As is so often the case on Friday’s, with Arsene Wenger hosting his usual Thursday afternoon press conference, it is all about injury news and player availability today ahead of tomorrow’s trip to West Brom.
The news is mixed: Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen are still out and not set for return until Chelsea next weekend, while Kieran Gibbs joins them on the sidelines after badly bruising his foot against Spurs. Meanwhile Tomas Rosicky (ankle) and Emmanuel Eboue (knee) face late fitness tests to see if they will come up good for the game.
More positive news comes in the form of Abou Diaby’s return from the ankle problem suffered at the hands of Paul Robinson, while Alex Song returns from suspension and Sebastien Squillaci from a well-earned night off at White Hart Lane.
The various problems in the squad means the team virtually picks itself tomorrow.
Almunia will return in goals behind a back four of Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny and Clichy, the midfield will be comprised of Song, Denilson and the energetic Wilshere while the front three will see Chamakh receiving support from Arshavin on the left and one of Nasri, Rosicky or Vela on the right. Aside from the constantly-confusing decision of who should play on the right I would be extremely surprised to see any changes to that line-up.
Just speaking about the injuries to Cesc and Vermaelen and their potential availability for Chelsea, I think Wenger is being deliberately careful with the pair and getting them just right for what will be a huge game. I suspect that Vermaelen could return as early as the midweek Champions League if he really needed to, but with Squillaci and Koscielny working well at the moment there is no need to rush him back.
Meanwhile Cesc just has to play, doesn’t he? We need our best player on the pitch in what is, on paper, the most difficult fixture of the entire league season. Fortunately I think the manager is just playing mind-games with Carlo Ancelotti with his proclamation that Cesc is only a “small hope” for Chelsea. Everything I have heard suggests the captain’s recovery is going extremely smoothly and he is almost certain to play against the league champions, so in my opinion there is no need to worry.
West Brom is a team we should be beating in the league, but the attitude of the players is all-important. West Brom at The Emirates Saturday afternoon will not have the same charged atmosphere as Spurs away on Tuesday night in a knockout Carling Cup tie, but the boys must turn up with the same win-at-all-costs mentality to avoid any potential problems.
With a tough midweek trip to Belgrade followed up by the huge Premier League clash with Chelsea, I’d like to see our team take the game by the horns and go for the kill early against West Brom. I know football isn’t as simple as saying “Come on boys, you’re better so go out there and quickly score three goals!” but I feel we need to try to end the game as a contest as quickly as possible tomorrow afternoon. Scoring early goals against West Brom to make the way for some necessary rotations and a decrease in intensity could be the difference between an excellent or a mediocre performance against Chelsea a week later.
I remember a piece of commentary in the season we went undefeated after we scored two goals in the opening couple of minutes: “It’s not yet five past three!” Wouldn’t that be perfect here?
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