Well, well, well. It wasn’t too long ago that Arsenal were going through a little bit of a quiet patch and many football observers were predicting Manchester United to run away with the Premiership title. But after Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s 2-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford overnight – their fourth reverse of the season – Arsenal have the chance to move five points clear at the top of the table when they host Blackburn later today.
With Chelsea also failing to gain maximum points at home to Liverpool Arsene Wenger’s side have already enjoyed an excellent weekend despite not having to take to the pitch. Both results are something of a surprise, but I did mention after Arsenal’s win over City that I would not have been surprised to see Arsenal’s lead extended by the end of this weekend.
“A two-point lead at the top of the table means the pressure is back on Manchester United and Chelsea to respond. This could force some less-than-perfect performances and if Wenger and his side can keep their head it wouldn’t surprise me to see the lead at the top extended after next weekend. Things are looking very, very good for Arsenal.”
It’s great to see that both Manchester United and Chelsea have somewhat buckled under the pressure that Arsenal’s consistent results have created. Now it is up to the boys to punish both clubs for slipping up. And although Blackburn tend to give Wenger’s side trouble when they play at home, recent history shows that this is a match that usually goes Arsenal’s way.
Given the side’s excellent form of late there is very little to suggest that this will not be the case. Indeed, the only potential problem Arsenal face against Blackburn is a rapidly expanding list of injuries and absentees, which you can see in detail by Lasagne Chef at The Cannon. While it certainly doesn’t look good, there’s only one player in my mind on that list whose absence from the clash with Blackburn could seriously hinder the home side’s chances and that is Mathieu Flamini. Whether he is fit enough to do so is another thing entirely, but if that proves to be the case then I’m very confident that Arsenal will win this one.
The team virtually picks itself given the injuries, with the only position in real question next to William Gallas at the centre of defence. Wenger hinted yesterday that Kolo Toure may return to start, but also mentioned that it is far more likely that one of Gilberto Silva or Justin Hoyte will play there. Wenger also took some time to skim through the injuries to the other players in his squad.
“I don’t know. Ivory Coast play on Saturday afternoon. I have not called [Toure] yet but I will try to see if he can take a flight from Accra to London. Otherwise it will be Gilberto, who is back, or Justin Hoyte at centre half. Rosicky, van Persie and Djourou are out. Almunia is a doubt. On top of that we don’t have Eboue and Song. Also we lost Diaby with a calf problem and we might have lost Flamini with a hamstring. Philippe Senderos came off injured in midweek with a medial knee ligament and is a major doubt. Diaby, in fairness, picked the injury up at Man City.”
Goodness gracious me. I swear that is the longest quotation paragraph relating to injuries I have ever posted on this blog and I very much hope I never have to include another one like that ever again. I guess the major positive to take out of the current injury crisis is that it is mostly the fringe players who are struggling for fitness whilst the members of the team who have been important week in, week out this season are mostly all available. I’m referring to guys like Emmanuel Adebayor, William Gallas, Alexander Hleb and of course Flamini (there’s not point mentioning Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna because they never seem to have injury problems, knock on wood).
The match will give Jens Lehmann another chance in goals (ironically against the team that ended his run in the team) as well as providing Eduardo da Silva with another opportunity to continue his excellent form of late. As I said earlier I can’t see Blackburn providing too many problems and with that in mind I really do see a comfortable victory at home for Arsenal. The boys have scored three goals in every one of their last four matches and have Adebayor in imperious form so it would not be a surprise if at least three more were put away tonight. As always though, I’ll settle for one as long as Arsenal pick up the three points.
I want to see Arsenal in London, not Brisbane
Just before I go I want to talk a little bit about an issue that I touched on very briefly on the weekend, that of the Football Association’s proposal to take the Premiership worldwide with a series of international games each season from 2012 onwards. I mentioned that as an Australian supporter of the club I have never had the fortune of watching Arsenal play live. I also stressed that I felt it would be an absolute farce if the first game I did get to watch was in my home town of Brisbane rather than at the Emirates Stadium in London. Those that read the article will know that I got something of a mixed response from these statements, especially from other Australians, so I thought it would be worth spending a bit of time to clarify and expand on the statements to paint a more accurate picture of how I feel about this issue.
The major problem – the one that virtually encapsulates all the other points that could be made in favour of the project – is that the only reason the international round has been suggested is because of money. Forget the romantic aspect of supporters in far away countries having the opportunity to watch their stars in the flesh for a second and you’ll realise that the only reason why the Football Association have come up with this idea and the only reason why none of the owners or chairmen of the clubs have refuted it is because there is an absolute shedload of money to be made.
Interestingly the only people who think this idea is a good one (apart from the suits who grub money from the Premiership) are the supporters who might get to see their favourite team in their home country or city at some point in the future. And while I can see why where they are coming from the reality is that the chances of this happening are close to zero.
There are twenty top-flight clubs who would be playing around the world in ten matches and given that there are literally thousands of potential places that they could play, what are the chances that the particular team someone support is going to end up playing right at their doorstep? Not bloody likely. And even if they did, the suggestion that it will give people who may not be able to afford to go to England to watch the games a chance to do so is utter bollocks.
Seriously, can you imagine how much tickets would be in a country like India, Nigeria, Canada or Australia for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch Arsenal or Manchester United or Tottenham play would be? A ridiculous amount. I’d suggest it would be even more than the already inflated prices for a Premiership ticket back in England.
It’s ignorant to think that those who cannot afford to travel overseas to watch the clubs at their home stadiums will be the ones to capitalise on this project. Indeed it will surely be the rich, the people who have probably already travelled and had the privilege of watching their favourite teams are the ones who will get all the benefits.
There is so much more I can say about how bad this idea is and how much I don’t like it but I can’t really be bothered. The main point is that the project has been developed to benefit the rich in England and the rich in the countries around the world and not the die-hard supporters of particular clubs who live all around the world.
As I’ve said before, it is a dream of mine to one day be able to watch Arsenal play in London. While I feel very lucky knowing that I live in a society that allows me to work and save money in a way that will most likely see my dream fulfilled, bringing the game to world in the way that the Football Association has proposed is not going to make the same sort of dream a reality for those who cannot afford it.
If you want to read Arsene Wenger’s thoughts on the issue then check them out here. And wherever you are in the world, enjoy tonight’s game and get behind the boys. You may never get to see them play in the flesh but I’m sure that they appreciate all the support they get. Come on Arsenal!
What do you think?
Have your say on the Blackburn game or the International Round by leaving a comment.