Arsenal make the trip north to Manchester tonight to play the favourites to win the league. After the weekend's games Arsenal are still on top of the table, while "Manure" have dropped to third place. Things couldn't have gone too much better yesterday, as the Spuds and Chelsea drew 1-1, with Drogba missing an injury time penalty to seal it for Chelsea.
Even if the worst were to happen tonight, and Arsenal lost, they would still be in second place just two points off the top. However, that's not a result that I'm even contemplating as I look forward to the game. With a very busy Christmas schedule ahead of them, every point is very important for Arsenal at the moment. If a positive result is achieved tonight it has to be followed up by one against Stoke RFC before that Christmas schedule starts on December 27th against Chelsea.
I expect Arsene Wenger to pick his strongest side available to him tonight, and his biggest decision will be whether Cesc Fabregas will be a part of that team or not. With a decision his fitness being left until as late as possible it's anybody's guess, but in my opinion he shouldn't be risked. His season still hasn't got going properly due to a string of injuries, and his late participation in the World Cup final in the summer. This is a game that the boss would love to win, but it should not be at the cost of losing Cesc for another month. He should only return when he has fully recovered from his injury, and he is ready to lead the team to a league title.
I have little doubt that the back four will be the same as it was against Partizan Belgrade, with the exception of Gael Clichy playing instead of the injured Kieran Gibbs. That means that the partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci will continue, and it doesn't fill me with confidence at all. Hopefully their performances up to now have been trial runs, and Arsenal fans will see the real deal tonight against the team who have scored more league goals than any other team this season, despite being without their star player for most of it.
In midfield there are a few decisions to be made too, and first of all is the real big question of whether Cesc plays or not. If he doesn't play it has to be decided who will take his place as the creative force in the team. I hope that Samir Nasri gets that central role, but the chances are he will be deployed on the right hand side of the front three. I would also hope that both Alex Song and Jack Wilshere play from the start, and sit back just a little more than they have being doing of late.
The attack will more than likely be led by Marouane Chamakh with Andrey Arshavin on the left and Nasri on the right as I said. It leaves a space just behind Chamakh if Cesc doesn't play, and I sincerely hope that Robin Van Persie isn't deployed in that role as I don't think he's suited to it. For me it's a straight choice between RVP and Chamakh for the strikers role, and if RVP doesn't play there he should be on the bench tonight. If that role isn't filled by Cesc or Nasri I can only imagine that Tomas Rosicky will be the man to play there.
Whatever permutation the boss comes up with he has to make sure that the players go out on the pitch fully focused, and ready to do battle. It would be great to see the Arsenal team come out and ping the ball around with fantastic speed and precision, and play their way around "Manure". They are perfectly capable of doing that against any team in the world on their day, but it's keeping it up for the whole game that seems to be the problem.
Arsenal's away form is the best in the Premier League, and they have won seven of their last nine league games in all. They sit on top of the table because they are currently the best team in the league, despite the misgivings of their fans about their inability to hold on to a lead or see games out. The standard of the top teams may not be quite so high this season, but a win tonight would see Arsenal judged as genuine title contenders.
However, a loss would see them drop to second in the table with the opportunity to make up any ground they lose next week as they play Stoke RFC when "Manure" take on Chelsea. A defeat certainly won't be the end of the world but a win might just be a brave new beginning. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal with Samir Nasri as the star of the show, and I hope that I'm right, but if I'm wrong I'll still be shouting for Arsenal next Saturday and every other match day after that.
Today's post is a little strange and late, as it started at 7.30 this morning in my kitchen on my phone, continued in Northern Ireland throughout the day, and it's finally being finished on my laptop this evening just before kick off. After driving 250 miles today I'll be sitting at home to watch the game before preparing tomorrow's review of the game. Hopefully that will be a happy review with Arsenal still on top of the table, as the Christmas programme draws near.
That's it for today.
See You Tomorrow,