The real football returns today with the visit of The Spuds to Arsenal for the North London Derby. The game starts at 12.45 today, and I'll be making my way to the supporters club in The Strand in Bray to watch it on TV. There should be a very good turn out for the game despite the early start, and a few of us might partake in a drink or two.
The game itself is a very important one for both clubs, for differing reasons. Arsenal need a win to go to the top of the table, and they will stay there if Chelsea lose to Birmingham later in the day. The Spuds need a win to keep pace with the top four in the Pemier League, and to try to keep pace with Arsenal. As it stands Arsenal are seven points ahead of The Spuds, and a victory for Arsenal would increase that lead to 10 points.
Arsenal's home form hasn't been all it should be this season, and two defeats in six home league games is not title winning form. Luckily their away form is the best in the league, and after winning their last three away games they are showing a strength on the road that may have been missing in previous seasons. The problem in the home defeats has been the inability to score the first goal, and a lack of tempo and concentration hasn't helped either. There should be no problem with concentration, tempo or commitment in this game, as the players know exactly what this game means to the fans.
The two teams have already met this season, and it ended in a 4-1 victory for Arsenal away from home in the Carling Cup. That game went to extra time, but Arsenal should have won it in normal time as they were by far the better team on the night. The Spuds will claim that they had a second string team out that night, but Arsenal made 9 changes from their previous game. It just shows the strength in depth that Arsenal have built up, and if the majority of that squad stays fit they will be very hard to stop this season.
The team selection is bound to give the boss some problems, as he has a few players returning to the squad who will feel that they might deserve to play. Lukas Fabianski will of course start in goal, but Manuel Almunia is back in training after his elbow injury and will be available next week. I would be fairly certain that Bakary Sagna and Gael Clichy will be the two full backs, but Kieran Gibbs will of course be hoping that he gets a look in.
The big question in defence will be what pairing the boss goes with in the centre. Laurent Koscielny returns from suspension, and he would be expected to go back into the team. While he was out Arsenal won twice away from home with Sebastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou as the central pairing, and both of them would be rightfully a little put out to be left on the bench. I have a funny feeling that Koscielny will play, and if he does I think that Djourou should be the man to partner him. He has improved game by game this season, and I think that he is Arsenal's best option to mark Peter Crouch.
In midfield both Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song are certain starters, and Jack Wilshere is available after overcoming his slight injury problem. Wilshere would seem to be the most likely player to play, but there is also the possibility of either Samir Nasri or Denilson playing in that role. Personally I think that Wilshere will start, and alongside Cesc he will make a formidable midfield pairing that The Spuds will find it hard to cope with.
That leaves the attacking trio to be decided, and surely Marouane Chamakh has to play as he is Arsenal's leading scorer and has played so well this season in the absence of Robin Van Persie. Nasri has to take one of those attacking roles too, unless he is played in midfield, which means that there is only one other place up for grabs.
Realistically there are three players fighting for that place, and it's very difficult to work out who will play. The most likely player is Andrey Arshavin, but he admitted himself that he might be out of favour after playing 90 minutes for Russia on Wednesday night. Theo Walcott would also hope to play on the right hand side, as his pace and finishing ability could prove decisive but I don't think we will see him until later in the game. There is also a chance that RVP will make his comeback, as he played half a game for Holland on Wednesday night, and was very impressive according to the boss.
I think that Arshavin will get the nod, and I hope he can show the sharpness and appetite that is expected from every single Arsenal player in such an important game. It's great that Arsenal have so many options on the bench though, and they can be used at any time if things are going awry, or if The Spuds look like they have the upper hand.
To be honest it doesn't really matter too much which combination of those players Arsenal put out on the pitch, as the simple fact of the matter is that they are better than The Spuds. Once the players play football the Arsenal way they will create chances, and they just have to take enough of those chances to win. It all sounds very easy, but football is a simple game, and Arsenal play it better than any other team in the Premier League.
The Spuds have their danger men, and both Gareth Bale and Rafael Van Der Vaart are in very good form at the moment. For me Van Der Vaart is far more dangerous as he scores so many goals from his midfield role, but Bale's pace is something that Arsenal will be very aware of too. The biggest mistake The Spuds can make is to come out and play football against Arsenal, but I have a funny feeling they will do just that. It will make for an open game, and I think that will give Arsenal the upper hand.
The Spuds have conceded 18 goals in 13 league games, and their last clean sheet came on the opening day against Man City. Contrast that to Arsenal who have only conceded 12 goals, which is bettered only by Chelsea and Man City, and have scored 26 goals as against The Spuds 19. It all points to an Arsenal win, and it's up to the players to make sure that happens.
What I want to see is an exhibition of attacking football from Arsenal that blows The Spuds away, and brings the victory that puts them on top of the table. If it doesn't work out that way I want a win any way that it comes. I'm sure that William Gallas will get a hard time from the Arsenal fans, and maybe it would be fitting if the winning goal was an own goal that went in off him.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the lack of singing and atmosphere at The Emirates, but that will not be the case today. The Arsenal fans will hopefully lift the roof of the stands as they look to encourage their heroes. I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal with Cesc getting his name on the scoresheet. He has being improving game by game recently, and I hope he has enough game time now to be back to his best.
That's it for today.
See You Tomorrow.