Saturday, 12 February 2011

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Wolves Previewed.

Arsenal have a chance today to put the events of last Saturday to rest with a home game in the Premier League against Wolves. In case you need reminding Arsenal were 4-0 up away to Newcastle last Saturday afternoon with just over 20 minutes remaining. They had lost Johan Djourou to injury, and Abu Diaby to a red card, but all they had to do was keep their heads and defend like professional footballers. Unfortunately once Laurent Koscielny gave away a penalty to concede the first goal the writing was on the wall, and Arsenal fell to pieces. They weren't helped by some inept refereeing and linesmanship, but ultimately they were the masters of their own destruction.

The majority of the players went away on international duty during the week which will hopefully mean that they didn't have a chance to dwell on the result. Regular readers will know that I'm not overly fond of the Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci combination at the centre of defence, and it's no coincidence that all four goals were conceded with those two players on the pitch. In the previous five Premier League games Arsenal had only conceded one goal, and it looked like they had sorted out their defensive problems. That just goes to show how important a player Djourou has become this season, and how important it is that he plays today.

The good news is that Djourou has been passed fit, and he is available for selection. Denilson has also recovered from the knock that he got against Huddersfield in the FA Cup, and he is also available for selection. Both Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie have recovered from their midweek illnesses that meant they were unable to represent their countries, and they are both available to play too. Alex Song is still slightly doubtful, but I think that he should be able to play too. There was no word on Kieran Gibbs who withdrew from England's under 21 team, but even if he is available it will only be for a place on the bench I would imagine.

The other injury news is quite encouraging too, as Samir Nasri is back in training, and will possibly be able to play by this time next week. Thomas Vermaelen is apparently two to three weeks away from playing again, but Arsene Wenger says that he will get a couple of games in the reserves before returning to first team duties. He also mentioned that Diaby is suspended for three games, but that he is also injured. The challenge on him by Joey Barton was a very bad one in my opinion, and I would imagine that it has caused him his latest injury.

The boss also said that he will not be resting any of his players before the Champions League game against Barcelona on Wednesday night, and if that's the case I would expect him to play the strongest team possible today. That means that it should be the same team that started against Newcastle last week, with the exception of Song playing instead of the suspended Diaby. It's a very strong team, and I would be very surprised if they don't show the fans that the collapse against Newcastle was a one off.

I think the main reason for it was having Djourou going off injured, and then Diaby's red card so soon after that. There was no height at the back, and with Song injured there was nobody capable of digging in, and fighting their way out of a corner. The substitutions didn't help either, as Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue are hardly players to be turned to when the chips are down. Rosicky played so badly that there were rumours of him being investigated by Interpol along with referee Phil Dowd, but personally I think that's stretching things just a little too much. Rosicky scored a goal for his country during the week, but he also picked up an injury, and he won't be involved today.

Wolves have a very poor away record in the Premier League this season, and their only win came at Anfield. They may have won home games against Man City, Chelsea and "Manure", but they have struggled to score goals or gain points on their travels. They did Arsenal a huge favour last week when they came from behind to beat "Manure", and it helped to ease the pain of the Newcastle debacle. Arsenal may owe them something in return for that favour, but I think it should be repaid by beating a few of their rivals after they have been defeated themselves today.

Wolves have played very well on a number of occasions this season, but those performances have mostly come at home, and they will need to put in their best performance of all to get a result today. When Arsenal won at their ground a couple of months ago they had to dig deep to get the result, and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was Arsenal's man of the match that night. Of course Marouane Chamakh was excellent that night as well, and he scored both of the goals. His form has gone off the boil since then, but he got some vital goals earlier in the season when RVP was out injured.

Arsenal need to play the whole 90 minutes like they played the opening 45 minutes last Saturday. If they can set out with the same tempo they showed in that opening half I'm sure Wolves will struggle to keep them out in the wide open spaces of the Emirates. Theo Walcott is making space for himself in opponents' penalty areas, and he seems to have learned exactly where to cut the ball back to for Arsenal to capitalise. With RVP on a great goalscoring run at the moment I expect him to get his name on the score sheet at some stage.

Cesc had a fairly quiet game last week, but he is so good at controlling a game that I expect to see him in charge again today. With Andrey Arshavin finally putting in the work rate the fans crave, and his form returning too I'm expecting great things from him. The combination of Song and Jack Wilshere is a very strong base for all of those players to work their magic from, and they seem to be forming a very good partnership in the engine room of the team.

I'll be delighted to see Koscielny and Djourou reforming their partnership at the back, and I have confidence in Bakary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Wojciech Szczesny playing at the back with them. The defence need to stand strong today when Wolves attempt to throw everything they have at them, as Newcastle did last week. Arsenal are usually fairly happy for teams to come at them, as they can pick them off on the break. If Wolves try to get too far forward they will suffer the consequences in my opinion.

Arsenal are a far better team than Wolves, and their biggest enemy today will be themselves if they can't get their game going. I think they will show their resolve to do better though, and put in a performance to show the rest of the Premier League that last week's collapse will not happen again. I'm predicting a 3-0 win for Arsenal, but in doing so I don't think I'm being over confident. I know Wolves will put up a stiff challenge, but if Arsenal are to win the league they have to show the ability to bounce back, and get results when they are needed. I think RVP and Cesc will both score, and I have a funny feeling that Walcott might get one too.

Earlier in the day there is the small matter of the Manchester derby, and I'm hoping that there will be a result to help Arsenal's quest for a first Premier League title in seven years. While a draw might mean dropped points fir both teams I think a Man City win would be a much better scenario. "Manure" have not been impressive away from home this season, but they have been saved by a great home record. If that home record can be damaged by a City team that will come to defend I think that it will leave the door open for Arsenal to take advantage. My fingers will be crossed in the hope that City can deliver the result I want.

After today's game it's back to Champions League action during the week, as Barcelona come calling in Wednesday night. I have always said that I thought Arsenal suffered at the hands of Barcelona last season because they had so many players injured, and I would like to see how Barcelona would cope if they had the majority of their best players missing against Arsenal. Having said that I would take an Arsenal exit to Barcelona, as long as they can keep winning their league games. I don't want to be greedy, and I will be perfectly happy to settle for Arsenal making a clean sweep of the domestic trophies this season. I can dream, can't I.

That's it for today.

Here's a very good piece of defending by Sagna a couple of seasons ago.

See You Tomorrow.

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