team today because this game is not meaningless.

Frankly, I’ve given up talking about responses and pride in the shirt etc etc. We’ve looked for that too often and not seen it, only to be placated with words about how we should have done better. All the talking has to be done on the pitch today. Following the game there’s the ‘lap of appreciation’. It’s worth pointing out that this is not for the players to soak up applause and kudos for their efforts over the course of the season, it’s for the players to show their appreciation of the fans and the support they’ve received.

I’ve heard talk of protest which to me seems churlish. There’s a time and place and I don’t think that’s it. The more self-aware of the players will, I’m sure, find the idea of the lap excrutiating. They know the team hasn’t done well enough but at the same time they should be able to thank the fans who have been behind them. Anger and frustration are completely normal but need to be directed properly. I also wonder if it would go ahead at all if today’s result isn’t up to scratch.

With the pre-game ‘walk’ of protest being latched onto by those who wish to see a change of manager things could get ugly if we don’t do the business on the pitch today. While I respect the opinions of those who would like a new manager, my interest is first and foremost in Arsenal doing well on the pitch, so I hope today’s result doesn’t provide a platform for the kind of anger that might erupt. Fingers crossed.

Also in the news this morning, Pat Rice looks set to stay another year. Arsene says he’s told him he’ll stay one more year as his right hand man which is going to disappoint those who were hoping the manager would freshen things up in that area. It doesn’t preclude additions to the coaching staff, and I’d have to say bringing in a new defensive coach would probably be a lot more beneficial than a new assistant manager.

It’s interesting though. On Friday’s Arsecast I asked Philippe Auclair if it were too much to expect a man as stubborn as Arsene to change so much in one summer. New players, new assistant, new coaches, new attitude with the players, etc etc, and I guess we have part of our answer here. It is too much to expect. That doesn’t mean there won’t be change, it just won’t be as widespread as many had wanted.

Being realistic, you have to maintain some measure of continuity and as I’ve said before there were no questions about Pat Rice when we were winning things. The other thing to bear in mind is that Wenger’s critics point to the fact that he makes all the decisions, that he has nobody to challenge him, that he takes all the training sessions etc. Would a new assistant change any of that, especially one appointed by the manager? Would he allow himself or his methods to be question or challenged? That opens up a whole other debate but they’re questions worth thinking about.

Also, as none of us are privvy to the private conversations between Wenger and Rice, nor the work that’s done behind the scenes, it’s impossible to state – with the certainty that so many do – that he’s a ‘yes man’ and offers nothing. It would be nice if folks would maintain a measure of decorum and respect towards a man who has given so much of his working life to Arsenal Football Club. You can want change without resorting to abuse.

Robert Pires returns today – probably for the last time – and says the team needs more experience and more English players. It’s interesting that he, Keown and Vieira have all had a bit to say this week and pretty much all of it has been bang on the money. I’m not sure it’s necessarily English players that are needed but I know where he’s coming from. Those of you at the game today, have a little *swoon* for me.

Not much else happening, there’s little in the way of transfer tittle-tattle, certainly none worth reporting anyway, so I’ll leave it there.

Live blogging of our game kicks off around 3pm when we’ll post team news as soon as we have it. If you fancy a flutter check out our Arsenal Odds page which gives you best odds from a range of bookies. Check back later on for the live blog post, in the meantime have a fine Sunday.

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